When I woke up this morning, nothing around me looks familiar. I feel like something invaded my sleep and stole the inside of my head. I avoid getting out of bed. Maybe if I stay here for awhile everything around me will become recognizable?
Did I have a mini stroke? No headache, my tongue still works, vision seems clear, but everything seems unusual. It’s like waking up in a hotel room that was dark at night, so one can’t see it clearly until sunrise. Of course things wouldn’t look familiar. Having that feeling when waking up in my own bedroom, well, this is just weird.
* * *
Coffee will clear my head, that’s what it does, it wakes all of the little brain cells up, and the synapses start to kick into gear. Life magically comes back into view; well I hope it does.
Paris Rose jumps onto the bed and starts the kitty pat-pat with her paws. “I know, Rosie, it’s time to face the world.” She jumps down and circles around the bedroom wall to the second floor landing.
Following her, I wander downstairs, head toward the living room, and my recliner. I sit down, lean back a bit, and stare blankly at the black TV screen. My iPhone is looking back at me from the end table where I’d left it last night. I key in my password and notice the battery is nearly dead. It needs to be resuscitated, just like I do.
After an hour of staring at the silent TV, I go to the kitchen, plug in my cell phone, feed Paris, make a cup of coffee and slowly gravitate back to the living room. I set my coffee cup on the end table and return to my recliner. Getting comfortable, I begin rocking back and forth, gradually speeding up until the back of the chair starts banging against the wall. The sound jolts me out of my unconscious race to nowhere.
The stillness is eerie. I reach for the remote and turn on the TV to check the news. Government intelligence agencies are still searching for their intelligence; an ad tells me children are still starving in Africa, and people are bemoaning the loss of David Letterman. Though these news snippets are a frame of reference, I don’t feel connected.
I change the channel to the Food station and watch Guy Fieri roam from town to town, state to state, humoring chefs while they prepare gigantic cheeseburgers, pizzas and pasta in their out-of-the way dinners, drive-ins and dives. Guy hits Boston, Detroit, and Chicago, and I’m jealous. He’s eaten at least six meals, and I haven’t had breakfast yet.
Having been to Boston and Chicago many times in my 40’s, his travels remind me of little pieces of my past. Finally some concrete images start to populate my mental landscape, as I rock, back and forth; hands planted firmly on the arms of the chair….. I may speed up again.
A glimmer of recognition and words and images began to connect. I remember having a map, back when I traveled regularly. I’d put those pins, with colored heads, on the names of the cities I’d visited. By the age of 42 I’d traveled extensively throughout the United States.
I dig out the atlas that I’d stashed behind my media center. Opening the massive book, I start thumbing through the states. Every time I land on a town I’ve been to its like seeing a picture of an old friend I’ve lost track of, and places I have fond memories of. Those were the ‘good days’, full of surprises, and fascinating people. I was so adventuresome and free spirited back then.
Sure, there were some challenges mixed in. I traveled alone in all types of weather. The plane was sometimes late to my destination. I navigated unfamiliar highways and back roads in the dark of night. Accommodations varied from upscale to basic. All of my meals were eaten alone.
When I began work the Monday after arriving, people were always welcoming, and hospitable. They looked forward to the new software programs that I would install, and the training I’d provide to improve the flow of information within their business. It was gratifying to be a part of that process, but when Friday came I was ready to hop aboard my plane headed for San Francisco, and to return home to Marin County.
* * *
Two years into this routine, I started to burn out. The traveling was becoming a burden, and I had gradually lost the close contact I had with my friends and family. Maybe it was time to move on to a less taxing job. I’d become so exhausted I decided to see a doctor.
It took some time, and analysis of my symptoms, for my doctor to finally diagnose that the stifling exhaustion was a result of an uncommon virus that caused “chronic fatigue syndrome.” I could relate to the words he used, but had no idea what they meant from a medical perspective. He said the virus had weakened my immune system, there was no known cure, and to recover I needed a great deal of rest. He suggested that I go on disability for awhile. The prognosis frightened me.
After giving notice at work, I began to live a very quiet and sedentary life. In addition to feeling exhausted, my body aches constantly. Depression began to set in. On good days, I’d venture out with my camera draped around my neck, and go for short drives on country back roads, where traffic was sparse and slow. I’d stop along the way at a small town to pick up a sandwich and soda, and search for a park to walk in. These outings caused little stress, and brought a sense of meaning back into my life. I missed the long distance traveling, and the excitement of visiting new places, but I found solace in this new simple pleasure.
After six months of feeling isolated, I contemplated having a roommate. I had two extra bedrooms, and guest bath, so it was a perfect option. It would help to offset some of my living costs, and would provide much needed company. That decision turned out to be a blessing. Life didn’t exactly get back to normal, but having company livened up my home and improved my frame of mind.
A year after the diagnosis, my energy slowly began to return. It wasn’t robust enough to work full-time, but noticeably stronger. I posted a note on the bulletin board in the recreation building at my mobile home park: “Part time work wanted.”
Within a week a woman stopped by my home. She told me her fiancé, an attorney who lived in the park, was looking for help typing his briefs. It would be part-time, and I could work at home, so commuting to his office in San Francisco wasn’t necessary. The work was new to me, but I told her I’d do my best. The attorney dropped off drafts in the morning, and pick up the final documents later in the day. He was a friendly guy, paid me well, and the arrangement worked for both of us. The income from disability insurance had run its course, and the new job eased my financial instability to some degree.
