Crossroads

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

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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.