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Author Topic: Happy Birthday to me! (A Landmark Thread)
Member # 187

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Ten: I'm still alive

The birds were chirping and the sun shining. People were getting out of bed and beginning to go about their day.

Just a normal day.

Except it wasn't. It was my twentieth birthday. A day I never thought I would live to see.

All through my life, I had been afraid of growing older. I had also been afraid of living. I would spend hours sleeping in my bedroom, all the while wishing I was out doing something. My theme song was "Part of That World", from the Little Mermaid. I longed to be part of the world, which I imagined to be a dazzling place filled with sunshine and laughter. But still I'd turn down invitations from friends, or stayed home when I could have gone out. Fear ruled me. Life felt too risky, and I was much too fragile to handle its disappointments, of which I was sure there'd be many.

I shipped myself off to therapy, where I complained that my life was passing me by while I sat back and watched. And yet I was still locked in my inner world, unable to break free. Inside, I was safe. Inside, nothing could hurt me.

The feelings built upon themselves. Soon I began to believe that not only was life passing me by, but that I also didn't have much time left in which to live. I lived my nineteenth year in fear, dreading my twentieth birthday, because I was sure I wouldn't survive to see it.

Yet here I was. Twenty. And still alive.

I wasn't sure what to feel. Disappointment? Relief? Yes, a little of both, but surprisingly, more of the latter than the former. Perhaps I wanted to live, after all.

That afternoon I stood in the middle of the basement, singing my theme song. But instead of singing with longing and lament, I sang with strength and convinction, and my voice was beautiful. Someday, I would be part of that world; I was sure of it.

I didn't know what the future would bring, but at least I knew I'd have one.

I was twenty. And my life had just begun.

[ September 15, 2004, 04:49 PM: Message edited by: xnera ]

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Speaking from experiance, I can tell you what will happen if you don't overcome your problem...you will wind up crushed, disgusted with yourself and weary -- all hope gone, your life in shambles...

Don't let that happen. Get out there! The world is waiting -- you can seize it! Maybe you need a drastic change in surronding?

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ghost of xnera
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Phanto: this is just part one in a ten-year long story. Stay tuned--the rest of the story is forthcoming. [Smile]
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Pretty... I know the feeling...
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Nifty ^^
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(((((xnera))))) Happy birthday.
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*is eager for more*

Happy Birthday girl!

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Nine: Love & Warped

We met on a talker. I was going by Warped Pearl. Pearl, after Pearl Jam, whose music I played nonstop. Warped after OS/2 Warp, the operating system.

He was going by TopQuark. I saw his name, and messaged him, saying "Glad to see you've been found," as Fermilab had just proved the existence of the top quark mere days earlier. And from then on, we were friends. We talked about Star Wars, and wrote rot13 code to each other. Everything was pbby or terng. And stayed up all night chatting. The birds would be chirping, and I'd here the creaks of my dad's footsteps above, and I'd say "EEK! Dad's awake! I've got to go to bed!". And I would turn off the monitor and the light, and run across the basement on my tippietoes, diving into bed, hoping I would not be found.

It was heady. I was intoxicated with our private jokes, with his very presence. He was always there whenever I logged on. Always waiting for me.

We decided to have some fun one night, and instead of hanging out in my room, went up to the public hill where most people entered the talker. And commenced whispering to each other. We would see what each other said, while everyone else saw "Pearl whispers something to TopQuark." And we followed the crowd around from hilltop to hilltop, keeping up a steady stream of whispers until someone yelled at us to get a room. And then we'd laugh like crazy. As if we were trading endearments rather than talking about coding.

As if.

By then, I was completely caught up in him, this boy who was always there and who shared my geekiness. Why couldn't we get a room?

I was young enough to still believe in the fantasy of the women "fixing" her man. Angelo was not much of a reader, whereas I was. Reading brought me so much pleasure that I felt everyone should read. I knew what I'd do: I'd tell him to read Ender's Game. Everyone I gave it to loved it, and I was sure he would, too.

I scurried to my computer and logged in to the talker. Almost immediately he was messaging me. "Hey! I've just finished reading this awesome book."

I felt a chill come over me. "What book?"

"It's called Ender's Game. Danielle told me about it."

And he introduced me to Danielle, who was the reason we could not get a room. Danielle, who was nice, and sweet, and easy to like. Danielle, who had the same interests as me. Danielle, whose .plan text contained lyrics of the song that was constantly playing in my head these days.

Danielle, who reminded me of, well, me.

I didn't understand. Was she a better me than I was? What was wrong with me? What was I lacking? I asked myself these questions over the next few weeks as I watched them grow closer and closer. Soon I was getting online, and he wasn't there. Not like he used to be.

One day I logged on to the talker, and no one was around. So I started fingering everyone I knew, just to see when they had last been on.

I fingered Danielle, and found out she was now known as "Angel.Bandit's Danielle".

I was crushed. I walked around that day in a haze. I got myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, but could barely eat half of it. Why was this happening?

Angelo called me that night. A few weeks prior, he had asked me how I would feel if he started dating someone, whether it be someone online or in real life. At the time I had told him only a half-truth: that I would likely be jealous and upset, but that I would also be happy for him.

That night I told him the truth: sometimes, I thought I loved him.

He thanked me for my honesty. We got off the phone, got online, played a few games of chess. And then he asked me if I was up for a wedding. And I watched my love Angelo get net.married to Danielle, who was me but not me.

I went to bed that night, and I kept a plastic bag near the bed, because I was sure I was going to throw up. I never did.

Internet time moves much quicker than real time. A week later their marriage had dissolved. I was honestly sorry it had, because as much as I wanted to hate her, I couldn't help liking Danielle. So I told her I was sorry.

Life went on. I still went to the talker and waited for Angelo to appear, but he would be around less and less. Still I waited, banging my head against the wall in boredom. I could have used that time to study, or read, or talk to other folks, but I couldn't. I had to wait for him. What if he came looking for me?

One night, he did.

We started talking. And then we started kissing. And then the door was locked. I was trembling as I typed, completely unsure of what I was doing but doing it anyway. I gave up my innocence that night to a boy I once thought I loved, because it was the only way I could keep a part of him. And when it was over, I was covered in sweat, but I could not say that I enjoyed myself.

That was the nature of our relationship from then on. I would wait online for him, banging my head against the wall, until finally he arrived and called me into a private room. And there'd be kisses and whispers while I shook and sweated. It wasn't much, but it was enough. For a while, at least.

But soon I grew tired and restless. Was that all I was to him? Just a way to have fun? What had happened to the rot13, the talk about Star Wars, the giggling on the hilltop?

I realized I was allowing myself to be used just to keep the "relationship" alive. And I didn't like it one bit.

A few days after New Years, I messaged an admin on the talker. "Nuke me," I said. My room, my name, my customized text all dissolved into bits, and I walked away and never contacted Angelo again. It was the strongest thing I had done up to that point in my life.

Months later, I found a package addressed to him while cleaning the house. It held a Star Wars video and baseball cap, and was to be his birthday present, but I had never sent it. I must've used a whole roll of packaging tape on it, making sure every flap was sealed thoroughly.

I stared at the package for a moment, and felt a rage come up inside me. And I unleashed it on that innocent box, ripping and clawing, until the box was in shreds and I held its contents in my hands. And I vowed never, ever, to let myself get so lost in another person again.

I was twenty-one, and I had just learned a valuable lesson in life.

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Sara Sasse
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It was the strongest thing I had done up to that point in my life.
Hard stuff, xnera. Hard to read but such a well-told and well-won story.

Which reminds me, I have email stuff for you today. *smile

(Still reading)

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You know, that makes a really interesting short-story, or kernal of a short-story even if based on real-life experiences. I have never had an online relationship, and that helps me imagine what it would be like while at the same time holding a surreal quality for me because of it being something I have never experienced.
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I so enjoy reading your writing. I'm glad you're doing this!
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Eight: Darkness & Light

It was my fifth and final year of college, and it would be the hardest one yet.

I was a double-majoring in math and computer science, and still needed several key courses to complete my majors. One problem: two of the needed courses met at the same time. I'd have to do an independent study.

I found myself taking nearly 20 hours of classes that semester. Combine that with my recent promotion to Lead Lab Assistant, my involvement with student government, and the normal trials and tribulations with friends, and I was one stressed puppy.

Complex Algebra class. Mathematical Induction. Something I've known how to do for five years.

"This isn't right."

"It's how I've always done it."

"You've been doing it wrong."

I bowed my head, erased my work, and tried again. But I couldn't focus. I sat still for a moment as the numbers began to swim before me, and then abruptly got up and left the room, leaving my books and purse behind. I'd just go to the bathroom to steady myself before returning to class and trying again.

I stood in the stall, taking deep breaths, but soon I was crumpled against the wall and crying my eyes out. That stupid proof became bigger, so it wasn't just this one problem but everything in my life, and I'd been doing it all wrong and nothing was ever right and I just couldn't stop this feeling that kept hitting and hitting me.

It soon became apparent that I was NOT going to calm down on my own. I needed help.

I fled down to the Career & Personal Development center, burst in the door, and said "I need to talk to someone." I was hoping that someone wouldn't be the director of the center, who I had an intense dislike for.

I was in luck: Jane, one of the therapists, was free.

