The gift unwanted

If I could pinpoint the beginning, it would be today. Or maybe I should say everything became unraveled last year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That was the day everything became revealed that unraveled everything else. A new trauma that unwrapped the old in a dirty messy gift I didn’t want. I say gift because when I tell people they say it makes me stronger, a better person. I can’t blame them, it was the only positive thing they could think of saying. But maybe I just wanted to be average, normal.

It really started on Thanksgiving day last year. We had people over for Thanksgiving, more friends than family. Maybe if I’d known it would be the last normal Thanksgiving I would’ve felt less stressed out. But we didn’t have the lovely gift of 20/20 at that time.

My mom brought it with her. It sat in the corner next to the piano until my daughter Angel took it back to her apartment with her after Thanksgiving break. She was going to give it to her boyfriend Dan to fix.

I awoke from nightmares this Thanksgiving morning and wiped away my silent tears. I could tell you the day my life fell apart. It all started then. The anniversary haunts me. My demons delight. I barely survived the blow.

If only the snowstorm last year was a few days earlier. Could I have stopped it? Or maybe if I wasn’t so over responsible. Once my grandma couldn’t host the holidays anymore, I took over. It should’ve been passed down to my mom, then me. But I took it on. It didn’t matter that I was in my early 20’s. It didn’t matter when my husband had a cancer scare and needed major surgery over the holidays. It didn’t matter when I had newborns or 3 little kids underfoot. My husband and I did it all, sometimes my brother Luke relieved me of that responsibility.

I resent the fact that I always had to be the supporter but never got the support I needed. Or maybe it’s because I am a dumping ground for feelings and baggage I never needed to carry. I’ve been carrying boulders for so long it’s no wonder my back hurts.

A few weeks ago my mom dropped off pool shock when she cleaned out the garage from a pool she had operating 8 years ago. It only has a shelf life of 6 months and now I need to find a place to dispose of her trash. She stops by to drop off her junk but can’t visit because of COVID.

That’s what happened last year. She dropped off more junk. She had this laptop that was chock full of viruses. She wanted Dan to fix it and get her pictures off of it. The laptop came here with her on Thanksgiving. It sat at our house by the piano for a few days. Then it travelled home with Angel through the snowstorm several hours away.

Then this nightmare all started the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Oh how I wish it never began. The phone rang late that evening. It hit me hard like an unexpected punch in the gut that took my breath away. I called my brother Luke and he fell to the ground and sobbed in front of his children. After that day, it was hard to carry on.

On that day, my demons were stoked and I was scarred for life. The flames consumed me and the smoke kept me from seeing clearly. I thought I would never feel joy again. I kept myself hidden from the world. I continued the lie that everything was alright. I kept secrets.

But that ends today.

The benefits of working

Just like our greatest strengths can be weaknesses, some benefits of working were the same as the downfalls. Working for the census was adventurous and exciting yet at the same time anxiety producing. I had fears yet at the same time I had the joy of confronting my fears. I had to go to dangerous neighborhoods, yet at the same time it was sobering to see how other people lived.

There were some things I really liked about working. Working allowed me to get out of the problems of my own life and throw myself into something productive. I got paid well. I was able to contribute a paycheck to help support my family. I was able to set my own hours. I believed in the importance of the work I was doing.

I got some exercise because I did a lot of walking. I explored parts of my state that I’ve never seen before. I became familiar with the neighborhood around me.

As crazy as it sounds, this job also pulled me out of my shell especially in the time of COVID when I had every excuse not to interact with people. I met some really awesome people that I probably would hang out with as friends if we met under different circumstances.

I felt respected by the community in general. People thanked me for my service in counting the people. Other people respected me simply because it was something they could never do.

There were fun times that I just had to laugh at myself like the time I almost got into someone else’s car because I wasn’t paying attention. Then there was the time I came home from work and realized I must’ve stepped in dog crap somewhere along the way.

I met up with a lot of different families. I listened and learned about other people’s lives. I watched and observed how other people lived without judgment. People are very interesting. It was a job I could combine facts with people.

Thankfully the whole time I worked I was able to stay healthy and safe. I think the experience was worthwhile.

The downside of working

Working for the census was downright difficult at times. It wasn’t just the cases themselves. Although I will not downplay the fear of dealing with my anxiety. I did find myself in some really dangerous situations at times. Just doing the job during COVID was scary enough. I had to face the fear of things I could and couldn’t see such as the risk of getting sick. The uncertainty was difficult. I never knew what I was going to be dealing with on a day to day basis.

