Saturday, January 2, 2010

My 365 Days in The Bigs...

For some reason, as I was shoveling snow this afternoon... I was remembering my first job out of college.   I was born and raised here in the same area. In high school I thought- I'm out of here, going to college far away. But no.  Went to college the next town over.  I had traveled around New England often, (mostly NH and Mass) but always surrounded by 20 big hulking men that were close friends and created an environment that I NEVER had to question my safety, comfort or role.

Although, I was a bit nervous about moving to Northern New Jersey- it was a dream job. EVERYONE was so excited for me and proud.  I was going to the NHL!  It didn't get any better than that.  Pats on the back, encouraging words... you name it- practical strangers shook my hand so they could say they new someone in 'the bigs'.  They convinced themselves and me- "You've got it made now!"  I thought I was prepared.. as did everyone else, I'm sure.

After my first day in the office- where I had met the people, with whom  I would be spending the majority of my days, I arrived back at the over the top hotel, where I was temporarily staying.   Half way across the extravagant, glittery lobby- I started to lose it. But I held it together enough to make it to the pay phone. I dialed a number back home- needing something familiar. No answer. Tried another- and another. I couldn't reach anyone. (pre cell days)  I don't remember another thing for some time.

Next thing I remember, I was in my room, on my knees talking to Jason's Mom.  (I must've called his number and got her).  I remember my face, shirt and pillow case were literally soaked with tears. I remember my voice- it sounded strange as I cried- gasped- screamed. It was ... guttural. She tried to comfort me, she listened... for what had to be a half hour minimum but, ... eventually I came to realize that nothing was going to help and I hung up. For the next hours I was inconsolable.

It's embarrassing to admit this today. I was 23 years old- curled up on the floor of a posh hotel room- hating every single thing about it. Everything smelled funny. Tasted strange. People talked funny and were more 'stiff' or stand offish than what I was used to.  The water tasted funny- I didn't dare to drink it. What was that smell?!!  God, it made me sick! It was hot and muggy. And everyplace was air conditioned. My senses were on overdrive. Messed up. I was physically ill. Call it culture shock- call it whatever-  Everything was breaking down- physically and emotionally.

Eventually I pulled myself together (sort-of). I needed to 'run it out'.  I was miserable and needed to 'get it out' of me- -My skin was crawling...  but where could I go?? In this strange hot topped place? Where was safe??...

I made it to the fitness room of the hotel. It was near the top floor and looked east over the New York Skyline. A view I'd seen in pictures a thousand times before- but.. it looked so different now.. it was no longer beautiful.  It felt further away than it had in pictures. I ran until I couldn't anymore. I stepped outside onto the outside patio of the fitness room- I stayed there drinking bottled water(!)- trying to calm myself- trying to get my feet under me again- and my brain focused on what needed to happen next. I was 23 years old.. People had expectations.... They were counting on me... I need to make this work!!

A man stepped out on the patio and started talking to me. In retrospect- nothing he said was suspicious or shady. In fact, he was concerned. Nice. Sympathetic, inviting and generous. Told me what he had to offer.  At the time- it was like he was talking a different language. What did he want? Why was he here? What did he expect of me? I was a bit scared of him- ALONE- so I put him off and got away as fast as I could. 

The next day- he found me again. Just checking up on me.  Again- I put him off as politely as I could and stayed a 'safe distance' away. 

I have no idea what his real intentions were- but- I wonder to this day- was it my 23 year old single woman instincts saying 'this guy is trouble' or was it my general state of fear, unfamiliarity and uncertainty?  The more I learn about the trauma of transition of adopted children- the more I think it's probable, he was genuine.  Had I not been successful in pushing him away- perhaps I wouldn't have felt so alone in the months to follow...

Anyway- That first night- before the guy showed up- I promised myself I'd stay Two years. Then later- no one year. No two. Never mind- I have no contract-- ONE.  I must stay one year. Give it a real chance. If it got better- I'd stay longer. My instincts said "Get in the car and go home NOW!!  You can be home by morning."

I stayed.  I smiled.  Did my job or what I thought was 'expected' of me. Tried to 'do better' and make people happy. I tried to make friends. Behind the scenes I hated every minute of it-  Actually- I just felt ALONE and directionless. I cried often. Talked on the phone to friends at home for HOURS upon HOURS! Phone bills were in the hundreds of dollars. I flew or drove back home no less than once every month.  I tried to reach out to those in NJ- but-- it still felt foreign. That smell never went away. I still couldn't quite feel comfortable around people--- I couldn't quite get a fix on 'em. I felt like a stranger in my own dream.  Day 365- I turned my car north- left life in 'the bigs' behind.

I think about this often.. but today huffing and puffing in the bitter wind and snow- it clicked...  Will this be what me child feels like?   But- actually - it gives me hope. Or at least a hint of how easy it is to push people away not trusting their intentions- not feeling safe- not knowing where you fit- or if you will ever.   No one was in New Jersey to hold me. No one was there to guide me through. No one was there to make me feel safe? Who could I trust? I wonder of that guy had stuck with it- if eventually I would have grown more comfortable than wary of him. How would he have helped me through it?  I wouldn't have been alone then.


kristine said...

shannon, this is so heartfelt and beautiful. thank you for sharing it because i can only imagine this is how our children must feel when they arrive and for who knows how long after.

thank you.

Liz said...

Shannon - I really needed this reminder today.

And you got one thing right for sure - the water in NJ DOES taste funny!