Baring skin, baring souls

Someone* said, “If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough.”

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Evidently, I am trying hard enough.

Around the time I wrote my last post, I was at a weekly coffee meeting with a close friend; I confided in her that nothing – just nothing – was going my way. After last year, the year of magical wonderful things, this year felt like the great reversal. Momentum yanked the pendulum as far from me as its path would allow.  My hope clung to the belief that the pendulum’s inertia would hurtle toward me again, with slightly less force, but enough to shower me with more magical good fortune and success.

I wanted middle ground again. Comfort. Security. Thinness.**

“It’s life. It’s up; it’s down. Why make such a thing of it?” said my friend, always the pragmatic. Although I love her dearly I felt anger rising inside me. I wanted her life. Comfort. Security. Thinness. Challenges galore, but the kind you pay for and travel to exotic locations, not the kind that arrive in official envelopes and send you to the wine rack.

And yet I know that even swaddled in all the financial security blankets in the world, even with the perfect reflection in the mirror staring back, there is unhappiness. It cannot be found even in those things.

My friend went on to say that it seemed like I was building skyscrapers with toothpick foundations, that I was engineering failure at every turn.

Was I, gasp, tilting at windmills?

Tilting at windmills in the throes of a mid-life crisis. My husband jokes that I am having one big enough for the two of us.

Mid-life crisis indeed. My attitudes, much like that pendulum of fate, shift like the wind. One minute I am Eeyore bemoaning the aging process, that I have an adult child out in the world, that child-bearing years are in the rear-view mirror. The next minute, I’m the honey badger channeling Lena Dunham. I don’t care if my thighs are too big, my bank account too small, that my child watches too much TV, if I never get another second of male attention. I’m just glad to be alive. I am making a lot of mistakes.

A few days ago I marked on my personal calendar: bathing suit. A summer goal postponed no longer. I would face the beast. I fasted a bit to avoid the bloat and headed to the first of what I figured were many, many stops.

The first shop was a torture. I endured a bra fitting and a barrage of assessments. I contorted myself into the offerings of what might look good on my figure. Ugh. Blerg. Blah. I stood there in my middle-aged glory and stared down those cone-shaped battlefield cups staring at me from the dressing room hooks. They promised to defy gravity but I could put an eye out with those things. And those straps? They were so wide they totally covered my ink. I want an age-appropriate fun bathing suit. I want to bare what I can. I had the sick feeling that this was another failure in the making. Three stores later I headed to the mall to face the fluorescents and sneering teenage stick figures.

newsuit

Strapless bathing suit
of victory

 

Guess what? I found a dream of a bathing suit. I let one of the stick figures*** pick it out. I tried it on and it is fabulous.

At long last. A win.

So, what does this have to do with blogging? See, blogging is another house of toothpicks in my world. Honestly, I don’t like what’s happening with blogging anymore. I don’t want to sell stuff, or inundate you with 25 pictures of what I’m wearing or eating or smearing all over my face. That’s for Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

I am writing. Not here so much. Elsewhere, privately. I am reading. Devouring the words of  others.  Because those two things are like breathing and a heartbeat to me.

You may not know it, but I am reading you. The world of commenting has become so complicated I have given up. I am sorry. I hope you see me in your stats. If you are baring a little of your soul, I am there.  Flash me. I’m watching and waiting in my strapless bathing suit of victory.

I don’t care about what you’re selling either, unless it’s your soul. If so, I want to know how that worked for you.

 

* Who said this? The Internet is a bit confused on the wording and the source.

** This is the biggest setup for failure, ever, and I am working on body acceptance. You know about this movement, right?

*** I realize it is hostile to describe the youthful physique of the sales associate this way, but it is payback for the face she made when I told her my size.

Close to home

vanitysearch

 

True confession: I vanity search myself. All the time.

What this says about my nature, I’ll leave to my next therapy session. Among other reasons, I Google myself periodically to make sure there’s nothing untoward attached to my good name. Most of the time it is harmless narcissism.

