Looking Back on a Massive Change

Five years ago today, I arrived in Seattle, knowing no one. I’d never been here before. I knew nothing about the place. I may as well have landed on the moon. The very first thing I did was sit in a public park with my dogs. I felt very overwhelmed. I remember thinking, “Now what?” But I was also excited about the possibilities. Hanging on to that feeling is what saw me through the more challenging times.

I had spent the bulk of my life in the conservative South, where I always felt like a liberal turd in a republican punchbowl, so to say that Seattle was a culture shock was putting it mildly. I didn’t know my way around. I hadn’t even heard of the Seattle Freeze yet, so I had no idea about all the extra hurdles I’d have to jump through to make friends. (I must confess that I struggle with that to this day. I find many people out here to be flakey, unreliable, standoffish, and confusing. It takes a lot of effort to find the gems amongst the unyielding rocks, but that tends to enhance their value.)

At one point, an obnoxious distant relative accused me of running away. I wrote a furious blog post about that. Starting fresh is not always a massive avoidance scenario. Sometimes you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. But on that first day, I had no idea what the gains, if any, would be.

Every time I pass that park where I first sat, I wish I could go back and hug that girl and tell her everything will turn out okay. My, my, how time does fly. I can now say with complete confidence that moving here was the best decision I ever made. For the first time in my life, I’m relatively financially stable. More often than not, I love my job. I purchased a house. I’ve had a lot of adventures, the greatest of which was finding love and getting married. I’m exactly where I should be.

Sometimes you have to take a leap and hope the net will appear. That’s what I did. Thank goodness it turned out well. I could have just as easily landed with a massive, irreparable splat. So three cheers for nets!

Incidentally, if you’d like to read about my epic journey across the continent, start here. And if you’d like to read other posts about my transition, do a search within my categories section for My Jacksonville to Seattle Do Over. (That category includes the epic journey, but contains many other posts as well.)

me cross country

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The Mad Scramble

The alarm was set. I swear to God. But the volume was turned down.

I rolled over and looked at the clock an hour later. “Oh, Sh**!!!!!!”

“You’re here???” dear husband said. He had just been thinking how impressed he was that I’d managed to get ready for work and leave without waking him up.

I ran around the house, leaping over dogs and trying to figure out what to do. I did a fairly accurate imitation of one of those squirrels who sees a car bearing down on him, and can’t decide which way to run. At one point I was wearing my husband’s glasses, and wondering why I couldn’t see. I vaguely recall running into several rooms for no apparent reason.

I couldn’t figure out how to use my phone. My brain does not thrive on these abrupt transitions. I knew I had to call someone, but who?

I called my coworker as I rushed into the bathroom. “How long will it take you to get here?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know! I’m on my way! Less than an hour. I’m so sorry! Sh**!”

I was out of the bathroom and changing my clothes and out the door, shouting goodbye over my shoulder, in less than 6 minutes.

Thank goodness I have a hairbrush in my car. Unfortunately, I don’t have a toothbrush. And I hadn’t taken my morning meds. This is not the first time I’ve been grateful that I don’t do makeup.

I got to work, only 9 minutes late, feeling nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I refuse to incriminate myself regarding how many traffic violations I committed to do so, and how many times I questioned myself along the way to make sure I was driving to the correct drawbridge.

Upon arrival, I looked in the mirror and realized I still had marks on my face from my CPAP mask. I’d gladly pay someone $500 to let me go back to bed. That offer is still on the table.

As I write this, I’m sitting here feeling gross because of skipping so many steps in my morning hygiene regimen, and kind of resentful of the fact that even though I got an extra hour of sleep, I didn’t get to enjoy it. And I’m doing that leg shaking thing that I thought I got over in my 20’s.

Ugh. I need a hug.


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A New Unit of Measurement: The Quagmire

My Dachshund, Quagmire, is 31 inches from nose to tail tip. (Eight inches of that is tail.) The reason I’m telling you this is that I find I often use him as a very precise unit of measurement. This is important, so pay attention.

It takes 2 1/2 Quagmires to span the width of our king-sized bed. I know this because he often inches me from one side of it to the other in the course of a night. It’s critical to know how much bed you’ve got left. Safety first.

I also know how many Quagmires a Quagmire must be from the front door before I can open it. (Four.) If I don’t take this into account, he’ll bolt outside and head straight into traffic. I don’t know what it is about the highway that intrigues him so, but it’s a wonder he hasn’t been squashed flat.

I’ve also learned the hard way that all dog bowls must be at least 5 Quagmires apart or chaos will ensue. He’s very territorial about his kibble. Believe me, it isn’t pretty.

He only has to run about 6 Quagmires before he reaches the end of my extension leash and practically yanks my arm out of its socket.

We’ve had to install 10 Quagmires-worth of fencing to keep his sneaky little butt out of the strawberries and tomatoes in the back yard.

There aren’t enough Quagmires in the world to keep us from smelling his musk when he has rolled in something dead. He seems quite proud of this.

You can throw a toy about 5 Quagmires away and he’ll chase it, but he’ll only bring it about 1 Quagmire of the way back. A retriever, he is not.

The interesting thing about this unit of measurement is that it increases to 40 inches in the vertical. Despite his stubby little legs, he routinely jumps chest height. So you always have to consider the vertical Quagmire before leaving any food unattended. As far as he’s concerned, anything less than a Quagmire above the floor is community property.

But the very best part about this measurement is that it only takes one Quagmire to fill my heart with love.


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Running Away or Running Toward?

Man, oh man, but somebody pissed me off on Facebook the other day. She accused me of running away because I moved from Florida to Washington. I tried to remind myself that this was a late night comment from someone who was probably full of liquid stupidity, especially since the comment had absolutely nothing to do with the post it was attached to, but it still infuriated me.

