I finished college in May of 1990 just three years after my injury. That summer was spent trying to figure out what I was going to do. I knew I had the skills to do well in school but I had no idea of what real value I could bring to an organization. I had studied Communications and Business so there wasn’t a trade or specific skill like architecture or law I could bring to interview. I had grown up in Meadville, PA and the community hosts a great number of manufacturing companies similar to our family business but at the time that never appealed to me.
That summer I grew frustrated with the local opportunities and had decided to look South. The climate was great and the job market was explosive. At this time in my life, I still was very dependant on morning help to get out of bed let alone all of the bathroom stuff. So putting it all together was like reengineering Humpty Dumpty. The cool thing was it gave me an opportunity to really want something. We all go through times of stagnation where we loose our dream or desires and simply take life day to day. It happens to me all too often. But the feeling you get from having something that makes you feel really a part of life, can be breathtaking. You don’t have to be a great risk-taker. Just go where they sell Beanie Babies and you’ll see what I mean. OK. Bad example. That can be pretty scary.
We had been to Myrtle Beach, SC for summer vacations and I loved the childhood memories of the area. I placed an ad in our local newspaper asking if anyone was interested in moving South with me. I had hoped that out of the blue, someone I could live with would call me and say, “I’m ready to go.” I received one call and I didn’t feel comfortable with person on the other end. It was just a gut instinct. So I was back to the drawing board. Mid summer, I ran into a girl who graduated a year behind me from high school and we talked about how great it would be to move. After some lengthy conversations, we decided take a mid-southern tour of Winston-Salem, NC to Greensboro, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Virginia Beach, VA and back home. We looked at apartments and general community information plus making tons of calls. It was exciting to chase down the right place. I had accessibility and barrier issues that were a real challenge in most all locations. Most apartment communities have accessible housing but they’re not restricted for people with disabilities. The ground floor open format appeals to a lot of people and waiting lists were years at a time. I grew discouraged when my moving partner decided not to go. We had no jobs lined up, didn’t really know anyone there and only enough money for a couple of months.
I finally had a break in Greensboro. An apartment community was newly constructing additional buildings. I spoke with the manager and she faxed me floor diagrams and layouts of the building so I would feel comfortable with accessibility. Things just started coming together. The lease was for three months then month to month after that. If it didn’t work out, I could always pack up and head home. I found a home care agency that agreed to send someone over each morning to help and my parents offered to pay for the service. They were very concerned about me moving and being 600 miles from home. I made the decision to do it. I had learned that a couple of hometown people that I knew were living in Greensboro and it helped me feel more comfortable with the move. All arrangements were made over the phone and my father and brother drove down to Greensboro in November of 1990 to set me up in an apartment we’d never seen and a town we knew nothing about.
After a couple of days, I was moved in and it was time for them to go. The sidewalks didn’t have ramps so the apartment manager had some made to access the apartment, pool area and mail boxes. Fortunately, my mailbox was on the bottom row of the stack. Even though I was alone miles away, it was so liberating to be responsible for managing my own care, finances, personal affairs and success or failure. This was a clean sweep away from the looks of sympathy and sorrow of the people who knew me as someone much different back home. This was truly the most challenging and greatest move of my life. At the mailboxes one evening, I met Cami. She lived in the same apartments and was in between jobs. We hit it off as great friends. She introduced me to so many more people because she was from the area and she was someone that you felt like you had known all of your life. The apartments had become like a mini Melrose except we didn’t all sleep with each other.(or it was just never public knowledge) We played cards through the nights and visited a local pub on the weekends listening to great acoustic guitar music and singing along. I was able to get a job as a bankcard operator for NCNB. The time, the struggles and simplistic lifestyle was the beginning of some great friendships. We didn’t have a dollar between us but it was the most free, memorable and entertaining time of my life.