I had dreams. I had aspirations to be great. I did nothing to achieve any of them.
I’ve squandered gifts, both material and talent, along with countless opportunities.
I grew up wanting to be a surgeon and to teach. I did neither. Life threw me some choices that were less like Frost’s fork in the road on a snowy evening than they were the turns on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. You know the one – you’re going along down the track and all of the sudden you’re jerked in another direction. I was lucky to not be thrown from the car called life more times than I care to count.
I learned to love music and art. I After seeing some pictures at a local gallery in my home town, I brought my portfolio in and asked about showing my work. I was young. I was naive. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea who to talk to or how to have that conversation. Of course they showed me the door. They weren’t unkind, but they weren’t helpful, either. I walked out the door with a new vision. I wanted to create my own gallery. Not so much to show my own work, but to create a place where people without connections, without a name in the field, without a mentor to guide them along, could bring their work, see it hung on the walls and experience what it’s like when people see your work and talk about it. I had a taste of this experience once in college. I liked hearing what other people saw in my photos. I liked hearing what they liked and disliked. In some cases, I liked to hear the messages they saw I photos that I made, not to shock or make a particular statement, but because I had an assignment and grabbed some things I had handy to make the assignment work.
I wanted to write. I wanted to write stories. I wanted to write books. I wanted to write music. I wanted to leave something permanent behind. I once sat down at a piano and put notes on paper in what I thought was the start of something only to have a music teacher tell me I hadn’t done anything. I went to college, took music theory and composition. I then wanted to get a PhD in Music Theory and Music Ed. I was given great gifts and opportunities there. I was petulant and immature and threw them away. I took a creative writing course in college. I still have some of the poems and pieces of stories that I wrote. They’re sitting in the drawer of a filing cabinet along with copies of poems and parts of stories and ideas for more that will never be fleshed out to fruition. I’m blogging this bizarre and sometimes horrifying experience called cancer, so I guess the writing box is more or less checked.
I fell into law enforcement and criminal justice because I wanted to get a job that paid a decent wage without having to spend 8 years in school. Along the way I thought it would be great if I could also right the wrongs of the world. I spent 7 years in the field as a student and volunteer. What changed my mind was losing one of my fellow classmates and two colleagues to someone with a vendetta. I’d have made the same mistake of letting my guard down for 2 seconds, and so after the funerals, I decided a career as a cop wasn’t for me. Today, to try to help change attitudes and right the wrongs, I shout into the void of Twitter along with so many other voices hoping that if enough of us say racism, misogyny, domestic and child abuse, and all the other awful things people do to each other are wrong, maybe someone will stop and hear what we have to say.
As a teenager cutting my neighbor’s grass with nothing in particular to think about, I thought about what kind of family I would have. I decided I would have twins plus one more all on my own. I named these children in my heart. Jonathon Andrew, Jonathon Michael, Michael Alexander. Alexander James. The only girl would be Lynn or Alexis or Sarah. By the time When I got older, I realized if I was going to have a serious career that would require many years of college, there wouldn’t be time to have these kids and raise them because daycare wasn’t really a thing yet and I really didn’t want to leave them with someone else anyway. After dating a few frogs, I came to the conclusion that kids weren’t in the cards for me. I didn’t want to pass on the family crazy. I didn’t want to have to share custody with someone with whom I couldn’t trust not to hurt them or who would take them away from me because I wasn’t interested in being a stay-at-home mom. My biological clock ticked exactly 3 times during my adult life. Once in my mid-20s after I was divorced and dating someone who made me laugh and had a daughter I adored and who adored me. I had a non-biological niece and nephew that I loved to spoil. Again in my early 30s when I thought I had finally gotten past the hardship of the abusive marriage I escaped 5 years before. The last time was in my late 30s or early 40s, just before I had an endometrial ablation and I realized that I wouldn’t have a chance to have children of my own again after the procedure. Being diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer brought all of the regret of not having kids home when I thought about whether having kids or breast feeding would have changed my outcome, and that I’d have had family that would rush to my side and help to take care of me as the disease progressed. These kids I’d have had would be in their 30s now. Spoiler alert: breast feeding would have changed nothing for me, and having kids would be no guarantee that they’d be willing or able to drop their own lives to help with mine, and I wouldn’t wish that on them even if they could.
So what have I done with all this time I had and didn’t realize wouldn’t last through my 60s much less my 80s? I worked. A lot. I poured all of myself into working. I had no overall career goals. For a number of years my goal was to bank 400 hours of vacation so that I could take a month off and see the world. Overtime? I have no kids or husband. Sign me up. I like the comp time or the extra cash.
I left myself no time to live. No time to breathe. No time to lay in the grass and look up at the stars. No time to ponder what I was missing or be grateful for what I had.
This has all come at such a huge cost. I’ve been tired. I’ve been sick. I’ve been stressed. So stressed that my body can’t process all the cortisol. The substance that alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, messes with the systems that that control mood, motivation and fear. I’ve fought acid reflux since I was in high school. I’ve been depressed and anxious off and on throughout my adult life. I’ve had headaches that I thought would never end and made my head feel like it would explode. I gained weight that I couldn’t take off no matter how much cardio or weight lifting I did. This isn’t the life I wanted or envisioned. I often wonder what if and why not…