Gallivanting Between Grad Schools

The Engineer and I are trying our hand at the travel side of adulting: namely, booking our own flights and transportation to all the grad schools he plans to visit before making the final decision about where he (and I) will live for the next five-ish years.  So for most of the month of March, we’ve been traipsing around the country.  For the week before spring break, we visited two schools in five days:

Purdue

At my boss’s urging, I scheduled a visit to the Purdue Writing Lab, from whence came the amazing resource that is the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) that we use for virtually every tutorial involving MLA, APA, or Chicago style citations.  Needless to say, I nerded out a bit.  Although I plan to find a job off-campus after this year, it was interesting to see how another writing lab operates.

The student union building is basically a castle.  There are stone arches and stained glass windows and double staircases and a hall where people nap on couches that look like they belong in a museum.

Also, we found the not-at-all-sketchily-labeled “Tunnel to Phys. Bldg.” on a door that looked like it should lead to a bomb shelter.  Sure enough, despite some pipes sticking out of the ceiling and a few random sets of stairs that led straight into walls, we found ourselves in the physics basement!

Though I spent most of the days in the hotel or at the Panera next door, the Engineer brought me along to the final dinner with a few professors from the physics department.  One of the profs asked each of us at the table about our area of study.  “Astrophysics.”  “Nuclear.”  “Creative writing…”  He was a tad confused.

The Ohio State University

The day after the Purdue visit ended, we rented a car and road tripped to Ohio (which was weird, since we’re used to much longer trips just to cross our single state, and also when did we get old enough to rent a car unsupervised?).  I was looking forward to this visit even more than the Purdue OWL tour, because I got to hang out with Bird!  The Engineer was whisked away on physics department activities, so I met up with my beloved sister for the evening.  She bought me chocolate covered coffee beans and we talked for hours, as we tend to do.

On our second day, after a slow start thanks to our travel-related exhaustion, Bird and I got breakfast while the Engineer saw the physics research building.  When we went back to her dorm, Bird was shivering and yawning, so I sent her to take a nap while I got some work done at her desk (leading 2 of her roommates to greet me with Bird’s name when they came in the door…for some reason people think we look alike).  Turns out she had a fever, so the Engineer and I told her to go straight to sleep and just got dinner ourselves.

The Engineer and I explored while Bird was in class the next day (she had slept for 16 hours and her fever was gone, so that was good), and then he flew home.  Bird wanted me to go with her to Bible study and a praise and worship thing at church that night, so I stayed an extra night.  It was great to meet everyone at her Newman Center – one of her friends actually ended up giving me a ride to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, having extended the offer after 5 minutes of conversation!  Sleeping on a dorm room floor for about 4 hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was well worth it to spend time with my sister.


The next week was spring break, so I actually saw Bird a few days later after a brief return to our own college town.  The Engineer had gone to North Carolina right after Ohio to tour another school without me, so his spring break was a bit abbreviated.  Our vacation was lovely (more on that in another post), but at the end of the week we flew straight out for another round of visits:

Santa Barbara

We’ve agreed that the next time we go to Santa Barbara, we’ll just fly straight in to their airport rather than taking the cheaper-but-much-longer-and-more-headache-inducing route that involves LAX and a 2-hour shuttle ride.  California was pretty, but I was under the weather during our one full day there, so I didn’t get to do much exploring.  On most of these visits, the Engineer and I have sort of tag-teamed it: he goes on the academic, scheduled tours, and I try to get out and get a feel for the surrounding area, since I hope to live and work off-campus for the majority of the time he’s in grad school.  Then we compare notes on our general impressions.  Santa Barbara was fine, I guess, but I am not a warm-weather person.  (As Bird once put it, “We are of strong Norwegian stock.  We were built for 6-month winters and icy fjords.”)  Since the visit was only one day, it was most whirlwind of our visits.

And then we had another 2-hour shuttle ride to get back to LAX.

