Scrolling through pictures that have been collecting on my phone for the last several years kicked off a trip down memory lane and it was on my heart to share the journey God has taken me on and just how much my life changed in 365 days.
So, this time next year I was working as a traveling studio photographer specializing in portraits. Although it wasn’t my dream job, it was the first time in my life I was truly happy with the work I was doing. It was an experience I never had before, it was fulfilling.
In addition to that position, I was also a dedicated volunteer for The Sanctuary for Independent Media and I was exploring my options as a freelance writer. I met one of my favorite artists, Ted Leo ( of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists ) when he played at the Low Beat and inspired by our conversation he stopped the show to place a call to action that it was within everyone’s reach to make difference and our responsibility to advocate for human rights ( he also called me his friend).
I was enjoying a lot of freedom in my job, my paychecks, and being very involved in my community until tragedy struck in the form of a car accident and overnight the life I was living changed drastically. Coming home from location in Massachutes, a deer ran out in front of a large truck. As he slowed, I changed lanes from right to middle when the deer turned around and stopped in front of me. Unable to move left or right without striking another vehicle I had no choice but to collide with the animal. The deer became roadkill, my car suffered $2500 worth of damage, and I, hysterical, was consoled by a very concerned officer with at least two tickets.
And a little part of me died with that animal on the side of the I90 that day. I was blessed to borrow a vehicle for a week which allowed me to get another paycheck in and attend a Friendsgiving but ultimately I lost my job due to being unable to travel and went into Christmas season devastated. To be honest I don’t remember Christmas 2016 or very much of December at all. I may have swallowed my days whole with incessant sleeping, a habit I’ve always done to cope with my depression. I do remember being rather bent on moving. I joined a local carsharing program which took some of the sting out of being forced back on the bus line. I received an email on an account I rarely check about a job I had applied for who-knows-when. It was for Managing Editor in Cheif for a small community newspaper in Addison County, Vermont- Middlebury. I replied to the email, had a phone interview, and was then called in for a second interview in Vermont. I didn’t have much money left, I definitely didn’t have my rent for next month, and I didn’t really know anything about life in Vermont (whom by the way was one of the first states to abolish slavery in America) but it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. So I charted my course to Middlebury which turned out to be about a three-hour drive. It was chilly winter day, the road conditions were far from ideal, but I was excited. The data connection on my journey was poor. That is to say that I could route my journey when I had internet access and it would be effective so long as I didn’t make any wrong turns because it could not recalculate. I made it to my interview with time to spare.
( side note: my outfit was inspired by an episode from a podcast I used to listen to, The Babysitters Club Club, in which they described an outfit of Claudia Kishi who in one book ‘dressed like the ocean’ in varying shades of blue. You wouldn’t have guessed by looking at me because I looked very put together but I was wearing tights, a dress, a skirt, and a sweater. It’s hard to imagine myself wearing more clothes but I looked hot and I was warm.)
The interview went well: the current Editor was highly impressed by me although I could tell the office manager ( the woman who would become my boss) had her reservations. I was sent on my first assignment and that’s when the trouble started. I was sent out to find a story in Addison County before I left because Ashley, the office manager, wanted to know how I would be able to assimilate into the position and the town. Thanks to a tip from a local gas station attendant and artist, I discovered the Compass Music and Arts Center in Brandon, VT, an organization identical in several ways to The Sanctuary, where I interviewed several people including a resident artist who was also paraplegic.
Leaving Brandon I felt very encouraged and that maybe there would be life for me outside of the Capital Region but upon navigating the winding back roads and nothingness that is Vermont, I got lost. Unable to find a single business to ask for directions, I was forced to pull into a museum which was open but had zero occupants where I either connected to a feeble wifi source or got just enough data service to make a poor quality phone call.
At this point I was running late to return the vehicle I was renting. It was past due probably by 30 minutes already and I still had about a three-hour drive once I found may back to Middlebury, which I did shortly after although now I was rushing trying to limit the number of late fees I was incurring and also racing against the waning daylight. It had to rely mostly on memory and chance to find my way back to Albany. It was between Ticonderoga, NY, and Glens Falls, NY, where I started to doze off. I had been driving for hours and honestly hadn’t even slept well the night before. I was determined to fight my drowsiness, a mistake that almost cost me my life.