I had never clicked with JoAnn, the therapist I saw during high school. Her office was downtown, with a view of the lake, and she wore business suits and was all polished. I imagined her world to be filled with martinis and high culture. Not only could I not relate to her as adolescent to adult, but I could not relate to her because our worlds were so different. Her world felt stiff, polished, artificial. I never relaxed in her presence, and never quite trusted her.

Jane was real. She wore comfortable clothes not so different from mine, and had a warm, welcoming smile. She listened with compassion, and gave me a hug at the end of each session. And I never felt like she was telling me what to do, or lecturing me, but rather helping me find the answers within myself, which only helped to increase my confidence.

With her help, I was able to calm down and return to classes. Life went on.

The darkness didn't completely go away, however. It would return another night, again when I was feeling stressed out over school.

I had a paper due in two days, and I hadn't even started it. And now I was faced with a lot of work in a short amount of time. I was overwhelmed.

I couldn't do this. I couldn't. I was no good, I couldn't do anything right, I hated myself for letting it go too long, and I couldn't even explain why I had.

I couldn't do this. I didn't want to do this anymore. I wanted out.

I lay curled up on the floor, sobbing, and knew I needed to talk to someone again. But who? It was midnight. No fleeing to Jane's office. I could wake my family, but I didn't want to bother them with my problems. I couldn't deal with their concern and worry on top of my own stress.

I stumbled to the computer, logged into IRC, and joined the #sliders channel. Methos, the channel bot, greeted me, which brought a shakey smile to my face. I had a crush on Methos (the character from Highlander), and the bot always amused me.

Methos was not alone in the channel; Jim was there, as well.

Jim greeted me as warmly as his bot did, and we began to chitchat. We talked about everything and anything: school, my frustration with my paper, Sliders and seaQuest, the bot, this new TV show called Buffy that everyone was talking about but which I hadn't see yet. I never told him just how bad I was feeling, but there was no need to; I had simply needed to talk to someone else, to know I was not alone in this world. It was enough.

Thank you, Jim Pingle, for listening to me that night. It is quite possible you saved my life.

* * *

They all stared at me in shock. "You're doing TWO senior seminars?"

Why was this so incredible? Oh sure, senior seminar was practically a beast out of a nightmare: a long individual research paper, presented to the entire department at the end of the term. Students trembled before it, and gazed upon it with horror.

Still, couldn't they understand that I was relieved to be doing two instead of one? I had tried to combine my double-majors of math and computer science into one senior seminar topic of Fractal Image Compression, but the more time went on, the more unsure I was that it would have been satisfactory. I began to have nightmares of passing the computer science part, but failing the math part, or vice versa. No, doing two was much better. I could be sure that the requirements for both majors would be fulfilled.

I tried to explain this to my classmates, but they still looked at me like I was crazy.

Fine; let them think I was crazy. I was still going to do what I knew was right for me. I broke my topic in two: the math paper would be on Fractals, and the computer science paper on Image Compression.

I headed to the library and began my research. And suddenly felt content. I was in my element, here. I had always loved libraries and learning. This wasn't a chore or an unpleasant task: it was play.

I overtook the math lab that January term. Xeroxed papers lay everywhere; borrowed books scattered the tables. I used the Internet to download preprints, and placed my first order with Amazon.com. I wrote programs to test for convergence and divergence, graphed orbits, and played with Fractint. I was having a blast.

It wasn't all fun and games, though. There were times I would get headaches trying to understand some concept we never learned in class. Topology eluded me, until I enlisted the help of my friend Jacqui. She wasn't a math major, but she was a Mensan, and was able to tell if something I said made sense. I bounced my ideas and explanations off her, and if she nodded in excitement and agreement, then I knew I was right.

The end of February came, and it was time to present my topic. "You're so calm! Aren't you nervous?"

I just shrugged. The way I saw it, I was the expert, here; the math faculty knew the basics about fractals, but none of them had extensively studied it. I was sure I would be able to handle any questions they threw at me.

The presentation was a complicated affair. Powerpoint, transparencies, a gizmo to display the caculator on the overhead: no one could say I wasn't into the latest technology. I was a bit nervous, but it quickly faded away as I began to speak on a topic I had loved since I first read about fractals in Arthur C. Clarke's "The Ghost from the Grand Banks." I handled the questions afterward just fine, and got compliments from my fellow students. I knew without a doubt that I had been the best presentor that day.

I allowed myself a day of rest, and then got to work on the computer science paper.

It was pleasant in a different way. Instead of overtaking a classroom at school, I did the majority of my work on Fridays at home, as I had no classes that day. Again, I ordered a book from Amazon.com, which turned out to be my most used reference. I read and memorized the GIF and PNG specs, and was thrilled when I finally unraveled the mysteries of JPEG encoding. My biggest problem this time would be getting Works to behave nicely with the math.

May came, and again I found myself in front of the class, presenting my topic. There was a moment of humor when I explained the Graduate Student Algorithm to compressing an image:

* Acquire a graduate student.
* Give the student a picture.
* And a room with a graphics workstation.
* Lock the door.
* Wait until the student has reverse engineered the picture.
* Open the door.

The professors had all been chuckling at this, but the whole audience laughed when the timing of the powerpoint caused me to accidentally leave off the last line, leaving the students locked in the room for infinity.

I handled the questions with ease, and then the presentation portion of my seminars was over. Both had gone extremely well. I was pleased.

But there was still work to be done: I had to finish the papers. I worked up to the last minute, making final corrections and fighting with the various computers to recognize the different file types. Finally they were completed: seventy-eight pages for the math paper, and thirty-three for the computer science one, neatly bound with plastikoil and vinyl covers.

I felt a great satisfaction when I turned them in. I had worked harder than I ever had before, but not only that, it was the kind of work that spoke to my soul. It was my greatest acheivement to date.

I was twenty-two, and I was pushing my limits.

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Seven: Welcome to the Real World

Twenty-three is my favorite number. Because of this, I expected a lot out of the age of twenty-three.

So far, it wasn't turning out so good.

I had been unemployed since graduation in May. It was now September, and the interviews were few and far between. Worse, my parents kept asking me for money to pay the car insurance (part of my financial responsibilities), but I didn't have any to give them. We had the first of many fights about finances.

"You don't understand! I HAVE NO MONEY!"
"Your sisters do."
"Yes, and they've also been working at Walgreens since high school, making more money and working more hours than I ever did in the computer lab."

I was frustrated. I had gone after work that suited and fulfilled me, and my reward was to wind up broke. It was so unfair. And I hated not being able to pay my bills or buy myself a treat because I had no money coming in.

Finally, my dad suggested I try Manpower, where he was currently employed. I grudgingly agreed to go along, since I couldn't afford to wait much longer for a job.

Within two weeks I found myself at IBM, working as an IT Specialist.

IBM!!! I thrilled inside. My dad had worked there for over 30 years, and I had long dreamed of growing up and working there someday myself. They were just so COOL. They threw summer picnics and christmas parties for their employees, and us kids even got presents. I even got a really cool Barbie doll one year! Granted, we hadn't been to a company outing in years, but surely they were still as cool as they had ever been.

I nervously showed up for the first day of work dressed in the same attire I had worn to the interview. The first thing I learned was that the IT folks were allowed to wear jeans to work.

I wore jeans every day after.

My very first project was installing Lotus Notes on client computers. I soon became the local wiz. My coworker, Ken, usually handled about 3-4 installs a day; on my best day, I did twelve. I had always been a quick learner, and picked up the process like a duck to water.

I loved my job. I loved my coworkers and our private office, with the workbench in back where we could hook up five machines at a time. I loved walking about the building and meeting new people as I went to answer their calls. I even thought it was fun to carry a beeper, and thought it was neat that the printers would beep us if they needed servicing.

It wasn't all easy, though. A good portion of the issues we faced involved networking, which had been my worst CS class in college. Not because I didn't study or didn't understand it. No, I firmly blamed my fellow classmates, who goofed off every class, and my professor, who didn't control them. I struggled to understand the networking issues at first, but soon was able to trace connections and troubleshoot token-ring issues like a pro.

Yup, it was going good. Of course, this is when it all changed.

The co-worker who had trained me accepted a new position. And I took an instant dislike to our new employee.

His name was Bill, and he was a GUI geek. This I did not understand, as he was actually older than me. Surely he had had experience with command line interfaces? Worse, he was a dreaded Sensing type, which ruffled this flaming INFP. And he showed up each day wearing black jeans and an ash gray t-shirt that looked like it should be worn underneath flannel. Except for Fridays, when he wore his Roadkill Cafe tshirt.

I started wearing slacks and blouses to work.

There were times when we would have interesting conversations in the back room of the office, but all too often I found myself irritated by him. Irritated by his need to tell me step by step by freaking step instructions, when all I needed was to be pointed in a direction. Irritated by his inability to remember the process for claiming time just because it was on a mainframe system, leaving me to show him how to do it each week. Irritated by his lack of professional dress.

The irritation began to follow me home. I was perpetually unhappy.

Other changes were happening as well. My older sister was getting married! And the wedding was going to be at DISNEY WORLD!!! What fun! Her wedding and reception remain to this day the best and most fun wedding I have ever been to.

