A Christmas Void, Chapter 1- The Prologue

Once upon a time… isn’t that how all the classics go? Hmm.. that doesn’t quite fit with my story… A long time ago in a land far away… no, no, no! I mean, sure, for some people, my hometown is far away, especially if you’re reading this outside the country! And really, it wasn’t that long ago. Let’s see… how about ’twas the night before Christmas… Yes, I know. It’s yet another holiday story, one of hundreds already out there. It’s almost become cliché, and if you’re like me, you groaned a little because these things are so corny. Bear with me! I promise to keep the cheesiness to a minimum! My story needs to be told. Now, I just need to figure out how to begin…

It all began and ended in a small town in California called Dasher Lake. You probably never heard of it, so I’ll fill you in. When most people think of California, they think of the coast and big cities like LA or San Francisco. And people think the whole state is super high tech because of Silicon Valley. It’s all true… for the western region. California can get broken down to three regions actually. I already explained the west, no need to repeat it. Next is central California, which is basically a huge collection of farms sprinkled with some mid-size, industrial towns like Sacramento. Finally, there’s the eastern half, which is basically a bunch of small towns nestled between the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Dasher Lake is one of those small towns. So, my point of bringing all of this up is to give you a clear idea what I mean when I say I moved back to California. Don’t picture sunshine in a beachside city! I moved back to a sleepy little village after trying so desperately to leave!

Why was I so desperate to leave? Think of a cozy cabin nestled deep in the woods. Now, imagine a whole town of them. People gathered around the fireplaces at night, and in the day time, neighbors smiled at each other while they say their how-do-you-do’s. The people all live off of small mom and pop shops, and the place is virtually crime free. Yeah, it’s not like that! Not anymore anyways. The closer to the coast you got, the higher your rent got. Eventually a lot of people figured out that there’s more affordable housing inland, and the population increased dramatically. The town grew enough that big corporations deemed it lucrative enough to put their chain stores there, but this place ended up having more houses than jobs. A lot of people were unemployed or underemployed, and ambitious people tended to move to larger towns to find work. That’s why I left.

When I was in high school, I had it all planned out. I went to the local community college and got my bachelors degree in photography. I thought as soon as I graduated that a nationwide newspaper, prestigious magazine, or any elite company would want someone with my kind of dedication and talent. They didn’t see all that. All they saw was a low accredited school and a young girl with no professional experience. I wasn’t going to let that stop me from chasing my dreams, but something certainly did slow me down- rent. I loved my family, but my desire for independence was too strong to stay at my parents’ house. I rented a room from a lovely old lady in a mobile home and paid for it with what I earned from a minimum retail job. That job ended up going under, and I realized that if I wanted to avoid moving back in with my parents, I needed to look for work elsewhere. So, I came up with a new plan to get out of Dasher Lake.

Luckily for me, my childhood friend, Ruth, had the same problem, but her passion was fashion. I don’t mean to sound callous, I wasn’t happy that she was stressing out too! It was lucky because she was motivated to leave and she had a car. We drove almost two hours southwest to Sacramento. It wasn’t a huge city, but it was bigger than Dasher Lake for sure. The odds of us landing a more secure job was higher, and we were excited ab out finding a job in our field. We didn’t find a job in our field though, we ended up at a call center for a cable company called Strenia, which only existed in Utah. It wasn’t glamorous work, actually, it kind of sucked. Our title was customer service, but ninety percent of our calls were complaints. But, even though the work was cumbersome, we made enough to split an apartment. We were out of Dasher Lake, we were making it on our own, and we pursued our dreams on our days off, so life was good… for a couple of years.

We were enjoying chasing our passions, but soon Ruth found a new passion- her future ex-husband! They eloped at a local church and honeymooned in New York, where his family lived. While she was there, she applied for a paid internship at a major fashion label, and she got it! She moved to New York, and I worried about paying rent for our apartment in Sacramento. That’s when Strenia announced that they had expanded into Colorado and needed to hire a bunch of people to promote it. They offered me a job as a marketing assistant, which I accepted. Why not? I like to explore, and being in a new state would guarantee independence, so I decided to give it a shot. Big mistake!

At first, everything was great. People were excited to get a new choice in internet because until Strenia came along, they only had one option. Actually, in some of the smaller towns, Strenia was the first cable service ever! After one year, I got promoted to marketing manager! I didn’t make enough to afford my own place though, but I got amazing experience that I thought would help me in the future. My roommate and I had opposite schedules, so I hardly ever saw her and it felt like I had my own place. I didn’t have much of a personal life, but I finally got my independence! Sure, it wasn’t a career in photography, but it was a start. Or, at least, I thought it was…

After the second year, things started to go downhill. Apparently, Strenia didn’t deliver great service. The lines going into people’s houses were weaker than what the installers originally projected and told the call center. The billing department constantly screwed up people’s bills, and Strenia’s competitor really stepped up their game and became very comparable to what they offered. All of those things combined in such a way that Strenia’s sales went down lower and lower. I ended up getting my hours cut to keep the business afloat. My roommate got fired from her job, and after interacting with her more, I realized I lived with a psychopath! Like, I spilled some soda and missed a spot when I cleaned it up, and she texted me at work and threatened me with dire consequences if I didn’t clean up better! The final nail in the coffin for me came during a rare conversation with a pleasant customer. I mentioned my background in photography, and he asked, “Oh, you used to be a photographer?” Used to be? That really got to me, and I realized that I needed to find a new career.

Strenia didn’t pay me enough to pay rent anyways, so quitting made more sense anyways. I borrowed money from my parents and searched for work that would pay enough for me to afford to live with a non-psychotic roommate. Any day I didn’t have an interview, I would visit beautiful sites all around Colorado to build my photography portfolio. After another month, I still didn’t have another job. It turned out that Colorado’s economy didn’t any better than California’s did. Rent was due, and I thought about borrowing more money from my parents, but I didn’t want to keep depleting their funds just so I could survive in another state. Plus, with them supporting me financially, I didn’t feel like I had my independence anyways. If they were going to keep helping me out, I thought they deserved the benefit of my presence. It wasn’t easy to admit defeat and move back to my hometown, especially at my age! I wouldn’t give up on my dreams, but I didn’t have much of a choice than to start over at the beginning, right back where I started!

On the bright side, I didn’t have to live in my parents’ house again. My reclusive aunt Sabine passed away in a condo that she hadn’t really left since the eighties. She did keep in contact with us at least and knew my position, so, in her will, she gave me her condo! All I had to do was pay for the utilities, which took a lot of pressure off of me in terms of finding a job in this town. I didn’t have to find a high paying job to survive out there this time! I packed my things in a moving truck and flew to California feeling optimistic. After dealing with all of the drama from Strenia, even a crummy retail job seemed more appealing! I didn’t know how I’d fare in Dasher Lake this time around, but one thing I knew for sure- nothing would ever be the same again!