My principal noticed the difference from my first year joining Pacific High School and the type of leadership role I grew into. She pulled me into her office one day and offered me an opportunity to go to a five-day leadership training course in Anchorage with the Sitka School Board members. She gave me the information about the training program and I was so excited to take the trip.
A day or two later I got my ticket and it hit me. I was the only one representing Pacific High School and I knew no one at all. I was going with a bunch of strangers and I felt as I did the first day I came to school. My stomach started churning and I felt sick and nervous. I felt hesitant to leave because I never had this opportunity before and I felt like I was going to be all alone. I wasn’t sure of going but everyone here at school was convinced that I could do this. The feeling was also familiar like when I was on my way here to Sitka from Kwethluk. I was so nervous, like a child leaving her mother for the first time in her life.
I remember living in Kwethluk, a totally different environment compared to Sitka. Every thing about the place was disturbing. Hills with tundra, no trees only bushes, tornado gusts of dust, thick clouds of mosquitoes waiting for a victim and suffocating air that would make your skin dry and irritated. In Kwethluk the lifestyle was non-stop struggle. My mother and I weren’t in the best state either considering that I was her child. It was as if we were just friends who partied with each other constantly and pretty much screwed each other over at any opportunity.
Our family genes contain alcoholic blood on my mother’s side. In this case we let our problems swallow our entire willpower and my mother and I began to binge drink for months at a time. Binge drinking evolved to bootlegging in order to survive. I was of 14 years of age and I had already started maturing in the most unfit ways possible. My mother ordered cases of 14 fifths of R&R Canadian Whiskey or Monarch Vodka for $200. We were able to make $600-$1,600 profit from one order of booze depending on the sell prices.
Our habits took over and we no longer had any relations with family or friends unless we needed money. I remember always throwing parties where there were drugs like marijuana, cocaine, pills, never ending supply of alcohol and drunks everywhere. We ourselves were consumed by this lifestyle and there was no way out. The more I stayed in the village the more my life had no morals.
I lost any respect from the community and also lost my mother to drinking. This was final. I had to make a decision that would take a lot of courage, courage that I strongly lacked. I mustered the courage I did have and decided to put myself in treatment for a free ticket here to Sitka, whether my own mother came with me or not. No matter how bad I felt, how bad the withdrawal was or how I felt that I was abandoning my mother, I stuck with it.
I was scared for four months in the Bethel treatment center waiting to arrive here. When I arrived at the Alaska Airlines in Bethel, I knew that this lifestyle I was leaving would fade away to a shadow in my past. But I was scared for the future.
“Heather, you can do it! Don’t be afraid, this is a great opportunity.” Kathy’s words echoed in my mind while I was waiting in line to get boarded on the plane. I must have repeated that phrase over a million times, hoping that the words would be imprinted permanently and I would obey them. As I waited I turned around to attempt to develop a relationship with my roommate, a student from Sitka High School. She seemed quite sophisticated for her age and I became intimidated. I realized that I was as average as a person could get and these people’s expectations for me seemed to be aged dust on a hundred year old dresser.
I was eager to make myself outstanding and overdid it. My personality was entirely different between these people so I felt as if I was rude, obnoxious, poor and unfit. Finally, I lost interest and paid attention to the line declining. “Excuse me miss, can I see your ticket please?” said the flight attendant rudely, trying to grab my attention at the head of the line. This trip was already horribly frightening and I thought that I wouldn’t survive the five day trip. We boarded the plane which relaxed me a little. It brought me back to when I came to Sitka; I was afraid until I boarded the plane. Plane rides relax me and remind my of my grandfather who was a charter pilot and gave our family free rides on his plane. I finally felt at peace and lost myself in a void of a positive past.
On the way to Anchorage I ignored my uncomfortable feelings and observed the view from such a high altitude. Everything was so much smaller. Even the mountains seemed like they bowed at my feet. I slowly drifted and was able to finally sleep after such awkward experiences.
When we finally made it to Anchorage I was awakened by one of the chaperones. “We’re here. Are you excited?” said the old woman. No. I wasn’t at all. This was the time where I felt like running away. Instead of telling her that, I cracked my lips open enough to be able to say, “Yeah.” We entered the Anchorage airport and looked for the section to pick our luggage up. I watched how there seemed to be a ton of luggage passing by on the conveyer belt. I saw my bag and I quickly barged into the wall of people and snatched it before it was too late.
I regrouped with the strangers who accompanied me here. “Wow, you really pack light!” said the older female chaperone. “WOW, that remark made me feel a lot better,” I thought sarcastically. Again I felt as if I wasn’t fit enough to be here. We rented an SUV and we headed over to the Hilton hotel. We walked in to the hotel and I was assigned a room with the Sitka High School student.