But it brought up all sorts of thoughts and questions. I was thrilled to be gaining a brother-in-law, but was worried about losing my sister, especially since our relationship was never very strong. And I couldn't help comparing myself to her. She was married and settling down, and here was me just a few years younger, and I hadn't even had a boyfriend yet! Was there something wrong with me?

I came back from Florida feeling happy on the surface, but feeling plagued with inner doubts.

The doubts were shortly forgotten, as I found out that one of my co-workers, who was retiring, had decided that I would be the one who would now be in charge of asset management. I was pleased and flattered. Obviously I must be doing someting right to be put in charge of such a responsibility! And it was a fun one -- I got to see every new laptop that entered the building, and prepare them for their new owners. I got a kick out of showing the clients every port and switch on their new machines. I also got to make executive decisions on what old assets were kept on site, and had a fun week buried in the storage room, throwing out a dozen boxes of old equipment.

Unforutunately, things soon took a downturn again. Windows 95 had arrived at IBM, and everyone wanted it. Except not everyone was permitted to get it.

Quarrels soon errupted in the back room of our office. What departments were allowed to get Windows 95? Which departments did we support fully, and which only got partial support? I sometimes felt we spent more time arguing about how to do our job than actually doing it.

And then we would get on conference calls with other branches, only to find out that we had been missing information. Information that should have been provided to us by our manager. The manager we were lucky to see once a month.

On top of it all, I was having problems managing my assets. Because I wasn't a "real" IBM employee, I was not allowed access to one of the databases I needed to do my job. Which meant that everytime I had to research an asset, I had to go to one of the IBMers and ask them to help me out. And I had never been fond of asking for help.

Frustrating, frustrating, frustrating.

A positive response to such frustrations might be to get angry, or to rant. It might be to speak up and speak your mind, or to work for positive change within the company. My mind did not work that way.

Faced with conflict all around me, I got depressed again.

I soon lost confidence in myself. The littlest job responsibilities became an unbearable burden. I found myself fleeing the office several times a day, taking walks around the campus to ease my troubled mind. All it really accomplished was to end up with goose droppings on my shoes.

I would go home at night, wound up from the arguements in the back room, or irritated that I had to show Bill how to claim his time yet again, or feeling guilty that I had accomplished absolutely nothing that day. I was exhausted, and often fell asleep on the couch in the basement shortly after coming home.

What had happened to the company of my childhood dreams? Was this really what adulthood was all about? Office politics and pointing fingers and everyone making demands on you? If it was, then I wasn't sure I wanted to grow up.

I was twenty-three, and I had just had a rude awakening.

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was wondering when we'd get the next installment.

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What a story!

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ghost of xnera
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I meant to write them all in advance. You'd think I would have, since I've been planning this for nearly a year.

However, I am a master (mistress?) procrastinator, and naturally did not get around to writing them until it was time to post. And today it was late because I was dealing with work/personal hoopla all day (good stuff, not bad, but still hoopla). I am just happy I am sticking to my one-a-day schedule. [Big Grin]

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WOW! powerful story. (((Xnera)))
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Six: New Beginnings

Two months before my 24th birthday, I was contacted by a consulting firm that had received my resume from my college. The firm was just a few years old, but they were dedicated solely to IT, were receiving excellent press, and had an impressive benefits package.

My recruiting manager was impressed that I carefully reviewed each position I applied for before finally accepting one. I really clicked with the hiring manager at one site, but turned the position down because it was too far from home. Another position sounded promising, but the managers were snooty. A third simply didn't fit my background or interests.

Two weeks after my birthday and exactly one year after starting work at IBM, I found what sounded like the perfect opportunity: first-level onsite support at Toyota Financial Services.

Toyota! I was excited. The other companies I had interviewed for were all small, niche industries, but here was a worldwide name that would provide plenty of opportunity for growth. I had liked everyone who interviewed me, and the location and salary were top notch.

Those first few weeks were bliss. I was filled with the heady excitement I feel in new environments, as I learned just how everything ticked and got to know my coworkers.

Unfortunately, the bliss didn't last long. I had been hired as the second IT person at a busy and cramped branch. They didn't have enough room for me out on the floor, so I found myself sitting at a temporary desk in the printer room. My days were filled with solitude and boredom, as most folks naturally turned to the techie they already knew than ask the new girl for help.

Within three months, I was ready to leave for something new. There had to be something better.

But what? Here, I was unsure. I had tried two technical positions, but neither had fit very well. And so I turned to the self-help books. And, happily, discovered the works of Barbara Sher .

Reading her books was like a breath of fresh air. Here was someone who was so obviously passionate about her work and her life, and who asked questions that caused me to reconsider my worldview. I completed all of the exercises with enthusiasm.

They didn't tell me exactly what I should be doing, but they pointed the way.

I learned that if I had my choice, I'd like to do "whatever the heck I wanted, whenever the heck I wanted." I longed for freedom and flexibility to pursue my interests. And a major interest was writing. I also longed for my own space to "do my thing" without interruption.

Well, I couldn't have it all right now, but I could have some of it. So I set about gathering pieces of my dream life.

The very first thing I did was enroll myself in a writing class. The Novel Writing class tempted me, as did the screenwriting class, but they also scared me. So I started small, and took Journal Writing.

Oh, what fun it was! I would turn in eight, ten, twelve pages each week, filled with dream journaling and ponderings and reactions to class readings. I fell in love with the physical act of writing: the cool smoothness of the paper; the slight scratchiness of my pen; the vivid black ink contrasting the whiteness of the page.

My classmates were a joy as well. There was Betty, who was so afraid to write that she hardly ever turned anything in, but when she did manage to read her works in class, her writings were full of emotion and truth, with lyrical prose that was a joy to listen to. Then there was Kelly, tall and thin, who sat hunched at her desk like a frightened dog cowering in a corner. I was shocked when I learned she was actually a police officer. Louise shared updates from the fiction writing class, and wrote a piece on how her life had improved for the better after the accident that left her paralyzed. So many wonderful stories!

Our instructor was fond of writing comments on our journal. I enjoyed reading them, so each week when we got the previous week's journal back, I would flip through the pages looking for her distinctive green pen. One week, I found a passage marked with exclamation points and underlines. The note at the end said, "Please read this to the class."

I nervously stood up. I didn't like reading out loud, because I often tripped over words or felt I was too stilted. I swallowed my fears, and began to read.

And was greeted with laughter.

It wasn't me they were laughing at, though; it was the words I was reading. Heartened, I read on. And the laughter continued and grew, until I had the whole class in stitches. Wow. I was funny! I could write humor!

That little memoir is still one of my favorite pieces I've written.

Work was beginning to improve. A spot for me was found out on the floor, and I finally felt like a part of the branch. My workload was also increasing, and I was no longer so bored. Maybe this job wasn't so bad after all. I decided to stick around for a bit longer, at least.

I had also decided to go after another part of my dream life: obtaining my own space. I set a goal to be out of the house by my 25th birthday.

I was afraid to tell my parents this news. They had always been especially protective of me, and I often felt like they believed I was not capable of handling life very well. So I secretly began looking for apartments in my spare time. I would flip through the Apartment Guide during lunch, drooling at floor plans and photos. Until I looked at the rent, that is. Then my stomach would drop and I'd hastily shut the book, wondering how on earth I could afford a place I would like.

I gave it some thought, played with the numbers, and decided I could afford a bit more than I originally planned. I opened the book and looked again.

Well, that was a bit better. Still nowhere what I'd really like, but there were a few that looked promising. I decided to go check them out.

Pictures can be deceiving. In person, each looked smaller, dingier, dirtier than their photograph. The appliances were old, or the windows clouded, or the kitchen tiny, or it was only one bedroom.

I just couldn't see paying so much money for one of these apartments. I knew if I lived there, I would feel like my money was being wasted. Also, I was having a really hard time finding a place that would allow pets, and I knew that eventually I would want to get one.

It was at that moment that I decided to buy instead of rent.

There is a lot more involved with buying a place, however, than in renting. Even though I had researched the process, I felt that in the end I couldn't do it all on my own. It was time to tell the folks.

To my surprise, they were very supportive. They thought it was a great idea! They especially liked that I was looking to buy a place, because that meant I would be building equity. Also, they themselves were ready to move on, as the house was getting too big for them. We could go house hunting together!

After much discussion with both my parents and the credit union, it was determined that I could actually afford much more than I had expected. Still, the first condos we looked at were just a slight improvement over the apartments. Sure, they all had two bedrooms, but there were still the tiny kitchens and clouded windows. I liked the new developments that my parents were looking at much more--all shiny and glittering--but those were out of my price range.

One hot, sweaty Saturday, we spent an entire day in the car, driving around to visit townhomes my parents were interested in. It was late afternoon and we were all tired, but we decided to stop at one more condo unit that was, quite literally, on the way home.

We walked in the model, and all said "Oh!".

Everything inside was new. New carpeting, new tile, new cabinets, new doors and trim. New windows, new appliances, and a new air conditioner and furnace. The parking lot had just been resurfaced, and the roof was only three years old. The only thing that WASN'T new was the tub, but it was reglazed and the tile carefully chosen to match.

The ride home was filled with exclamations of its features and discussion of which unit I wanted. It was on the high end of my price range, yet still doable. But we would be aggressive with our offer. Would they accept it?

They did.

