Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Worm Has Turned

Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

My ex-girlfriend Mari used to say, “The worm has turned,” as she acted out an inchworm turning with her finger. I understood it to mean that one’s fortune has changed for the better. Today I discovered its second meaning; that someone who has been meek has learned to be bold.

In early August I flew to Denver, Colorado to celebrate my 30th high school reunion. It was an incredibly uplifting and esteem-boosting weekend. Heading to our first event I took some anxiety medication, but quickly realized I felt comfortable around these people. That was the last anxiety pill I needed that trip. It didn’t matter if we’d been friends thirty years ago, or if I hadn’t ever talked to them in high school, or if I only remembered their faces. Thirty years after high school I was delighted to find an openness and welcoming attitude from, and for, our entire class.

I was able to spend personal time with those who’d been close friends, and being swept into enveloping hugs and called “sweetie” was a healing balm to my heart. These people didn’t need to know what my current struggles, weaknesses, or neuroses were: they simply loved me.

I went to a remarkable high school at a historical time, participating in a social and civil rights experiment that dramatically impacted those of us who walked the halls of Manual High School. Starting in 1973 and for about twenty years, Denver Public Schools started bussing students to school in an orchestrated effort to desegregate the schools.

“In response to the Supreme Court decision, DPS created a structured system to integrate students by matching schools and then busing students such that a more racially diverse student body was achieved” (

Since this was simply our experience, I don’t recall any of us talking about “bussing” or how we felt about it. I do know that bussing was at the source of racial conflict at some schools, including the junior high I attended. Perhaps we could chalk that up to raging hormones untampered by maturing emotions.

But something special happened at Manual. Somehow, at least during the years I attended and with my class, a special chemistry happened; we just clicked. It would be incorrect for me to say that social circles were entirely colorblind. But there was no racial tension or ostracism. The school was big on sports, and the student body came together to participate in sporting events in impressive numbers; sports were a constant opportunity for social crossover. So was choir, led by an amazing choir director who incorporated a full spectrum of musical genres to draw on.

I have had numerous conversations by now with many classmates, those I was friends with and those I barely knew, about the positive impact of this experience on their lives. We came away from Manual with a deeper understanding that “us and them” is just propaganda; that our differences make us stronger; that we really cannot judge the experience of another person who has walked a different path than us.

The time at the reunion went by far too quickly, and conversations were cut far too short, but I was comforted to find many others’ experiences at this time in their lives closely mirrored my own. The way I would say it is that life has been a complete surprise; whatever I was told about making a plan and creating a life of my design was a big lie. That said, I can laugh at how different this experience has been from what I expected. And despite the times I’ve been disappointed, heart broken, and knocked down, I’m still here – and that is a splendid privilege.

Promptly after returning home I was laid off from my job. It seems my outspoken complaints about mismanagement were seen to have an easy fix: after all I was only a temporary employee. I was shocked at the abruptness of their decision, but with equal abruptness I felt an enormous weight lift from my shoulders. Realizing that I would receive unemployment benefits, I shrugged off my money worries and opened myself to what might come next.

I realized that I was ready to be done working for mean, manipulative bosses – for good; and that I was willing to go to great lengths to never have to go through an experience like the one I’d just endured. Months of trying to defend myself against manufactured criticisms delivered by a person with questionable motives yet the power to give me a bad review, months of hating to go to work, months of feeling exhausted and defeated every evening.

I mentioned in a previous post my infatuation with Tiny Houses. While I am still infatuated with them, I found them to be several times more expensive than a travel trailer. And after looking at hundreds online and a few in person, I bought myself a used 30-foot 5th wheel trailer. It has absolutely everything I need for a home, and most important the floor plan and ample windows make it airy and open and bright. I love it!

The next part is that I am preparing to go into business for myself as a freelance bookkeeper. Before rangering I put in a lot of years doing this type of work, so now I’m trying to brush up on those skills and start putting a plan together. My fallback is temping with a temp agency: that worked beautifully at minimizing the office politics and truly enabled me to go to work and put in my time without taking anything home. (My mistake was becoming a temporary employee for the actual place I worked, no longer going through the temp agency.)

Finally, I have decided to take advantage of this in-between time and move to NW California where my son and his girlfriend live. I have wanted to make this move for some time: always the plan was “in a year or two.” The time is now!

Every day I have a choice of things to work on: my business strategy, brushing up on bookkeeping skills, preparing my trailer for living in, and sorting through belongings that accumulated over ten years and got dragged around more than a dozen times. It feels luxurious to have the time to do all these things: cleaning out and ridding myself of every object that no longer serves me and does not merit precious space in my tiny new abode;  preparing in a very mindful way to take the next grand step in my life.

I have much to be excited about. But it’s more than that: for the first time since that horrible summer as a park ranger, I feel excited, hopeful, and rejuvenated. It has been a long and grueling journey to get to this place. Recognizing that my struggle was serious, labelling my PTSD, was a critical first step. Years of intensive therapy and practice moderating my anxiety have been the backbone of my healing. The bone-chilling news that my son had cancer, and the death of my young niece, were fracturing reminders that what matters in life is the people we love. Many individual people, experiences, and insights played important roles in pushing my healing along to the next stage. But the last big push for me was going to my high school reunion. I felt like I belonged. I did belong. Not because of what I’d accomplished or my ambitions, not because of my beliefs or lack thereof, but because I was one of those familiar faces, because in the final years of childhood we had shared an extraordinary experience that shaped and expanded our perception of the world.

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