Then, last fall, someone hacked into my professional website. I had to rebuild it from the bottom up.

What was the first clue of this violation? A vanity search, which revealed my site and all its links were going to a free payday loan operation. So, while I’m aware that excessive self-searching is on par with repetitive mirror checking and compulsive stove knob checking (to make sure the burners are off, for the uninitiated), I’m defending the practice.

In all this Googling, I realize I am very findable. If someone were to stalk me, it would be an easy assignment. I wouldn’t think much of this except some of the people I’ve tried to find have no known online presence. Are they technophobes or savvy? It’s always possible their alter-egos rule the online world.

My uncontrollable Googling took a dark turn when I began searching for particular people, including the bad doctor. I hadn’t thought of him in a while. The last time was during my latest ill-fated attempt at therapy. 

And here’s the thing: I Googled him and right away I learned he lived within walking distance of my house.

How do I feel about this?

Like someone tackled me from behind, knocking all the air from my lungs, and when I get up to look in the mirror to check for damage, I see the ignorant, vulnerable and gullible 12-year-old me in the reflection. For a moment. Here’s another thing: I allowed myself to travel through the range of emotions and then I let it pass.

He is an old man now. How harmful could he be?

I am a grown woman now. How vulnerable could I be against an old man?

I did a little more digging. It looks as if he has turned around his life. But, who knows? His outward life appeared fine then, too. Family man. Accomplished in his field. The comforts of the upper middle class. This kind of thing is kept hidden, especially among the well-heeled. But it’s what I want — need — to believe.  That he is reformed.

What I still wonder are these things:

  • Is he aware that what he did to me and others was wrong?
  • Was he drunk/high when he did those things?
  • Did he do those things to his children?
  • Did someone do those things to him?
  • Was this a compulsion that he could not control then and continues to fight daily?

I don’t suppose he wonders how I am. I’m guessing he wipes his brow in relief from time to time that I kept my mouth shut.

Further research on the old boy showed that he has lived in my shadow for all my life. We’ve basically migrated along the same path around this metropolitan area. Coincidence? It has to be. He has made no contact with me since the ’80s.

Maybe he Googles me? and others? It’s something to consider: How much of what is precious to me is accessible to bad people?

While I no longer fear him, I fear his kind. I am a middle-aged woman who still harbors a serious doctor phobia. I delay physicals and ignore health symptoms as long as possible to avoid the clinical environments and naked probings of such places. When I can control the gender choice of doctor, I do. When I am ill enough, I give in.

The important thing here is my children, one still an innocent, the other with one foothold in adulthood but still sheltered from such things. How findable are they on the Internet should some twisted freak conduct a search? How much do they know about what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to other trusted adults in their lives? It is my job to make sure it is clear to them the course to take not only if they suspect something but also to speak up right away.

Even more important: Parents need to act on the courage of their children. Doubt later. Punish a lie later. Act now.

– April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention month 

Sight unseen

Earlier today the news flashed across Twitter and Facebook: a 14-year-old middle school student in a nearby suburb shot himself to death in the school bathroom. Suicide. Friends of the teen told police the boy was depressed and bullied by his peers. But police and school officials say they have found “no evidence of depression or bullying.”

Where to begin on this one? It is my hope that by saying they have found no evidence that nothing obvious has come to light — yet — or that some other reason will make itself known. Why does a 14-year-old commit suicide? I hope they are not saying that because outward appearances don’t suggest it, that it didn’t exist. Depression — and in many cases –bullying are often secretive monsters. Sometimes they prey upon their victims sight unseen to outsiders. I say these things with no pretense of being an expert. I say them as one who has walked the road.

Each and every young person who takes his or her life is a tragedy. This story and its scant details take me back.