The only thing left was some contract haggling. Thanks to my brother-in-law the real estate lawyer, we were able to make changes in the contract that were to my benefit. The builders weren't too happy about it. Neither was the seller, who, while reading over our proposed changes, asked, "Where did you find this guy?" But we were able to work out something that we both agreed to. The closing was held in late July, just about forty-five days before my birthday.

I moved in a week later. It was a hot, sticky, rainy day. My friends grumbled at having to carry in so many boxes of books, and my mom went on a mad polishing and cleaning spree. After they had left, I sat down smack dab in the middle of the living room, happily looking at the piles of boxes and the furniture I had inherited from my older sister.

I was home.

I was twenty-four, and I was finding myself.

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xnera, I'm glad i stumbled into this thread tonight. It just reminds me of how much I've always enjoyed your company online. Hope to talk to you soon.


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This is a masterpiece we see unfolding here! I look forward to hearing the rest....
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Storm Saxon
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xnera, this is amazing, amazing stuff. [Smile]
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[Five: It's the end of the world

It was 1999, and the world was ending.

I had been barely in my teens when I had realised I would be twenty-five when the year 2000 rolled around. It seemed like such a momentous occasion: two landmarks within the same year. Surely this meant Big Things.

I spent my teenaged years wondering where I would be when January 1st, 2000 finally happened. I imagined I would be married, with a kid or two. We would have a cute, comfy house in the suburbs with a yard and a dog. I would either be a stay-at-home mom or would be doing work that fulfilled me. And I would be a published author.

It was 1999, and the world was ending, and I didn't have any of those things.

Life was nothing like I had expected it to be. And which each passing day, I felt like I was falling further and further behind my schedule. It didn't help that my older sister was pregnant with her first child, and my younger sister would be getting married in a month. My younger sister would be experiencing things that by rights I should have experienced first.

I couldn't sit still any longer. I desparately wanted all these things. I wanted to know what it was like. I was on a quest for knowledge.

I decided it was time to find myself a boyfriend.

I didn't have to look very hard.

Bill was a member of my parish, but we hadn't met until college, when we ended up working in the computer lab together. The lab crew often hung out together, and I would drive Bill home from our outings since he lived five minutes away from me. Over the years we had grown from acquaintances to friends, and were now spending hours on the phone talking to each other. It was inevitable.

Our first date was on October 30th. We went haunted-house hopping, and giggled and screamed. And then we went to Angel Falls for a late-night stroll.

Angel Falls wasn't nearly as glamorous as its name. That was the local name for a water processing plant. But it had a nice path around the pond, with trees and benches to sit. We weren't the only couple walking it that night.

We strolled along, holding hands and nervously chatting. At the end of one loop, we looked at each other, and silently agreed to walk the path again.

Our footsteps slowed as we reached the end of the path.

"Do you want to sit down?", Bill asked.


We sat on a bench and stared out at the pond. The minutes ticked by as I watched him scuff his shoe in the gravel. Finally, tired of feeling nervous, I spoke up.

"So, do you want to get it over with?"

He nervously chuckled, and then he kissed me.

The weeks flew by in a warm haze. We spent most Saturday evenings together. I'd sit at home, making myself nervous as I waited for him to call with the plans for the evening. He'd finally call around six, and I'd pick him up at eight and we would go see a movie or get something to eat.

And then we would end up back at my condo.

The body often knows the heart better than the mind does. I would often shake uncontrollably when he kissed me, and not in a pleasant way. At first I attributed it to nerves, but as time went on, I began to wonder. What did this mean? Why couldn't I just relax and enjoy it?

It wasn't just the shaking that nagged at me. I began to be alarmed at some of the things he said.
I, at least, had gone on dates before Bill. I had hugged, and held hands, and declared my love to a guy I met on the Internet, and had even kissed Casey the college womaniser. Bill, however, hadn't done anything of the sort, as he told me in a letter. "I thought I was destined to be alone," he said. "I thought I would never find anyone, never date, never kiss anyone."

I wasn't his girlfriend. I was his salvation.

This frightened me so much that I quickly pushed it out of my mind. His words were not scary; they were just the words of a boy in love. He was fine. We were fine. We would be fine.

It was 1999, and the world was ending, but I was trying not to think about it.

On New Year's Eve, while most of the world was finalising plans and getting ready to party, I was at work, making sure every single piece of equipment was shut off properly to safeguard against a potential disaster. The meetings preparing for this day had been going on for months, and my manual of the step-by-step process was nearly 100 pages long.

At a quarter to eight, I finally got permission to leave.

I was exhausted and hungry. All I wanted was to pick up Bill and go to my sister's house for pizza and fun. I called Bill to let him know I was on my way.

He wasn't ready.

"What? Why?" I asked.

"Well, I just got up at 6:00, and I need to shower and stuff."

"It will take me about forty minutes to get there. Can't you be done by then?"

"I don't think so. Can you pick me up around 9:15?"

I slammed the phone down. I had had a busy day, and I would need to be back at work at 8:00 the next morning to bring the systems back up. Why couldn't he be flexible for once?

I ended up going to my sister's and wolfing down some pizza while complaining about Bill's inconsideration. And then I got back into my car and picked him up. It was not a fun night.

After that, frustration was always boiling beneath the surface. I didn't like going out so late in the day; I wanted to be out earlier. I didn't like that we would go see a movie only to end up back at the condo, where my body would shake with a feeling I didn't understand. I didn't like that I had to drive him home in snowstorms at two a.m. when I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was crawl into my bed that was IN THE NEXT ROOM and sleep.

I tried to voice my frustrations, but he wouldn't work with me.

"Driving all the time is getting to me. Can we try something else? Can we go out earlier in the day? Can you take the bus or a taxi? Can we meet downtown for a date? Can we just try something else?"

"Well, I'll think about it."

That's what he always said, but nothing ever changed.

I called my best friend. "Vasso, it's like he has me on a pedastal. He's so blinded by what he wants that he can't see me for who I really am."

"If you're that frustrated, you should leave," she'd say.

I should. I should just end the relationship and move on with my life. But if I did that, he'd be terribly hurt. I couldn't cause someone that much pain. I couldn't.

So I stayed, much longer than I should. I stayed, even though my body shook and I was frustrated and my phone calls to Vasso were getting longer and longer. I stayed even though I would feel physically ill each time he got in the car. I told myself I was allergic to his cologne.

Winter turned to spring, and work got hectic again. We were rolling out new machines. To speed up the process, we were using a 5x5 branch rollout: five FSSAs would be trained on the process, and they would each train five FSSAs in turn. I found myself flying out to Seattle.

And there, found the courage I needed. Because of the distance and the crappy hotel internet connection, I couldn't talk to Bill every night, or exchange emails. Well, I could have done the latter, but I defiantly chose not too. Instead, I took the week to myself. I wandered the city, seeing as much as I could see, enjoying my freedom and independence. I didn't need to be with anyone. Not only was I fine on my own, I was happier than I had been in months. Yes, I needed to do this for myself, and to heck with what he felt.

I broke up with him early in the afternoon the day after I got home.

That night, I went to my sister's place for an authentic german dinner. I was full of emotion, and couldn't help bursting into tears when I walked in the door. Sobbing, I told my parents that it was over.

My sister came downstairs and asked what was wrong. "We just heard some sad news," my mom said.

SAD? This wasn't sad! Heck, I was RELIEVED! The only reason I was crying was because I had ended up hurting him. He had been totally surprised by the breakup, and had cried and pleaded me to reconsider. I didn't like being the bad guy. I didn't like hurting others like that. But oh, was I angry at mom for implying that I would have been better off with him!

The anger continued. One day at work I opened up Word and created a document called "letting bill have it". And I poured out all my frustations. I cursed him and damned him and complained about everything he had done wrong and how my life would never be the same now and how I wish I had never gone through this.

But this didn't appease my anger, because I wasn't really angry at him. I was angry at myself.

I was angry for staying so long, when it was obvious that I was miserable. I was angry for saying "I love you" so many times when it was now apparent that it was never the truth. None of it had been true. I knew now that I had never wanted him, but rather the experience. I had wanted a boyfriend. I had wanted to be able to say "I love you" and hear it returned. I had wanted all that.

I had used him, just like Angelo had used me. It would be several years before I finally accepted this and forgave myself.

I was twenty-five, and I was full of anger and shame.

[ September 10, 2004, 04:15 PM: Message edited by: xnera ]

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You have earned my respect as being someone who knows something.

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Wow. This is amazing, Karen.
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ghost of xnera
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meh. Doesn't look like I'll get part four posted today. I've been working on another project all day, and I'm rather braindead and tired. I'm trying to write it now, but it is going veeeeeeeery slow. [Frown] So it looks like I'll end up posting two tomorrow. At least I kind of stuck to the schedule!

Thanks for the comments, everyone. It's appreciated. [Smile] I'm glad folks are enjoying it.

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Gripping! I love your writing style, your honesty! I feel like I can really understand what was happening because of the way you describe it.
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I've really been enjoying your posts! I've been getting on everyday to check for them. When's the next one coming? [Big Grin]
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I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed reading this, it is one of the most honest things I have read, I think.


