I am in charge of doing several of the hiring interviews for my job. Right from the start his resume stood out. And the more resumes I read, the more I kept going back to his. The initial phone interview went well and called him again to set a time for him to come in and begin working.
When I tried to confirm a time he snapped at me.
"I CAN'T MAKE IT ON WEDNESDAY AND I DOUBT I CAN DO THURSDAY."
Needless to say I was taken aback. I ended the conversation abruptly and starred quizzically and my phone.
"Wow" I thought "I guess I'm not going to be calling him back."
Surprisingly he actually called me back later that night but I didn't listen to his voicemail until the following day.
He apologized and explained that he was having a bad day. I was touched by the sincerity in his voice. I called him back to offer him a second chance.
I got to work early with Liz to help set up. We were outside on a break and I told her the new guy was coming today. I told her that I had this inexplicable feeling that he was going to be a smoker and that he was going to be covered in tattoos.
Almost on cue a man walked up to the building. I looked at Liz and said "I'll bet that's him."
"No way" she laughed, "he's not supposed to be here for another three hours".
The man approached and asked if either one of us was named Melissa. I told him that I was.
Turns out he was the man I had interview over the phone. And he was three hours early. Both of his arms were covered in tattoos and he reached into his pockets to find a lighter for his cigarette.
I turned to Liz and smiled "I knew it."
He handled the job very well. At first he was very quiet but I began to realize that he wasn't used to having fun at work. We broke him in with jokes and water balloon fights. We began to laugh about that time I almost didn't call him back.
The truth was his apology showed me that he had character and I was happy to have him be part of the team. His appearance suggested at someone who partied and drank a great deal, but his energy hinted at a powerful transition. He had one foot in his party life that he wasn't quite ready to let go off, and another foot ready to take the leap into establishing a powerful career. I always had the sense that he would do great thing.
One day I was walking behind him when one his tattoos caught my eye. I grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop.
"This one is your most recent one, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is."
It was a large tattoo taking up all the space from his elbow to his wrist. It was of a Phoenix rising up from its own skeleton in a fiery blaze.
"Do you know anything about the Phoenix mythology?" I asked
"Not really" he admitted "I picked it because it looked cool."
I looked at him in shock.
"I can't believe you don't know anything about it. The Phoenix is a mythological creature that rises up from its own ashes to be born again stronger and more powerful than before. You are Phoenix."
It wasn't until after that conversation that I learned more about him. His rocky childhood, his parents divorce, and the years of wild partying and drug abuse. He was even in a coma for several days as a child because he had been hit by a car going 70 miles an hour. His doctors tried to get his parents to pull the plug on him because they were that certain that he wasn't going to make it.
Yet the man I saw before me was so different from his past. Still a product of it, he was moving in direction that would take him to such great things. You could tell he was a man who wasn't going to let his past define him.
We would always spend a little time each day talking about his life goals and what he wanted to accomplish. He had great instincts but struggled a little bit when it came to leaving some elements of his past behind. He didn't seem to get too much support from friends and family.
"I think this is why I am supposed to know you" I said to him one day. "So I can be that voice OUTSIDE your head that lets you know you are doing the right thing. You are smart, you are a hard worker, and you have the ambition that can take you anywhere in life. Sometimes you just got to shake that dust and know what's right for yourself."
"I hope I know you for a long time" I added, " You will go on to do so many great things."
One day I happened to be driving past his apartment on the way to work and I called to offer him a ride.
"Actually I need to talk to you" he said. "My friend got me a job where he works and I start training tonight. I don't think I can work with you anymore."
My stunned silence was taking up all the space between us. If I have to be honest with myself I knew this day would come but I didn't think it be so abrupt.
"It's nothing personal" he tried to reassure me. "I just need the money."
He was used to seeing me handle any crisis with grace and fortitude, but this time was different. This time I let the struggle show.
"How could you have so little respect for me and Liz that you would do this?" Tears welled in my eyes. "The worst part is I feel like I'm losing a friend. I've lost a lot of friends over the years but this is the first time I've lost a friend to money and that is an awful feeling. I don't think you realize how many people you beat to get this job and how highly you were respected."
He started to realize what he had done and offered to move his training back. I said no. I could tell his heart was no longer with us.
"I doubt I'm ever going to see you again and it kills me to think that this might be the last conversation I may have with you. I never wanted this to be on bad terms. I've so much respect for you and this hurts."
"I'm sorry" he said. There was a definite sadness to his voice. He wasn't expecting me to cry. I knew he wanted to say something more comforting but he couldn't find the words.
I took a deep breath. "I hope you are happy at your new job".
I was stuck in traffic for over an hour. I was still wiping tears from my face when Liz came out to greet me. She wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed.
"I am so sorry" she said
My Phoenix, you are such a powerful creature. You are tougher than you realize and more loved that you will ever know. It is much harder to rise from the ashes of a fire that you started yourself, but I will always encourage you to rise. Some bridges are going to burn but that's why it's so important that you learn to fly.
Someday I want to met you again. I want you to look me in the eye and say with pride, "Look at all the things I have done."
And I smile at you and say "I know."