THE DANCE

I’ve been doing a rumba for the last 6 years, being drawn in by the seductive rhythms and passionate low pleading of the song. Each time I’ve turned my face away, hand outstretched, yearning to find my own steps, I’ve been forcefully embraced by a silent partner and led back into the choreography which was chosen long ago.

This metaphor could describe many of the layers I’m peeling away from a life which no longer feels authentic. The process is slow…not like ripping off a bandaid, more like wiping the grime off of a window that has been dirty and nagging for years, but has been overlooked for more pressing tasks.

I graduated from chiropractic school in late 2006 and received my license to practice in 2008 after rigorous national and state exams. Since that time, I have seen probably less than 50 different patients. After some initial excitement of setting up a home office and getting all of my ducks in a row, I’ve just never been “ready” to take the plunge and start trying to attract clients. Granted, there have been some really major stumbling blocks in my life during those years, but I almost feel like I’ve used them as an excuse not to practice.

If I’m being honest, the questions began the first time I toured the chiropractic school. Before I started, I was in a graduate program to teach science, but teaching high school was not turning out to be a very attractive proposition. A classmate of mine, who was a chiropractor herself, told me about her work. It paid well, the hours were decent, and there was an opportunity to help a lot of people using my science background.

It alI sounded very promising, and I decided to check out the school.  As I peered in the technique classrooms, some of the students had others lying on benches, practicing moves that were very foreign and strange-looking to me. My stomach tightened a bit. I couldn’t really see myself there. I ignored that feeling, as I had done so many times, and feigned enthusiasm.  In no time at all, I was enrolled and large promissory notes were signed.

I soon met another skeptic with a delightfully sarcastic sense of humor. Several times each semester, we would sit in the gazebo in the middle of campus, making fun of the chiropractic zealots and questioning whether this was the semester we should drop out and find another career or transfer to a less cultist school.

Once we got about halfway through the program, leaving became less and less realistic. We were in too far, both financially and academically. (Few people realize that chiropractors take all of the same courses as med students; they just have shorter “residencies”.) I also had a pride issue at stake. My brother had bet me at the outset that I wouldn’t finish the program. I proved him wrong. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was a win.

Since graduation, I’ve had numerous opportunities to go in with other doctors or rent my own space. I’ve even signed a lease and backed out of the deal. Something just keeps telling me not to commit. I love the idea of helping people and having my own space, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t love chiropractic. I find myself almost giddy when people cancel appointments. Don’t get me wrong, I find tremendous value in chiropractic, and I am an avid patient. I just don’t want to do it to others all day long.

This is probably the first time I have laid my feelings bare to such an extent, even to myself. It’s not easy to say. I have almost $300,000 in student loan debt, which is far more than my mortgage. I feel like I should suck it up and just make the money. But I can’t. Living through cancer has made it impossible to keep doing things I don’t want to do. The “shoulds” are slowly losing the power they have held over me for my entire life.

I don’t know what I”ll do from here, and that’s more than a little scary. My passion is nutrition. I would love to help people get well with lifestyle changes and natural remedies as much as possible, but I’m not sure I can deal with the public day in and day out. I need a lot of time for introspection, or I tend to get overwhelmed. Teaching might be the ultimate solution, maybe with a practice on the side.

I have a lot of good skills that I must now figure out how to weave into a cohesive fabric of occupational fulfillment while somehow still paying the bills Am I being unrealistic, asking for too much, going crazy? Maybe…probably…but I can’t continue to be an impostor in my own life. For better or worse, this is the new me. And I’m learning to like her.

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Summer Lovin’ Take Two

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Ahhh summer, how I love you. I pine for you on cold, dreary December days. I rejoice upon your return and bask in your embrace, unashamed. But your flirtation is brief and intense, like a butterfly landing momentarily on a bloom. Soon you will depart once again, and I will cling to your memory, as it is all that you have left me.

An Unexpected Confession

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I was privileged to witness an unexpected and very touching seen at work today. It was one of those moments that catches you off guard and makes you reflect deeply on your own life. It probably lasted no more than ten minutes, but I’ve thought about it all day.

As I was finishing up some last minute paperwork at my desk before heading home, the pathologist came into the office to talk to my co-worker, who is the pathology department supervisor. He is a lovely man with a thick Charleston drawl and a great sense of humor. I’ve always admired the fact that he is humble and easygoing. Many doctors forget that they are human after a few years in practice.