First of all, this was a distant relative who probably wouldn’t even recognize me on the street and has not been the least bit supportive of me during even one minute of the 49 years I’ve been on this planet. She knows me not at all. And she has no idea about the life I’ve lived or the dreams I’ve dreamed.

Second, to be running away from something, you first have to have something, and I had nothing left in Florida. So what, pray tell, would I have been running away from? Nothing. Just because I haven’t stayed within the state in which I was born for my entire life does not mean I’m running.

I agree that geography is not going to solve your basic problems. They tend to travel with you. But why begrudge someone the chance to start over, start fresh, make a big change in the hopes that perhaps things will look slightly more like one’s aspirations? Maybe what I’m doing is running toward something. What’s wrong with that?

If I really were running away, I sure picked a stupid place to run. I don’t know a soul here, I have no support network, I left a job where I was considered one of the most reliable, competent and trustworthy people to a job where I’m struggling to prove myself, and to do all this I’ve racked up a $9,000.00 debt and my Indiegogo campaign appears to have come to a screeching halt. Sometimes I just wish there were someone here to give me a hug, to tell me everything is going to be okay, but there’s no one.

And yet I keep getting up in the morning and trying some more. There’s a good chance I won’t succeed. God knows it wouldn’t be the first time. But at least I’m trying. That takes guts. Sometimes I think it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I keep trying. If I were the type to run, I’d be running right freaking now.

So call me a runner again. I dare you.


[Image credit: tomgrimshaw.com]

When No One Wants to Take a Stand: A Story of Neglect

I was 17 years old and a freshman in college, and I witnessed something that to this day I don’t fully understand. I’m sure there is much more to this story than I’ll be able to tell you, so I apologize in advance.

Among my fellow freshmen was a girl whom I’ll call T. To be brutally honest, she scared me. She was clearly quite severely mentally ill. I’m not just saying I could sense this, or that something was not quite right with her. I mean she was obviously and completely not there. Not even partially. Everyone knew it.

She ran everywhere she went, head down, arms kind of forward, panting, seemingly terrified. She had puppets. Quite often she’d only talk through them. I remember that one was a witch that had a creepy voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention.

She’d put on impromptu puppet shows which were incoherent cries for help. I’m fairly sure that she heard voices. But at the very least she was trying to communicate in the only way she knew how.

She should have been institutionalized, and yet there she was, with us, at a high-end private college in the Appalachian Mountains.

Even a rank amateur could tell that this girl was schizophrenic, or, uh, something, and there is no way on earth she could have possibly kept up with her studies. Any writing assignments must have been bizarre in the extreme. There couldn’t have been a question in any professor’s mind that there was a problem. T needed help.

The girl that had the misfortune of being T‘s roommate begged to be reassigned elsewhere, anywhere, but the administration refused, which is another big part of the mystery as far as I’m concerned. That girl spent the entire school year hopping from dorm room to dorm room, sleeping on our floors, essentially homeless. No one could have possibly felt safe sharing a room with T. How could you turn out the lights and sleep comfortably with someone whose only substantive relationships were her puppets? For Pete’s sake, I got the willies just passing T in the hallway.

I used to watch her running agitatedly across campus, completely disconnected from reality, and wonder why her parents had sent her there. They must have been rich. No way could she possibly have gotten scholarships. They had to have known she had a mental illness. There was no hiding it. What could they possibly hope to accomplish by foisting her off on academia? She needed help, and this wasn’t helping her.

Finally one day I couldn’t take it anymore, and I went to the Dean of Students. I told her all I knew and all I had observed about T. I could tell none of this was coming as a big surprise to her. There were only 500 students at the entire school. She knew what was up. I was hoping that someone in a position of authority would do something about this situation, but all I got from this woman was that there was nothing that could be done. I was in shock, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I’m ashamed to admit that I gave up on the whole thing right then and there.

But I would watch T, from a safe distance, running to and fro, and it always made me sad.

At the end of my freshman year I transferred from that school for unrelated reasons. I have no idea what became of T. Did she return the following year? Did she graduate? Did she ever get the help she needed? Where is she now? I don’t know.

But looking back from an adult perspective I can’t help but think that T was the victim of an institution-wide form of neglect. Obviously her parents had influence or she’d have never been there in the first place. But they didn’t care about her. Every one of her professors looked the other way as well. The administration chose to do nothing but take that tuition, which is rather sickening in retrospect.

And the girl in the center of this storm of indifference? She was just left to battle her demons by herself. And what a terrifying and lonely place that must be, emotionally and mentally speaking.

It’s so easy to just look the other way and assume that someone else will handle difficult situations. But when every adult, every single one, stands by and does nothing when a child is suffering, as far as I’m concerned that’s criminal behavior.

This, of all the stories that make up my life experience, is the one which cries out for the closure which I know I’ll never get.

T, if you’re out there, I want you to know that someone cared. I wish I could have helped you. I really do.


8/22/13  Perhaps a little bit of closure after all! I just heard from T’s former roommate. She did want me to specify that these are vague recollections and not hard facts, but this is what she said:

“Hey, I read your story. I hadn’t thought about all that in a long time! I really only lived with her a few weeks. Then I went to the Dean of Students and asked if I could move to the room next door with M (who’s roommate didn’t show up). She grudgingly said yes. So I did. I lived with M the rest of the four years. I don’t remember if T came back the next year or not, but I don’t think so. I just can’t remember. Last I knew she was at a farm for mentally disabled people. I think she’s been there a long time. Hope that helps!”


(Image credit: puppetsbypost.com)