Nightmares in Paradise

Knowing when to leave a bad situation

and finding the courage to do it

by Khloé Meitz

emotion that for so long was the lens through which I understood that great Hawaiian holiday. I guess now, with some perspective, I can see what happened – not just feel it. I guess I can talk about it without the use of smoke and mirrors. Many have asked, but they’ve only walked away with conjecture. You’ll be the first to truly know.

T

his isn't a story I like to tell. And frankly, I have a hard time telling a tale if I don’t quite understand it myself. It’s been almost a year though, now, and I guess I am starting to get over the raw 

I flew to Hawaii on November 9th on a one-way, non-stop flight that had me giddy with pleasure. Some of my friends and I had decided that a girls’ trip to Hawaii would be a delightful way to kick off winter. So while it was just turning crisp in New York (my childhood home), we would be strolling heaven’s beaches in shorts and a tank-tops. We would soak it up, leaving no touristy stone unturned and then, saturated with sun and relaxation, return to our mainland winter jobs. Except me. I was gonna do it: I was gonna find a job in the elusive, 50th state. I was gonna skip winter.

I had done enough research before deciding on Hawaii to realize that the state wasn’t exceptionally user-friendly to Seasonals. Despite being a kitschy tourism hotspot, Hawaii seemed to reject the very idea of a long-term, working, rent-paying tourist. You couldn’t get an interview anywhere unless you were already in the state (and preferably on the correct island), hardly any jobs offered housing options – since surely you already lived in Hawaii – and, for that matter, most advertised job openings were for year-round, not seasonal, employees. After all, the weather in Hawaii is “always” favorable, and so the season is always on. Nonetheless, I had plenty of tourism-, outdoor-, farm- and boat-related skills, so I was sure I could find some job to pay my way through a Hawaiian Christmas – even if it wasn’t ideal.

I browsed Craigslist with a margarita, sent out resumes from my beach-side hammock and wrote professional, persuasive e-mails in my bikini. By the time our vacation was nearly at a close, I had landed a dream job as a tour-guide and farm hand at a 400-acre cattle and horse ranch in the grassy, rolling hills of Waimea. Free housing. Average pay.

"The next morning, I rose at what I knew from experience to be a respectable farm time. "

I moved in on a sunny, auspicious afternoon. The owner texted me saying that she and her daughter were too sick to greet me, but I should feel free to move my things into the employee housing (which I was sharing with the ranch’s only other full-time employee, Ricky… and his perpetual girlfriend…and their 5-year-old son…who sometimes ran around with no pants on). My housemates did not speak much English - I think they spoke Malaysian, although I never found out for sure. They gestured to the last room on the right, where a well-dressed bed stood out against the dingy white walls.

 

There were no introductions. No small talk. No social comforts.

 

There would be no physical comforts either: the kitchen was infested with cockroaches; every room was covered in a general filth; and every day confirmed a creeping sense that this was not in any way my house. 

The next morning, I rose at what I knew from experience to be a respectable farm time. My employer had given me no notice of where or when to meet her, or what I would be expected to do on this, my first day of work – I didn’t even know if she lived in the large farmhouse nearby or if she was located off property. However, wanting to make a good impression I went to where some horses were corralled and waited, knowing eventually someone would come out to do something with them, and there they would find me.

I was correct. A girl soon exited the big house and, making eye contact, walked my way. She walked directly past me, ducked under the fence I was standing by and proceeded to work without even a nod hello. I am convinced that had I not begun helping her and broken the silence myself she would not have acknowledged me at all. The girl did not introduce herself. She did not ask if I was the new girl. She did not give me further instruction. She finished her duty and abruptly left, and I was alone once more. I would later learn that this was my employer’s daughter.

"I’d be left in the middle of an unfamiliar land, among unfamiliar people, with nowhere to live."

The decision to quit was as frightening as it was joyful. It took strength. If I left, the plans I had laid out for the next 3 or 5 months (as a seasonal that’s basically my entire future) would be suddenly uprooted and tossed away. I’d be left in the middle of an unfamiliar land, among unfamiliar people, with nowhere to live.

But a change was necessary. And after many days debating it with myself, and an emotional phone call to my parents to make sure I wasn’t being fickle and stupid, I made the decision to do something about my miserable situation.

B

y now, I’m sure even you, reader, can sense the red flags. But this being day one, I hardly thought that I had given the place enough time to show its true colors. After all, how many times has a

situation seemed momentarily negative only to be fun and positive once you’ve grown into it? What professional gave up any task after only a brief try? What nomad – what Seasonal – backed out of a new and different situation just because it was a little strange? Not this one.

situation seemed momentarily negative only to be fun and positive once you’ve grown into it? What professional gave up any task after only a brief try? What nomad – what Seasonal – backed out of a new and different situation just because it was a little strange? Not this one.

Two weeks passed like a year. I began to struggle with a sort of depression and, even more alarmingly, a sort of insanity brought on by always being alone. Ricky was not interested in a co-worker and avoided me; my boss and her daughter only left the confines of their house to criticize the work they’d never instructed me in; without a vehicle I could not escape the ranch and without friends I could not escape my head.

