Reflecting today. My thoughts are still along the lines of ‘self-sabotage’, but bigger than school or fitness. Choices – good and bad. Some people make bad choices, the rest of us see the train wreck about to happen, but the train’s engineer appears clueless that they can apply brakes. We might call that person immature. I was immature. I grew up in a hurry. Lost some things in the process, but I gained a lot, too.
THE LOOOOOONG BACKSTORY…
I don’t like revisiting my personal history. Feels like I’m playing for sympathy, but I’m not. I believe everyone has a bumpy ride of it, so my story is here just to establish a context.
There were circumstances beyond my control that forced me to leave college after three years. I moved to a big city and got a job to support myself. This is not a period of time I discuss very much. I was a party girl in my 20’s in the 80’s. I keep my secrets. Too many bad decisions. Some had permanent consequences. Others just made my life harder for a period of time. Fairly predictable stuff for an adult kid of an alcoholic. And a college-drop out. A lot of pain, frustration, and confusion during that time. No blame – just background.
After about a decade of screwing up, I realized I needed to make a change. I started school again in the fall of my 29th year.
And then Mom died. She was only 56. It was sudden and unexpected. I lived in the big city about 200 miles away, so when I got the call from her ER doctor at 10 pm on a Tuesday night, I knew it was bad. I knew they didn’t expect her to survive the night. I didn’t have a car. I had to take a bus home. The next one left at 2 am, and when it pulled out of the big city terminal, I knew. I felt it. She was gone. I didn’t make it. The bus ride was about twice as long as it should have taken because of a Midwestern blizzard. It felt longer.
My mother’s brother met me at the bus terminal. The first thing he said to me was that Mom slipped away about 2 am, but since no family was there at the time, the doctor put her on life support. He told me that I was supposed to go to the hospital and take her off. (Yeah, wait – NO ONE WAS THERE?? That’s right. My mother’s brothers went home. No one stayed in the hospital with her while they waited for me and my brother to travel home!?!) My brother and I decided together to take her off life support the next day. I don’t remember if he stayed in the room – I think he did. I know I did.
As the oldest kid, I had to handle things. What made it complicated was that her mother died 3 months prior and she was the executor for Grandma’s estate. So, this 29-yr-old party girl with almost no real responsibilities had two estates dumped in her lap. Mom died at the end November 1991, just a couple weeks before final exams of my first semester back in college. Only one professor agreed to give me an incomplete. Everyone else told me I would fail the class if I didn’t show up for the final. I didn’t have a car, so I used Mom’s car to make that 200+ mile commute to finish my classes while dealing with the estates back home. When I called my boss from the hospital and asked for a few weeks off to handle my mother’s and grandmother’s affairs, my boss opted to let me go and hire another receptionist. I had to use unemployment, food stamps, and heating assistance for a bit. I also used student loans, part time and temp jobs to survive. At one point, I had three part time jobs while in school.
I’m not going to say I’m grateful that these things happened, but I am grateful now for how it changed me. I remember the feeling of it – I felt like I couldn’t breathe for about three years. I was buried under so much poo – the insurmountable task of finishing those estates while I was grieving, trying to handle college, and not having a steady job.
I grew up.
There was no time or money to play. I had to work very, very hard all the time. I reminded myself that every day only has 24 hours – meaning that I only had to survive a day at a time. I became very serious. I became more disciplined. I lost all my party friends during that time because I wasn’t fun anymore. I’m still not much fun. I’m still pretty serious and disciplined. I imagine that most people wouldn’t think that’s a good thing.
But I also learned how to accomplish BIG SCARY things.
Had my life followed the trajectory it was on, I wouldn’t have had the motivation or capacity to accomplish most of the things I’m proud of now. I wouldn’t have met my husband. I wouldn’t have become a teacher. And today, I’m proud that I can flip a tire. A little one in the “tire-flipping” world, but it’s still something I couldn’t do a year ago.
People have told me that I don’t know what it’s like to have hardship, be poor, or be out of shape. There is certainly more going on in my personal life that I write about – and some of it is… challenging. If I have a life now that from the outside looks pretty good, it means I might have learned to overcome some of the poo life delivers. I don’t pile up the poo and then worry about how tall the pile is getting. Actually – I don’t acknowledge the poo exists. I deal with it when I have to, but ignore it most of the time. I must have learned how to do this when I was drowning in it.