While I was working, my mom didn’t really want anything to do with me. She viewed me as high risk to getting her sick. My mom is a hypochondriac. Not that I didn’t understand her concerns. But it was still difficult and painful. She is living her last years in utter terror of leaving her house. She will stop by with her mask and sunglasses on wearing gloves or with hands full of handwipes. She won’t even pet my dog because someone infected might have touched him. She is battling crippling anxiety and insomnia. It is difficult.

The night before I had my census training, my husband and I admitted our daughter to the psychiatric hospital for the first time. It was stressful because I knew I couldn’t be there when she got home because I had to work. That is really when I let things start to slide. I allowed Arabella to stay at her friend’s house more than I would’ve liked because I felt she was safer there than home alone.

My husband was working his seasonal business that he started. At times he was gone for several days in a row. We couldn’t deal with a suicidal child at home when we were both working. Then later we struggled to get her back home.

I felt like I needed to work because the investments we were banking on to start our new business didn’t come through with COVID. We were planning on taking a small trip for our anniversary in the middle of summer, but I had to choose between the trip or doing the training for the job. Plus with our daughter, a week of sailing turned to a day or two on the boat. It was just another thing cancelled because of COVID.

I had to deal with a lot of things I was afraid of. I had to interview people in dangerous neighborhoods. Then there were dogs. Some days I had to drive for several hours. I’ve always been a nervous driver and had to face that fear. Again, not to mention COVID when I could hear people coughing. At times I felt like I was putting my life on the line.

As a census worker dealing with colitis, I was fearful when I couldn’t find a bathroom. When I was out in the middle of nowhere a lot of park or public restrooms were closed due to COVID. It was a real nightmare at times.

I had to get over the anxiety of talking to people I didn’t know. I had to overcome this fear of being out of my comfort zone by myself. It was also very intimidating doing things I’ve never done before such as purchasing a ticket for the car ferry. With every adventure comes a little apprehension.

In all of that, I still had to find the energy to go to the grocery store, cook, clean the house, and get the laundry done. It’s a big adjustment to go from not working to working 40+ hours a week.

I have to say though that it was a wonderful experience. I did earn a fair wage for the work I did. My supervisor was awesome along with all the other census workers I ran into along the way. I’m sad I didn’t have the time to write about this while it was happening, but I knew there would be later. Now.

Dangerous addresses, part 3

I was walking through a bad neighborhood once again. My car was parked a block away. The road was closed and virtually impassable with huge potholes. It wasn’t like I could easily sneak around the signs although no one was currently working on the street. I knew the limitations of my car.

I passed between a port-a-pot and some teenage girls. My mumbled ‘hi’ was met with disdainful snide sneers. I went to the house on my case list. A woman answered stating that she already completed the census and would not be completing it again.

It happened, sometimes we were sent to the same houses over and over where the respondents said they already completed the questionnaire. There was even one whole new subdivision that got multiple census questionnaires due to a duplicate address error. It was sent twice, once to circ and the other time to cir for a road called Something Circle. After awhile people got angry. They filled out one and still got another. I understood. I listened, figured out the problem, and tried to resolve it for them. But these residents had a valid reason for being upset.

But some people were angry and aggressive for no apparent reason at all. I found I had the most problems with men right around 35 years of age. I couldn’t figure it out. Were they afraid I would ask information about their income?

I had several doors slammed in my face by all men. It was upsetting, but I tried not to take it personally. I even had a guy say ‘don’t know’ with a smirk to every single question to try to get a rise out of me. Later I thought I should’ve asked him if his parents were home. (He was obviously a grown man).

That day after I made my house call on the torn up street I walked past a man standing on his deck. He yelled an aggressive ‘GO!’ as I walked past him. I was instantly in fight mode. I pivoted my body around and glared at him. I gave him a dirty look that said grow up and shut up. He yelled ‘DAMN!’ as I turned and walked away.

After I walked a couple houses, I turned and glanced back to see if I had to make a run for it. But the man was gone. Later I saw that the approximate location where the man yelled at me was listed as a dangerous address. I had to keep that in mind when walking through neighborhoods not just when I visited specific houses.

Later that evening my husband applauded me for standing my ground. He said it was good to show him I wasn’t afraid. My son asked if I wanted to get shot. He thought I was being foolish. I wouldn’t have stood a chance against the man or his gun, but it felt good to do something.