I remember the final straw with ice-cold clarity. “The guide never rides faster than a walk,” she said, watching me watching our guests gallop off. The last vestige of hope left to me in the job was the riding. Everything sucked, but I thought at least I had horses and 400 acres to gallop them over every day. Except that I didn’t. No, I would just get to watch other people have fun. A joyless winter played out ahead of me in my mind then and I think she saw it in me, for she later offered to let me ride fast with the guests that day. 

THE ESCAPE

I

made the decision to bail, but my great escape would never have been as swift, seamless, or comfortable without the help of allies. The woman who came to my aid was the friend of a friend. I’d known her 

vaguely while working in Ketchikan, Alaska the summer before, and seen her in Hawaii prior to starting my job. We didn’t dislike each other, but neither of us would have called the other a friend. We probably wouldn’t have even called one another to hang out. But she was the only human I knew on the Big Island outside of my small workplace. So, decision made and resources exhausted, I texted her.

“Hey, I know we aren’t the best of friends but I’ve found myself in a bad situation here and could really use some help…”

She didn’t ask questions. She didn’t even hesitate. She told me she would be there that night, and she was. 

On the farm, later that night, dusk was falling over the rolling hills. A purple blanket settled down from the sky to smother the long, waving blades of grass. Fresh rainfall and moist earth hung in the air. I stood in front of the empty, darkened farmhouse, my cowboy boots planted firmly in the gravel driveway. I scuffed at the rocks. I scanned my small pile of luggage. I looked to the long, disappearing road; a desolate, dusty streak that cut between barbed wire boundaries and traversed first one hill, and then another. Somewhere out of sight - out of earshot - it met the highway. 

The two weeks replayed over and over in my mind as I stared out at the horizon. Waimea, Hawaii. The Big Island. A tropical dream job. In the back of my mind, I mourned a reality where it all worked out as well as I had hoped for in the beginning.

Out of the silence, the ranch dogs began to bark. First, headlights. They beamed at the top of one hill, vanished, and then appeared again - brighter and closer - at the next. The dusty pickup finally crawled determinedly through the gate and rattled over the cattle-guard. I picked up my bags and threw them into the bed when the truck stopped silently beside me.

I’d never been so happy to see someone I hardly knew. I climbed in and we left.

I did not look back.

FAREWELL

U

ntil that night I had never quit a job. Not to say that every job I’d had until then was fantastic, I simply had stuck them out. There was always an upside: the job sucked, but the people were great; 

the people were awful, but the job was something cool and new; the job was mundane and my coworkers terrible, but, hey, my free time was chock full of new adventures and good times. Whatever it was, there had always been some benefit to just putting my head down and pushing through the season. 

But only two weeks into this new job, the truth struck with clarity: here, there would be no silver lining.

She welcomed me into her home, as did her roommates. I stayed with them for a day or two during which my Hawaiian experience was entirely turned around – we went to bars, restaurants, and hippie rainforest festivals. And when the time came she drove me to the bus station, hugged me farewell, and sent me off with blessings.

So I had escaped my bad situation and found myself in the comforting nest of Seasonal allies. I still had months to go before I would receive my $200 paycheck from the job I’d just left, and if that had been my saving grace I’d still be in Hawaii today. Fortunately, I was never much in the habit of living paycheck to paycheck, and had enough money in the bank to finance my way home.

A bus fare and a plane ticket were upsetting purchases so soon into my dream winter, but they cost a lot less than rent or a hostel would have while I looked for some retail or serving shtick.

My nest egg gave me the freedom to make decisions and to put myself in the next best possible position. It had been built through moderate budgeting – a sort of win some, lose some that had never withheld adventure or new toys from me, but for which I’d always “suffered” group housing.

The Hawaii venture entailed more silence, loneliness and literally-staring-at-empty-white-walls for me than I could have ever imagined it would. But the experience, however disappointing, taught me a valuable lesson. The lesson – for all of its failure as a stimulating badge on my “try it all” belt – is one I will always tell:

Whether you have to quit a seiner because the captain makes questionable and life-threatening decisions, leave a kayak company office job because your boss sporadically threatens to fire you and your coworkers, or abandon a ranch in the middle of paradise because you spend your days ostracized and belittled, know this: your safety and your mental health are more important than any resume or paycheck. There will always be another job. And if you are prepared for the nightmare, then waking from it is easy.

 

Sweet Dreams. 

Nightmares in Paradise

by Khloé  Meitz

Khloé  Meitz is a Seasonal's Seasonal.

She left a New York City newspaper to join the ranks of Seasonals around the world. 

Since then, Khloé  has now been a professional cowgirl, dog musher, Alaskan commercial fisherman, sea kayak guide, and fiddler in a raucous Irish band. 

She is also an incredibly talented writer who has much more to say about her exploits over on her own blog at thetryitall.com

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