Somewhere along the timeline of my life, though I’m not sure when, I was told that a story that to be published in my alma mater’s literary magazine was being nominated for an award. The award, as it was briefly explained to me, was intended to honor those who’d face adversity and come through the other side. While I was “away,” I was notified that I was indeed chosen to receive this honor. An event was being held to release the magazine and to recognize the contributors, as well as recognizing those whose work was being honored. This event was being held Wednesday evening. In my mind, this became the day that everything would turn around for me in miraculous, fairy tale fashion.
So, the day started. I woke up, got my children off to school, and then realized that I was far too tired for the long day ahead. I took a nap, overslept, and rushed to get half-way ready in preparation for an IEP meeting (a meeting among teachers, therapists, and parents to individualize the education of a child with special needs for the upcoming year) that I was going to have to duck out of early. I got there late, listened for a while, failed to contribute anything, and left. I went to my mother’s, finished getting myself ready, helped her finish getting ready, and left late. I sped my way towards Chicago, slowed down for the rush hour traffic, and ended up parking half an hour away from my event because there’d been an accident ahead of us. We waited for a little over half an hour, and then got moving again right around the time the event was supposed to start.
This was going to be my night. This would turn everything around. And I was late for the “show” that I was supposed to start. But I was determined to make an appearance anyway. This was my night! I was going to make it!
I was going to my alma mater. I’d been to this building so many times I couldn’t even count them. But, for some strange reason, I couldn’t find the right building. I was on the right road and I was in the right area, but everything looked strange and unfamiliar. I ended up driving right past it. So, we turned around and, instead of letting my mom and her walker off in front of the building, we parked in the garage under the street. We parked right near an elevator that took us up to the street level. I spent a few moments looking around until I spotted something familiar. We were a block or so away from where we needed to be. We crossed the street and walked as fast as my mom could manage. We had to cross another street, which is harder than you might think with a walker, and I found what I was looking for. The entire façade of the building had been refaced and both the stores on the corners of the street had changed, but my school was still there.
We made it to the room where the event was taking place just as people were leaving. I wormed my way forward to present myself to my former advisor. She got out the mic and got people’s attention. She introduced the award that was being given and then she introduced me, the recipient. I read an excerpt from the piece that had won me an award for overcoming adversity. I was able to read it without any anxiety, because, honestly, how much worse could this get? I watched the audience respond to my piece with gratification. Then, when I was done, the audience applauded. This was my moment. This was the moment when everything would magically turn around for me.
Except it didn’t. I knew nothing had changed as soon as we started walking back to the car. We had to go slowly for my mom’s sake, but the pace was excruciating for me. The cramps I’d gotten in my legs from the long drive hadn’t been worked out yet. I realized they wouldn’t work themselves out before we reached the car and I had to do the long ride all over again. Every step was painful and the slower our steps, the more painful it was for me. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Once we were back on the interstate, we still had to swerve through endless miles of non-existent road construction, where miles and miles of the road were “under construction,” but there were only two areas (with many miles between them) where workers were actually working. As bad as that was, the worst was yet to come.
The “highlight” of the evening was our stop at the Road Ranger. Mom didn’t like to pay at the pump, so we went in to pre-pay. My legs were still cramped and my mom still had her walker, so the walk to the store was slow going. Mom pre-paid for the pump. We went to the rest room. We got some drinks and hot dogs. Then, we made the slow, painful walk back to the pump. But the pump wouldn’t work. I walked back to the store and the clerk explained that our transaction had been canceled, because we took too long. I walked back and my mom elected to use her credit card to pay at the pump, because, frankly, I wasn’t up to walking back and forth yet again. So, I swiped the card through, made the appropriate selections, and set up the pump. The gas didn’t come. I waited and waited, but the gas didn’t come. So, I let go of the handle, turned back to the pump, and tried to see what was wrong now. Then, the gas started to flow and it started with so much force that the nozzle popped out of the gas tank. I turned around just in time to be sprayed from head to toe with gasoline—mostly in my face and all over my skirt.
I stomped back to the store and reported the incident to the clerk. She just blinked at me. I stomped into the rest room, cleaned myself up as best I could, but I still reeked of gasoline. I stomped back to the car and did the only thing I could. I popped the trunk, threw my coat and my skirt into the trunk, slammed it shut, and put on the trench coat I’d lent to my mom. The shirt I was wearing was a tunic. It was long enough that some people—but definitely not me!—might wear it as a dress, so this wasn’t quite as “revealing” as it might sound. But it was far from comfortable.
Finally, I got into the car and was prepared to drive away and never, ever come to a Road Ranger again. But my mom said she wanted the receipt proving her transaction had been canceled. So, I drove her up to the store and got out her walker and let her go in by herself. She came out a little while later, saying that not only did the clerk say that I must have “done it wrong,” as if I hadn’t been pumping gas without incident since I was fifteen, but she was also claiming that she’d already given me the receipt. My mom told me to come in with her so she could get her receipt.
“Mom, I’m not wearing any pants!”
And that was that. We drove away. When I’d finally gotten us into my mom’s garage it hurt to get out of the car, because my sweaty skin had stuck like glue to my mom’s leather seat. I limped to the other side, helped my mom get out and up into her house. Then, I changed back into the clothes I’d worn for the IEP and I went home.
The days that followed didn’t get better. I’d had a sinus infection and now it was full-blown bronchitis, which got progressively worse. My productivity went from being negligible to be nothing at all.
I was angry. I was angrier than I had been in a long time. As a person of faith, I’d been praying this whole time for some help—divine intervention. The Bible tells us that God answers such prayers. My prayers were being answered with silence and I was angry. I’d had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore and I couldn’t do it anymore and I was done. I was DONE. I QUIT. And if God wanted to change that He’d have to do something big.
That didn’t last. Though I was still angry, I was too passionate about what I was doing to quit. So, as my illness progressed, I thought about my life, what had gone wrong, what was going right, and what I really wanted. As I write this, I’m still sick. I’m getting better, but healing is exhausting. I’m still not up to the kind of work I need to do to get everything caught up. But I won’t quit. I will figure this out. I will get back to work.