First, I travel to my fifth year of private school in Detroit. Toward the end of the school year we had a new boy in our class. Super cute in my opinion, with sandy hair and freckles and stylish clothes. He looked like an extra on the set of “The Partridge Family.” But something was off with this boy. He reeked of neglect. Even goofy fifth-graders picked up on it. One day after school, as we were messing around in the schoolyard waiting for our rides home, this boy methodically marched into the middle of the street, tossed aside his book bag and spread himself prone on the pavement, facing skyward. We watched him do this, suspecting a joke or a trick. We watched with alarm as the driver of a station wagon slammed on the brakes and shouted out his car window at the boy, who refused to move. We continued to watch, and probably shouted and screamed enough to call a few teachers to the schoolyard. One of the male teachers pulled him to his feet and dragged him to the sidewalk. I remember spending extra time on the phone that night, whispering into the receiver to my friends while compulsively twisting the curled phone cord around my fingers.

Did that boy really want to get hit by a car?

Did you hear him say he wanted to die?

Why would a kid want to kill himself?

In my innocence, I think I developed a crush on him. I reasoned that if I became his friend, I could make him not want to kill himself. (That is a story for another day and the beginning of a lifelong attraction to sorry souls.)

Which takes me to another place, one in which I befriend a man when both of us were embroiled in our divorces. We often took long walks to air our grievances, curse our former spouses, and I thought, prop each other up emotionally. I thought wrong. On a warm September afternoon he helped me return a truckload of borrowed furniture. We took particular pleasure in tossing the chairs and tables carelessly into my ex-husband’s condo, and on the way back to my apartment, truck windows rolled down, the wind whipping our hair into our faces as we laughed and laughed, I felt glimmers of hope for life after divorce. We promised to meet for lunch the following week. Two days later he hanged himself in his basement. For a long time, I couldn’t get out of my head the idea that I’d lent him a length of rope at our last meeting, which we used to secure the truck gate and which he kept. Everyone said it was a fluke, that rope is rope. You can’t wonder about what rope he used. He would have found a way.

Depression is a tricky thing. There are varying degrees. Many people are obviously depressed. Others are functional, smiling their way through the day while slowly dying on the inside. Bullying too, is elusive at times, as many victims suffer deep shame and take measures to hide it or justify it.

Depression is the stray black dog that follows me through life. I can’t outrun him. I learned to stop feeding him, though, because he’s on the move. Here today, gone tomorrow, back again next week. I have the wisdom at this age to know nothing lasts forever.  Most fifth-graders and most 14 year olds have not reached that understanding. How do we stop this from happening to our young people? How do we look beyond the obvious to the demons sight unseen?

The dressing down, issued
by a 7-year-old CEO

Mom, you need to get a job.

But I do have a job.

What is your job?

(This is where I explain what I do, and that it is work. I have assignments, must meet deadlines, and I get paid to do it. I work from my home office, at the coffee shop or the public library.)

But that is not real work like what daddy does.

Why is it not real?

Well, because you’re just on your computer, like always. You should be building something or in a store or something.

Some people work on computers all day. Mommy used to work in a building on a computer all day.

It just doesn’t seem like you do anything.

What about all the stuff mommy does at home? Shop, cook, clean, laundry, shovel snow, gardening, pay bills, take care of you? Is that not work?

That’s just stuff parents do.

So, you don’t want mommy home in the morning to help get you to school? or after school, to help with homework and projects, or take you to the library?

I could go to latchkey. (She says with a light in her eyes.)  I just think you should get a job.

———————————————

There it is. My seven-year-old, channeling Marissa Mayer

The hardest button

buttons, buttons

As I reach blindly under my bed for a missing sock, my hand brushes against cold metal.

Aha!

I grab the forgotten box, next to the runaway woolen sock, and pull it out from under the dusty recess.

It’s my grandmother’s button box. I’ve had it for more than a year. I found it buried under bags and boxes at my mother’s house. She’d had it for many years, back when we were emptying my grandparents’ house after they moved to assisted living.

This box has a history. Primarily, it was utilitarian: providing a place to store lost buttons as well as offering replacements for gaping garments. I recall it appearing on the table as a diversionary tactic, one of the many employed by my grandma. She had others: the felt board and shapes, the finger-sized puppets, the coloring books and crayons. But, oh, those buttons, they had so many possibilities. We’d sort them into shapes and colors, engineer roads and patterns, glue them to other things as craft projects. Once we made absolutely hideous bracelets using lengths of elastic. While others in the family inherited my late grandma’s rocking chair, her mantel clock, and her jewelry, I got the button box.