Somewhere in Warren County, I started to fall asleep. The air was moist, snow had fallen recently, the roads were wet and the weather was cold, and the cars on the road I was on were driving fast. I had been out completely when I hit black ice possibly, lost control of the vehicle, and broke through a guardrail. I woke up as I was bouncing off a ditch in time to collide with a tree. My first thought was the paraplegic man I interviewed at Compass and began to freak out. My rental car was totaled and I had to be cut out of the vehicle to be brought to Glen Falls Hospital. I was conscious enough to tell the first responders that they could not expect to reach skin ( as I lamented over the number of layers I was wearing).
It was a devastating experience and I wish I could say I survived to be grateful for my life but to be honest I was barely hanging on spiritually. I made it home badly bruised with a lot of pain and I found out later that I got the job. It seemed impossible but I accepted the position and prepared for my first week a few days later. I took a bus to Burlington and was then picked up by the former employee to job shadow. The company put me up in a four-star hotel and I spent a week feeling like a princess. It felt like I was positioned to be the next big deal: a big fish in a small pond. There was an alternative scene that I felt I could find my place in but in highly rural Addison County, not having a car was going to be a challenge but I was determined to do whatever I had to do to keep my new title and office.
Still, over the course of the week, I began to develop my own reservations as to whether Ashley and I could work together. To me, it was clear that she was mostly interested in what my talent could do for her and that creatively we were going to butt heads. It was a day or so before Christmas when I returned home. I had planned to be back in VT Tuesday after Christmas which fell over the weekend but I started to get cold feet. I moved to Schenectady in 2010 with next to nothing and I wasn’t as ready as I thought to make that kind of relocation again. I asked for a week but despite knowing my circumstances upon offering the job and denying my request for relocation assistance- I was fired. Hurt and angry, I struggled to be professional but ultimately I felt relieved that that door had been closed to me because deep down inside I knew it wasn’t right. Although the experience left me feeling confident because I was able to achieve such a prestigious position due to my experience and character, I also felt empty like I had nothing else left and I remember thinking ‘I give up.’
January was by far the darkest month of the year. I was recovering physically and mentally from the car accident but I began to disconnect and disassociate. I stopped going to church, I stopped going out at all actually. Rarely venturing farther than walking distance, and even less frequently traveling beyond the main road. There was a lite suicide attempt in which the Albany police showed up at my door to check in on me -thanks to my friend, Marse. Thanks to my Uncle, I was able to repair my car and then I sold it. I used the money to pay rent for a few months and it turned out to be a blessing that I didn’t have to work. It wasn’t until May 2017 that started working again. I picked up several marketing gigs and made a good amount of money rather easily and without having to work full time. I also started getting involved in the creative scene. I was invited to several parties where I was able to network with some of the ‘who’s who’ of the Capital Region. I knew it wasn’t enough though, I felt out of options: I’d tried all the companies for employment, tried all the gyms, met all the guys, and I felt stranded in this small city that I was beginning to resent. So I applied to school in Seattle, Washington and was accepted. I was eager but reluctant again to move under such circumstances and I felt as if I couldn’t give up my New York residency without at least giving The University at Albany a chance. The in-state tuition along with the federal and state grants would mean a lot more funding and a much cheaper way to finish my undergraduate degree than anywhere else, including my home state.
I was accepted as of August 2017 and I began to transition into being a full-time student. For me, that meant making some changes to the way I was living so that I could make school my first priority. I was so happy when school started: I was working towards something again and my life felt like it had a purpose. Plus I started school feeling very confident. I am not a traditional student and I’ve outgrown a lot of the hang-ups that held me back when I was teenager. I’ve lived a rather unique life and because of that, I have a lot of experiences that put me ahead of my peers in several ways.
I made my first friend at orientation and I’ve become quite popular since then. I started a club dedicated to Mixed Martial Arts and turned it into the gym experience I was looking for, complete with professional instruction. I connected to several campus ministries and now my life is full of Christian friends and fellowship, people who are eager to help carry my burden be that a ride, a hug, or just an ear. I also have the ear and attention of the most powerful men and women of the institution who have offered to mentor me and are impressed by me. I continued my work with the radio station, hosting my first show over 4th of July and then helping with the national 2017 Grassroots Radio conference where I made connections to other radio stations who are interested in syndicating my show. I was able to interview Blues Traveler when they came to Schenectady in August and then Flogging Molly earlier this month (both to yet to be released). I have been able to connect with my (Philosophy) department personally and am blessed to have found that they respect me as an equal. There is an abundance of people in my life right now that really appreciate me as a remarkable woman and they’ve filled my life with love and laughter.
My dreams have come true this semester, most of them- so far.
So I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving but I am far most grateful to serve a God who remembers me.