Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Stephanie's Joy

If you've never had to deal with the sudden death of a co-worker, consider yourself extremely blessed.

At Six Flags Over Mid-America, the Britannia section of Games abruptly lost 16-year-old Stephanie Jolly in the summer of 1991. She had just gotten rid of her despised brown tag and was excited about getting a driver's license. She won several Mystery Guest awards, living up to her name, and she was a natural to make Service Superstar. I would've nominated her, if I could've found a way to keep that nomination out of the rumor machine.

One day, in the backroom, she told us she was going in for surgery. We knew she had something wrong with her brain, but she brushed it off as if it were a trip to the dentist. I heard she had a tumor, but later, I heard it was something a lot more precarious -- swelling of certain blood vessels in her head. It didn't cause her much pain, but she once had a seizure during a break.

During surgery, her brain swelled so much that it crushed her skull. She was gone.

The Games supervisors got the word first, and they had the biggest problem: how to break the news to everybody without plunging the entire section into grief. They decided to tell people once they got off shifts, but the news trickled back to people still working.

"We almost had to shut the section down," one co-worker recalled.

This same person had been going out with Stephanie for some time, and worse, the relationship had soured in the last few days. The co-worker was at one of the arcades when another worker with him got a call from management. A boss gave the word to her first with instructions not to tell her floormate until a replacement could arrive. But the news being what it was, her facial expressions gave away dire news.

"What's wrong?"

"I can't tell you."

"What's wrong?"

"I can't tell you until Jim (the supervisor) gets here. He told me not to tell."

"[Bleep] that. What's so [bleep]ing wrong?"

"Steph didn't make it!"

Instantly, the co-worker lost control of the rational forces within him. A guest walked up to him saying he'd just lost a quarter in a machine. The co-worker hurled the keys in his hand at him. "Fix it your [bleep]ing self!"

At that moment, Jim arrived with a replacement. He told the co-worker to take off his till and go up to the Games office, where some other sups were in mourning.

The co-worker declined an offer to be a pallbearer at Stephanie's funeral, noting he was still messed up. Jim took his place.

This all happened while I was away on vacation, and I'm glad I didn't have to see Brit reduced to grief.

"You gotta smile," Stephanie once said to me. "It's Saturday!"

She was born to work this job. Why her? In my scoundrel youth, it reinforced my flawed theory, adapted from Billy Joel, that only the good die young. If I had a relationship with GOD back then, I would've been able to explain it to people. I don't think I would've made a big dent in their grief, but at least I would've kept them from blaming THE LORD.

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