All I ever wanted was a castle in the air: a place to stretch my legs as far as they would go, and beyond, but my parents could not see that vision through their murky breakup. Living in the past can ruin your life if you let it, especially when you are too young to comprehend its magnitude. I was eight-years-old the first time my parents split up. They separated for what seemed like an eternity but in all actuality, it was only a couple of months. I remember sliding across the kitchen floor one day; examining the faded pattern that splashed against the linoleum while pretending not to listen to my mother. It was obvious—as she spun the yellow phone cord around her fingertip and let it bounce and twirl to the ground—that she was speaking with my father. Her tone, though knotted and strained, oozed a quiet calm that piqued my big-eyed curiosity, but the nervous energy of her body exuded a language I did not understand. Still, I knew this was an important conversation and did not want to miss a word. As I inched my way closer, she announced that she had found a new place for him to live. This was it, I thought; he was never coming back. My heart turned to stone as I scooted in closer to hear and just then, she looked down to me, smiled and finished her sentence, “…with us.” It was the happiest three seconds of my life.
The next time dad left would be his last. He moved out a few years later and never returned. It was, according to him, easier to walk away and start over than to keep coming back to face us. Whenever we did see one another, I was reminded that he was only a phone call away, but as I learned much later in life, actions speak louder than words. My only regret is that I allowed his leaving to affect my desire to stay. By the time senior year rolled around, my grades were at an all-time low and any hopes of graduating had been replaced by an overwhelming fear of repeating the twelfth grade. Thankfully, the school administrators gave me a reason to start over by handing me a diploma and sending me on my way.
For the next twenty years, I focused on becoming a workhorse; hurdling obstacles and climbing corporate ladders for minimal pay, but never quite reaching the top. It would have been easy for me to stop there and never dig deep enough to discover my purpose in life, but everything changed on the morning of September 11, 2001. As I sat on the couch watching people jump to their deaths from twin tower windows, I realized how quickly life could end. “What have I got to lose?” I wondered. “Tomorrow may never come.” The next day, I threw together a poorly executed business plan and started a company, but despite how fast it grew, I still felt like a teenage dropout. In 2007, the year my daughter was born—just as everything seemed to be falling into place—the company my husband worked for filed for bankruptcy and we lost everything. Once again, everything I had worked so hard to create had been taken away and we were forced to start over.
I am firm believer that every decision you make leads you to where you need to be, even when it doesn’t feel right. When I told friends and family of my decision to become a writer, there was quite a bit of pushback. They could not understand why anyone facing financial hardship would choose a career as uncertain as freelance writing, and their questions traveled like weighted bullets. “How are you going to pay the bills? Why can’t you get a real job? Do you even know what you’re doing?” The answer was no. No, I did not. But somehow, I knew I would survive.
“We blame past circumstances for our failures and keep our fingers crossed that society will throw us a lucky bone.”
To this day, when people ask where I went to college, I typically respond with my go-to method for handling uncomfortable situations: diversion and sarcasm. I tell them that there was never any time for school because I was too busy having fun, but that is far from the truth. What I should say is that I did not attend college because I stopped believing in myself, that I turned abandonment into something personal and forfeited my academic achievements for a lengthy walk down a spiritual path. What I have learned over the past few years is that the only voices worth listening to are those that believe in your ability to conquer fear because life is hard and will knock you down—repeatedly. It takes every ounce of spirit and restraint to look adversity in the eye and keep walking, but we must if we wish to survive. There are a lot of people, myself included, who have made a career out of feeling sorry for themselves. We blame past circumstances for our failures and keep our fingers crossed that society will throw us a lucky bone. The truth is that there is no bone; there are only cards and we are each dealt a different hand, but is up to each individual how he or she will choose to play. The only way to truly fail in life is to throw down your hand and give up, which is something I will never do. Perhaps I should stop playing solitaire.
Anyone up for some crazy eights?