Dangerous addresses, part 2

I worked two 10 hour days the weekend after the Kenosha shooting. I’d assume most of you heard of the Kenosha shooting even if you don’t live in the United States. But just in case, it involved a police shooting where a white officer shot a black man. After the shooting terrible violence ensued with protests, looting, rioting, and more shootings. It was bad enough to put my state of Wisconsin on the map.

Now I don’t live near Kenosha but we could feel the after shock throughout the state and most of the country. Racial tension was high. Were you with the police or black lives? Incidentally, not too long after they were looking for census employees in Kenosha. Yeah……NO!

The weekend after the shooting I was assigned to work in a rough neighborhood also known for its shootings. Since I was working 10 hours, I started my shift pretty early on a Sunday morning. But we never started working before 9 AM. I don’t think I have been able to sleep until 9 anytime in this century but I do realize other people do. After all I do have teenagers. One of the first places I stopped at the guy said he partied too hard the night before and was too hungover to answer any questions.

The streets were virtually empty on that beautiful Sunday morning. Just me with my census bag and badge waking up the whole neighborhood pestering people with my personal questions. What is your race? As you can see, I am white. But I am not racist, although how do you know that by looking at me.

I felt looked down upon that weekend. I was a parasite asking too many personal questions too early in the morning. I was a white person working with the government, a maggot, one rung above the police but not as welcome as a postal worker. Maybe not true, but this is how I felt.

I knocked at another door. The house went from absolute silence to full on violent rage yelling once I knocked. What the hell is going on?? I distinctly heard the word ‘police’. I heard things inside being thrown around. I knew I had to get the hell out of there and quick. I didn’t even leave a missed census visit notice.

I walked to the end of the block around the corner. I had more houses on that street to visit. My plan was to swing back after a few minutes and pretend that nothing happened. I was going to pick up where I left off at the next house. When I came back I saw this huge black man raging around the house of the door I knocked on like a bull looking for whomever was waving the red flag. Me.

I was terrified. I was going to die. Time slowed down. I saw a car nearby with a woman in it. A census worker. A beacon of safety. I ran to her. She asked if I was okay, if I needed a ride somewhere, if I needed help. Perhaps a drink of water. She said she wasn’t with the census so I wandered away.

I think the man hopped in a car with his buddies. They were looking for me. I was the only person on the streets. Everyone that drove by was looking at me. He was going to find me and kill me. I was completely in a daze and out of it as I tried to find my way back to my car a couple blocks away. Time slowed down as my heart raced.

I left my cell phone in my car. I couldn’t call for help. My husband wasn’t home anyway. I called my supervisor and told him what happened. He told me to take a little break. I needed gas anyway so I went to the gas station. I couldn’t figure out how to get gas. I was convinced I was getting the wrong gas, like putting diesel into a gas tank. I panicked that my car wouldn’t work and I would get stuck there. I stopped filling my car with one type of gas and switched to another.

I couldn’t make my mind work. It was still stuck in panic mode. There was a disconnect like hearing buzzing instead of talking when the volume is on mute. Things weren’t right in my mind. It took another half an hour to reboot. Then I went back to work as if nothing had happened.

My supervisor added the address to the list of dangerous addresses. When census employees were on the job, they had a list of addresses that were dangerous. Yellow addresses were to proceed with caution. Red addresses were to cease the interview immediately. Red addresses were addresses where a person threatened a census worker. By the time I neared the end of my employment, there were 100 dangerous addresses in that neighborhood.

I never would’ve guessed everything that was going to happen in the world when I applied with the census a year ago.

Dangerous addresses, part 1

It didn’t take long to get assignments in the roughest neighborhoods. If the children were outside playing, I felt like it was safe for almost anyone to walk the streets. That usually wasn’t the case on a late Friday or Saturday afternoon.

I learned really quick that I needed to strategically park my car. I couldn’t leave my car running in the driveway in that neighborhood. I would park my car and walk. If the weather was beautiful, and one address lead to another address a few houses away, at times I found myself a couple of blocks away from my car. If I needed somewhere safe to go this was problematic because my car was a couple blocks away.

I worked 10 hours that Saturday. I knocked on a door and a man answered in a wheelchair in his underwear upset because I woke him up in the middle of the day. Not a lot of people answered although a lot were nicer than that man.

