I am coaching Kate. She is 19 and she wants help with her resume.
I do not have her resume in front of me, but it’s okay. I remember it. And anyway, her resume is not her problem. Which is true with most people who ask for help with their resume.
Also, I’m late for the call. Remembering coaching calls at what seem like random times throughout the day is nearly impossible for me.
I tell Kate, “Look. This is not a resume. It’s like a list of odd jobs your mom asked you to do around the neighborhood. You don’t have a resume.”
She says, “So then what should I do to get a better job?”
I like this about her. She is composed. Not upset that her resume sucks. She just wants to solve the problem.
I pause. I already know that Kate is working for her aunt, so I say, “What about the job you have now? How about doing that to save some money and move to a bigger city?”
“I work for her but she doesn’t pay me.”
“You get room and board? Maybe you could increase the hours and get paid some cash so you could eventually leave.”
“I already work fifteen hours a day in the house.”
“What? That’s not a job. That’s slave labor. Put your aunt on the phone. Your aunt just needs to get you a job. That’s what people do for 19 year olds who need jobs.”
I have done some work with Kate’s aunt before, so it’s fine telling her to get Kate a job. The aunt says okay. Fine. The aunt says thank you.
We are done. In record time. Good. Because I didn’t charge the aunt for the call and I have to stop telling people who are not really friends of mine that I will coach their relatives for free. Everyone is a relative of someone.
Then another call. A week later. The aunt does not have a lead. I make a note to myself to not work with her again because she told me she was very well connected. I think she is maybe delusional.
The aunt says she is going to sell Kate her car so she can buy a new car.
Kate has no money. She cannot make payments. And she cannot get a job unless the aunt will give her the car. And the aunt makes a lot of money, so this makes no sense. I eat while I am on the phone and I tell myself that if I were my career coach I’d say I need a job that doesn’t make me so anxious. I don’t want to eat on calls. I want to be relaxed with no food issues.
So what am I doing with these calls? This job is ruining my life because soon, I won’t fit into my clothes.
I say I have to go. I tell Kate she needs to be okay relying on her aunt to get her a job. “That’s what all teenagers do—they use their parents’ network to get a job. It’s fine.”
I make two grilled cheeses to transition to alone time.
Then it’s the next week. It’s Kate on the phone.
I say, “How’s the job hunt?”
She says, “Not that good.”
“It takes time,” I say. “Give it a few more weeks. Did your aunt get you any interviews? You only need one. You’ll get the job if you get the interview. I can tell. You’re good on the phone.”
“I can’t really wait a week. I need something now.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t have anywhere to live.”
“What about your aunt? “
“She threw me out.”
“What do you mean?”
“She packed all my stuff into garbage bags and took a picture of them sitting at the end of her driveway.”
“I don’t know. I have her car to pick up her husband at the airport. She told me to pick him up at the airport then give him the car.”
“Then I am supposed to just leave. She kicked me out.”
“What about your parents?”
“It’s just my mom. And I can’t live with her.”
I think back to the aunt trying to sell Kate her car. I decide garbage bags are something my messed-up mom would do. And I think about all the grilled cheeses I’m going to burn trying to figure out how to help Kate.
“I’ll just buy you a plane ticket. Just come to my house.”
“Have you ever been on a plane?”
“Take a cab to the airport and there will be a ticket waiting for you.”
“Have you ever been in a taxi?”
“Do you have money?”
“Okay. Go to the airport.”
At dinner I announce that Kate will be here at 11pm. “She is 19 and she’ll be at the house a few weeks,” I tell my husband. “I am getting her a job,” I tell the kids.
The kids ask me why I didn’t give them more notice.
It’s a good point. I say nothing.
My husband says, “You said that about Melissa and she stayed for a year.”
It’s another good point. Again I say nothing.
Kate arrives. She has a very small suitcase and nothing else. She looks tired. I show her our guest room. Which until one minute ago we called Melissa’s room.
All my stuff is in the drawers and cabinets, but who cares because she is leaving soon and anyway she has basically nothing with her.
She sits down on a chair. I say, “Where are your parents? Why do you have nowhere to go? Why were you living with your aunt?”
Kate’s earliest memory is when she’s in fifth grade. She is living with her mom and sisters at her grandma’s. The grandma won’t let Kate’s sisters eat in the house, so Kate makes sandwiches and sneaks them to her siblings.
Her step-dad is an alcoholic who beats up her mom. Her two older sisters left at 15 and both went into prostitution. Kate tried to stay but her dad hurt her when she tried to protect her mom. And her mom yelled at her when she called the police.
I could only ask disorganized questions. When I could think. I said, “Was there a gun in the house?”
Kate said, “Yes. But it wasn’t a problem because when my step-dad was drunk my mom hid the gun under my bed.”
Kate lived at her sister’s house for a bit. Her sister’s boyfriend beat her sister until she passed out. Kate called 911 and the boyfriend grabbed her phone and threw it against the wall.
Kate went to her other sister’s house. Kate didn’t know her sister was dealing drugs until she called Kate from jail. The sister didn’t want to tell the police that she had two kids, so she asked Kate to take care of the kids while she was in prison.
Kate was 17.
She didn’t graduate from high school because she didn’t go enough days.
She lived at lots of friends’ homes for a week at a time. “But,” she said, “they weren’t friends. I always knew I didn’t want to hang around them. But no one I wanted to be around would be friends with me.”
An hour has passed telling me all this. She is in the same chair the whole time. She is crying.
She says, “I never cry. I can’t remember the last time I cried. I never cry. I’m sorry.”
I tuck Kate in as best I can. I give her some of my clothes to wear.
I go upstairs and wake my husband up. “She’s a mess,” I tell him. “Worse than my childhood.”
He is asleep. Then he pops up from his pillow and asks what could be worse than my own childhood. He sees we are in a different league with Kate. Then he says, “She’s lucky to have found you. You can help her.”
I take a Xanax to fall asleep.
The next morning Kate asks if I have something she can use to write down things so she won’t forget them.
I give her a notebook.
At breakfast I tell the boys. “Kate will be living at our house for a long time. She does not have a place to go.”
I look at Kate. She looks down at her forkful of eggs.
“Well. She has a home now. We are her home.”
We are driving. The boys ask questions. All day long.
Kate tells them she hates the word homeless because she never was homeless. “I always found a place to sleep,” she says. “But I always worry so much about being homeless so I hate hearing the word.”
We go to buy food Kate likes. And shampoo. My younger son takes her to H&M, his favorite store. He picks out a coat for her. She has never had a winter coat, but her instincts are good. The coat he wanted for her is made for a punk rocker look, someone who is probably about to be homeless. Kate picks conservative blue, button-down.
She is a magnet to my boys. They go where she goes. They don’t want to miss anything.
I cook dinner while my husband finds boots for her to wear so she can help find a lost calf. Kate has a sixth sense for where to look and she finds him in record time.
We all sit down to dinner and my son says, “Kate, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
And Kate says, “I want to be my own person.”
I look over at her and I want to hug her but I’m scared I will scare her. Has anyone ever hugged her? I don’t want her to run.
There are many things about career coaching that I don’t like. I miss calls, my kids overhear too much, and most people don’t have career problems, they just wish they did because career problems are so much easier than life problems. But I actually love career coaching. I love finding out the problem, and I love helping people solve their problems, and I am so happy to be able to help Kate.