Boulder

After one full day at home (well, my home, the Engineer’s being 3 hours away), my dad dropped us off at the airport yet again for our final trip: University of Colorado, Boulder.  I got a tour guide of my own on this trip, too, since the Commodore lives in Colorado!  She was kind enough to shuttle us around, bringing us from the airport to our hotel and meeting up with me while the Engineer was busy even though she lives an hour away.

The Commodore and I being bookworms, we spent our first two days wandering around the downtown area of Pearl Street and perusing multiple bookstores.  I limited myself to only two books this time, despite the Commodore being a blatant enabler when it comes to spending money on literary pursuits.  (To be fair, I was equally encouraging of her desire to get yet another book about Tolkien.  But it was one she hadn’t read before!)  We also just hung out in our hotel room and talked, which I’ve missed doing with her since she moved.

Our departure from Boulder was weirdly scheduled, thanks to the Engineer realizing that he had to be back at school on Monday for an unavoidable commitment after we had already booked separate tickets.  My flight was Saturday night, so the Commodore came to pick me up and took me to see her new apartment, where I finally got to meet her guinea pig, before taking me to the airport.  The Engineer stayed in Boulder one more night before I picked him up Sunday morning and we both drove back to school.

The visits were definitely beneficial and will help us make our final decision, but for now both the Engineer and I are just excited to stop hopping time zones and stay in the same place for more than 3 nights in a row!

Convention

a meeting or formal assembly, as of representatives or delegates, for discussion of and action on particular matters of common concern

a rule, method, or practice established by usage

“So L. told me you do creative writing?” my coworker said/asked.  I looked up from my lunch in the workplace kitchen, slightly startled.  This coworker had always scared me a little.  But I’m always happy to nerd out a little about creative writing.

“Yeah, I want to be an author of long-form fantasy novels.  And maybe some historical fiction.”

She nodded, “That’s awesome,” and suddenly I found myself answering a lot of questions.  What was my writing schedule?  What podcasts did I listen to?  Who were my workshoppers?  What was my plan for getting an agent?  What was my timeline for finishing my novel?  What conferences had I been to?

“Actually, I’m going to a conference next weekend,” I said, and described it.  She waved a hand dismissively.

“Too many academics there.  You want to network at WorldCon or something like that instead,” she said.  “That’s where L. and I met Professor T. and A. B. – you know who that is, right?”  I could only shake my head as she barreled onward, completely overwhelming me with instructions as to how to make writing my career.  By the time she was done, I felt utterly hopeless.  How on earth was I going to educate myself on all these aspects of the publishing world?  And how had I ever thought I could be a writer when I was so ignorant?  I needed to catch up!

Then last weekend I went to that conference I told my coworker about.  My coworker probably wouldn’t have thought much of it.  I didn’t get any business cards, and I didn’t pitch a book idea to any agents or editors.  I had lunch and sat through panels with friends I had made the year before.  I chose seminars based on where I am in the writing process (very, very early stages).  I asked questions about things that interested me.  I nerded out about Anne Boleyn with a historical fiction writer.  Perhaps it didn’t do anything to greatly benefit my fledgling career, but the conference definitely benefited me.

Since announcing my intention to stay in our Small College Town and work on my writing while the Engineer finishes his degree, I’ve received a lot of advice about how to network (a terrifyingly vague term that still makes me cringe) and “start a career” despite my remote location.  But that’s never been what writing is about for me.  Yes, I’d love to write a bestselling novel, because it would mean other people wanted to read the same kinds of stories I’m interested in writing.  Taking time to write every day is more about seeing what I can do than about building any type of career.  I want a network of fellow writers and readers more than I want to memorize a roster of Who’s Who in Writing.