Yeah, I’m simple like that sometimes.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the buttons. It’s comforting to know they are with me. I look at them as a great puzzle. All the pieces are in front of me, I just don’t know yet what to do with them.

And speaking of the hardest button to button, I’ve worked hard to meet my 1,000 words a day writing challenge. No, I’m nowhere near the goal (if I’d done this every day since Jan. 1, it would be 41,000 words. I have a mere 24,531 words logged, but some of those are carried over from last year. So, yeah, a lot less than the goal, but the idea is to write as often as I can, especially when the story is kicking to get out.  Yesterday I wrote all 1,000 words in cursive, with a pencil, into a small notebook in my purse before transcribing it to the computer. The rule is, if I start writing, I need to keep going until I reach 1,000 words.

Let me clarify that almost none of what I have written is worthy of reading. It’s a jumbled mess, much like the box of buttons. I have a few chapters I’ve polished and revised. My central story idea keeps shifting, like a restless fetus. I’m just doing this thing anyway.  Even if nothing comes of it, I keep sifting though my thoughts, much like I bury my hands in that metal box of plastic buttons, feeling each individual’s weight and texture, savoring the soft click-clack as they slip through my fingers.

Here’s to getting outside the box once in a while.

 

 

The politics of divorce and death

English: Still shot from 1914 silent film, Sho...

Still shot from 1914 silent film, “Should A Woman Divorce? ” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Mom, you should talk to dad.”

This is Girl from the West — a young woman made tall by high heels, and made to look in charge with hair pulled into a tight knot atop her head — greeting me as I arrived. After a few minutes of small talk, she nudges me toward a man I barely see or speak to since our parting nearly 15 years ago.

So I inhale, exhale, square my shoulders and walk to the front of the room, wrapped in a little more insecurity than I would like. I feel a bit like a child summoned to the front of the class for tardiness.

In the hour I spend there, with my current spouse and Girl from the East nearby, I am not able to snare my ex-husband, because that is what it feels like, a hunting expedition. I try to part the sea of people between us. He keeps himself inside tight circles, enclosed in embraces and engaged in intimate conversation. It’s been our dance for years. Was he avoiding me? I don’t know.

While siblings, aunts, uncles and neighbors greet me, his longtime partner ignores me. I leave feeling a little confused.

It’s all so confusing. My ex-husband’s mother died this week. The woman who once was my other mother, who served as one of Girl from the West’s main caretakers through those precious and needy years, which also were in some part the divorce and single parenting years, the remarriage and second child years, and the polite wave and small talk at school concert years.  She did more for all of us than we probably deserved. I don’t think I ever thanked her.

What are the rules in a situation like this anyway? What are the boundaries?

Only twice in the last decade have I had this much contact. Six months ago we gathered under a park pavilion on a sticky summer afternoon to celebrate Girl from the West’s high school graduation. It seemed on that bright day that all had been forgiven. Six months before the party, I’d had coffee with her, when we came as close as we ever would to closure.

In the black hours before dawn when Girl from the West received the call, when she could not process the sudden death of her grandmother, who’d been ill but recovering, and between fretting about her making the long drive across the cold, dark city, I wondered about my role in all this. It seemed like a selfish, but necessary, thought.

In the end, I let my daughter write the role for me.

At the funeral, I sat in the back with the other ex-spouses. We attended all the rites, but kept to the sidelines. Silently, I thanked my first mother-in-law for her selfless duty. I asked for forgiveness.  After all, she cared deeply for my child and did so much to give her a good life. My ex-husband, for whatever I think of him and how distant we are, is now a man without living parents.  I acknowledged the gravity and inevitability of that, too.

At the end,  I finally connected with my former spouse. I stopped trying and it came naturally. We had eye contact, we embraced. He wept. I felt his pain. I felt a compassion buried for almost two decades. I discovered my own grief.

