Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cathy's New Job

The first day is always the worst - at least that's what Cathy kept telling herself.  She had obsessed over the perfect 'first day at work' outfit for the better part of a week, but then the morning she was scheduled to start she completely changed her mind.  After three tries she finally settled on opaque hose, black leather flats, a casual yet stylish dress in navy with white accents, a loose while belt, and modest silver jewelry.  She wheeled up to the full length mirror and immediately had second thoughts, but she was already running behind and needed to get going if she didn't want to show up late for her first day.

The building loomed large as Cathy pulled into the employee lot.  Her first challenge - pull into the handicapped spot, since they knew her as a wheelchair user and she was pretty sure there were no other disabled employees, or pull into a normal spot.  She didn't have a handicapped plate or tag, so she decided on a compromise - the end spot in the third row, so her door could not be blocked by someone parking too close and she could transfer to her wheelchair OK.  It probably wouldn't work every day, but for today it was the best plan.  As she slid into her chair an older man - evidently one of her new co-workers - gave a double take and kept looking back as she wheeled towards the ramp to enter the building.  Cathy felt her cheeks flush.   She could do this, she was hired as a chair user, nobody would suspect anything different.  She could do this...

She wheeled up the shallow ramp and hit the faded blue and silver wheelchair symbol on the button that auto-opened the doors, then wheeled her way in.  She went to the front desk and smiled at the receptionist who she had met when she interviewed, and she was handed a temporary badge on a slightly frayed grey lanyard and guided to a large conference room where she and a few other new hires would go through orientation. 

She entered the orientation room and it immediately hushed - not quite as abrupt as the bad guy entering the saloon and the piano player stopped dead, but to Cathy it felt similar.  There were four other people in the room, two with temp badges similar to Cathy and two with glossy employee badges - one she recognized as Lisa, the woman from HR who helped interview her.  Lisa smiled at Cathy and welcomed her in, then tried to subtly remove a chair from the large conference table so Cathy could have a place - there was nothing subtle about it, of course, and Cathy felt her cheeks warm slightly again.  She was really doing this - she was starting a job, a real job with a real company - as a wheelchair user.  It was a dream come true, but it was also surreal in so many ways. 

The orientation took the first half of the day and much if it was information Cathy already knew, having worked in the industry for a number of years, but she listened attentively and took copious notes.  They all got a tour of the facility - nearly identical to the tour Cathy had gotten during her interview, which confirmed her suspicion that the first tour was not something they usually did with interviewees - and then all had lunch in the conference room, sandwiches and chips from a local deli that had been delivered.  Cathy really started to feel relaxed as the day went on, feeling that other than the wheelchair, this job was no different from others she had held, and she knew she was good at the fundamentals, having years of experience. 

After lunch Cathy was introduced to her trainer Linda, a woman about Cathy's age with wispy brown hair and too much eye makeup, but with a kind smile and a pleasant voice.  Cathy followed her to her work station and there was a bit of commotion as Cathy tried to position her wheelchair in such a way that she could see both of Linda's screens, but they worked that out in short order and had a little laugh about it.  As unlikely as it was, Cathy's wheelchair seemed to be great at breaking the tension of the new job, instead of creating more tension.  Instead of the usual 'Oh god here's a new hire who obviously doesn't know what she's doing' vibe there seemed to be a 'whoa, she's in a wheelchair, what's up with that?' vibe and, honestly, Cathy dealt with 'she's in a wheelchair' vibe WAY better than she dealt with the 'ugh, new hire has no clue' vibe....  

Day one ended uneventfully and day two started equally as uneventful - Cathy was shadowing Linda on calls, learning the computer systems, learning who people were, and even catching up on some office gossip that, honestly, Cathy could not make any sense of, as she had no idea who 'Bill' and 'Elise' were or what their roles were, but she was fast connecting with Linda, who was happily divorced and had apparently 'sworn off men forever' - Cathy didn't think Linda quite understood the significance when she replied to that news with a high-five and 'preachin' to the choir, Linda', but soon Cathy would proudly display her wedding photo on her desk and there wouldn't be much doubt about it then... 

Cathy's first time in the break room, getting a bottled water from one of the vending machines on day two, a twenty-something girl with dyed-red hair and multiple tattoos just looked down her and said 'So what's wrong with your legs?' 

That was it - no pretense, no 'Hi my name is Ambrosia' or whatever, just 'So what's wrong with your legs'.   Cathy was stunned - shocked, even, thagt someone in polite society would be so direct and so... crass?  Was that the word?  Probably not. 

After a speechless moment Cathy simply responded 'Nothing is wrong with them' with a wide smile, spinning the top off her bottled water.  The poor girl was so confused she just stared, mouth open like a goldfish.  Cathy smiled warmly and said 'The problem is with my back... Car wreck.' and then turned on the spot and wheeled away. 

Linda let Cathy handle a few calls towards the end of the day, which was impressive - according to 'the program' new hires were not expected to take the lead on calls until week two, not day two; but Cathy did have a lot of previous experience, and she picked up the specifics of this job pretty quickly.  Linda still stepped in to help with a few of the trickier elements, but by the end of day two Cathy was well up to speed and feeling very confident.  She realized the wheelchair helped with that, too - she just felt so much more confident, so much more 'her' in the wheelchair, and that naturally translated to her job performance. It made her very happy, realizing that taking the HUGE risk of interviewing in her wheelchair, she was actually able to do a better job and provide better, more confident service because she was in her wheelchair instead of some boring ergonomic desk chair. 

As Cathy was heading out from day two she was stopped by Brian, one of her interviewers.  He asked about how things were going and said that Linda told him that Cathy had already started taking lead for a few calls - and impressive feat on day two.  He asked about 'how Cathy was getting along' and did it in such an awkward way that it was instantly clear to Cathy that he was referring to her wheelchair. 

Cathy assured him that access was fine for her so far, no issues at all, and she promised that if she had any issues with accessibility she would let him know.  He actually mentioned the disabled parking spaces in the employee lot, as it was obvious that nobody was parked in them, and Cathy smiled and gave a short, practiced laugh, saying she liked to save those spaces for the people who had trouble getting around, and then pulled a little wheelchair wheelie to demonstrate her agility in the chair.  He smiled an only slightly awkward smile, suddenly realizing he had started down an uncomfortable discussion path, and told Cathy to 'keep up the good work' and headed off down the hall.  Cathy smiled to herself and headed out. 

Clueless twenty-something girl with the red hair was standing at the curb in the front of the building vaping - because of course she was - and Cathy said hello as she wheeled by.  On impulse, Cathy then did a practiced drop down the short curb right in front of tattoo girl, ignoring the ramped cutout twenty feet down towards the lot.  Yes, it was petty and yes it was showing of, but Cathy couldn't help it, and it made her smile.  Chair Power! Sure, about a quarter of the times she tried that trick she landed wrong and fell over, but a one in four chance of failure was well worth it to show off a little in front of the annoying twenty-something. 

Of course, Cathy admitted to herself as she transferred back into her car, if she wasn't happily married there might be a different reason she was showing off in front of little miss tattoos...   She probably wasn't lesbian, but Cathy's gaydar was picking up at least hints of 'This one semester, in college....' off the girl, and she DID have a tongue piercing.... 

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