Beware of Trolls That Dwell in Cardboard Castles

The week before my trip, I had a conflict with a coworker. Not my fault! This individual typically works in my warehouse’s box-making area…and nothing else. Box making isn’t a difficult task. The chore involves taking flat boxes from a pallet, load them into a folding machine, take folded shipping boxes from the machine, and loading them onto a motorized overhead conveyor to be distributed to the warehouse packers. A dismal task to say the least. If it wasn’t boring, then it was annoying, as the machine would always break down if you so much as look at it.

My coworker, however, took great pride in this task. So much so, he believed he the manager of box making. He was no manager. This pride has rewarded him with a nasty temper and would often snap at anyone who wouldn’t do things his way or who denied him his favorite job. Even before our confrontation, I didn’t agree with what he did, how he treats others, or his lack of spirit in life despite being only in his mid-thirties.

If he wasn’t belittling someone for bring him the wrong colored pallet-jack, he was inventing new rules that the real managers didn’t authorize, saying that certain people don’t deserve to work there, loath the company picnic at an amusement park, and made his coworker’s jobs harder than it needed to be. And now it was my turn to work with him.

I was going about my business. I had my box-folding machine, and he had his on the opposite side of the area. I loaded my boxes on to the trolley, saying nothing, and he did the same. As I was working, I felt some kind of tension in the air, the same kind of aura you would feel from an angry parent, but my thoughts were too occupied elsewhere to care. My head was dancing with excitement for the prospect of going to Belize and imaging what wondrous adventures I may have. I couldn’t care less about the other guy or what his problem was. For three hours, we said nothing to each other ––– not even a “hello.”

I was about to load a stack of finished boxes onto the trolley. Then – Boom! – I was shoved out of the way by the supposed Box Master. Instead of an apology, he went on a rant that I wasn’t doing my job properly and that his boxes were more important than mine. I was stunned, but only for a moment. My mind briefly flashed back to the soulless English teacher that bullied me in college. I then felt a grenade pin drop in my mind. The anger I have suppressed from that time combined with the frustration of my unfulfilled life came out all at once.

My retort was loud and came complete with colorful names and signing a very insulting salute. My reply made the coworker-turned-box troll angrier and started proclaiming that I was an evil person. Making insulting accusations that loosely translate to “nobody likes me,” “I intentionally annoy others,” and “I was alone and soulless.” I saw that this conflict could only end badly as he knocked over a stack of boxes during his hissy fit. So instead of risking my job over the Box Troll, I packed up my things, left to report to the managers, and left more kindly words as a rebuttal as I left.

I wasn’t terribly injured, but I have already lost a battle with one adult bully; I was not going to be a victim to another. Not without sharing my honest opinion of him. Even if he was signing my checks, he had no excuse to treat me like an underling. And besides, of all the problems in the world, he chose to pick a fight over boxes…how lame is that?

When I relayed my story to my manager, she was not surprised to hear that the Box Troll has scared off another partner. I was not the first to be chewed out by the Box Master over his supposed supremacy in his domain. It was no secret to anyone that he loathed anything but cardboard construction and demanded respect for his “skills.”

After I was reassigned to a new job and had time to cool my head, I began to reflect on what happened back there. I had only worked with him a few times and I knew very little about what he does outside the warehouse, or if he even has a life outside his job. I was certain he knew as much about me as I did of him. So how could he have possibly become so convinced that I was an evil person when all he knew about me was that I was a piss-poor box maker? How could he say such cruel things about me when our dialog between each other has been shorter than the attention span of a goldfish?

From my training as a social worker, I analyzed what I knew of this man to make some kind of sense of this his obsession for paper containers. After some hours of pondering, the only reason that made any sense to me is that he wanted control like most bullies. From my prior interaction with this guy, I gathered that he may lack control over his life at home and the reason he enjoys box-making so much is to take back some of the power he lacks from home through his coworkers. And now he hates me because I question his authority, I debate his methods, I didn’t show him the respect I would show a manager, and I didn’t give him control over me.

As sad as all of this may seem, I don’t have any pity for him. I’m not a professional social worker yet, he wasn’t my client, and he doesn’t want my help. The Box Troll may keep his precious Cardboard Kingdom. He can shout and play with his imaginary power all he wants, but I know for a fact that I am still better than him. I don’t need to step on others to feel good about myself. I don’t need to bully others to have control over my life. I have a lifetime’s worth of astonishing achievements under my belt with no intention of slowing down. Now I’m journey-bound to Belize to build a home made of wood, dreams, and hope.

I’m Ready to Go

Beep, beep, beep goes my alarm. As usual doing its daily duty to interrupt my dreams and remind me of my own daily tasks that can’t wait after nine in the morning. But today I needed to wake early, very early. Too early for work, school, or Christmas, although I was just as excited for the occasion. Today was special, for it was the day to make a difference to my life and many others. At 6 o’clock in the morning in the summer of 2014, I left for my immersion trip to Belize in Central America.

The concept of me traveling to another country has been a fond fantasy of mine. Whether it was for business or pleasure, I wanted to see the world in its true colors. On TV, we often hear the best features of a far-off place to attract tourists, and we hear the worst of another to fester panic for a news broadcast. I wanted to go to these places and see these places in their true light. I want to see the world through an unfiltered lens.

I have made attempts to follow this desire many times in the past. My first was in college and I applied to the school’s Study Abroad Program. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money to take me through that route. After college I tried again through the Peace Corps. With a social work degree and a sizable volunteer background, I thought I was a shoe-in to travel AND inflict some good in the world. Alas, it was not to be. The national level recruiters thought that I didn’t have the social competence to handle changing circumstance on the job, and so that bridge fell through along with a good portion of my hopes for the future.