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Let’s try this again

It’s the second day of a new year.

I’ve had this book in my hands for three days. Already it’s marked up, pages dog-eared, margins filled with notes and ideas. I am inspired.

My head is ready to explode.

The year that’s gone was one of amazement. I surprised myself. I let go and allowed the river of life to carry me on its current. I still feel as if I am on the edge of something I cannot identify.

Again.

A marathon runner told me to hang on to my running goals, even if it seems I’m nowhere closer to them than when I started. He told me it can take up to seven years  to achieve a goal. And that’s OK. What? It’s not OK. Make it OK.

Apply those words to anything: running, writing, cooking, whatever. I am aspiring to 1,000 words most days. That’s double the typical blog post.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the book I’m reading. It’s my starting point. What’s yours?

“So okay – there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. ”
― Stephen KingOn Writing

 

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Nothingburger, with ketchup

 

Turns out that sneaking into your daughter’s elementary school looking disheveled, with an object clutched to your chest, and breaking into a run down the hallway is a really, really bad idea.

Last week, life was a solid blue-green on the suburban terror index, it was a nothingburger.

This week, slather that dull burger in a coat of screaming code red.

I do not mean to make light of the recent tragedy — I cannot think of it for a second without welling up and feeling helpless.  I do not mean to poke fun of our growing fear for safety in public places. I am merely casting light on my total lack of forethought earlier this week. After recounting the story dozens of times in the last few days, I recast my role from bumbling doofus to undercover security evaluator. So there’s that.

My story starts as many do, with a solid excuse: I was tired and in a hurry.

My modus operandi was to hurry to the school to deliver my daughter’s water bottle, which had the misfortune of tumbling out of her backpack at the bus stop. It’s been a rough few weeks around here, with me working a little more than usual, the holiday stuff that adds layers of duty and stress to everything, and extra homework projects to keep my daughter up too late each night. Twice in the last two weeks she’s forgotten her water bottle. Just the day before there was an unfortunate sock choice that led to tears and frustration before school. I just wanted a good day free from glitches.

I just wanted a good day.

I arrived at the quiet building, before it bustled with the energy of young students, to find administrators and support staff standing stiff with their heavy duty at the main entrance.  Clutching the bottle, I ducked and ran. Not for long. As I bolted to get to her locker (This is more about me not wanting to be seen in public in glorified PJs and a knit hat than anything else.) I stepped over some invisible sensor, triggering a few moments of alarm and embarrassment.

Within seconds the front-door crew shouted “Hey! Hey! HEY!” and ran after me. I felt a hand hook my arm. It was the school principal, his brow crinkled in consternation.

“What are you doing?” he asked, gently but firmly.

“Don’t you watch the news? Don’t you know what’s happening?” said one of the hall monitors, with a hint of shrill.

“I, uh, my daughter dropped her water bottle at the bus stop,” I said breathlessly, noticing them gather around me. I felt like a criminal. My entire psyche wilted in humiliation.

“I just wanted to put it in her locker. I’m in a hurry,” I said.

“Didn’t you read the district newsletter?” the hall monitor asked again, taking the bottle from my hands and turning it over to find a name label. “No one is allowed in the building without a pass from the office.”

“No, I mean, yes, I know what you are talking about but I thought ….”

“Water bottles should be labeled,” monitor said. Another admonishment. Should I just bend over and wait for the spanking?

The moment was over. I gave them my daughter’s name and room number and skulked out the door. I was not a gun-toting madwoman, just a frazzled mother with an overly tired daughter and a raging case of mommy guilt.

Just a week earlier I’d strolled right into the building before morning bell as I helped my girl carry her special project to her classroom. Just a week ago, we had school security, but moods were light and breezy. The very same people smiled and waved at me.

Everyone said they were glad to know the school was taking security seriously, even if it was at my expense. I guess I feel good about that part of it.