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advice for robots
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Wonderful, xnera! I couldn't put it down....
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Wow. I'm speechless. Well, almost anyway. That is one of the most captivating stories I've ever read. It's writings like this that make me seriously question the lack of reading in my life.
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ghost of xnera
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I'm having a bit of a writer's block caused by a stressful weekend (don't worry, it was good stress, not bad, so no hugs needed. [Smile] ). I'm trying to work on the next few now. I do have a deadline I'm trying to meet, after all. [Angst]
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ghost of xnera
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Oh, and by the way, my muse is named Colleen. She's named after a girl I knew in high school who once told me I was honest. That compliment has stayed with me a long time. [Smile] I appreciate hearing it again.
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ghost of xnera
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Why oh why didn't I write the next part last night, like I planned? Am sitting here at work, writing part four while waiting for queries to run, and I'm getting all verklempt and stuff.

Here's a teaser. [Big Grin] I hope to have it posted around lunch time (that's in two hours from now, for me).

[ September 14, 2004, 10:59 AM: Message edited by: ghost of xnera ]

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I'm so amazed at some of the similarities we've had in our lives.. especially regarding relationships.


Can't wait for the next one.


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Telperion the Silver
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Four: A Journey of 26.2 Miles

October 30th, 2000. The storm that is ravaging the UK has brought a cold front to Dublin, and I shiver as I stand there in my garbage bag, which provides little extra warmth against the wind. I am surrounded by thousands of strangers, all feeling the same nervous excitement I feel.

It is late March. There is a hint of spring in the air, and I find myself getting restless after the long winter. I'm eager to move.

I wouldn't mind getting in shape, either.

So I decide to starting walking. I like to walk. I used to walk to the mall when I was a teenager, or walk home from the train station rather than catch a bus, or take walks around the neighborhood to soothe my soul. Walking is something to I can do.

And it's becoming very popular. There's even a magazine or two devoted to it. So one day I pick up a copy of "walking" magazine.

I'm flipping through it during lunch, when my eyes are caught by an ad. "WALK A MARATHON", it says. Raise money for the Arthritis Foundation, and we'll train you in our Joints in motion program and send you to Hawaii or Dublin for your marathon.

I am intrigued. Long ago, I had read an article in Reader's Digest about a woman who had through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. I had been captivated by the story, and had vowed to do the same someday. Completing a marathon would be a good first step.

I email the local coordinator. They write back and say there is an info session in Schaumburg in just a few days.

I'm nervous as I enter the room. I don't know where to sit, or what to expect. I had a moment's panic where I was sure that everyone who showed up would be fit and trim, and would laugh at overweight me. I am heartened to see that this isn't the case, and that there are plenty of folks there of all shapes and sizes.

The information they share tugs at the heartstrings. They talk about the millions of people who suffer from Arthritis, and how the FOundation helps to improve their quality of living. They tell heartwarming stories of past race participants who had overcome enormous odds to complete the race. They tell us about the huge amount of support we will receive in our fundraising efforts. And, if we join the team tonight with a $100 deposit, our total fundraising amount will be dropped by several hundred dollars.

I am sold. I write out my check and turn it in. I've just joined the team.

The gun goes off, and the front runners waaaaaaay up ahead take off. It will be nearly ten minutes until us back-of-the-packers pass over the starting line. Mile One passes in a blur as we shuffle along the Quay and turn into the city.

A month has passed, and it is now early May. The team meet for the first time. The runners take off for an easy three-mile run, while the walkers listen to the trainer explain that we are going to be going by time instead of distance. The idea is for us to get used to being on our feet for a long time, since so much of marathon walking is the mental determination to make it through the long hours.

Today we are just doing an hour. We warm up a bit, and then start out.

Immediately, the pace becomes too fast for me. I pant and strain to keep up, but terrible shin splints have me falling behind. My trainer shows me how to stretch out my calves at a curb. That's a bit better, but by now most of the groups is far ahead. I take off again, and continue to pant as they swing around and begin to make their way back. When they reach me, I turn around as well. For a few minutes I am able to keep up, but soon they are ahead of me again.

When we finally reach the starting point, I am covered with sweat and completely winded. And ready to quit right there. I'm obviously not fast enough. The majority of the group was doing 15-minute miles or faster; I'd barely managed a 20-minute mile.

This was obviously a mistake.

Mile Two, and the pack has spaced out a bit. I am walking down streets filled with shops and cheering crowds. The nervousness dissipates, and I smile as I pick up my step.

I had decided to stick it out, and we were now a month into training.

It was time to tell my parents.

I was not looking forward to this. Not only had I been the girl who was picked last for all the teams in gym class, I was also the family wimp. They had even given me the rather embarassing nickname of "Mushy Muscles." I was sure that I would be told that I was out of my mind.

I stopped by their house one bright Saturday after our group meet. Nervously, I sat in a chair. "I've got something to tell you," I said.

To my surprise, they took it rather well. My mom's one question: "How much?" Again, it had all come down to money with my mom. [Roll Eyes] I took a deep breath. "Four thousand dollars," I said. "To go to Dublin?" my mom said, incredulously. "That's not bad at all!"

After that, I had their full support.

Mile Three. It has begun to drizzle, but we are all too high on the thrill of the race to care. I start to sing. "I'm siiiiinging in the rain, just singing in the rain! Several of my fellow walkers join in, and we smile at each other.

We were two months into training. My pace had increased, and I was now averaging 18 minutes per mile. Happily, there was a group of walkers who had the same pace. I now had partners during the group walks!

We were walking along the lakefront one sunny Saturday, enjoying ourselves, when one of the girls had an idea: let's come up with our own walking marches! Keeping pace was easy with the beat of the marches to guide us along. We attracted lots of attention as we shouted out our tunes:


And one about the fundraising coordinator:


We laughed, and the miles flew by.

It's about Mile Five when the crowded streets of downtown open up. We are now walking through wide streets. Students are hanging out of windows, watching us pass by underneath. All I am thinking right now is "coldcoldcoldcoldcold." It is still raining, and the wind has picked up a bit.

My alarm goes off at the ungodly hour of 5:00. Much too early for my body. But it is the time I need to get up in order to make it downtown for our 6:30 start.

Groaning, I pull myself out of bed. Even after nearly six months of training, I'm still not used to this.

I dress, have my normal Saturday morning breakfast of a tortilla spread with peanut butter, and head out to the car.

There is snow on my car.

I stared in disbelief. It is OCTOBER, and early October at that. There is not supposed to be any snow!

I brush off the car the best I can, and begin to drive. I stop at the gas station. Once upon a time I used to see fishermen at the station, filling their tanks with gas before heading out to their favorite fishing hole, but they are long gone now.

It is still DARKDARKDARK when I reach our normal meeting spot. I ask myself why we are still meeting so early in the morning. It was logical to do so in the summer to escape the heat of the day, but here in the cold fall it doesn't make much sense.

We are all bundled up in jackets and hats and gloves. And still we are hopping up and down, trying to stay warm. I wrap my muffler around me more tightly.

Soon we are off, walking in the quiet darkness of an October lakefront morning. It is eerie, and much too silent.

The sun slowly rises, but doesn't bring any heat. "Coldcoldcoldcoldcold," I whisper to myself. My glasses are steamed and my nose is running from the muffler wrapped around my face, but if I take it off, I feel the cold wind bite at my face. I begin to feel sorry for the Honolulu group, whose race is not until December.
It is a relief to finally get back to the car and be able to turn on the heat. I sit in blessed relief.

This was our last long walk. The race is just two weeks away.

Mile Ten. It is now raining earnestly. I am freezing. My legs feel like ice. And worse, my stomach, which has been making noises all morning, is now starting to cramp up. I've really slowed down now, and I begin to have thoughts of ending the race at 13.

Mile Eleven. Still thinking of stopping. I hear my mom's voice in my head, and feel a surge of anger. I can't quit now, especially since I had worked so hard to get here. I know I'd never forgive myself if I dropped out. Grimly, I push on.

It is a month and a half before the race. I am exhausted and miserable from the very, very long walks we have had recently. Worse, the fundraising money is due soon, and I'm nowhere near the goal.

"You don't have to go, you know," my mom says. "If you're having that many problems with it, maybe you should drop out."

Drop out. The words cut at me like a knife.

I think back an early group walk. Six miles. Now, the distance was just a blink of an eye, but at the time, it had been difficult. And I was still one of the slowest members of the group. The others were far ahead, talking and laughing animately, but I was on my own.

And crying.

My trainer noticed, and dropped back to join me. "What's up?" she asked.

"I don't think I can do this," I said.

"Yes, you can."

"No, I can't. I'm one of the slowest folks here."

"You will improve. Many folks start training at your pace." She paused, and then asked, "Is that what's really bothering you."

I walked on for a few minutes, staring straight ahead as the tears continued to fall. "No," I finally said. "No, it's that I have a habit of giving up and giving in. When I joined the team, I thought this might be a good way to break the habit. Yet we've barely gotten started, and already I want to quit."

"So don't quit. Stay in the team, and keep walking."

I did.

"Maybe you should drop out," mom said.

No. No, I couldn't do that. I was going to see this thing through, no matter how much pain it caused me.

Mile Twelve. I'm completely miserable. Still very cold, and my stomach is painful. I wish Eileen were here to talk me through this.

It is August. It is hot. And I am blistered from the eighteen miler last week.