The two talked shop for a few minutes and then the conversation turned to family. Dr. P told her that his son, who is the youngest of 4 children, will soon be moving to Austin, Texas with his girlfriend. He said it would be the first time that his children were so far away from him; he’s always had at least one at home. My co-worker suggested that it might be a nice break for him and his wife to be carefree. What he said next shocked and saddened me.

“No, I think it’ll be sad and I’ll miss them” he began. “I realize now that I didn’t spend enough time with the kids. I’ve always been so busy. Between work and doing the things I wanted to do alone, I really screwed up…bad.”

I was purposely eavesdropping now, riveted by his poignant honesty.

He put his head in his hands for a moment, then continued. “You think that you’re kids are going to be there forever because that’s your life. There’s plenty of time later. Then, one morning you wake up, and they’re grown. And they’re busy doing their own thing that no longer includes you.”

He hesitated, perhaps realizing how much of himself he had revealed, and tried to lighten the mood. “Oh well, I guess all parents wish that they had done something differently at times.”

And then it was over. My co-worker excused herself and Dr. P followed on her heels. I was left sitting in my chair, alone in the office, to ponder the weight of his words. I feel like I spend a good amount of time with my kids, but there is room for improvement. Sometimes we’re physically in the same house, but we’re definitely not together. Instead, we’re all engrossed in our individual electronic devices, our solitary pursuits. I need to make a conscious effort to get everybody “unplugged” more often and to find things we can do to make happy memories.

The universe has a funny way of getting just the right message to us when we need it, if we’re willing to listen. We only get one shot to be parents. With all of the frustrations, expenses, and heartaches that our kids bring, there is no greater love in life. And there is no greater loss than knowing that you have squandered an opportunity that will never come again.

 

A Sweet Betrayal

Photo courtesy of sunnyday at flickr.com

Photo courtesy of sunnyday at flickr.com

This post is in response to the Trifecta weekly writing challenge. This week’s assignment is 38 words total, and the last 5 words must be: “That wasn’t what I meant.” The first 33 words are supplied by you! Join the fun.

 

“I know what you’ve been hiding.”

She collapsed at his feet, months of deceit spilling out around her.

“It was just sex. I don’t love him.”

He pointed to her stash of chocolate.

“That wasn’t what I meant.”

Weekly Writing Challenge: Silent Screams

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We sit on the sofa at night, three feet apart. But it might as well be three miles or three hundred. Yet, there’s a kind of comfort in it. I’ve come to know your profile like my own skin. The strong, square jaw with a day of salt and pepper stubble. The curly brown hair that you’re so proud of. I never tell you that it’s thinning up top; we like our illusions, after all. You always wear that stupid, sleeveless t-shirt while I’m bundled up in layers. Hot and cold. So many opposites between us.

You stare straight ahead at the television. It demands nothing of you. The constant drone of voices fills the chasm that we gave up on years ago. I hear myself telling you the same mindless details of my day as a silent scream wells up inside, trying desperately to escape. “I hate you!” But it’s not really you who feels the pounding of fists and the deep cuts of rage. It’s me I hate, for allowing myself to be buried like a tulip bulb planted with the promise of Spring. Only planted too deep, and forgotten. I should have been a glorious flower, admired and prized. Instead, I could never break through to the freedom of the light.

“I’m going to bed”, you announce.

I glance at the clock….8:30. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find the courage to end this suffocating funk and know what it means to be alive.

“Ok, good night.” I go back to my tablet and the safety of my denial.

 

This week I’m cheating, using this for both the DP Weekly Writing Challenge and the Trifecta Writing Challenge. I only have so much free time:)

My Grandma: Bi-Lingual Gang-Whisperer

frying pan Claremont College

I remember clearly the day she chased me around her house with a frying pan waving wildly in the air and a homicidal snarl fixed on her lips. I have no doubt that she would have bashed me in the head had she caught me, and I might have been dead right there at the ripe old age of seventeen. I can see it now; a white chalk outline on her worn gold carpet, blood spatter on the aqua-colored walls.

And as the police were questioning her, she wouldn’t be crying hysterically or berating herself for losing her temper. No, she would secretly be checking to make sure that the plastic on her beloved satin couches had protected them from blood stains and wondering who in the world was going to clean up the awful mess. She hated cleaning. What was my crime? I had called her “senile”.

That was my Mima, my grandmother on my father’s side. She was a red-haired Irish fireball with a heart of gold, a vivid imagination, and a fearless zest for life. She did everything in a big way and asked questions later. She never met a stranger, and if you called her at 3am with a problem, she would get up and talk to you for two hours without complaining. But with that crazy red hair came a quick and furious temper. And I, being a pain in the ass teenager, used to delight in getting a rise out of her. It was a kind of sport. But we loved each other beyond words; we were a team, she and I.

