My Journey From A Small City Rut to The Rocky Mountains

By: Sara Kjeldsen

The year of 2013 began as an anxious-ridden world for me. Though my new year’s eve was lovely, it could not paint over the deep rut that I had fallen into. I spent it with my sister, my friends, and my two cousins. We had a pre-teen themed party – it was all girls – and we ate candy, played games, watched movies, had a glass of bubbly or two, and then went for an invigorating walk to see the fireworks which ended up being hidden by the trees and the tops of the buildings, because we left a few minutes too late. Oops!

What we could have seen:

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What we actually saw:

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We all had a good laugh.

New year’s day was the reality check for me. I knew I was at the lowest point of my life when I was forced to move back in with my fundamentalist Christian parents a few months prior – and I was still there with no savings at all. To top it all off, I was working as a telemarketer making $12 per hour. I could no longer stand the anger and frustration coming from people on the other end of the line as I tried to book pointless air quality tests with my coworker slamming her phone down in the background.

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Yup. I was once that bitch interrupting you at dinner time. Sorry.

I dreaded going back to that job, which was located in the most depressing, industrial end of my small city. I started work in the afternoon and it took two buses for me to get there. Those cold, dark waits at the bus stop in the rough end of town after working 8 hours were starting to prick at my sanity’s threshold. Even with my favourite music playing on my ipod. When music can’t begin to erase hopelessness, there’s an issue. At least it was better than being forced to listen to the delusional mutterings of meth addicts and the men honking their car horns at every young woman in sight.

Anyone who has ever had to take the bus east of Dundas in London Town past dark will understand.

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My previously Christian beliefs transformed to agnostic just weeks before Christmas and the knowledge that there was no second chance after death drove my thoughts in all sorts of directions which ranged from ideas of gratitude and beauty to deep, dark depression. I felt the strongest need ever to live my life because it truly had barely begun. Going to a Christian private school in my teen years, followed by a semi-reclusive life in my college years due to my non-party beliefs, and last but not least getting married too soon and for all of the wrong reasons had prevented me from being who I truly was. It made matters worse that, even after my divorce, I was still living in a controlling household where I had to attend some sort of church and I would need to sneak around like a rebellious teenager if I wanted to go dancing with friends. Hell, my sister and I had to lie about what movie we were seeing in order to escape a 10 minute lecture from our Dad about why vampires/magic are wrong.

This picture demonstrates how I felt at 30 years old with my mother:

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This was not complete without drug checks in our bathroom, praying and stomping outside of my door, strategic questioning to see if I was either drinking or having sex (Neither of which were happening). In fact, I was afraid of sex and had sworn off guys for over a year. I didn’t even want to think about dating and I was pretty cold to most guys. It hurt that they thought I was out “sleeping around” when the mere idea of doing so made me feel nauseous.

I needed to leave. My telemarketing job didn’t work out (Okay, I quit) and I was left to do some freelance writing at home… where my parents spent nearly all of their time day in and day out. It was like I could never escape them. Even fun nights out with my sister and cousins could not shake that horrific feeling that I might never leave London, Ontario (Yeah… the WRONG London) or be able to live my own life. Even an increase in modeling gigs with my agency did little to help me feel satisfied or adventurous. The shows were few and far between and they were not enough to make a living. Maybe if I had of stuck to it for another year, I might have got a big break. But I couldn’t wait anymore. And the thought of going somewhere cool trumped the glamour and elite-ness that you get through modelling. Needless to say, I was over the whole high maintenance city girl thing.

Though, thanks to being a hair model, my look went from this:

saraupdo

To this all within a month:

purple ombre
^ I’ve been a blondie ever since.

Just before spring arrived, I applied for jobs in both Alberta and Toronto. I am still surprised how I made it through to March without A) Having a mental breakdown (Though I came pretty darn close) or B) Starting to plan out an elaborate suicide attempt (That came later…).

I did a telephone interview for the Delta Lodge in Kanaskis and aced it. That call back from the department manager was like a visit from my own Obi-Wan Kenobi. It was my ticket away from all that was familiar and depressing and stifling. My parents (Probably seeing how restless and irritable I had become) paid for my plane ticket to Calgary, Alberta. I would be on my way out of London within 5 days. My head was literally spinning. I had gone from grasping on to my hope for a better future so I could survive my hopeless lot in life to packing up my things and buying hiking boots. My sister and I took pictures on her Mac Book, as was our custom ever couple of years.

That last good-bye to my sister the night before my flight felt so strange. How do you say good-bye to the person that means the most to you? All you can really do is smile, hug, and say “Good night.” And that was what we did.

My mother was angry with me for reasons I still do not understand. She did not say good-bye. My dad took me to the airport and we had one last breakfast together at Tim Hortons. We hugged and told one another, “I love you.” I walked into the area that only ticket holders could go through and it hit me that I was really, truly leaving! I looked back and my dad was still watching me. It made me cry. I would miss him so much. And he loved me so much.