Today we are walking twenty.

I bandage my feet and take a few test steps. Still uncomfortable, but with luck it would prevent more inflammation. I hope.

Dear God, I hope.

We set out and begin walking. I am okay for the first seven miles or so. Then my heels begin to hurt. I sit down and try adjusting the bandage. It's a bit better, but not by much.

Our trainer greets us at mile 8.5. She has bananas, but we will not get them until we pass her on the way back. We continue on, walking past McCormick place for a mile or so, and then turn around for the long walk north, and back to the starting point.

I am beginning to grimace as we walk through the Museum Campus. Normally I enjoy this part, as it's pretty and offers a bit of variety from the straight, straight path I am used to. Today, I am just glad it is over with.

We retrieve our bananas at mile 10. Our trainer comments that I am off the pace I normally keep. I just glare at her.

Buckingham fountain, and I am whimpering.

Navy Pier, and I am crying.

By North Avenue Beach, I am begging my walking companions to let me give in and sit down by the side of the road. I'll wait there for them, and one of them can pick me up after they finish the walk.

It is then that Eileen begins to talk to me quietly.

She will be my strength, determination, and willpower during the remaining five miles of the walk. She encourages and supports me with every step, telling me that there is not that much left to go, that I can do this, that I will feel proud of myself for not giving in. It is her words that keep me walking.

We finally reach the end point. My legs are screaming from the long walk, and my feet are on fire. Normally we stand around chitchatting for a while, but today I just take some banana bread and leave.

The block and a half walk to my car felt just as long as the entire walk.

I crawl into the car, still whimpering, and immediately call my parents. "I need my mommy," I cry into the phone. I go over to their house and let myself be pampered.

I never, ever want to go through this again. After this marathon, that was it. I was never going to do another.

It all changes at Mile Thirteen. My upset stomach can wait no longer, and I beg the use of a gas station lavatory. I'm in there long enough to annoy a fellow racer who has the same idea, but I don't care--I'm feeling much, MUCH better.

Pain is weakness leaving the body. That's a slogan dear to the hearts of many long distance athletes. For me, weakness came in the form of fear. It was fear that held me back from pursuing my dreams. It was fear that caused me to doubt my ability to see this through to the end.

It was fear that caused me so much pain.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

And oh, it had. There had been times when I had been so lost to fear that it was all I felt, all I experienced, all I could do. And fear is what gets you during those long, long walks. A marathon is as much a testing of the mind as it is a testing of the body. You can't help but think of how much further you still have to go, and the distance seems insurmountable.

You have to find a way to fight it.

I will face my fear. I will allow my fear to pass over me and through me.

Fear is pain. Pain is weakness leaving the body. Leaving you with strength--the strength you need to finish.

I fought my fear with friendship. I fought it with music.

And during the lonely parts of the walks, when I was without friends and music, I fought it with imagination.

I've forgotten the name she used, but my dear friend (and I considered her a friend, although we had never met) Barbara Sher had this thing in one of her books that was quite like, well, imaginary friends. Pick those people you most admire, or those that inspire you, she said. Now imagine they are standing right beside you, cheering you on. Feel their warmness, and their belief in you.

My cheering party was full of sundry folks. Great thinkers: Einstein, Mandelbrot, Da Vinci. Favorite writers: Orson Scott Card, and George R. R. Martin, and Joss Whedon. And Barbara herself, whose passion and warmth for her job and for others shone brightly from the pages of her books.

It was a true imaginary character that I turned to most often during the long, quiet parts of my walks.

I imagined a blond girl walking beside me. "Hi," she said.

"Hello, Buffy," I replied.

"Man, I'm beat," she said. "The vamps were really crazy tonight. How about you? What's your day been like."

"I'm training for a marathon. I've just walked nine miles, and I have five yet to go."

Her eyes widened. "A marathon? That's... wow. I could never do that!"

I smiled. I was stronger than Buffy!

Yeah, it was silly, but it worked.

Mile Sixteen. I keep glancing at my watch. I am frustrated, because I am not on schedule at all. I'm way behind.

And lost. The wind has blown down the arrows that have been tied to street poles, pointing the direction. I start down a street and get half a block before getting the sense that this isn't right. I turn around and head back to the mile marker. There, I find some other racers, also lost, huddled around the one racer who has a map of the course. After some consultation we decide on the correct direction, and head on our way.

I decide the important thing is to just finish, and to heck with the time.

Today is our sixteen mile walk.

It is a warm, sunny morning as we gather at the new meeting area. We are raring to go, and about to take off when the running coach pauses and looks at the sky. "It smells like rain," he says. "You might want to bring some protection, if you have it."

I have a jacket in my car. I retrieve it, tie it about my waist, and set off.

The first half of the walk is fun. We sing our walking marches and keep to our pace, enjoying the sunshine and the light breeze. We turn around just north of the fountain, and head back the way we started.

Suddenly, the weather changes. A cool wind begins to blow, and the sky darkens.

And the rain starts pouring down. And oh, it is POURING.

I quickly pull on my jacket. My arms begin to get slick with sweat as my legs numb in the cold rain. The lake is full of whitecaps, and threatens to wash onto the path. My nearest teammate is just a blur of white and yellow ahead.

I can't see much at all. I take off my glasses and put them in the pocket of my jacket, as they aren't doing me any good anyway.

The storms thrives around me. It is scary, but thrilling. And I am walking faster than normal, trying to beat out the storm back to my car.

I get a short respite at Fullerton Beach, where I stop to use the bathroom. It is my very favorite bathroom of all of our routes, with shiny clean aluminum toilets and plenty of toilet paper. But soon I am off again, battling the rain and wind.

I catch up with a teammate. She jokes that it feels like we're already in Dublin.

Oh, if only she knew how right she would be!

The storm ends as quickly as it broke, and soon the sun is back out. I attempt to wipe my wet face off on my jacket. I accidently lick it, and am surprised at first to taste--SALT. Lots of it. And then I realised that I had sweated right through the jacket. If I was losing that much salt, then I'd better make sure I was drinking properly. I filled up my water bottle at the next fountain.

I am a sticky, wet mess by the time I got back to the car. Luckily, something inside me had warned to bring a change of clothing. I am feeling my normal post-walk tiredness, so I change my clothes right there in the parking lot, not caring who saw me.

Marathoners will tell you that the halfway point of the race is not mile thirteen, but the twenty-mile mark. It is at mile twenty that I run into the other trainer, who tells me I am looking very strong. I feel strong, too. I know now that there is no doubt I'm going to finish.

"How much do you have left to raise?" I asked Eileen.

"About five hundred. You?"

"Over a thousand. I don't know how I'm going to do it."

I didn't. Time was running out. I had already asked my friends and family, and had received numerous donations from work. Sure, there were likely more people I could have asked, but I didn't have enough time. The monies were due in five days.

If I didn't turn in the full amount, I wouldn't be going to Dublin.

I sat at my desk at work, mindlessly rubbing the soreness out of a calf. Twelve hundred dollars. That was what was standing between me and the plane ticket that would take me to Dublin, to the race I had been training for for the past five months.

I bit my lip, picked up the phone, and called the credit union. I didn't want to do this, but saw little choice in the matter.

"Hi. I need to take out a personal loan."

I decided on a repayment period of one year. The amount would be a little steep, but I could handle it. Plus, I would have the satisfaction of paying it off so quickly. And it would look good on my credit.

Besides, $1200 for a trip to Ireland? Not too bad at all.

A few weeks later, my ticket came in the mail. I was on my way.

Mile Twenty-One. The sun comes out briefly, and a rainbow lights up the sky to my left. I meet up with the last group of course volunteers, who are handing out water and hard candy. The sugar itself tastes like sunshine, and my energy only increases.

Today we are on the Prairie Path. It's a long, straight stretch of trail, converted from an old railroad line. The trees are pretty, but it can get boring.

Mile Twenty-Six, and I'm excited like crazy. I tear off the garbage bag that has kept me warm all race, and put on my best speed of the race. I am nearly running as I race towards the finish line.

I want to know what it's like.

I want to know what it's like to stand at a starting line, filled with nervous excitement. I want to know what it's like to be surrounded by hundreds of fellow racers, all eager and straining towards the goal far away. I want to know what it's like to see the miles pass by. I want to know what it's like to cross that finish line with a thousand spectators cheering me on.

I decide to do a short race, so I can get some experience.

A month before the marathon, I drive up to Northwestern U FOR THE City of Hope Breast Cancer walk. The crowds teem, listening to the special guests and walking from booth to booth gathering freebies. I retrieve my t-shirt and stuff my pockets with lanyards and granola bars.

The runners took off on their 5K. I watched and cheered, excited but also impatient for my turn.

Soon they were calling the walkers to the starting line. I listened impatiently as they explained the route: all walkers would start at the same line. At the half mile mark, the one-miler Fun Walk participants would turn left and head back, while the four mile Fitness walk turned right and continued on. I nodded eagerly, and waited tensely for the race to began.

AND WE'RE OFF!! The pack began to shuffle slowly through the gate. I slipped my way between openings in the crowd, trying to proceed as fast as I could.

But it soon became apparent that this wasn't a race. There would be clocks at the mile markers, and the finish clock hadn't even been started properly, and so was off.

