“Hi, welcome to my video! If you’re watching this, you’re taking the first step toward your new life. Congratulations! This is a scary, but highly exciting time in your life. And I’ll be here to guide you through the process.”
Smiling so wide his too-white teeth caused a small glare from camera light, an overly tan man with a sleek haircut and a tank top stared at me through the screen. He faded into a white screen. A title card appeared: New Year, New You: A New Way to Experience Life! Instrumental music started up, and the title card faded into a strange credit sequence.
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but the DVD had been free through a mail-in service. All I had to do was provide my shipping information. It showed up in a package marked Priority Overnight. They wasted no time in starting you down whatever path they were trying to take you.
The tan, smiling man in his tight tank top reappeared with his hands forming a steeple in front of him. Was this a fitness schtick or some kind of pyramid scheme? I wasn’t sure. He was behind a white screen. “Welcome!” was in thick, block letters behind him.
“You’re probably wondering what this program will offer you. You might be asking, ‘How will this change my life? How will this bring me to a new life?’ Those are great questions! The good news is I have answers.” He stepped aside, allowing welcome to be front and center. He pointed, and a small box appeared on the screen beside his head.
“First, this little checklist will allow you to assess whether or not you’re ready for a life transitional coach.” He stood with his hands folded in front of him.
The checklist seemed simple, but I paused the video and read it several times.
1. You are tired of the same, old you.
2. You are ready to achieve your dreams no matter the cost.
3. You want to change the trajectory of your destiny.
4. You ordered this DVD.
5. You are open-minded, ready to try new ways of doing life.
I hit play, and the man clapped his hands together after a few seconds. He snapped and the checklist disappeared, and he took front and center again.
“All right, so you’ve seen the checklist, and you’re continuing the video. I’ll be taking this as your decision to try this program.” He smiled while he walked to the next white screen. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Nathan, and I’m a Life Transitional Coach.”
He paused for a moment, still smiling. “My goal is to help you leave behind everything that’s bringing you down. In your new life, you’re going to be brought up.”
Walking along the white backdrop, he comes to a new backdrop. His explanations continued, and I watched, completely captivated. Maybe this wasn’t some stupid scam I’d fallen for on the Internet.
I watched the rest of the video intently, dismissing my previous annoyances with his too-white teeth, weird outfit, and fake tan.
“All right, now it’s time to get to work.” He clapped and the writing faded from beside him. A phone number appeared across his midsection. “When you’ve done everything that I’ve walked you through in this video, call this number and we’ll start the process. I look forward to helping you change your life.”
I turned off the television and ejected the DVD. I stared at the blackened screen, mulling over the instructions he’d given. I inhaled deeply and slid the DVD back into the paper envelope it had arrived in.
Heading to the bedroom, I stared at the unnecessary clutter. Anything that reminded me of my old life had to go, according to Nathan. That felt mildly ridiculous, because technically, everything could remind me of my old life. With a heavy sigh, I got to work.
After deliberating for four days, I stood in my kitchen, pacing. Nathan would arrive at any moment. My apartment was nearly barren. I’d retained only the absolute necessities, and I’d thrown out anything that reminded me of something or someone I wanted desperately to leave behind. Anything anyone had ever given me for birthdays or holidays, anything I had too much attachment to, I threw in the trash bags.
There was a knock on the door, distracting me from the shadow of a thought. I answered it quickly, and there stood Nathan. Instead of his weird tank top, he wore a pair of jogging pants and a hoodie. His sneakers were nearly worn out. I stared, taking this less than perfect person in.
“Hi! I’m Nathan. I’m your Life Transitional Coach. Thanks for allowing me to come here and help you with the next step.” His teeth were even more glaringly white in person than they were in the video.
“I—right, come in.” I stepped aside and let him walk into the hallway. I led him into my kitchen and gestured to the card table. “Have a seat.”
He sat down in the metal folding chair, one of the only chairs that didn’t have some memory attached to it. I took the seat opposite of him and smiled back, trying to ignore the wandering curiosity about whether I’d be able to see my reflection in his smile.
Taking a shaky breath, I decided to dive in. “I’ve gotten rid of everything that reminds me of something or someone. I’ve quit my job, and I’m ready to discuss what city would be best for me to move to, and what new jobs I should look for.”
“Excellent.” He pulled a small notepad out from his hoodie pocket. “Let’s get to know you a little better. I know we spoke on the phone, but it’s always best to go over this in person, too. I’m sure you understand.”
“Right, sure.” I nodded, but my eyes were focused on his pen poised above the notepad. Something felt weird, but I couldn’t place it. I swallowed. “Where do you want to start?”
“Tell me a little bit about the life you’d like to have that you don’t have right now.” He gave me a slightly warmer, more genuine smile. He scribbled something on the notepad.
I cleared my throat. Once I began talking, it was strange the way every hope and desire spilled out from me, even the ideas I thought were too outlandish or silly to entertain. I felt the minutes passing, and I felt I’d been talking far too long. I finally came to the end of my ideal life, and he asked a few questions for clarifications. Suddenly, I was exhausted.
I yawned, covering my mouth with my hand. “Sorry, I don’t know why I’m doing that.”
He chuckled. “Sometimes this makes people tired. It’s okay. It’s a lot to acknowledge.”
Nodding, my eyelids grew heavier, and I propped my head up with my hand. I wanted to ask what he meant, but speaking felt hard and words came to me as if they had to rise to the surface of molasses before finding a way out of my mouth. I yawned again, waiting for whatever he was going to say or ask next.