In a time span of just five hours, I went from my prison to Calgary, Alberta and was shuttled to the Delta in Kananaskis and greeted by new manager. He showed me around the lodge and spa and the staff accommodation and then quizzed about where to go if such and such happened, etc. and I just gave him a blank stare. I wanted to say, “I just got here!” but I just smiled and asked him to remind me.

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Oh, but the view. No feeling will ever be the same as the one that I felt as I hiked down to the valley after my manager let me go explore. I stood by the river, smiling. I was free. London was far away. My old marriage was gone. That church and its power-hungry Pastor could not reach me there. I had never felt so alive.

I often sat on this small cliff and sang, looking down at the water or up at the fog-covered mountain tops with misty eyes. Nothing was more beautiful to me at that moment than the nature surrounding me. My inspiration had finally met its catalyst.

Alas, my position as a spa concierge was far more difficult than I would have imagined. My introverted disposition in combination with a surge in my imagination made it quite difficult to grasp all of the differing cashier options, in addition to actually dealing with customers and their needs on a daily basis. My anxiety levels spiked and I told my manager that I couldn’t do it. He went into shrink mode, sweet-hearted as he is, and asked me what was causing me the most anxiety. I pointed right away at the cash register and said, “That thing!”

Evil:

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He hugged it and told me that it is just there to help. Then, he went over in detail all of the various interactions I would have to know. This was the moment that I realized that I really had something wrong with me. There is soft, nature-inspired spa music playing, sun is shining down on the pool water, there are only two customers receiving skin treatments, and I standing there on the brink of freaking out. My manager said not to give up on the job and he seemed to really believe in me, so I gave it another try.

Meanwhile, my social life left much to be desired, because I had come out there with the intent of hiking and writing for my time off work. I was not very keen on meeting new people at that point in my life; I was determined to stay single and stay focused on my books. Delta had a lot of staff living on the premises and I found it terribly overwhelming. I guess it’s because I came there to re-charge and write and explore. Not to party just yet.

Sometimes, people just need to be alone.

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My room mate was a sweetheart and she always asked me to go drinking with everyone, but I declined until one evening I thought it would be nice to actually have a nice time. I hadn’t been drunk in over a year… in fact, I had only been drunk once in my life prior. I had a good time, got way too drunk, and blew off this guy that all the girls thought was “oh so hot” and charming. I just thought he was a rich, workaholic jerk who just wanted to get laid. Apparently when I thought the line, “I don’t want to… you know… force myself on you or anything” was terrible, my coworkers thought it was compliment. One of them actually swooned and said she wished how someone would have said that about her.

Um, okay.

After that, I reverted back to my reclusive nature. I started jogging outside and then I would dip my feet in the cold water of the creek. Those Rocky Mountains surrounding me were so therapeutic, but the job at the spa was taking its toll on me – as was the pressure to start to fit in with the people that I worked and lived close to.

Some of my coworkers were becoming frustrated with my absent-mindedness and they began being nasty toward me. One of the estheticians said that I did my makeup like a pinup doll, because, somehow, despite wearing a baggy ninja uniform to work with turquoise eye shadow and pink lipstick on my face made her think that I looked like this:

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I personally took it as a compliment, but she of course meant it maliciously.

My manager and I often worked the night shift and we would be alone and I could tell that it sometimes made him uncomfortable. I am terrible with small talk, so when we did talk it was always about heavier topics like the Pope or why I became atheist or humanistic death quotes or politics or Game of Thrones characters. I enjoyed those conversations, but I could tell that he could only stand them for so long and then he would retreat to his paperwork or computer a few feet away, flashing me the strangest looks every so often. I don’t know if that was in my head or if he truly was unnerved by my strange presence, but it started to weigh on me.

I was also tired of waiting on guests and listening to their trivial complaints about why their pedicure wasn’t good enough. My mindset had become more political and socialist, and it started to personally bother me seeing people spend hundreds of dollars on their skin. Not to mention the inside jokes between my coworkers about me were more than a little obvious. I would cringe every time I made a mistake, because they did a good enough job blaming me for non-existent errors as it was.

It had become nearly too much for me to handle, so I applied for another job in Canmore, a town close by. I got another phone interview with them and I accepted the job offer right away. Sadly, I couldn’t find the courage to tell my manager that I was leaving. I felt so bad, but I had this mental block or something that made me incapable of doing it. He ordered me pasta with seafood one evening after I told him about an unfortunate happening in my room and I was so moved by the kind gesture that I decided I would have to just sneak away instead of admit that I was leaving. On the morning that I was to move to Canmore, I called for a cab to pick me up at 6:00 AM. Then, I left the Delta forever.

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It was wrong of me, and I felt terrible for doing it. I will never leave a job without notice again. In tears, I called my manager once I arrived to Canmore. When he answered, he said that he hoped I would never do it again because there are ramifications – not just for me, but for the coworkers I leave behind. I had created quite the mess just so that I could escape from my own discomfort. I said sorry again and he told me that he hoped I would have fun in Canmore. And then he hung up.

At that moment I realized I had just shut the door on the first person I had met in Alberta and left him to scramble around for a new employee. Lesson learned.

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