Apparently, this was one charity that believed walkers weren't real athletes. [Mad]

I decided to do my best anyway, and plunged ahead. The course was quite tight at times, causing me to say "Excuse me, excuse me!" repeatedly. I had to stop halfway through to adjust my jacket, which was so full of free goodies that it kept banging against my leg.

I was walking as fast as my legs would carry me. Heck, I even ran a few times.

I burst through the finish line, and glanced at the clock.



When I started training, I could barely do a 20-minute mile.

Today, I had averaged a 13.5-minute mile.

Wow. I had come a long way.

Plus, free t-shirt and granola bars!

There would be no breaking of tape, no lightbulbs flashing. No loved ones to cry and hug, and only a few spectators who are likely charity volunteers cheering me as I cross the finish line with a time of eight hours and forty-five minutes--nearly an hour and a half later than I had planned. But my smile is wide and genuine, and I let out several "Woo-hoo!"s as I sprint the last few yards. I had done it. I was a marathoner.

We sat bouncing on the bus. We were headed back to the airport. We were headed back to home, and back to normal life.

We swapped our stories. My roommate, one of the runners on the team, had finished in about four hours. Sheila, the teammate I had had the most friction with but who became a friend during our time in Dublin, had finished shortly before me. Connie was all smiles and sunlight, having completed thirteen miles of the race, three more than she had planned. Laura, who had arthritis and asthma, had managed six miles.

We were all champions.

Jason, the running coach, told us that the weather had been so bad during the race that it was like we had done an extra ten miles. We all silently agreed.

I felt a twinge in my shoulders, and winced and rubbed them. I had feared getting blisters during the race. Or losing a toenail. That was a popular side effect of marathons. But my felt felt fine. My legs were fine. My butt was a little sore, but it was the sweet soreness that comes after a good workout.

My shoulders and arms, however, KILLED. Usually during my walks, I kept a water bottle in my fanny pack. During the race, however, I had unwittingly carried a bottle in one hand or other for the entire race, and I was paying the price.

Jason went on to tell us about other races he had done. Honolulu. Chicago. His own experience at Dublin. We basked in the stories. We might not be as fast as he, but we had a kinship.

A voice spoke up. "I want to do another," it said.

A pause, and then other voices chimed in. "Me too," was the chorus of echoes.

And my voice was one of them.

I am twenty-six, and I've just done the unbelievable.

[ September 14, 2004, 04:32 PM: Message edited by: xnera ]

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Sara Sasse
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Oh, Karen, you have me crying.
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Wow! I am so proud of you. I can't even imagine doing a marathon like that. I love walking too, but usually after walking about 4 miles the bursitis in my hip kicks in, making it almost impossible to continue - And you did 26 miles! It's amazing! You're amazing!

[ September 14, 2004, 04:58 PM: Message edited by: ludosti ]

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ghost of xnera
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Yeah, I had tears in my eyes as I was writing it. [Smile] <== those kind of tears.

The next one is making my eyes tear, too, but it's these kind ==> [Frown] . It's going to be much shorter than the others, so I may be able to post it before I head home tonight.

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That's awesome, Xnera. You've always been a bit of a mystery to me but it's great getting to know you. I've read all 6 segments so far today. I guess it's 7 now.

And I couldn't resist:
and had even kissed Casey the college womaniser. Bill, however, hadn't done anything of the sort
[Big Grin]
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Jenny Gardener
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gods woman, can you WRITE! You've got me all hot and bothered and begging for more. And judging from these other comments, I'm not the only one.


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Wow, I missed these while I was away. They're wonderful!
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I say this alot, and not without reason, but this is why hatrack is special to me. Such a great sense of community and sharing. I love these shorts from your life, and i'm curious as to what you'll title the thread or name this grouping of stories when you're finished.

-Jack Montague

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Three: "Hi, my name is Karen..."

I am clutching a bottle of Mylanta and pacing the house. "Please," I whisper. "Please let this pass. Please let this stop."

Pace, pace, pace. Pace until the pain of my overly full stomach got too great, and I had to stop and lean against the sink in tears, willing my metabolism to speed up, willing for the food to digest so that the pain may pass.

This had been going on for far too long. It had been going on for as long as I could remember.

I am not sure what caused it. Maybe it was greediness. Maybe it was a childhood form of depression. Maybe it was because I was a picky eater, and thus was hungry a lot.

Maybe. Who knows.

I was just a kid, but I could finish two full bowls of Capt'n Crunch cereal. And still want more. When my parents were out of the house, I would sneak into the kitchen and snitch snacks from the cabinet. I loved cookies, and cereal, and fatty-salty-crunchy.

My teenage years came. I kept slim by walking to and from the mall--but I would stop at Taco Bell on the way home for a Mexican Pizza. And still eat dinner an hour later.

During senior year of high school, I went on a three-day reteat. And brought a suitcase full of candy and chips.

College came, and I was living in the basement. And living on the computer. And was kept company by my stash of chocolate chip cookies and bite-size Snickers.

It had been going on for as long as I could remember. And it was getting worse.

The highs brought on by the marathon had faded. I found myself wondering "Now what?" What was next? I didn't know.

My emotions were in an uproar. Work was getting worse, and I was spending hours goofing off on the Internet when I should have been working. I wasn't getting anything done. My friends from college had slipped away, and though I was trying to make new friends, I wasn't very successful.

I was lonely and stressed. And so I ate.

And ate.

And ate.

I ate so much that I made myself uncomfortable. My stomach hurt, and felt like it would burst, and still I would eat more in an insane attempt to soothe the pain. Because that was how I treated my pain--by eating.

Pace, pace, pace. Pace and pray and plead and wait for the pain to pass.

It was an unseasonably cold day in August. We were huddled in sweatshirts on my sister's patio, celebrating her new house. And she had overestimated on the food, so there was plenty to eat.

And eat I did.

I ate until my stomach felt uncomfortably full. And then I ate some more.

And then I took myself out of the house and began pacing the sidewalk, praying for relief from my discomfort.

My parents were out walking with my nephew. My dad came over when he saw my distress.

"I have a problem," I said. "I can't stop eating."

"Well, maybe you could go back to weight Watchers..."

"No, you don't understand. I CAN'T STOP," I said. "I think I need help. I'm thinking of going to OA."


"Overeaters Anonymous."

They were confused and concerned, but encouraged me to get whatever help I needed. And so I went online, and found a local meeting. It sounded promising, because it was actually two meetings combined in one: a 6:30 meeting geared towards newcomers featuring a different guest speaker each week, followed by a traditional Twelve Step meeting at 7:30.

I was jittery all day that Tuesday, as I waited for 5:00 to come so I could leave for the meeting. As luck would have it, this was the day the computers decided to go haywire.


I got on the phone with the Network folks, and we determined the servers needed a reboot. But it was a slow, slow process, and I didn't have time to wait.

Frantic, I went to the Branch Office Manager I felt most comfortable with. I told her the machine was rebooting and should be fine, but I had an appointment I couldn't miss and would it be okay if I left?

She must have seen my distress, because she gave me permission. I practically flew my car down 294 that night.

My knees were shaking as I entered the building where the meeting was held. I didn't know where to go, and there was no one around. Finally someone else came in, and pointed me in the right direction. I entered the room with my eyes downcast. I took a seat as far away from anyone as I could, and kept staring at my hands as the speaker told her story, which was not unlike mine.

And I cried. Because here was someone who had been through it. Here was someone who understood. I truly was meant to be here.

I probably would have still left, though, if it wasn't for the warm greeting I got in the 7:30 meeting, when they asked if any newcomers were present. When I stood up and said I was at my first meeting, M. came and sat near me in solidarity, and made sure I received all the newcomers packets, and told me to bite on the newcomer keychain if things got too bad. [Smile]

I felt a kinship there. And I began to share my story. I was one of the few people who, walking in to their first meeting, knew deep down that it wasn't really about the food, but about emotions and the past and a million other things. I was here not only to stop eating, but to heal my soul.

I took the first two steps quite easy:

One: We admitted we were powerless over food, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

Well, this one was certainly true. I was powerless over food, and my life was unmanageable.

Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

This was a bit harder. My faith in God sometimes faltered. But I pretty much did believe in God, who was my "Power greater than myself"... so yes, I could make this one work.

But then came the third:

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

And here was where I balked. Turn my will and life over? What did that mean?

There were those in OA who believed the only way to stay abstinate from overeating was to give up white flour and sugar. It had worked for them, they said, so you should try it too. But I didn't want to. I didn't want to give up the things I wanted, the cake and cookies and candy that I loved so much.

I felt sure that if I turned my will and my life over to my higher power, He would demand me to give up these things. And that left me feeling frantic. How could I give up something I knew so well?

And oh, what if it meant giving up writing? The Internet? What if it meant I had to give up my freedom, and live my life as God dictacted? And what if I didn't LIKE what God wanted of me? I wasn't sure I was cool with that. I didn't think I could do this.

And though I tried my hardest to accept this step, and though I tried to keep going to the meetings, eventually I became too uncomfortable with what I was hearing there. Whether it was me or the message that was making me uncomfortable, I couldn't say, but it soon became too painful to stay.

And so I left, filled with more questions than I had had when I walked through those doors.