Out of desperation, I entertained the idea of joining the Navy. I had no illusion of being the next American super soldier, but given the vocation of the men and women who are on board these ships, they would surely need a psychologist for professional counseling on board while traveling from one port to another. I went to their recruitment office to ask if they had room for a social worker. Only to found out that it didn’t matter. The Navy hiring policy prevented anyone with autism to join under any circumstances. As you might imagine, I was understandably sore to be denied due to something that wasn’t my fault. And so I was stuck in Kentucky and forced to continue working at a job that exercises none of my talents and satisfies none of my desires.

During an average day at work, I was in the middle of my usual routine when a thought hit me, “Hand in Hand Ministries does mission trips right?” With that one question, more sprang up. What is involved in these trips? How much does it cost? What skills are needed? What good can I accomplish? Soon questions became curiosity. Curiosity became ambition. And ambition became a plan.

At once, I shot Hand in Hand Ministries an e-mail asking them about their mission-trip programs.

Ever since my Eagle Project during high school, I have been a frequent volunteer for Hand in Hand Ministries (HHM). Their needs were often domestic, such as unloading a truck of incoming donations, loading outgoing donations to needy communities, and preparing HHM’s newsletter. However, HHM’s yearly hallmark of accomplishments is in their immersion trips to Appalachia, Nicaragua, and Belize. Every year HHM would gather a group of volunteers to venture to these locations, spend several days with the local community, take some time to see the world as they do, and leave behind a change for the people there. Although I knew about of these programs, I was focusing my efforts in joining a Peace Corps-type program and never investigated what was involved in HHM’s overseas programs.

I looked over HHM immersion brochures and became attracted to their Building for Change program in Belize. The trip involved taking a group of about 13 volunteers to Belize City and building a 16-foot-by-16-foot house for a family in one week.

At first the idea sounded preposterous. A group of 13 with no home-building experience is going to build a house in just seven days? However, the manager of the program assured me that:

1) It is not only going to be the 13 of us. We will have additional help from other families and volunteers with homebuilding experience

2) HHM has built over 250 houses just like this all over Belize and has always managed to finish the job in three-to four-day span

3) A 16-by-16-foot house is about the size of a small garage. Plus, our task will not include installing electricity, running water, or outgoing plumbing.

With my doubts quelled I immediately made arrangements to follow this quest.

To make arrangements easier I booked my place on the trip months in advance giving me plenty of time to prepare. Getting the time off work was not a problem. After a year of box shunting, I was due for a trip anyways and was able to request a full week of vacation time off. The trip was expensive, too, but I have been saving my hard-earned money for just such occasion. Getting the supplies was no problem, either; HHM provided me a supply list and a schedule so I would know exactly what was supposed to happen and what I would need for that time. Naturally, my parents would be worried for my safety overseas, but they were proud to see me go out into the world and do some good like they had in their youth. With preparations set, I was ready to go and fulfill my ambitions at last.

Outrunning Boredom

The Real World can suck at times. Being stuck in a warehouse 10 hours a day can wear on a person’s morale very quickly. In my spare time, I experiment with different hobbies to cure myself of boredom and remind myself that I’m person, not just a cog in a machine. Even in the time, I didn’t feel like doing anything constructive, I felt compelled to do something. I felt like I always needed to do something to occupy my time.

During college, one of the ways I spent my time off was by raising a small tank of fish. The fish gave me some healthy responsibility and company as I was going through my freshman year. Later when I moved to my second dorm in the second year my mom dared me to try my hand at raising plants in my dorm as well. Although my new dorm room was the size of a broom closet, it had access to a lot of natural sunlight. The plants became another good distraction for me. It was rewarding to see my plants mature and develop right before my eyes.

After college, it took me a long while before I could finally land a job. In the meantime, my Mom dared me into another hobby. While I was away at WKU, my family got invested in running. My mom, dad sisters, and several of our close friends were in on it. So it was only a matter of time before I became absorbed in it as well. After some coaching and proper gear, I came to enjoy the sport as a way to being healthier and a way to connect with others.

The unique thing, I feel, about running is that you run as an individual, yet you are also part of a community event and connect with fellow runners to encourage to do our best. I got this feeling while I was running in a thirteen-mile marathon through the city of Louisville.

Early Saturday morning, I was running and making good progress. Out of the thousands of runners that surrounded me, I had no idea who was in front of me or behind. My head was in its usual trance while I pace, listening my favorite songs on my phone. My head was so far in the clouds that I didn’t notice the road construction around the 5-mile marker.

I tripped on a piece of loose concrete from the construction in the area and I went down, hard. And there I was, on the ground with two scraped knees. Before the first drop of blood could leave my knees, several of the runners behind me stopped dead in their tracks to help me up and ask if I was OK. After I was to my feet and dusted down, I assured everyone that saw my fall that I was OK. The wounds to the knees didn’t make resuming the race easy.

At first I could only limp along, nursing my new handicaps. The thought of quitting right then and there had cross my mind. But something urged me to keep going. Maybe it was my own determination to finish what I have started? Maybe it was the synergy of competition that surrounded me that forced me to go on? Maybe it was both? Whatever the case, it worked and eventually I was able to bring myself back up to steam and finish the race in two hours and fifteen minutes!

When I race, I run for myself and my own reasons. Your goals are your own. Your strength is your own. Your ambition is your own. And the only time you fail is when you decide that it was not good enough. It is a perfect sport in which anyone can participate, nobody can feel alone, and feel awesome that you have accomplished something worthwhile.

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Here are some of the metals I have collected over the years while running.