Thanks for sharing, Scarlett!
|Labor Source employees (l to r) Troy, Charlie, and Scarlett|
at a Labor Source camping retreat in September 1993.
I'm fairly late throwing my hat into the ring of Imagine! stories, mostly because, as a result of six and a half years at Imagine!, the “memory well” runs deep and true with fellow (then DDC) staff and clients alike. In essence, it was hard to pick just one story.
I walked onto the scene in 1991 considerably wet behind the ears, and, although I had originally applied as a residential counselor, I was easily swayed by Labor Source Regional Coordinator Gary Stebick to give their supported employment/community integration apprenticeship the good ol’ post-college try. This was a rather new and very innovative training program for Labor Source and an example of the WAY ahead-of-the-curve thinking that Imagine! is famous for.
The story I’m sharing today surfaced about halfway through my Labor Source career. At the time, I felt reasonably comfortable in my newish role as a Regional Coordinator, yet still enraptured by what I witnessed on a near-daily basis: the pinnacles, the challenges, and the triumphs for both clients and staff alike. In short: we all experienced amazing days, okay days, and, once in a while, very bad days.
One such “very bad” day began the morning we heard the devastating news that a beloved co-worker had died in a kayaking accident the evening before. As his supervisor and friend, I thought I had a pretty good idea about the impact this loss would have on the team. As expected, it was huge. And, although through the experience we rallied and our bonds grew stronger, what I soon came to realize was the impact Charlie’s absence would have on the clients.
I’m going to go out on a non-existent limb and say that Charlie was favored by most if not all of the clients we worked with. One gentleman in particular – Greg – would often proclaim that Charlie was “The Man!” Charlie had a natural and breezy way with Greg that many of us admired.
Although I can’t recall who it was who initially told Greg that Charlie had died and that Charlie would no longer have the pleasure of working with him, we found ourselves over the next several weeks reminding Greg that, “Yes, it’s true - Charlie’s gone,” and “Yes, we know you miss him. We sure miss him, too.”
One late afternoon shortly thereafter, Greg and I had finished a volunteer clean up at a local park and we came strolling into the office to say a quick hello and goodbye to whomever of the staff remained. I went walking down the hall for some reason or another, and Greg shouted in my direction, “Charlie, where are you going?” I believe it was my very good friend and fellow Regional Co-Coordinator Georgia DeFrancia who responded kindly but matter-of-factly to Greg, “That’s not Charlie, Greg - it’s Scarlett.”
Greg proclaimed, visibly annoyed, “I KNOW THAT!” And he repeated this statement just to make sure we were all clear on that fact.
As I recall, the staff kind of stood there confused for a minute or so, but, being late in the day and rather than over-think the situation, we instead decided to let it ride and see if it happened again.
From that point forward until I left Labor Source (and Imagine!) in 1997, Greg called me “Charlie” in both private and in public. However, it’s equally important to acknowledge that he also referred to me as a “she” when he was talking about me both in and outside of my presence. That’s a far cry from being “The Man” – as Charlie certainly was.
Here’s my personal take on the situation: I KNEW that Greg didn’t think I was actually Charlie. And I would hardly assume that I was Greg’s second favorite Labor Source staff member and was therefore defaulted the “Charlie” title. (Side note: if anyone was his next favorite, I’d vote it was Georgia). I interpreted Greg’s reassignment of my real name to Charlie’s as a means to express the feelings of friendship, respect, and the hard reality of deeply missing someone you can’t have back in this lifetime.
I also saw it as an expression to hold onto the memory of Charlie in a way that was uniquely Greg’s. For all of these reasons mentioned, I was okay being a vehicle of sorts for this to happen. And notably, the fact remained that Greg still treated and responded to me as he always did – as Scarlett – just under the guise of a different name for his own personal set of reasons.
This experience not only moved me deeply, it also validated the realness and impact of genuine human connection despite any actual or perceived limitations on a mental, emotional and/or physical scale. Of the countless (and I mean COUNTLESS) things I learned over the years at Imagine!, one of the most touching of them all was Greg showing me the importance of expanding my understanding and perception of two very powerful human traits: friendship and bonding.
Thank you, Labor Source and Imagine! clients and comrades. You’ve served me well, and I’m forever grateful. Shine on as you do.
Are you interested in sharing your story for “50 Years, 50 Stories?” If so, contact Caroline Siegfried at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-926-6405. We’d love to hear from you!