I tried going back once or twice in the years since, but I have mostly stayed away. Still, I am glad I had the experience. There were things I got from it that did help, and I do believe that it helped me solve some problems, even if it didn't solve the eating issues themselves. I still find myself turning to the Big Book in times of distress to reread favorite passages (PAGE 449. DUDE.), or whispering the Serenity prayer late at night.

And I still have problems with eating. I have a secret: I was terrified to go to the first Hatrack Wisconsin meet at Tom and Christy's house, because I knew there would be food there, and I was sure in my nervousness of meeting new people, I would be nibbling non-stop. I managed to get through that day okay. [Smile] but there are others when I have not. [Frown] Still, it hasn't been nearly as bad was it was that summer, when I ate myself into pain. And I still have hope that someday, I will be free of this pain.

I was twenty-seven, and I was finally facing this thing.

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Storm Saxon
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Amazing stuff, xnera. [Smile]
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Wow....as mentioned on another thread.

If this doesn't deserve that, nothing does....

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(((Xnera))) You have one up on me, I've never been to a face to face meeting, only the internet. I wondered why I could relate to so many of your dilemnas. I've been on step 3 for almost 3 1/2 years. [Blushing]

This is a landmark among landmarks, for certain.

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Two: I'm on my way

On October 16th, 2002, I was fired from my job.

I had been expecting it for a while. No, I had been wishing it. As time went by, I had become more and more convinced that this wasn't what I was meant to be doing with my life. I was meant to be creative, and to be surrounded by creativity. I longed to bury myself in words, to build and find truth in stories.

I had had a terrible resentment against my job for a long time, because it wasn't what I longed to be doing. It wasn't me. And me, being a flaming INFP, was not one of those people who could shut up and do the work and go home and forget about it. No, my work had to matter

Yes, I had wanted out of that job, and badly. I had even been willing to be fired, if that was what it took. But now it had happened, and I reeled with emotions I hadn't expected.

My first reaction was to cry. I called mom from the privacy of the data room, and told her what happened. "Oh, Karen.." she replied. Her voice was full of sadness and disappointment.

I had hurt her feelings. And I had let her down.

I blinked back tears as I cleaned out my desk. I had so many papers and garbage and just STUFF from four years on the job, and so much of it just went into the trash. The rest ended up in three large boxes that I would take home with me.

I insisted on turning in my badge and keys to the branch manager myself. I thanked him for the time I had spent there, apologized that I couldn't have done a better job and been a better fit, and told him not to worry, that I would be just fine.

Mike, my immediate supervisory and the one who had told me the news, helped me out to the car with my boxes. And all the while I babbled about what a great job he was doing, and how he was going to do just fine.

I was the one who had been hurt, and yet I felt I needed to comfort everyone else.

As luck would have it, I had a therapy session that night. At first my therapist was concerned, but after hearing the relief in my voice, broke into a smile and told me I would handle this well. And I went home that night and posted about it to Barbara's board, and my friends there told me my post had a feel of sweet freedom.

Yes, I was free! I could now do what I wanted!

But I hadn't counted on how affected I would be by the actual act of being fired. And I was.

I found myself questioning who I was. I had always clung to the labels that were applied to me. I was Jennifer's sister, or Ken's daughter, or the Lab Assistant, or Computer Karen. For four years I had been the FSSA. And now, I wasn't.

I felt like I had no identity. And when I looked into the future, I saw only blankess. And that.. well, that scared the living daylights out of me.

I fell into a deep depression. For months all I did was sleep and play solitaire or tetris. I knew I should be out looking for a job, and I did search Monster almost every day. But I couldn't bring myself to apply to anywhere, because I felt like I had nothing to offer. And I was sure that whereever I ended up, it would still be the wrong place for me.

The only thing that kept me from being a total recluse was my boyfriend Roger. I would drive up to his townhome early on Saturday, and we'd spend the weekend playing Final Fantasy or going shopping. It was a comforting routine.

On December 26th, I flew out to Vegas to meet up with Roger, who had gone to celebrate Christmas with his family at his sister's house. I was excited. I had never been to Vegas before, and looked forward to seeing the sights, taking lots of photos, and meeting his sister.

But I was also stressed. By now, my money had gotten rather tight, and Roger paid the entire trip for me. And that bothered me. It would be okay if we were engaged or married, I said to myself, but it wasn't okay when we were just dating. I should be able to cover my portion myself.

And that wasn't all that was worrying me. I woke Roger up on our second night in Vegas, unable to sleep.

"What am I doing here?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"What am I doing here? Why am I here? Should I be here? I am so confused."

And I was. We had dated long enough so that we were past the initial heady excitement, and had settled down into rountine. But where, exactly, were we headed? Was this The Real Thing? Was this love? I didn't know.

So not only was I questioning my identity, but I was also questioning my relationship.

I was so completely, utterly lost.

One night, I could not find rest from the emotions churning in my head. No matter how much I paced or cried or quivered, I could not relax. Nothing was working.

Something happened that had never happened before. I got up from the hallway floor where I had been curled up, keening, and walked to the kitchen, compelled with a desire I couldn't explain. I opened the junk drawer, and retrieved my scissors. And then I opened the scissors, and used one of the blades to scratch a line across my forearm.

Immediately the emotions stopped. I felt a calmness come over me. I went to bed, and I slept.

The next morning I woke up, horrified with myself. What had I done?

I needed help. Oh, did I need help.

I called the village services and asked to see a therapist ASAP. They could fit me in with one of their interns on Friday at 11:00. Was I free? Heck, yeah.

Debbie was warm eyes and smiles. And we immediately clicked. First, she explained that because she was an intern, she had to tape all her sessions. I was fine with that--I felt that my moods were so unstable that I welcomed yet another pair of ears looking out for me. In that room, I felt safe.

I told Debbie about losing my job, of Roger and my doubts about love, about the felt I had felt when I scratched myself. She listened intently.

And then she asked me what I wanted from therapy, and what I wanted from her.

*blinks* Well. I had never had a therapist ask me that before! Briefly, I described to her what had and hadn't worked in the past. I didn't like long silences, or accusations, or judgement. I liked gentleness, and liked being asissted in discovering the answers within myself.

Debbie listened, and she understood, and she gave me those things.

My progress was extraordinary. Unlike previous therapists, who I had always seemed to just talk about weekly events and the surface issues that were bothering me, Debbie and I were doing real work. It was hard, but I could feel the difference. We talked about the patterns in my life, and behavoirs that kept being repeated, and my relationships with my family and friends.

I stopped playing Tetris so much, and began to write some resumes.

Yet something was still missing. There was still something I wasn't understanding.

While this was going on, I was still questioning my feelings for Roger. We had been dating for over a year now, and neither one of us had yet said "I love you". And that bothered me. I didn't want to be in a relationship if I wasn't in love. But was I? I knew that ever since Bill, I had a deep fear of saying those words when I didn't actually mean them.

I was still filled with questions.

I was also filled with frustrations. The patterns I had with Roger were no longer comfortable. I was frustrated that we spent so much time at his house. I wanted to go out more.

I had learned a few things from my relationship with Bill, though: I knew it was important to express my feelings. So I did.

"Where do you want to go?" Roger asked.

I paused. "I don't know. Wherever."

Well, he could never think of anywhere to go, either. And that was our problem: when it came to making decisions about the littlest things, like where to eat, both of us were rather braindead.

Uncomfortable with all the questions I had about us, I began to withdraw from Roger. I still went up to see him every weekend, but I would sit quietly in the car staring out the window as he drove, or I would fall asleep on the couch while we played video games. And I was always full of sadness, but I couldn't explain why.

One night, Roger came home from his shrink's office, waving a few pieces of paper. "I want you to read this," he said. And so we sat down on the couch to read it together.

It was from Codepedent No More!, and was a list of codependent tendancies. I read the list, and recognized myself in nearly every single one.

My heart quickened. This was it. This was the answer I had been searching for for months. This explained why I was withdrawn, and why I couldn't make the slightest decision, not even about where I wanted to have dinner. It explained my my mom frustrated me so much, and why I was full of so much fear. It explained why I felt it necessary to please everyone, even going so far to comfort others when I myself was the one who was hurting.

The next day, I went to the library and checked out a copy of Codependent No More. I read the whole book within days.

And felt like I had been handed the keys to the kingdom.

From then on, my growth came in leaps and bounds. I started posting more often to my LiveJournal, where insights came one after the other. I developed a daily pattern of waking at the same time, and going to sleep at the same time. I spent hours working on resumes, and spent the remaining time volunteering in LiveJournal support.

My inner world showed just as much growth. For the first time in my life, I was beginning to set boundaries with my mom and with friends. I was being less reactionary about events that happened to me. And when I did get upset, the depression passed quicker. Soon, I would be able to bring myself from bad thought to normal again within hours, rather than days.

And my body was working. Gone were the upset stomachs that had plagued me for years. Gone with the strange aches and pains that I couldn't explain. I felt rested, but strong.

I was full of confidence, strength, and peace. It was a good place to be.

I was twenty-eight, and it was all becoming clear.

[ September 15, 2004, 01:15 AM: Message edited by: xnera ]

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You're an amazing person, xnera.

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I have read that codependency is the root addiction all other compulisive behaviors stem from, and I'm inclined to believe it. I really struggle with it, especially in my marriage. Thanks for sharing all this, xnera.
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