When I was 18, I transferred to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida for my sophomore year in college. Autism was not even on my radar at that point. I just knew that after a life of feeling like I didn’t fit in, I now felt even more out of place. All these people seemed rich, entitled, conservative, and disgustingly sure of themselves. I felt like a message in a bottle, floating in an overly-entitled ocean with no hope of ever being read.
I have never made friends easily, and that proved to be true at Flagler as well. But friends did come along eventually, and I have many memories that I cherish to this very day. I may never have done anything with any of my degrees, but I still maintain that college was a very important and precious part of my life.
One of my dearest friends was Harold George. He was positive and energetic. He was a force of nature. Trying to keep up with him was like chasing after a dust devil in the desert. Normally I’m put off by such energy, but Harold was charming and kind. He added light to my life. Whenever I saw him, I felt a huge sense of relief. Someone cared.
We graduated before the internet age, before cell phones and social media. The only way to keep in touch was through snail mail, really, and how many people did that? Because of this, most of my college friends drifted away over time, and that included Harold. But I thought of him often.
Fast forward 18 years. I was standing in line to see presidential candidate John Kerry give a campaign speech in Jacksonville, Florida. The line was moving very slowly because they hadn’t provided enough metal detectors for the crowd that showed up on that day. I was lost in thought, trying not to go nuts with boredom. And then I heard someone talking, about 10 feet behind me in line. I immediately knew it was Harold. I couldn’t believe it.
It was so wonderful catching up with him after all those years! We exchanged email addresses. This was about 7 years before Facebook was accessible to the general public, so reconnecting was practically a miracle. At the time he told me that in college he had been inspired to be more politically active because of me. I was stunned that I had made that type of impression, or in fact any impression at all, back then. I was quiet, isolated, chronically depressed, and would have sworn I didn’t even cast a shadow.
Over the years, I’ve been increasingly impressed with the man that Harold became. He stayed in St. Augustine, had the job of my dreams, and he made a loving home with his husband. He also slowed down just enough to reveal his more contemplative side. Now that we’re Facebook friends, I have had the pleasure of reading his posts, which show how observant he is about the human condition. He genuinely cares about people and is finally learning to care about himself, too.
I recently asked Harold to do a guest post on this blog, and I’m grateful that he agreed to do so, because what follows has taught me much about Harold that I did not know in our college days. Maybe I wasn’t the only one there whose childhood undermined all confidence. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who had been bullied and raised in chaos. I would have found that comforting. Maybe we unconsciously picked up on that in each other and that’s why we formed a bond.
But I will say this. Harold, you deserve all the good things. I, too, am grateful that you hung in there. Bon Voyage, my friend. Send me a postcard or two along the way.
Without further ado, here’s Harold.
“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.” – Harold George
These words wandered through my mind while washing the dishes, one morning a few weeks ago. My husband and I had been chatting about our plans for our dream vacation that we had booked, and how to fill the time until the trip. As most people do, we have done a lot of planning, shopping for items that we need for the trip, and spending a lot of time discussing what we hope to experience on this holiday.
More than a couple of times I joked about not getting sick or having any accidents in the time until we depart for our vacation. Unfortunately, these jokes were part of a deeper issue, my anxiety about not getting to fully enjoy something I had hoped for over many years.
Epiphanies are often experienced in a more noteworthy way than clearing up the breakfast dishes, but that morning it seemed like a kind voice in my head was helping me accept that I may in fact deserve to enjoy this trip, and that it might very well be all I hoped it to be.
“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.”
I grew up in a stormy household with multiple cases of addiction, and parents who argued as frequently as most people breathe. My mother had a lot of regret about many things and would often uses phrases like “Of course it was broken, I can’t have anything nice.” I remember the day she discovered that someone had broken her treasured Bone China teapot, and she spoke as if the universe had specifically targeted her with this signal of deserved unhappiness. As the Sondheim song goes “Careful the things you say, Children will listen.”
As someone who adored his mother, I found myself trying to be her cheerleader from a very young age. I think I made some pretty strong decisions for a young person in that context, not realizing perhaps I wasn’t being fair to myself. Kids can be amazing when faced with challenges; never doubt their strength.
Coupling my sort of home life with years of bullying at school, and I found myself struggling for many years to feel good about much of anything. However, I found a way get through it, went to college, had a great job for 35 years, and recently retired.
During the second week of retirement, I remember thinking to myself how irresponsible I felt, not having any task or specific role that might benefit the world at large. Apparently working for 35 years as a public servant leaves you feeling irresponsible when you have some time off.
Was it really alright to enjoy myself doing nothing? Did I really get here, after all this time, to feel so strange about reaping the rewards of work and perseverance? Am I going to disappear now because I have no specific job that defines me, no role that will keep me in the minds of friends, family, and community members? I was experiencing an anxiety that felt too much like something I knew in my early 20s when I had no idea where I was going to go in life. So, these feelings show up again?
“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.”
Carrie Fisher, when discussing the challenges of mental health issues, addiction, and growing up in Hollywood, would often mention how some of the same things she dealt with over the years no longer held their power at later stages of life. She would use the phrase “location, location, location”—and this made sense to me.
Time is an amazing storyteller and guide for learning and growing, and most of all, for building faith on the foundation of the strengths you exhibited when you had no idea you were strong. You always have a chance to reframe your personal narrative, and to move above and beyond. It’s not always easy, but you are the driver.
Yesterday we finally received our passports in the mail, and it was very exciting for us. This morning over coffee, I was savoring a quiet moment of feeling good about something I had wanted to do for a long time. It’s about to finally happen.
I found myself thinking about my 12-year-old self, dreaming of traveling to escape that not-so-great time in life. That guy always seemed to have hope and find a way to dream of better days. I felt myself compelled to thank that young kid for hanging in there, for surviving until the tide did turn, as it often does. To that 12-year-old, I say thank you for getting me here to this moment, I am so grateful to you. You can rest now.
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