Nothing could prepare me for my senior year of college. I rolled into it young, dumb and broke and came out much wiser (but still broke, obviously). I had no idea walking in that I would be writing a 25-page capstone paper, analyzing suicide notes in class for the lethality of intent and regularly chasing down 30 homeless shelter clients to load them into cars and buses, allowing the drivers to get them to the church where they would sleep for the night. “Where’s Angel!” I screamed in desperation to the last couple of clients as the last driver tapped his foot impatiently. “She’s sleeping,” Marvin mumbled.
I peered suspiciously at the barely lumpy sleeping bag on the not-so-empty office couch. It had swallowed her whole.
Senior year introduced me to my first face-to-face internship in the field I poured my heart and soul into throughout my entire college experience: Social Work. A bleeding heart passionate for social justice and endlessly emphasizing with the broken, I could not be dismayed. The well-meant precautions about burning out heaped upon me by virtually every older adult who engaged me in small talk had fallen on deaf ears. Young, invincible and used to being the shoulder to cry on for my friends, surely nothing could phase me. Little did I know, I hadn’t seen anything yet.
I interned at a homeless shelter in Metro Detroit. To label my internship physically demanding and emotionally exhausting stands as an understatement. Most clients came from extremely broken families and very unsafe areas. They came in shaking and confused, dragging their weary bodies into our small intake room to be aided in filling out paperwork. They came in with arthritis, handicaps, learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and diagnoses of bipolar disorder and drug addiction.
Many of the parents came in with CPS caseworkers hot on their heels. Our higher functioning clients often came in with arms crossed and all the fury of hell in their eyes as if to say “What are you looking at? I don’t need to be here!” (They definitely needed to be there). There are not nearly enough homeless shelters in Michigan to meet the demand. During the winter months, we had to turn many people away.
My heart broke for them, praying they wouldn’t be left cold on the street.
While sitting in the kitchen at my internship, my supervisor rushed in to break the news. Oakland University canceled all in-person internships, effective immediately. The remainder of the mandatory four hundred field hours required for senior year would need to be completed online. “Can you finish out the rest of the day?” she asked, bits of her hair jumping out of her thoughtfully pulled back ponytail in frazzles. I responded in her favor. Although worn-out, I was crushed to leave so abruptly and knew some of my clients were going to be exceptionally devastated by my early departure. I had a little over a month left of undergrad with Oakland’s end date for classes set for April 25.
With extensive research essays, constant group projects, side gigs babysitting, responsibilities at home and helping the traumatized clients of our shelter, I was exhausted, stressed and cried at least a couple times a week. I don’t care what anyone says, crying is self-care. I, along with all my fellow classmates in the social work program, was aching for an endpoint. The transition to online classes left me with more free time and less work than before, but the rapid shut down and sudden transition to a state of social isolation left me reeling.
My motivation tanked, leaving me foggy and unfocused in virtual lectures.
Almost three months into quarantine, my friend Raven, recouping from the loss of a two-year relationship, spontaneously invited me and her close friend Kat on a trip to Florida. Stressing from the craziness of the pandemic and in making the decision about attending grad school in the fall, I decided to go south.
Outside the car, we gathered our luggage in the dark and stretched our legs after the long 18-hour car ride to Treasure Island, Florida. I could practically taste the salt from the fresh ocean waves, the vapor lingering on the air like a sweet awakening. While Raven rested, Kat and I dropped our stuff at our quaint two-bedroom beachfront Airbnb rental, hopped into our bathing suits and raced out to shore. We splashed into the waves, footloose and fancy free, crazier than two bed bugs in July, as my dad would say. In an instant, any cares regarding my future as a social worker and my next steps fell away. The waves rose and fell, sweeping confidentially around our feet as they dashed up to shore.