Sunday, April 27, 2014

RANGERING: June 2005

Dear Reader: The truth is never an absolute; it is subjective and it changes over time. So I do not claim that any of what I write is the truth. It is only my perception and recollection of events as they happened many years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved, but I do my best to maintain the underlying substance of events and their impact on me.

I drove into Olympia and followed the directions I’d printed out to get to the medical clinic. I was given a cursory medical exam which included peeing into a cup for the drug test. The steps used to verify that the sample was mine and uncontaminated lent a serious nature to the procedure: I undressed and stored my clothing and purse in a locker, donned a medical gown, and entered the bathroom without any belongings. I was not allowed to flush the toilet or wash my hands until I emerged from the bathroom, pee cup in hand, and observed the tech seal the container and affix my information to it.

Oregon Grape
After I was finished I drove to the Parks Headquarters campus, a collection of dark green wood buildings nestled among tall evergreens and connected by salal and oregon grape lined pathways.

The polygraph was far different than I imagined. For the majority of the time I was not hooked up to the machine. For nearly three hours the man conducting the polygraph and I reviewed my lengthy personal history statement, then spent some time discussing the dozen questions Mr. Bannister was going to test me on. In some cases he slightly modified the questions to avoid any that I could not answer with a clear “yes” or “no.” He wanted to make sure I understood the questions fully before testing my responses. Finally I was hooked up to the machine; apparently I breathe about equally from my chest and from my belly. Mr. Bannister told that he would ask me the set of a dozen questions three separate times in order to better compare and analyze results.

When Mr. Bannister said, “I’m going to start now,” my reading spiked. Then I answered comfortably through the first set. When he said for the second time, “I’m going to start now,” again I briefly spiked. After the second time through the questions Mr. Bannister unhooked me from the polygraph.

“Well, there’s no need to go through the questions a third time. Both times through you spiked when I told you the test was about to begin, then you essentially flat lined through the questions.” He showed me the printout which echoed his words. He said with a friendly smile, “So either you’re enormously honest, or you have a promising future in defeating polygraphs.”

I drove downtown to my hotel and checked into my room. I unpacked my duffel bag and quickly perused the kitchenette. From there I walked downtown along the waterfront; it was a beautiful sunny day and boats bobbed on the sparkling water in the marina. A farmers market was bustling with activity. I walked the rows of colorful produce, flowers, jams and honey. I bought fresh organic produce and soaked up some precious sunshine.

Olympia Farmers Market
That evening after eating my simply prepared vegetables I donned my swimsuit and took a long, indulgent soak in the hotel hot tub. I finished my evening watching cable TV, pure luxury.

I didn’t have any ranger activities scheduled for my second day in Olympia. A few weeks prior I had gone on a marathon field trip scouting out parks on the west side of the state and clocking nearly 1,000 miles in two days. I decided to revisit some of the parks that had piqued my interest on that earlier trip.

After a full day exploring I returned to Olympia and went to a Japanese restaurant Ranger Eva had recommended. I have missed sushi, the absence of which on the coast is ironic given the availability of fresh seafood. I started with hot sake, hot tea, and a bowl of miso soup. I stirred the fragrant broth before every sip. Each taste of hot sake spread warmth and relaxation through my body. Then my sushi arrived.

As she set down a platter with a spider roll and enough nigiri for two people, the waitress said cheerfully, “All this sushi just for you – you don’t have to share with anyone!” I beamed at her and thanked her for the beautifully prepared food.

The third and final day was the psychological interview, again at Parks headquarters. This experience contrasted sharply from the polygraph. A bland looking man in his mid to late 30’s conducted the interview with a stunning lack of feedback or any indication that he was in fact human. For two hours the psychiatrist relentlessly probed my most painful memories. He asked me pointed questions about an abusive relationship I’d been in: specifics of the abuse, how I responded to it, if I had ever retaliated with violence.

If I had any doubts before, this confirms that the State of Washington now knows more about me than anyone else does, and probably more than I know myself.

Olympia Waterfront
I left feeling shaken and doubting whether I had passed his scrutiny. If he was evaluating whether I was sufficiently healed from these past traumas, I didn’t believe he had asked the right questions; he didn’t ask about how I had made peace with my past, how I was in relationships today. He didn’t ask the questions that would determine that I’m as well-adjusted as anyone.

Over the next few days my unsettled feelings grew, as I realized that the interview had uncovered painful memories that I wasn’t sure how to deal with. I felt as if he had performed open heart surgery on me, and hadn’t closed me back up. My sister, a therapist, gave me some tools to feel more grounded. 

I candidly shared my concerns with rangers Eva and Steve, whom I talked with frequently about my ranger application process.

“You know, I don’t think the psychologist was trying to determine if you are well-adjusted now or not,” Ranger Steve offered. “I think he was intentionally asking disturbing questions in order to observe your reaction to being relentlessly probed. He was trying to provoke you, see if you would lose your temper, become rattled, or stop cooperating.”

This was an entirely different way to look at the interview. I thought back over my reactions. Sure I’d been impassioned and energized, but I definitely did not lose my temper or become unhinged. Steve’s interpretation made a lot of sense. With their take on things I felt more positive about the outcome.

I looked through my notes and photos of the parks I had visited. Dosewallips State Park really stands out from the crowd. It is on Highway 101, on the west side of Puget Sound heading towards Port Townsend. It’s beautiful, they are involved in some fabulous efforts at environmental restoration and stewardship, and from everything I hear the park manager is a great guy.

However Cape Disappointment offers a group of co-workers whom I already know and get along with, friends on both sides of the Columbia River, a small gay and lesbian community, and the nearby town of Astoria. This is where I hope to become a park ranger.

It could come together perfectly: Ranger Joseph has been promoted to another park, and Eva stands an excellent chance of getting his job – which would leave her Ranger 1 position vacant. In the meantime, when our office manager returns from maternity leave I will be allowed to resume my park aide duties. Everything is lining up perfectly.

And so I wait, because at the moment there is nothing else for me to do.

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