The thought from earlier, the one the knock at the door had stopped me from entertaining, slipped upward quickly from my sleepy brain to my immediate concern. I sat up a little straighter and cleared my throat. I rubbed my eyes and focused on Nathan a bit better.
“Hey, I have a question.” I tapped my hand on the table and he looked up from his notepad.
“Sure, what is it?” His smile and tan were frustrating again.
“I’m not, like, this isn’t a cult or something crazy like that, right?” I leaned forward, my eyes narrowing, watching for any micro-expression on his surgically symmetrical face.
A laugh, a deep, unexpected one. “Wow, that’s a good question, but no. It’s not a cult. I’m a Life Transitional Coach, and I think I’ve figured out exactly where you need to live and what job you need to have to really have the life you’re looking for.”
He paused, and his smile glitched out for just a second. He frowned slightly and eyed me. “Wait, you don’t want to join a cult, do you? Because if so, then I need to reassess your new life path. Is that something you’re interested in?”
I shook my head and jerked back. “No. Absolutely not.”
He relaxed a little. “Okay, good. Then here’s your answer. You should be a counselor in Ontario, California. Right now, you’re living in a cold place, working as a bank teller, and not enjoying life to the fullest capacity. There’s a lot Ontario has to offer and all of it is extremely different from what you’re currently experiencing.”
He stood and pointed in the direction of the front door. “I have brochures in my car. I’ll go get them.”
I stood and followed him to the front door. I watched him flipping through folders in a briefcase in his passenger seat. Was he correct? Would I do better in a completely different environment? That seemed ridiculous, but I was tired, and I’d just told him so much about myself. He was an expert at this line of work, so he was probably right. What was the harm in trying?
With a slam of his car door, he was jogging back up to me. He had a white, glossy folder with the word Ontario on the front. He held it out for me when he got close enough. I flipped through the pages on our walk back into the kitchen.
“All of the information you’ll need to begin the process of moving there is all in this file. And if you have any questions throughout the transition, you can always call me.”
He slid into the seat he’d been sitting in, and I took my seat. He sat quietly while I slowed my look through the information within the folder: maps, reviews of interesting places nearby or within Ontario, and I stared at it, taking it all in.
Looking up from the booklet, I realized the big glaring problem with this whole experience. “How do I get a job as a counselor across the country without being there?”
“I’m glad you asked.” He pulled out a cell phone and dialed a few numbers, and after a couple phone calls, he hung up. His smile looked even bigger or at least, it had a triumphant feature to it this time. “So, I’ve got two jobs lined up for you out there. Two different counselor scenarios. You can fly out there and check it out. If you take one of those jobs, you just have to call me, and then we will ship all of your belongings here at your home to you out there.”
I ran my hand over my forehead, trying to smooth out the worry lines that were trying to show up. I sighed. “I’m sorry, but when do you ask for money?”
Startled, he shook his head. “I don’t! This is an all-inclusive service included in the price of the DVD. Once you’ve comfortably transitioned into a new life that you love, we collect a small fee from your paychecks over the course of twelve months. But until you’re fully satisfied with the service, we don’t charge anything.”
“What if I’m never fully satisfied?” I thought of the ways in which this didn’t make sense, how people could easily game the system. Squinting at him, I waited for a response.
He shook his head, confidence slowly returning to his features. “That’s not possible. At Complete Life Makeover, we strive to guarantee a full satisfaction of any new life provided. We don’t rest until we’ve found the perfect fit for each client who seeks our services. Due to confidentiality, I can’t disclose any successful stories. There are several testimonies available on our website, but I assure you, satisfaction is our top priority.”
My mind still clouded by the need to sleep allowed this to make sense. I nodded and waved away the concern. “Right, of course, that’s great. When can I leave to check out these jobs? Should I get a plane ticket?”
“Excellent. Yes, let’s get a plane booked. We’ll do a one-way trip, just in case you don’t have to come back. If you need a flight back, we will pay half the cost of the ticket.” He glanced around the kitchen. “Before you leave, I will request that you back up any belongings you’d like us to ship to you in the event you stay in Ontario and begin your new life there. If you leave a list of contacts, we can also make all the necessary calls for you to inform your loved ones that you’re going to be leaving them behind. We have professionals who are highly trained to deal with those delicate conversations.”
Another yawn stifled behind my hand. “Sounds good.”
“Once we get your plane ticket booked, I’ll let you get some rest and then we’ll meet back up the day of your flight.” He looked around. “Do you have a computer or something to get this flight information settled?”
“Oh, right.” I disappeared down the hall, leaving him in the kitchen. I returned from my room with my laptop. “All right. Just a normal flight. I can book from any of those travel sites?”
“Actually, we have a booking page on the website.” He rattled off the website’s address and I typed it in. He walked me through the process of creating an account and finding a flight that worked for me.
Within what felt like minutes, we were settled on a flight that left in four days. This would allow for enough time to pack up my belongings and get a list of my contacts together for him. On the fourth night, he’d pick me up and take me to the airport. He led me down the hall to the front door where he paused and looked at me with his hand lingering on the door’s lock.
“All right, great. I’ll see you soon, thank you for allowing me to help you transition to your new life. This is an exciting process and I’m so glad you’re ready to experience your full potential. Oh, and make sure you get a good nap after this!” He shook my hand and let himself out before I could say another word.
I shut the door behind him and headed to bed, trying to shake off the feeling that I could definitely be joining a cult. Lying down in bed with my eyes shut, I envisioned sitting with him at the kitchen table: this time from the view of an on-looker, watching a strange mist trail from my words to his pen, a weird cold sensation taking hold in my chest. My thoughts grew sluggish, and the vision faded into dreams of palm trees and waves crashing against sand.