Our room was right next to the older female chaperones. Automatically I went to the old woman’s room. She answered the door after knocking for a bit. "Hey, I'm going to be up front with you. I will be going outside every so often so when I leave I'll be sure to inform you so there will be no worries," I said, looking straight into her eyes. "Okay, thanks for telling me. I appreciate it" she said with hesitation. Ha, I thought. She knew what I was up to but she seemed to be happier for me telling her than just sneaking off. That gave me some more comfort. I knew I didn’t have to risk an unnecessary plane ride home because of my need for nicotine.
I smoked my cigarette and headed up to my room. I was hoping that I would be able to sleep tonight. I turned on the television and watched a weird show about belligerent girls who were as dumb as a bag of rocks. The show amused me for a bit. I thought to myself how ridiculous these girls who were being idolized. I laid there and fell asleep.
8:00 am was breakfast. I walked into the Spruce Room downstairs at the Hilton. I was amazed at how many people there were. There had to be at least two hundred people getting breakfast. All the food was fancy. I grabbed some grub and met up with the group I came to Anchorage with. "People" was how I referred to them. They didn’t mean much to me at the time. These "people" told me I had to go to a room with all the other kids and do activities.
There were at least fifty tables in that room so I sat down at a random table and at least seven people joined me. We introduced ourselves and I already made some friends. Unlike my usual friends these people were preppy, jocky and above average. I felt out of place. We all sat there waiting for the activities to begin and chatted about where we were from and why we came. Boring, I thought. These people were lame and I seriously felt like slapping them around to amuse myself. I think they read my mind because they all looked at me with unease. I laughed and thought that I already intimidated them.
Finally an older broad came in and started the session up. "Hello everyone, I am so excited to see so many young adults here today! We will be doing some activities to help everyone build a relationship. We will start off by standing up and introducing ourselves. Please tell us where you are from, what school you attend and what you are looking forward to," she said with a cheesy smile. Crap I thought, time to think of what to say. I happened to be in the front so I was one of the first people to stand up.
"My name is Heather Chandler, I'm from Sitka, I attend Pacific High School and I hope to learn leadership skills to influence and give a role for my peers at the school I attend." I think that bought me a ticket to pleasing all the above average students there because they all smiled at me as if I was a part of the crowd. I didn’t mean for that to happen.
The whole entire day we played games in groups. We were randomly assigned together and wandered off to different rooms where we had to act out skits, play games like group juggle and teamwork exercises like untying a human knot. I had some fun but everything seemed too cheesy. Finally the day was over. I was looking forward to just sitting in my room and relaxing since it felt like five days already happened in one.
For the next day or two the events were similar, playing games, taking surveys and making more friends. I was starting to have a good time and feeling less out of place until about the third day. I had to go out to dinner with the Sitka School District Board members and the Sitka High School student. I had already spent my money on food and shopping for random things so I was flat broke. We went to some random restaurant in town that seemed a little too fancy for my taste.
Everything on the menu was expensive and I chose to only get a glass of water. The old woman that I had come to know a little offered to buy me dinner. I felt as if she pitied me so I refused her offer politely. She denied my refusal and ordered me a Thai vegetarian pizza. Great, I thought. The old woman probably thinks she's doing a good cause for the poor one of the group. I resented her and didn’t even want to bother eating the weird pizza in front of me. I lost my appetite but I forced it down my throat out of respect.
Once again, I had the feeling of discomfort. Once again, I felt like getting away. I was never use to anyone helping me out. I took care of myself. If anything I helped people that were around me. For once I felt absolutely helpless and lost with no way out. After sitting there trying to act like I cared about their conversations I started to zone out. Why did I hate her so much for buying me dinner? I asked myself.
Why was this a big deal and why can’t I get use to all these new situations? Then I felt a nudge on my shoulder. "Heather, are you okay. You look down or something," said the old woman. Everyone was looking at me waiting for a response. "Oh yeah, I just feel really tired." I said to get them off my back. "So, what do you think of this restaurant?" asked the Mr. Head Honcho dude. I replied with an "Oh, I love it. I just wish I didn’t spend all my money so I can afford it." I said and chuckled a little. They all laughed like it was a joke.
"Well, if you like this place, wait till tomorrow. We have reservations at the Captain Cook and dinners on us." Hmm, what the hell is the Captain Cook and is it as fancy as this restaurant? I thought. "Just dress nice and meet us at 6:00 downstairs at the hotel." Mr. Head honcho said. Yup, sounds expensive I thought.
The next day was just like all the other days, games, group activities, meeting new people and more. But today I got to find out what personality color I am, I was gold. Go figure. All I could think about was how fancy I had to dress for dinner tonight. I thought about what to wear and realized that I didn’t really have anything fancy. I always bought regular cheap clothes and never bothered to buy anything nice. I figured I would put something together real quick.
