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Michelle Close Mills

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Finding a Happy Place
By Michelle Close Mills
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Happiness is closer than you think...

It happened on a Saturday morning in late December of 2008.


I was working for a bank in Indiana. The tellers had finished processing a heavy night drop. I was preparing a large amount of cash for transfer into the main vault when one of the girls opened the doors for business. A regular client came in to cash a check. I could hear her giggling.


Then it got quiet.


The next thing I knew there was a large African American man stomping toward me in a hooded coat, his gloved hands brandishing an Uzi.


He knocked me to the floor. I lost count of how many times he screamed “b***h.”


Then he emptied my open vault.


It was over in about three minutes or so but it felt like hours. I could hear my co-workers weeping, whimpering in fear and my heart thundering in my chest like a kettle drum. 


I’m not afraid to die. I’m saved and I have eternal life waiting for me on the other side of the veil.


But no one wants to perish at the hands of a thug.


He left with one heck of a lot of cash.


The police came, dusted for prints and took our statements.


After it was all over I went home, cried my eyes out and hid in the bedroom, curled up under the covers like a snail.


On Monday we all reported for work an hour before opening. I now realize the incredible courage it took for us to leave our homes and climb back in the saddle.  


Our district manager “Felicia” was there, working on her laptop and making phone calls. We expected her to give us a pep talk, to encourage us to discuss our feelings and tell us what we could expect from the bank in the way of protection.


Instead she waited until five minutes before the doors opened to deliver a brief announcement.


“I’ve been in seven robberies. Twice I was the victim. It happens. It’s part of the job and we have to pull ourselves together and move forward. Now let’s focus. It’s the end of the month and your branch is lagging behind in your sales goals for checking accounts. Let’s work extra hard to make those numbers SHINE!” 


My mouth hung open in shock.


That’s IT? We went through one of the most traumatic experiences of our lives and she was advising us to suck it up, put it out of our minds and pull in more accounts for the bank.


I could have slapped her. 


Then I started thinking.


Maybe seven robberies in one young lifetime had paralyzed her to the point that she could no longer feel anything about it. Perhaps that kind of repeated hellish experience had become so familiar that her defense mechanism told her to move on like it never happened. So Felicia did what she did best, assuming the role of a chirpy blonde sales coach. God knows I wished I could retreat to whatever happy place she was in; where my mind could be safe from the memory of a gun wielding nut job. He still haunts my dreams.


Checking out when life gets too rough…I guess we all do it in one way or another.


The desensitizing of our society seems to be gaining momentum. We’re pelted with so much negative information that murders, rapes, corporate looting, and casualties of war roll off our backs like water on a duck. It’s like these events and the people they happen to aren’t real anymore; they’re just another story.


At the time of the Haitian earthquake, people around the world were glued to their televisions, horrified by the instant demolition of Port au Prince and the suffering of its citizens. Millions of dollars were donated, benefit concerts were held, cargo airplanes from everywhere imaginable circled for hours waiting for clearance to land in an effort to deliver critical supplies.


But as the days wore on the pictures coming out of Haiti were worse than anyone expected. Global frustration mounted as those who tried to help were prevented from doing so because of lack of equipment, impassable roads and fear of attack. Victims died unaided while gangs of rioters looted what hadn’t yet been decimated. 


Most people on this side of the pond were horrified by the rampant anarchy and the profound misery so close to our own shores. No one seemed to be in charge there. Though many were willing to dive in and help, so few seemed able to do anything to bring comfort to the desperate.


What we all witnessed was too much for the average human to comprehend, so some people tuned out. I was right along with them. I couldn’t bear to watch anymore. Unfortunately it was a trend that caught on.


Eventually news reporting from Haiti slowed until it all but stopped.


It’s been two months since the Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, creating the biggest environmental catastrophe this country has ever seen. Public frustration is building, similar to what we saw during the early weeks of the Haitian earthquake tragedy. Again, no one appears to be in charge or in a hurry to do anything to fix the problem; although BP has taken responsibility. Our government seems unable to do anything to get the hole plugged, other than to convene a Congressional committee to yell at Tony Hayward, CEO of BP; a man with a startling lack of sensitivity, who is unable to appreciate the magnitude of what his company has destroyed.  


We see struggling wildlife and marshlands dying before our eyes, angry broken fishermen unable to receive compensation for their lost wages and a once beautiful body of water shimmer with toxins. 


Like Felicia’s seven bank robberies, and like the earthquake in Haiti, the oil spill is too much to take in, too horrible to watch. It would be easier and less painful to turn away, to ignore it.


My fear is that sooner rather than later people will write off the Gulf Coast like a bad debt.


I’m already seeing evidence of it coming and it scares me.


I live along the front lines of this battle in the Tampa Bay area. Here’s what is going on.




Nearly all Florida beaches are still pristine and gorgeous. With the exception of certain areas in the Panhandle and a few beaches in the Keys, there is no oil, there are no tar balls.  The closest pocket of oil is over 140 miles away from our part of the state and moving in the opposite direction.


It’s business as usual.


The fish are regularly and extensively tested for toxins and are thus far uncontaminated. Our birds are fluffy, clean and out doing bird stuff. The blue green water is still as beautiful as ever.


I’ve heard a number of reports from NOAA and the Coast Guard saying that they don’t believe the oil will directly affect the Tampa Bay area at all, barring a hurricane pushing it ashore.


Yet because people hear vague or inaccurate reports on network news programs as well as reading them on the internet, it is perceived that the spill has trashed all Gulf Coast beaches including those in Florida.


As a result, our local tourism is down by 50%.


NOT a good thing.


Waterfront businesses are experiencing hard times and some are even considering closing their doors. One man who has owned a seafood restaurant in Dunedin for nearly forty years wept on television the other night; scared of losing the legacy he hoped to pass along to his children and grandchildren. People are afraid of eating fish caught in the Gulf.


No one wants to lose their way of life needlessly. And I’m afraid that may happen to many in this area if tourists don’t come back. Even though Tampa Bay hasn’t been directly impacted by the oil, hotels and businesses can’t remain open if no one supports them.


We need you. There’s no reason to turn away.


Visit us. Play here, stay here. Plan the vacation you’ve always dreamed of. Florida is my happy place. Come find out why.


The ads say the SunshineState is open for business. And they’re right.


We are.


And God willing, that will never change.



Michelle Close Mills ©














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Reviewed by Regis Auffray 6/22/2010
Truly a "from the heart" article/story, Michelle. I think that there is so much "bombarded" at human beings via all the media methods today that sadly, we become apthetic or "numb" and that is a dangerous way to be in this world/life. Thank you. I do wish you all good things with love and peace,


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