Many of the houses had half addresses such as 123 1/2 Main St. I had to search in the back of people’s houses for rentals. I climbed up rickety outer staircases and at times was told to go into the middle door in the back of the house up the stairs. I always felt uncomfortable, especially when the back door was by a dark alley.

Many times I felt like I was poking around where I didn’t belong. On that particular evening, I saw four older teenage youth strutting the streets. They all wore red clothing. Were they gang members? Or did they all work at McDonald’s? I looked down at the red shirt I was wearing which gave me a little consolation that I was safe. I tried to avoid them.

There was a man on the street corner outside of his apartment yelling the lyrics of an explicit song that was playing. I tried ignoring him too. I was afraid but tried to appear calm. Thankfully I was a lot older than the man so maybe I wouldn’t catch his eye.

As I was heading towards a house on my case list, I saw a car with a bunch of teen males in it pull up to the curb. A teenage girl came out of the house. One of the guys got out of the car and started quarreling loudly with the girl. I could hear the obscenities half a block away. It was time to skip that house and turn down another street the whole time acting like I belonged there instead of being shocked by everything.

In the meantime, I interviewed people with young children huddled inside their house. It was hot and they had no A/C, but I couldn’t blame them for wanting to stay inside.

By the time I made it back to the street of the altercation, no one answered the door at that house or the houses nearby. I walked back towards my car to call it a night.

On my way I saw another census employee. We talked briefly and she wondered if we were sent to similar places around the same time to ensure the safety of other census employees in rough neighborhoods. I wondered that as well. I always felt more confident when there were others like me in neighborhoods I didn’t feel safe in.

The people I didn’t meet

I think God was watching out for me while I was working the census more than once or twice. If I had gone to the house a week earlier, I would’ve met the tenants. A man answered the door when I arrived. He stated the tenants were evicted the week before. He was hired to clean up the mess they left behind. From what little I could see behind the door, I knew I was lucky to not have met them. They tore up the floors and down the walls.

I asked the neighbors about the people that lived there. A lady said that people were coming and going at all hours of the day and night. There were little kids that lived there. She didn’t know them though.

I always feared I would have to knock on the door of a drug trafficking house or other disreputable location. What if I saw someone commit a crime? What if there were children involved? Nah, I’m sure they were responsible enough to fill out their census.

One day I drove out to a house a ways back from the road. The house looked haunted. Several windows were smashed. I thought maybe someone lived there because there was a trash bin on the side of the road for garbage day. There was something eerie about the place which made me feel fearful. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. As I was knocking on the door, a truck pulled into the driveway behind my car rather quickly. I felt rather terrified.

Thankfully, the person who got out of the truck was the owner of the house. He said he had to evict the renter because she was on drugs and almost overdosed several times. It was a really bad situation. When she got evicted she smashed the windows and trashed the place.

I just lucked out that it was garbage day. The owner was slowly starting to fix the place up again. I was able to close out the file on my first visit to that house.

Sometimes I felt thankful for the people I didn’t meet.

The in movers

This year the census date was on April fool’s day, no joke. In a perfect world, we would’ve started counting the population at this time. But global pandemic later…we were knocking on doors up to six months later.

If the location had residents that moved in after the census date, they were called in movers. However, as census workers, we were responsible to try to find census information on the people that moved out. As you can imagine, this was quite challenging at times. Most in movers did not even know if or who was living there before them. Sometimes the neighbors didn’t even know who lived there especially in big apartment complexes where people were always coming and going.

As you can imagine, I visited many apartment complexes. There were the ritzy high end apartments in the suburbs where residents had a doorbell for each apartment. Most were somewhere in between with a set of buzzers by the entrance that half the time no one responded to.

Then there were the lower end apartments. Those apartments didn’t have buzzers on the outer doors and weren’t locked. Some were dimly lit, most smelled like stale cigarette or pot smoke, and some proudly posted their pest spraying efforts.

I’ve been to places that had just been sprayed for roaches. I couldn’t help but feel crawly after leaving. I’ve seen broken beer bottles and garbage littering the hallway floors. Children live in those environments. I’ve heard people fighting behind closed doors that I was too nervous to knock on. I’ve heard people coughing inside. Where they smoking something or did they have something I didn’t want to catch?

I’ve seen small children playing on the streets outside of these apartments unattended. A 2 year old running free in the rain watched by someone who looked to be 6. A few days after I was in that neighborhood there was a shooting. I’ve seen trauma in the making and didn’t feel like there was anything I could do about it. I’ve had little children come up to my car to ask me for money.