Mima had her own stealthy way of getting back at me. She used to embarrass me in public settings, loudly and with gusto. Living in Miami, she had picked up just enough Spanish to be dangerous. We loved eating out, and she would often turn to unsuspecting Cuban diners when she overheard snippets of their conversation.

“Hi. I can’t help but notice that you’re speaking Spanish. I speak Spanish.” They would look at her kindly and patiently, probably thinking that she was senile, and wait for her mangled Spanglish. Oh, but they had no idea what at treat they were in for! She would offer up a phrase, and their mouths would hang open, unsure if they should be insulted or just move to another table. She had just told them in Spanish, “A monkey in silk clothing is still a monkey.” Yep, that was my Mima.

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And then there were the times I thought for sure she would get us killed. I remember riding the city bus with her to downtown Miami for a shopping trip. Now, if you’ve never been on a public bus in a major city, it’s an eye-opening experience. You will find all walks of humanity there, some of them quite scary. When I had to ride the bus to the University, there were regulars. There was the aging hooker just getting off the night shift in her black leather mini-skirt, her bright red lipstick smeared up one side of her face. And across the aisle from her sat the homeless man, his ulcerated leg held together with masking tape.

homeless guy Josh Swiergrensmeared lipstick

The morning Mima and I rode the bus, it was very crowded. We walked to the back, where there was a group of young gang members with their legs spread over several seats, eating fried chicken. I was prepared to stand and mind my own business, but oh no, Mima would have none of that. “Well, I’m just going to ask them to move. They don’t need to be taking up all that room. And why on earth would they be eating fried chicken on the bus?” And was this whispered quietly in my ear? Of course not. It was at her usual 500 decibel volume, and the boys turned to see what this old lady was yammering about.

“Oh God, we’re going to die!” I thought. The leader of the group spoke up, “You got a problem, lady?” Here we go. She jumped right in, unafraid, “Why yes, young man, I do have a problem. You should know better than to make an old woman stand. Don’t you have any home training? And you’re going to get grease all over this bus with your chicken and ruin someone’s clothes.”

I made the sign of the cross as tears came to my eyes. I just wanted a new purse, and now I was going to die on a city bus. I think the boy was stunned into silence for a moment; he just stared at her. But, of course, he couldn’t let an old woman make a fool out of him. “Lady, you need a big glass of shut the hell up!” He turned to his friends, satisfied that he had redeemed himself, and they all had a good laugh.

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Mima was relentless. “Well, that may be, son, but think of what your mother would say if she saw you acting like this. Do you think she’d be proud? I’m sure there’s a good boy in there somewhere. Now why don’t you scoot over so my granddaughter and I can sit down?”

He muttered some choice expletives under his breath to save face with the group. And, then, I’ll be damned if he didn’t draw his legs up begrudgingly to make room for us. She pulled a handkerchief out of her purse to wipe the grease off the seat, just to make one last point. And then she sat down as if she owned the place and it was just natural for her to be scolding gang members on a bus.

Mima was a fighter. She survived breast cancer, adult onset diabetes, gangrene of the gall bladder and a host of other calamities, big and small. She frequently told the story of having only one dress to wear during the Depression, which she dutifully washed every night until the thread gave out. She was proud that she had refused offers of charity and stood on her own two feet.

She never lost that fierce independence and faith, even when a group of Voodoo practitioners moved in next door and broke into her house. Realizing that they were no match for this feisty old lady, they finally settled down, asking only that they be able to perform their rituals in the privacy of her overgrown back yard. Horrified, I begged her to call the police, but she only smiled. “What the hell, it’s kind of interesting watching them back there. I just wish they wouldn’t leave the chicken heads for me to clean up.”

Through this whole breast cancer ordeal, I’ve often thought of my “Mima”. When she got cancer, she stubbornly refused chemotherapy, and I know that she never once thought about taking vitamins or how her diet contributed to her disease. Instead, she lived, plain and simple. She ate dessert whenever she pleased and relished every bite like a child. She spent every dime she got on new dresses and trips to China and whatever else made her happy. And her infectious enthusiasm made people happy. She was 88 when she died.

Sometimes, when I’m struggling with yet another impossible decision, I look hopefully toward Heaven and wait for her to give me a sign, anything. But all I hear, in broken Spanish, is her other favorite saying, “In a closed mouth, no flies will enter.”