The session for the day was over so I quickly ran up to my room to get ready. I managed to make a huge mountain of mess on my bed while trying to find an outfit to wear. I never felt so self conscience for a bunch of upper class people. I put on my flowy swayed black pants, lacy black and tan sandals and a maroon colored silky shirt. I styled my hair in a preppy version of myself.
I felt satisfied with the way I looked and prepared myself for dinner. I waited downstairs. When our group got together it looked as if they were shocked and never expected me to dress formal. I felt as if I was upper class for once. I never had that feeling before. I always thought of myself to be lower than middle class people and would never amount to these people I was with. I felt good about myself and never thought I would.
We all sat at a huge table. There were six of us sitting together at the restaurant. We started chatting for a bit and I was actually sucking up to these people. I kind of felt upset that I was acting like a totally different person just to make an impression. Finally, we started checking out our menus. One single thing caught my eye, lobster. I have always had a great urge to try lobster.
I never thought I would and it seemed like such a big deal to me but of course I looked for the cheapest meal in the menu. “You know Heather, you can order anything on the menu since it’s on us,” said Mr. Head Honcho. “Are you serious, I can order anything?” I replied with hesitation. “Yes you can.” He chuckled like it was no big deal. “Even lobster if I wanted?” I asked expecting him to change his mind. “Yes Heather, of course. Like I said before you can order anything!” I think he was a little annoyed by my constant questioning.
I was so excited to order lobster for the first time and before anyone else made their decision I quickly raised my voice and said, “I’m going to get the Australian lobster tail.” With a smile a foot long across my face and I swear you can see every tooth my mouth held. Everyone looked at me and I might as well have stamped a huge question mark across their faces.
“Oh uh, I never had lobster before and I have always wanted to try it. I never thought I would have a chance, so I’m really excited.” Still they looked like I gave them no explanation at all and they didn’t even comprehend what I meant. Of course they didn’t really know. I was used to living life with what little I could get. They were use to a life with, “Hey, what’s for dinner tonight; lobster, steak, shrimp, all of the above?” I couldn’t explain how much this meant to me. I couldn’t really explain it to anyone as a matter of fact.
My whole life I took the cheapest way, literally and metaphorically. Just once I was given an opportunity that was so small, yet so huge in my perspective. No one could possibly understand, no one but me. I felt like I could leap ten miles or turn water into wine. But my instinct of course was to feel bad because of how freaking expensive this meal was.
The waiter came along and asked for our choices. When he approached he was smiling and his face seemed friendly. That was for sure something that I wasn’t used to, nice waiters. Finally the circle came around to me. “Uh, I’ll have the um, Australian lobster tail please.” It felt as if I inhaled a bunch of helium because my voice seemed childlike. “What would you like to drink?” the waiter asked. Crap, didn’t even think of that. I was too focused on the lobster.
I quickly looked through the menu and saw “Shirley Temple”. “Yes, I’ll have a Shirley Temple along with it.” I absolutely love Shirley Temples and if I could I would drink a hundred of them in one sitting. “Thank you for ordering I will be right back with your meals,” said the waiter still smiling. Wow, I knew my mother would laugh at my story when I told her about this. I knew the only way this guy was nice was for cash and cash only.
My drink was served first. Every time the waiter came around my legs started shaking and I felt like the lobster would never arrive to meet its fate of my dying urge. Everyone got their drinks first also. They were just gulping them down like it was nothing. I was taking the smallest sips so I would conserve the drink through out the meal. I was used to that, always conserve something that you like so it will last longer.
Again the waiter came around to serve more drinks to “the people”. He looked at me puzzled. I was the only one who wasn’t getting refills. “Uh, ma’am did you know that you can get as many free refills as you would like?” he said with a grin. “Really, they’re free?” I asked. “Yup,” the waiter replied. I too started gulping my drink down. I felt awkward because I wasn’t used to this either. Finally our meals were being served. I noticed that my teeth started to hurt from grinding them. I never felt so excited for food before.
My plate was served to me and my smile got bigger. Now I felt like I couldn’t stop smiling and my face was going to look like this permanently. They gave me my lobster with a side of gravy mashed potatoes and varieties of vegetables. The butter sauce was on this candle stand figure with a lit candle underneath keeping the sauce constantly warm.
I felt as if I was superior and everything that went on in my past no longer existed. This one thing made me so happy and I realized right then and there that everything can be miserable in life but when opportunities like this happen, you no longer think of the bad things to come. You no longer worry for the future. You live it and the world, in time will unfold many miraculous opportunities that are worth waiting for. My outlook in life changed right then and there at the dinner table.