What I don’t feel good about is the rising paranoia and fear and the idea that more weaponry will make us safer. Each morning at the bus stop, parents talk of homeschooling, of pulling their kids out early before holiday break, of a renewed fear of what might happen on Dec. 21. War zones are stocked with guns and weapons. They are not safe places. What I don’t feel good about is a society in which one false move, one lapse in judgment puts you and me and anyone else under suspicion for plots and evil deeds. Although it may be necessary, making school entrances as tight as airports makes me very sad.

At times like these I feel very old. As cliché as it sounds, I long for the simpler times of my childhood.

How much for a spotless mind?

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

— Alexander Pope, from “Eloisa and Abelard”

My favorite movie ever

The phone chirps just as I am heading into the grocery store.

Do you have a moment? Can you talk?”

Hearing the signal for a sit-down conversation, I get back in the car, set down my shopping bags and settle in.

The story, which takes a while to tell because it involves bad deeds, an innocent, the criminal justice system and heartbreak, by all avenues of logic should summon tears to my eyes, set my heart racing, stir my gut. Instead, I sit in the car watching shoppers unload their carts and wrestle their kids into car seats. I do not pound my fist on the dashboard. I do not declare the world a wretched place. I just sit there.

The information only sinks in as deep as a tattoo artist’s ink, sparing deep tissue and nerves. Is it because the people involved in this story are far-removed from my life? Is it because they were not nice to me in the past? Does their heartbreak mean less to me than those who’ve been kind?

Let’s go back to the weekend, when my husband and I had one of our occasional date nights. Part of the plan was to see Samsara. But when we entered the theater for the late showing, my husband changed his mind, fearing the artsy think piece would inspire snoring and drooling on the less-than-hygienic theater upholstery. I let him have his way. We ended up seeing The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

(For the two readers of this blog, this is what is known as a spoiler alert. If you’ve not seen this movie, skip this paragraph.)

The coming-of-age flick, heavy on early ’90s nostalgia, seemed fairly safe until the main character Charlie’s problem is revealed close to the end. I had my suspicion about where things were heading but dismissed it as my dark thinking. When the two main characters bond over the revelation that trusted adult figures in their lives molested them, I am teary-eyed and sweaty, and the wine and appetizers in my stomach start churning. Instead of snoring and drooling on the upholstery, I’m afraid I’ll vomit. I am moderately devastated over movie characters.

So during this phone call, in which I find myself unmoved, even though the characters in this story are real and not played by actors, I’m told by the bearer of the news, who ought to know better:

“I know this isn’t something you’ve experienced in your life, but try to have some sympathy. Say a prayer.”

Now I’m ready to pound my fist on the dashboard. Now I’m ready to rail against humanity. Why do we make assumptions about others? Why do we make judgments when passing on information? Is it possible to erase our minds of personal history?

In the amount of time it takes the guy next to me to return the shopping cart to the corral and get in his car, my head implodes: How could she (of all people) say this to me? Wasn’t she there? Does she remember nothing of the last 30 years? Did she say that to see how I would react? How should I react? Right now, right here it could be a major fight. Oh, it could get ugly. But toward what end? Maybe she has forgotten. Maybe she never really knew or understood. Maybe the day I told her she was preoccupied. Maybe after all those sessions in family therapy she had a brain cleanse and her memory is spotless. 

Much later I think about the girl at the center of this new story. A girl like me at that age, surrounded by dysfunction, largely forgotten. Now she’s the object of pity,worry and gossip. Is this her legacy? It might be years before she emerges from the fog of this story and connects dots between things that happened to her then and how it has colored her world. Rather than be angry that my very old story is forgotten, or that I have unpredictable reactions, I should think about the parade of girls and boys to whom this is still happening.

So, like the wind sweeps trash from the store parking lot, I let go of the comment, let it slip into the gutter and out of sight. It’s better for the news bearer to believe nothing ever happened to me. It would be better for me, too. Maybe I should seek a spotless mind.

I’m working on having more compassion for those who have hurt me, who wished the worst for me when we were young, who maybe knew my secrets and thought less of me because of them, and who now find themselves on the other side of this divide.

I’m working on avoiding assumptive statements.