It was heartbreaking at times. I felt afraid to be in neighborhoods that these children had to live in without anyone watching their backs.

I’ve been to sketchy run down apartments where the apartment space was occupied by a new BMW or Lexus.

I always had to be vigilant. I had to have thick skin but still be kind and caring towards other people even if they weren’t nice back.

Sometimes when people didn’t answer I would get sent to the same places again and again. So would other census takers. It was important to read the case notes carefully. People don’t respond well when you ring their bell over and over asking about the person they didn’t know who lived there before them. Sometimes people would come and go so quickly that it was almost as if they were never even there because no one knew them. I thought it was kind of sad unless they were in witness protection.

Some apartment managers were great, but most got irritated with us after awhile and were rude. At times it was nearly impossible to close out the cases. Then there were several times I had people track me down while I was at apartment complexes because they never got notified about the census. It was a mess.

Yet through it all, there were a lot of good people that lived in less than ideal circumstances. It was very eye opening. At times I almost felt guilty getting paid so well by the government. Then again you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to some places. Sometimes I never knew what kind of day it would be.

When you don’t have power

Twice I went to the same prefab home in a bad neighborhood. There were already a couple census notices cluttering the rundown stairway outside the front door. There was also a notice stating the gas and electricity was going to be shut off a week earlier.

Both days I visited, it was piping hot outside. All the windows were closed tight and the shades were drawn with the exception of a set of venetian blinds that slanted cockeyed. I knew it must’ve been hot inside without power to run a simple fan.

I knocked but no one ever answered. Inside in some back room a dog barked and barked. I updated the case notes and walked away. It troubled me. What happened to the owner of the house? Were they inside dead or did they just walk away from it all? Maybe they were at work. It wouldn’t have been as disturbing if I didn’t hear the dog inside. Was the dog going to be okay?

Sometimes the hardest part of being a census worker was the what if scenarios that ran through my mind. I know I have a tendency to worry. I mean, maybe everything was fine but it didn’t seem that way. What could I do about it anyway? Call the police. Bust the windows. Break down the doors. I had to assume everything was fine unless I knew for sure it wasn’t.

I went to one other house that had service disconnect notices on the door. It was nice looking but neglected. The lawn wasn’t mowed. In all ways it seemed vacant.

On a stormy day I visited another property in the middle of nowhere that had a sign on the door stating it was an abandoned property. The silence seemed louder than the thunder that boomed in the distance. I found it to be disconcerting and creepy. Again things weren’t taken care of. There were branches cluttering the long windy driveway. Weeds, the grass unmown and dead in patches. Were there wild animals living inside?

With the exception of the rundown prefab home, the other two houses seemed pretty nice. They weren’t that old. They just needed a little TLC. When I think of abandoned or service disconnect houses, this is not what I had in mind.

I had to wonder…what happened to the people that were living inside? I wish the walls could whisper back to me their stories…as my imagination wanders…

The Dobermans

As part of the census training, we learned about the greatest threats to us as census employees.

The greatest threat of harm was actually slipping and falling. It is very easy to get distracted especially when you are finishing up cases on your census phone while walking. Whoops! Guilty. Thankfully I didn’t fall but I did almost get into someone else’s car. I’ve also been on enough rickety staircases to last me a lifetime.

The third greatest risk of injury was due to car accidents. I could easily understand how that could happen especially when you have to find an address that is poorly marked at dusk.

Today I want to talk about the second greatest threat of injury, animals. I was more likely to be attacked by an animal than a person. I did worry at times of being assaulted or murdered although the percentage of injuries or deaths were rather small from those threats.

My supervisor told me about an employee who was swarmed by bees after knocking on an unused front door. I did come across nests rather frequently but lucked out in that regard.

I was more wary of dogs. I carried treats in my car. It was always a judgment call. How threatening does this dog appear? How old is the dog? How big is the dog? Are there signs that a dog lives there? Did the beware of dog sign hold any merit?

One day I had to make a house call in the middle of nowhere. The front door appeared to be a sliding door. When I knocked on it two Dobermans answered. They hurled their massive bodies against the sliding door and snarled at me. Next to the sliding door was an open window. It wouldn’t have taken much for the dogs to crash through the screen and maul me to death.

It shook me up a little. What if the dogs were outside when I got there and we didn’t notice each other right away?

I was wary of scary looking dogs. Thankfully most of the time the big scary looking dogs had owners nearby.