* * *
Flipping pages in the atlas is bringing more memories to the surface, as I rock back and forth, back and forth. The rocking has slowed down a bit and my mind begins to keep pace with it. The thoughts have a distant feel to them, but they are real nonetheless.
The chronic fatigue became less debilitating, while I continued to work part-time. Photography became my creative escape. The viewfinder encapsulated the beauty in nature that I had not been connected with in such a meaningful way. The trips to the country continued as I discovering the delicate intricacies of flowers and the grandeur of trees as I watched the seasons change. I’d spend hours looking at the images I’d taken over the past year, and recognized how they reflected a different kind of traveling. This process had become an inner, rather soulful journey, as opposed to an outer physical one.
With time on my hands, I considered taking a photography class. The more I considered it, the more appealing it was. Being around other artists would inspire me. Before the fall semester began, I decided to register at the local Junior College. I hadn’t considered that I might have to satisfy certain prerequisite art class before I could enroll in a photography class. When I’d completed the first prerequisite, there were more. It became apparent I wasn’t going to get into a photography class at the Junior College within a time frame that worked for me. After looking into a few options, I finally transferred to San Francisco State University and continued my education. After nearly six years I graduated with a B.A. degree in Art, and during this lengthy process my chronic fatigue disappeared. It was the only part of my life that I can look back on with the surety that I had been true to my nature, and I was miraculously healed in the process.
After graduation I was in debt up to my neck. I could no longer work part time, so I began looking for a full time job. I wanted work that would, in some way, keep me connected to the art world. That was like looking for the metaphorical ‘needle in a haystack.’
After several months of looking for work, I was offered a position as a software trainer, and tech support assistant, at a local manufacturing company. As I had previous work experience with the software development company, it seemed like an acceptable opportunity, but millions of miles away from being an artist. That was 18 years ago, and the fantasy of my dream job had nearly vanished.
* * *
By this time I’ve rocked so much I’m wondering what distance I would have covered if my recliner had wheels. My mind, on the other hand, traveled thousands of miles. My coffee is gone, and my cell phone is probably overcharged. Hunger pangs tell me that lunch time came and went without notice. Rosie is sitting at my feet, like a doggie, and staring up at me. I’m sure, if she could, she would ask if I was OK. “No Baby, I’m not. Mom’s trying to find herself.”
I get up, walk to the kitchen, open the freezer door and pull out a Stouffer’s Spaghetti dinner. I look at Rosie’s bowl, and it’s empty. I put the dinner in the microwave, retrieve a can of Fancy Feast Sliced Turkey from the cat food drawer, open it, and fill Rosie’s bowl. Six minutes later I pull the dinner out of the microwave, slide it onto a paper plate holder, grab a fork from the dish drainer, and return to my recliner. It’s a nice reprieve to do something other than rock. After leisurely enjoying lunch, I return to the kitchen, dump the paper plate in the trash and return to my recliner.
Back into the head game, I reflect on the last few hours of mental gymnastics, and conclude that most of my adult life has been spent making a living. One day turns into another, with little variation. I realize that I wasn’t actually present for most of it. I’d find distractions during the day that kept me occupied, but not engaged. I loved playing tourist when I traveled all over the country, but for the most part I’ve done what was necessary to get, and keep, my world financially solvent.
* * *
A couple of years ago I was abruptly laid off at the company I’d worked for nearly sixteen years. Although it was not anticipated, I had become aware that the company’s culture had changed its spots over the past few years, and I didn’t recognize the animal anymore. I think I also realized that I never really belonged there. I felt blessed with freedom on one hand, and dread on the other. I was 68 at the time with a justified concern about finding meaningful employment, and again I had a great deal of uncertainty about what the future would hold. What I did know is that I wanted to work with like-minded people, doing something creative.
Since I was accustomed to having a busy schedule, I tried to be an active unemployed senior. I volunteered as a senior peer counselor after a six month training program. I attended a couple of business networking groups, joined Toastmasters, and Redwood Writers. I went back to college to take an eight month social media certification program, and just received my certificate. Yes, I’ve stayed quite busy, but I haven’t honestly resonated with most of these new ventures. Redwood Writers is the one investment of time that’s benefiting me. I feel at home with people who were truly engaged in refining their craft.
* * *
Having finally rocked all of these thoughts of my past to a dead end, my current reality started coming into view. I’m a senior, and although they say it’s never too late to learn, and grow, I find it difficult to determine what I want to grow into. I know I love beauty, and watching the seasons change, now more than ever. When I begin to read a new novel, I enjoy every word and phrase, and eventually loose myself as I get to know the characters, and the intricacies of their lives. I miss them when I finish the last page. That’s when I turn to writing my own stories, and they become the companions that consume my life.
I leave the recliner to put the atlas back in its hiding place. I’ve spent so much time immobile, well, with the exception of the intermittent rocking, I have to coax my body to move. As I walk toward the dining room bay window, I look out at the blue-gray sky that has begun to display the warm orange glow of the setting sun.
I open the sliding glass door, and head toward the patio. I push the foot rest aside, and sit in my plastic Adirondack chair, adjusting the paisley print cushion slightly. The neighbor’s dog is chanting his muffled bark from behind the fence. Rap music is filtering in on the breeze.
My life is taking on a familiar feeling. It’s good to be home after a long day of immersion in such an unintended journey. I’ve made it back to the present, but have I found myself in it? As I step back from the story, look at the big picture that has replaced the tiny fragments that I started the day with, perhaps I have. My life is like a revolving door that I continue to pass through, but what I see on the other side changes with my focus. Right now it seems to be on telling my story, as I live it.
© Shari Adams
About the author shari2845