How sure am I of such things? How sure is anyone?

Always, I’m seeking eternal sunshine.

Crossroads

Today’s post is inspired by San Diego Momma’s PROMPTuesday No. 207: Who was your crossroads person?

My biggest worry lately is that my college-aged daughter will hold back when something great comes her way. She’ll mistakenly think she has reams of time, that offers pop out of the underbrush at every curve in the road, that maybe if she’s in a relationship that it should come first. For most of us, if that one great thing comes along, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we take the risk or hang back in the safe zone?

Back in my 20s, the publisher of one of our downtown daily papers took an interest in me. He’d read an essay I’d written and wrote me a personal message in response.  He also invited me to visit his office some day. He was a dynamic man, highly regarded, a great people person and a mender of fences.

After a first meeting, he invited me to come back shortly before graduation. He thought I had what it took to work in the business. He would help me land that crucial first job. Could a few-credits-shy-of-graduating college student with writerly aspirations ask for a better connection? Not only did I have a respected publisher in my corner, but also I had out-of-state relatives offering me a place to stay should I land in their area. I was standing at the intersection and lucky and fortunate.

Unfortunately, that’s not how I saw it. There were terms and conditions. One of those was I had to end my relationship; the guy I was with said I had to choose between him and my career. He would not follow. The other was I had to go where I was sent. I would not get to choose. I felt I was clinging on the windowsill of a burning building with masked characters holding nets below.  Were the nets strong enough? Would I have a chance to ask a few questions before they whisked me away to points unknown?

As I stood on that threshold, uncertain, I chose the familiar. I didn’t trust the unknown at that point. I’d jumped from one burning building to the next in the past few years, each time thinking the guy with the best offer was the safe one. As it was, I already had one foot tangled in another net, one in which the purported rescuer was working quickly to cut and run. As it was, I was estranged from my family and had no other support system. I felt lost and confused.

This drama prevented me from taking the risk — and possible great reward — that came with the offer. Without the publisher’s boost, I’d likely never rise above the community journalism ranks I dwelled in for 20 years. I know now I held myself back; back then I blamed my relationships. Fear of change, fear of a loneliness beyond what I’d already experienced, kept me tangled in my net.

“I’m in love,” I told the publisher on what would be our last meeting.  My boyfriend and I were now engaged; he successfully convinced me my life was here, not somewhere arid and cactusy, where I was bound to fail. Besides, my family was in crisis. How could I leave them?

“You’re an idiot,” he said, shaking his head.

In shock, I studied the pattern on the carpet of his top-floor office overlooking the Detroit skyline. Did he just call me an idiot?

“Love is important, but you shouldn’t put it above opportunity at this point in your life,” he said. “True love will wait for you to make your journey. Opportunity will not wait.”

I didn’t believe him on that rainy afternoon as we sat at opposite ends of his expansive walnut desk. I had a job, I reasoned, and they promised me a full-time position when I graduated. After I married, I’d check in again.

But it didn’t work like that. Months after I turned down the publisher’s offer I was pink-slipped from my job. Three months of unemployment gave me plenty of time to think about that offer and the prospect of marriage.

A year later, I returned to that newspaper office to apply for work, to make another appointment with the publisher. He never granted me another office visit. It occurred to me then that I had been tested and failed.

Even so, I had 20 years in the business, working at smaller, local publications. It turns out I really enjoyed connecting with community on a street level. I was never comfortable hobnobbing with mover and shakers. I was compensated well and made many lifelong connections. I eventually married and divorced the boyfriend. I reconciled with my family. Ten years later, I received in the mail a letter from that publisher, written in the wobbly penmanship of the elderly. He’d found some of my work and had nice things to say.

It came back to me then on that day, as I beamed in the praise of this man who’d once called me an idiot, that he was a stand-in for my father, to whom I was estranged during that difficult time. He believed in me when no one else did, not even myself. He was willing to pull strings to send me away from the entrapment of my life. He was willing to call me out on my cowardice. I simply didn’t have the mileage at the time to understand it.