Whoever said life wasn’t either easy or fair needs to smacked in the mouth. Repeatedly. Both because of the inanity of the statement itself and because it’s true. It’s very, very true. Life isn’t fair. Life isn’t easy. Sometimes, life seems to relish in the act of rearing back and kicking you in the junk really, really hard. And there often isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.
I find myself at a serious crossroad in my life. Everything I’d planned to do, everything I’d planned to be, everything that I thought I was has been blown away with the force of an F5 tornado. The trees I’d so carefully planted have been uprooted and the structures I’d built have been reduced to splinters. Nothing I thought was going to be has or likely will come to pass.
And so I’m left standing amongst the wreckage and the debris holding an empty bag and asking myself, “Who in the hell am I now?”
See, I’m learning that the tricky and unfortunate thing about defining ourselves in a certain way, in concrete terms is that when circumstances beyond our control conspire to throw roadblocks and obstacles in our way, those definitions become meaningless and you’re left completely empty and without meaning.
When I had finally worked up the gumption to go back to school several (maybe many?) years ago now, it was because I had finally found my passion. I began to define myself as a teacher. And I threw myself into it with reckless abandon. Between working full-time and going to school full-time, I was putting in sixteen, seventeen and even eighteen hour days in the pursuit of my dream. But I knew who I was, what I was and what I was going to be. When I finally walked across that stage to accept my diploma, it was a feeling better than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. I had accomplished my goal and my definition of myself was set in stone. I was going to be a teacher. It’s who I was.
But then the shit, as they say, began rolling downhill. And quickly.
The almost doubling of tuition meant I had to take a semester break between graduation and the credentialing program to get all of my financial ducks in a row. Which sucked but was okay because I felt like I’d earned a break.
But when I was making my arrangements to go back, the massive layoffs of teachers in this fine state of California began in earnest. Thousands of teachers statewide were given their pink slips. Hell, teachers even today are still getting pink slipped as districts continue to cut funding. I had to stop and ask myself if it was really worth it to lay out the sort of cash that would be necessary to finish my credential when there was absolutely zero guarantee that I would find a job upon completion? And so I opted to wait another semester to see if the situation improved. It hasn't.
Meanwhile, as I waited and watched, still hopeful, the other shoe dropped. My niece, who’d come to live with us while I was still in school, threw a huge monkey wrench into my future. My niece is a troubled girl. I had no idea how troubled until she came to live with us though. Her behavior became increasingly antagonistic and belligerent as the months passed. Fights with her mom were more frequent and she began lashing out violently. My sister tried literally everything to help her, to get to the root of her problems and help modify her behavior. It did no good. Her behavior got worse and worse. One night, she vandalized our house and my sister had finally had enough. She had my niece arrested hoping that it would be a shock to her system big enough to see that she was headed down a bad path.
That didn’t work either.
While in her placement, my niece dropped abuse charges on both my sister and me. Not that I knew anything about it, mind you. I received a letter in the mail from the state’s attorney general containing the disposition of the abuse allegations against me. My heart dropped into my feet as I read , for the first time that my niece had made the allegations to begin with but that the charges were “unsubstantiated” and not marked “unfounded.” Which is the fancy way of saying, “no, you’re not cleared of anything, we just can’t prove her allegations.” I was stunned beyond belief. I had never been interviewed, never asked my side of anything and oh yeah, was never informed that I was being investigated for abuse in the first place. But that is on my official record with the California Department of Justice.
Which, in this time of layoffs and massive, wide-spread teacher abuse scandals around the states is ultimately a death sentence to my career. Before it ever began.
And I never did a damn thing to my niece. Never.
While this was all going on, my mother had also apparently decided to disown me without telling me. She and my stepfather had been calling less and less frequently and hanging out with us even less. I’d always thought that we were a tight-knit family of four and we’d often spend loads of time together. But for whatever reason, they suddenly decided that their life was better without my sister and I in it. Our calls began going unreturned and all visits stopped completely. Birthday and holiday greetings ceased as well. (even my sister’s boyfriend got a “happy birthday” message on Facebook) But my sister and I had somehow become persona non grata. Nothing happened, there was no blowout, no fight, no nothing. Just continued and perpetual silence.
It’s been well over two years since I last spoke with my mother. And she lives ten minutes away from me.
So in the span of a year, everything I’d been defining myself as, a teacher, a tight-knit family guy and a loving as well as loved son had all been stripped away from me. Needless to say, for months now, I’ve been left floundering with no sense of purpose or direction. I’m still stuck at the same dead-end job where I’m barely scraping by week to week to week, saddled with co-workers who are sometimes mind-numbingly dumb and/or lazy and being treated like utter crap by our clients. The rage inside of me at the unfairness of life has been building and building in intensity day after day and I feel ready to explode.
Life, as I said recently, hasn’t turned out how I’d planned it.
But I have come to realize, in the last few days really, that I’m acting like my life is at its end. That my game is completely done and over with and I have no cards left to play. But I realize now that I do. It seems mind-bogglingly simple but it’s powerful.
I’m not a total youngster anymore but I’m not old either. And though some doors have closed, some are opening should I choose to see them. I’ve been so busy looking at the definitions of myself that I’ve lost… teacher, family, son… that I am overlooking the things that I still *am*… brother, friend, boyfriend. I realize now that I still hold many cards in my hand and I still have many hands left to play.
Some days… okay, most days… I feel like Sisyphus, forever doomed to push that boulder uphill only to have it come rumbling back down at me again. But what I’m seeing clearly for the first time is that even though I have to push that damn thing back uphill yet again, I can choose to push it up a different path. I can choose to not walk barefoot over the broken glass of my dreams but I can forge a new path over smother ground.
It’s up to me.
So I stand at the bottom of the hill. The boulder of my life stands beside me. Waiting for me to choose which path I’m going to take.
George Bernard Shaw once said that “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.”
It’s a quote that I’ve always loved but haven’t truly taken to heart. Until now. It’s up to me how I choose to define myself. What will I be? A writer maybe? Why not? If life is about creating myself, why not create the life I want to live and a life that I’ll be happy with filled with people I choose to love and call family… the kind of life where I will get out of bed each and every day thankful to be alive and happy with what I get to do.
I can have it if I choose it and work for it. It’s all up to me to forge that new path and work my way back to the summit. So today, I vow to begin dispelling the rage that is eating me up and start pushing that boulder back up the hill.
My life is my own and I choose to be happy. Happiness. What a concept. Sounds like a good way to define myself, if you ask me.
This has been my entry for therealljidol Season 8, Topic 34(B) Barefoot, Uphill, Both Ways. Once again, I thank you all so much for your support over the course of the season. I truly appreciate you stopping by to give me a read week after week. If we have a poll, don't forget to swing on by, read some of the other fantastic stuff and spread a little voting-love around! We're down to the final 14 left standing... things are getting crazy so every vote counts! Thanks, guys!!!