Eliese Goldbach (MFA ’17) could have died as a steelworker. At her orientation, she learned of a slew of ways she could be maimed, crushed, burned, sliced and/or diced. It could have sent the faint of heart for the exit. But that wasn’t who Eliese was. She’d overcome challenges before, and this would be no different. True to form, instead of sinking into the tedium of the work, she found a reason to live and the fuel to fulfill her lifelong dream of authoring a book.
“Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit” is that book, born of her days at the Arcelor-Mittal steel mill on Cleveland’s riverfront, but also of her formative years spent aspiring to the nunnery. It’s born of her sexual assault in college and its aftermath. Of her battle with bipolar disorder.
“It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, so I started writing about the mill,” she said.
“Then it seemed natural to put these other stories about myself and my earlier life into that framework.”
She’d toyed with the idea of a memoir while in graduate school at CSU, but the elements of her story never connected like they should have. It was a puzzle missing key pieces.
Eliese finished her graduate coursework and thesis in 2012, but a minor error on her graduation form prevented her from officially receiving her degree. For most, it would have been an easy fix, but not for Eliese.
“The problem seemed like a monumental hurdle as I was struggling with an unshakable bout of depression at the time,” she writes in “Rust”.
“My life had followed a cascade of unpredictable events, and somewhere along the line I’d lost control.”
Instead of graduating, she painted houses and lived in a mouse-infested, one-bedroom apartment, barely scraping by. When a friend showed her a paystub from the steel mill, Eliese saw dollar signs and applied. She desperately needed the money.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have health insurance that was quite that good again,” she laughs.
Her motivations were clear. She needed to pay her bills. Move into a better apartment. And the steel mill seemed the best option. She expected that, at least financially, her life would turn around. But what she didn’t account for is that she’d end up taking home something far more valuable: a greater sense of self.
Eliese found a real community among the steel mill’s crew of characters. And there were, indeed, many characters. They prodded, poked and teased her, but they also challenged her and her worldview. On the dusty floors and amid the blazing furnaces, she’d found the missing piece of her story and drafted her entire memoir while she worked there.
She’s since moved on, first as an adjunct professor and now as a community writing instructor, but even now, she longs for the mill.
“I enjoyed the people. I enjoyed the environment,” she said
“It felt like a family down there.”