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  • My boss came barreling through my office door, "An employee had both his legs amputated in a boating accident yesterday, they are not sure he is going to make it," he trumpeted as he leaped from office to office announcing the horror; secretly reveling in the drama that Monday morning possessed.

    I shuddered. There had been so many boating accidents on Lake Powell since I moved there. The first month I had arrived, four older couples died as they hit a wave and it cracked their boat in half. They had life jackets, but they died of hypothermia before they could be rescued. They were found in each others arms, floating, lifeless. It was a rather common course of events at the Lake, one they should have outlined to me as a cautionary hazard upon accepting the job.

    Later that day, the staff of one of my stores called to tell me that my employee Lynni had called in sick. I thought nothing of it, people call in sick. Yet, when Human Resources asked me to pay them a visit I became suspicious. I sat down in their dusty, outdated chairs, as the HR Manager told me that I had to go to Lynni's house to get a statement from her.
    "Why? A statement about what? Her being sick?"
    "No, Lynni signed a release of responsibility when she leased the boat from our company. You know, the boat that the accident this weekend happened in? She must be interviewed, in great detail, to see if she violated any of the company policies while her friends were on the boat. We have reason to believe there was alcohol involved."
    I felt ill from the violent force of this huge albatross they just lassoed around my neck. It was heavy, and my neck strained from the weight; I was a retail manager, not a police officer.

    Lynni was a sweet, fragile H2B International Exchange worker from Taiwan. Like many of our employees, they came to the Lake to work for the summer, sending home more money to their family in one summer, than they could earn in years of work in their native country. Lynni reminded me of a bird; gentle, kind, but scared and haunted by something that our language barrier could not traverse and decipher.

    I walked into employee housing where the International Workers stayed and walked down the dark, poorly lit hallway. I clutched my clipboard and pen, as I sought out her room number. I knocked, but there was no answer. I knocked again, harder, and I heard a rustling inside.
    "Lynni? It is Amber! Can you please answer your door, I need to talk to you sweetie."
    I heard more rustling, and the door partially opened.
    She had been crying, and I reached out in good nature to give her a hug.
    "It will be OK, just tell me what happened," I implored as I slipped through the small space in the doorway that she had hesitantly cracked.

    She sat on the plastic chair in her room, the mini fridge next to it humming, the bunk bed jumbled with sheets, and pillows, and a blanket on the window to block the light. Lynni pulled her knees to her chin, and her tears fell again.
    "Amber I have children I have to support. I need this job."
    Grasping at straws, I said, "We will work this out Lynni. Just tell me what happened."

    In her broken English she recanted the story;
    "My friend, Jess and I wanted to rent boat. But then Jess had these other friends who wanted to go. I told Jess I could not have alcohol on boat, but Jess said it would be OK as long as I didn't drink.
    All these friends came. I was scared. I didn't want them all there. But I said nothing. We didn't go far. Just around Antelope Canyon. They were drinking beer, but I didn't. I don't drink. Jess and I stayed to ourselves. They were being crazy, but I let them drive the boat cuz I didn't know how."
    She stopped and stared, and inhaled deeply.
    "We went on beach to swim. The others stayed on boat. Drinking and loud. After time, they shouted they were ready to go. They were angry, and screamed at us to hurry. I swam to the boat and got in. And Jess, Jess was behind me. But as Jess climbed in the boat, they started the motor and pushed gas. But it was wrong. The boat went backwards. I screamed - Stop! Stop! But they kept going. The boat stopped. Jess' legs were caught in the motor at back of boat. I ran to him and I could see the insides of his leg. And so much blood. The motor was stuck in both of his legs. I jumped into the water cuz his head sunk under water. I held it up so he could breath, and prayed. The guys called 911, but just sat there, staring at us. Staring at Jess caught in boat, bleeding, drowning."
    She inhaled again letting out deep sobs.
    "A jet ski saw us. He stopped. He pulled Jess from boat and took him to beach. He took his shirt off, and got rope. He wrapped it around Jess' legs. I kept praying. I held his head, and prayed. The helicopters came. They bandaged him, and told me they were not sure he would live,."
    She broke down and cried again, her hands covering her face, and I resisted the urge to vomit. My legs were shaking, just like hers.
    "But Amber he going to be OK. I visited him in hospital. He going to be OK. He going to live." She stated, her brown doe eyes rippled with tears, and her shirt stained with her grief.

    I left scuffing my tennis shoes through the red dust. I kicked rocks out of my path, I watched the lizards scamper, and I listened to the ravens talk to me. They were always so wise. I opened the screen door and gave Human Resources the details that they wanted to know about the company boat, and went home - exhausted. I sat on my porch gazing at the power of the water, the red rock masterpieces, and watched the boaters skim through the water. I fretted about Lynnie, her children, her delicate life; all in the hands of this multi-billion dollar company and their policies.

    HR called the next day to tell me that I would have to inform Lynnie that she had lost her job. I acquiesced, and responded apathetically, as I had already surmised this would be their decision.
    "In addition you will need to tell her that since she is an H2B she will be deported within ten days. Once fired she will be out of status and she cannot file for a new visa in the US. We will also be reporting her to immigration as well. Please let her know that she has 10 days to vacate employee housing and leave the country."

    The albatross suddenly became too heavy for me to even move my head. I might have felt differently had she stolen something, or assaulted someone. Yet, Lynnie was too shy to even say 'no' to others joining her on a boat ride. She had not invited this scenario, she too was a victim. What was she to do when they pulled beer out of their coolers in the middle of the lake? Swim to shore? Call the National Park Service? Enforce in some way that they not drink them?

    By her being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she was was forbidden from our country. She was mandated back into a situation that she had desperately tried to flee. A situation where she had little means to support her children. Yet out of disparity and survival she would more than likely land back into her abusive boyfriend's arms.

    I explained it all to Lynnie as she sat there; docile, shaking, trembling. She pleaded with me, begged me to somehow give her a second chance. I got tears in my eyes, murmuring I had no choice. She came to me, like a small child, and put her head on my shoulder and cried. She clutched me with probably more strength than she knew she ever possessed, and clung to me heaving, sobbing, begging. I hugged her back, smoothing her hair. I reassured her, I comforted her - like I would my own child. We stood there for what seemed an eternity. I did not want to be the first to let go; but I was. She would have clung to me, like a baby bird with a broken wing, indefinitely.

    Could this company have looked at Lynnie's scenario with grace, understanding, and compassion? Yes. Could they have looked the other way? Yes. The company employees (that were not H2B employees) rented her the boat knowing that more people were boarding the boat than was on the lease. They also leased the boat to Lynnie without my signature, which was against company policy. No action was taken against either of them.

    I think of Lynnie often, and hope she found her way. She is probably much better off in a world where corporate politics cannot be used as weapons wielded about for one person's demise and another person's gain.
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