Thursday, February 20, 2014

Finding Each Other, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Oklahoma City, 1998

The key to sanctioned mixed-gender socialization at IBLP training centers was convincing leadership (a.k.a. "authorities") that you were a "natural grouping". Michael and I were siblings, Chris and Michael shared a bedroom, Lisa and I shared the same office, we were all CharacterLink employees--the overlap made our grouping as "natural" as could be. And so, in spite of building frustration with the IBLP organization, who couldn't even be bothered to give us an on-site manager, we had a glorious summer.

Most weekends, Chris went home to Kansas and the rest of us enjoyed our day off the best we could. (Sundays we fasted, recited Scripture to one of the staff mothers, and went to church.) One Friday, though, Michael and I rode north with Chris to visit friends in Kansas. Another time, I hitched a ride with him as far as Wichita, bringing another female friend along for "appearances". Yet another weekend, Chris stayed in Oklahoma and the four of us went to the State Fair and rode the monorail together.

photos from Lisa's scrapbook
Riding the monorail

Late in the summer, Chris invited the rest of the CLink to his parents' home in Wichita for a picnic. We all went down to a used car lot with Chris's dad and helped Michael shop for his first car. And when the burgers came off the grill, we were all impressed with how many Lisa could eat!

Meals at the OTC were not something to anticipate with pleasure. Some days we brought in $5 pizzas from the place down the street instead. We made evening trips to the grocery store together to procure juice, tortilla chips, and salsa as an alternative to what was served in the dining room across the street. Chris, especially, lived on juice and chips. I teased him about being a hummingbird. When we slipped away for fast food, I would eat his french fries. Though he had no feelings of being "in love" yet, Chris was hardly able to eat whenever I was around.

For my part, I was hopelessly infatuated with someone else, often to the point of giddiness. After years of experience with unrequited crushes, I had finally learned to live with them without beating myself up. Michael was my confidant. And my roommate knew all my secrets, too. After years of living in comparative isolation from peers, it was a delight to be surrounded with friends my own age. Even if we were subject to endless rules and expectations. By escaping to his parents' home on weekends, Chris avoided much of the IBLP culture, all too familiar to him from years spent at other training centers. He was aware, as we all were, of the "invisible electric fence".

We ran into that fence late in the summer. We had gotten bold. Since the guys took customer calls till nearly curfew, we girls sometimes worked late screening websites. One week the training center staff was watching an interesting video series about the history of Israel. We set up a monitor in the office so some of us could see a part we'd missed. And then we brought in some very safe favorite films to share. Chris set up his VHS player. And we were in business. One night the four of us watched Fiddler on the Roof together. Lisa worked on her crocheting during the movie. I think I'd gotten some crackers and flavored cream cheese to snack on. 

It was the first time my brother and I had been allowed to see two of the scenes from Fiddler, so it felt rather risqué, watching girls sing while dressing for Sabbath, men dancing together at a bar, and couples dating without permission from the girl's father! Of course, we discussed all these details. Deep down, we knew we wouldn't do anything so outrageous. We were rule-abiders all. This was simply our subtle way of dancing on the boundary line we would never dare to cross.

Another night we watched Jimmy Stewart in The Spirit of St. Louis. Much of the story takes place in a cockpit over the Atlantic. There aren't any dancing girls, and the only violation of norms was setting an adventurous new travel record. Still, we were sitting on the carpet in the technical support office with the lights off when the door to the warehouse opened. A group of guys from the training center was working on something in the building. Even though we were all in our twenties and there was more than a foot between each off us, we knew it didn't look good. I'm not sure why they opened the door, but there was an ATI father with them, and he wasn't happy.

I don't remember who on staff made me feel ashamed or how, but I felt guilty all night. It was a familiar-enough feeling, and I knew how to purge it. Tim Levendusky as the center director and I went to his office the next day and apologized, for something. I think it was for making him look bad. I didn't want him to get in trouble, after all. Sometimes he could be really nice, like when he told me my voice sounded like an angel's. Or when he accidentally praised the pancakes I made for Saturday brunch. He was even kind of cute when he wore his sky-blue sweater vest or when he shrank from cockroaches. I wasn't afraid of him or his henchmen, and that was the best thing about this training center. 

After I vomited out an apology, I felt better. I wasn't sorry for watching a movie with my friends, but I felt the relationship had been somewhat restored. Kind of like at home, when Dad would tell me that Mom was unhappy with me, so I would apologize for something to clear the air for a while.

But it was becoming clear that the invisible electric fence was still there, even if we were pretty good at avoiding it. Our clique had attracted the unwanted attention of administration. Our happy little existence of nachos, camaraderie, and Internet access in a corner of an Oklahoma City warehouse was simply too good to be true.

Over a conference call one morning, our boss at IBLP Headquarters, Dwight Fredrickson, informed us that IBLP was moving CharacterLink to Indianapolis. We could continue doing the same jobs, but from the IBLP training center there. We pushed the mute button on the speakerphone while we digested the news. We must have stammered some kind of reply before hanging up. That night, we all piled into one of the guys' cars (without asking permission) and went to Braum's where we lingered over our milkshakes till closing, processing our feelings and tossing around plans for the future.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea this was going on, luv. I'm so sorry you were so completely unsupported. XO