Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This...
Kansas State University - Salina
February 27, 2003 - my personal day of infamy. It started just like any other day but oh, how quickly the dark clouds blackened the financial aid office in my little corner of the world.
I had been purging files - it was that time of year. My work study studet had sorted through several boxes of files and readied them for transfer to the main campus. Two boxes were stacked in my office to be taken over by courier. He had another in a separate room where he could sit and work on it.
That morning I had walked into my office, humming, believing it to be a day just like any other day. It was not until my student showed up at 10:00 that my mind focused on the ongoing task of purging files. And it was only then that I noticed - how had I missed it? - that the two boxes of files in my office were not there! After one sharp gasp, I quickly walked over to the room where he sat patiently going through files, removing staples and paper clips.
"Shannon," I asked as calmly as I could, "did you move those two boxes that were in my office?"
Looking up, he said, "No, why? Aren't they there?"
"No," I replied and begain a rapid inspection of all the rooms close at hand. Trying to stem the panic that was quickly welling up inside, I darted here and there, checking the same places over and over as if somehow I could miss seeing two large boxes full of files.
Back in my office, I sagged against the wall, softly moaning, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh." Where could they be? Until then, my mind had refused to think the unthinkable, but there was no denying it now. There could be but one explanation - the custodial service must have thrown them away.
Frantic now, I pulled Shannon from his safe cubbyole and asked him to run, not walk, outside to the campus dumpster to see whether they might still be there. A few minutes later he returned, shaking his head. "No luck," he said, "it's empty." Sitting down heavily in my chair, I reluctantly dialed the number to our facilities and explained the situation. A few minutes later, they called and gave me the cold, hard facts.
The trash truck had emptied our building’s dumpster earlier that morning and were continuing on their city rounds. They would be out at the landfill later that afternoon around 3:00. If the files had been thrown away, they were on their way there. This was the moment of truth. There was but one option. I swallowed hard. I must retrieve the files or die trying. Truly, this would rank among the gods of financial aid as the ultimate in “good faith effort.”
I remained slumped at my desk for some minutes, pondering what faced me. “Buck up,” I said to myself, “you’ve gotten through worse.” But a small voice persistently insisted, “No you haven’t. This is going to be the worse thing you’ve ever gone through.”
Shaking my head to get rid of the little voice, I tried to focus on the day’s business. A few minutes later my phone rang. It was the director of our facilities department. “I heard what you’re going to do. I just wanted you to know that before you head out to the landfill, come over to our building. We can give you one of our asbestos suits to put on over your clothes. They’re a single piece coverall with a hood and booties. And there are rubber gloves, too.”
Until then I had not thought about the cost to my personal appearance; my focus had been to retrieve those files at any cost. Glancing down now at my business suit, I quickly took him up on his offer. “That would be great,” I said. “I’ll be over this afternoon.”
The time crawled slowly by – 3:00 would never come, I thought. My phone rang again. It was our director of facilities once more. “I asked for volunteers to go out and help you,” he said. “I’ve got seven of my guys who stepped forward.”
A rush of gratitude and relief swept over me – I wouldn’t be in this alone. “Thanks,” I replied, “thanks so much.” I hung up the phone.
At 2:30 I drove over to facilities and donned the asbestos suit – a bit big, but it would serve the purpose. Then I drove like a wildman out to the landfill and waited, not wanting to miss the trash truck. Presently I was joined by two pickup loads of volunteers, all of whom seemed to be enjoying this break in their otherwise normal day.
Talk floated around me as each one commented on just how messy a job faced us. “I sure as hell hope that truck didn’t make a stop at Tony’s Pizza today,” one commented. “That cheese and sauce is nasty stuff.” His was clearly the voice of experience.
“Oh yeah,” another chimed in, “that is nasty s_ _ _ – those files will be ruined if they stopped there.”
The conversation continued, but I had stopped listening.
Presently a large yellow/orange truck lumbered up to the gate. “That’s it,” one of the men assured the group. “Let’s go.”
We all piled into various vehicles and followed the truck deep into the far recesses of the municipal landfill. Numbly I thought, “this must be what it feels like to walk to the gallows.”
The truck stopped. We stopped, parking a safe distance away, then trooped over to where the truck was positioning itself to dump its contents. “Stand back,” shouted one of the men, and I felt a hand on my arm pulling me backward.
The truck slowly raised its bed and began shifting the trash out onto the ground in short, jerky movements.
“There they are!” I shouted, spying a familiar manila file folder. I sprang forward despite the warnings, like a drowning man lunges for a life preserver.
The truck paused and let us paw through the first pile. I refused to think about what I was doing – it was too awful. “Just get the files, just get the files,” I repeated grimly to myself as I waded into the muck.
One of the men had thought to bring along a large clear plastic bag. “We can put the files in here,” he said, holding it up.
One by one, as files were found, they were placed in the bag. Comments again swirled around me as the men of facilities, obviously enjoying this break from the mundane, observed the kind of things people throw away. “Look at this,” said one, holding aloft a bag full of what appeared to be brand new stuffed animals.
“Yeah, and look at this,” shouted another showing off another wonderful find.
“Guys, guys,” I thought silently, “let’s stick to the business at hand.” But the bag filled rapidly with files and I began to have a sense that nearly all the file folders were being found. How wonderful! How could I have been so lucky? An odd thought, standing as I was, looking like an astronaut and knee-deep in, well,….Perhaps that’s best left to the imagination.
But we did find all the files, and my day was now complete. Thanking my helpers profusely, I headed back to the office feeling light as a feather. The weight of the world was gone. Vanished. Two of the men followed me to the office, hauling a very heavy plastic bag all the way up to the second floor.
Not quite believing my luck, I informed my supervisor that, to the best of my knowledge, all the files had been retrieved. My nightmarish vision of personal documents blowing across the Kansas landscape was finally beginning to dim.
I reflected on the day and decided, life is good. I closed my door and went home.