I do understand and appreciate the intentions of the people who ask me about my networking plans.  In many industries, connections are vital, and the earlier you make them, the better.  I realize it must seem like I’m approaching things a bit sideways.  This isn’t how convention says progress is made.  But I’m starting to value progress in my own head over progress on a society-based timeline.  At that conference, for example, one panelist said that his own shift in perspective came when he started calling himself a writer, even though he still had another full time job.  “Writer” was who he was, not just what he did.  That makes sense to me.  That is a step that feels concrete and real to me, even if my coworker might give me a pitying smile and say that until I can put it on my resume, I’m not really a writer.

I know that I am.  And that knowledge will give me the energy to keep working so the world can know it too.

So today I bought my ticket for NerdCon: Stories in October.  I’m going to meet up with the Commodore and talk about stories – written, filmed, recorded, sung, pantomimed, or any other kind of story – for a weekend.  And I’m extremely excited.  Maybe I’ll meet a future employer.  Maybe I’ll just have a really good time.  But I’m okay with either outcome as long as I can come home and write about it.

Drive

energy, ambition, or initiative

a trip or journey in a driven vehicle

I have trouble slowing down sometimes.  I am an avid multitasker, despite numerous studies that tell me it’s a lie and I would be better off focusing on just one thing at a time.  It makes me feel busier, which is something society approves of.  I reach for words like ambitioushardworkingdriven – they look good on resumes.  I’ve never been one to enjoy drifting aimlessly for more than a week or two.  I start getting restless during summer vacations.  And I always thought this was a good thing.

The Engineer and I went north the past two weekends to visit his family.  It’s only an hour and a half journey, nothing too taxing, through rolling hills and around gentle curves.  We passed windmills, which some people say ruin the view but which remind me of three-armed swimmers practicing their strokes.  I used to be able to read in the car when I was younger, but now it makes me carsick to read more than a quick text, so we talk and sing along to the radio or just sit in comfortable silence, remarking occasionally on a pretty farmhouse or a couple of deer in a field.

I never used to see a point in leisurely drives (nor did I enjoy driving in general – my learner’s permit expired twice and I put off getting my actual license until I was 17), but the Engineer takes us on a back road that winds through picturesque, tiny towns and the fields between them.  I want to stop and explore them, tease out the stories hidden here out of sight of the main highway.

This drive is so different from the definition I usually value.  My drive requires action and decisiveness.  A journey, however, requires only that you eventually reach a destination.  It doesn’t matter whether we take the usual route or explore a new one and get hopelessly lost.  Even the past participles take on different meanings: to be driven as seen on a resume is to be catapulted forward through life by one’s own energy.  It’s grammatically passive, but since the push comes from oneself, driven-ness retains agency.

To be driven in a car, however, is truly passive.  It means trusting the driver and relinquishing a certain amount of control over the journey.

Sitting in the passenger seat, good music on the radio, the sun setting outside, and the Engineer next to me, it occurs to me that perhaps I could stand to make a little more room for that second definition of drive in my life.

Things My Mother Taught Me

How to keep a house clean. How to vacuum. How to dust. How to throw open all the windows when you need air and close them up again when it starts getting cold, or hot, depending on the season.

How to wrap the stovetop protectors in tin foil to make cleaning easier. How to scrub the stove down with an SOS pad and then wipe up all the grease and grime with the blue suds.

How to make a home feel like a home.

How to fold a sweater. How to swap out your wardrobe every season so that it makes it seem like new things are coming out of your closet every few months.  How to dress nicely and look put together even if you had a total girl morning and this is the fifth outfit you even tried on and there is positively nothing in your closet.

How to fold bath towels – in third lengthwise, then in half. How to empty the trash before company comes over because it looks nicer. How to make meals everybody will enjoy.  How to write thank you notes.

How there’s no substitute for talking face to face.  How to come back to family and friends and pick up where you left off. How to keep in touch. How to give someone space. How to smile at strangers and be polite to everybody, especially the receptionist and the cashier because they don’t make the rules and you don’t need to make their day any harder just because you’re unhappy with an institutional thing.

How it feels to rediscover an old favorite song. How to sing along to Broadway while you cook dinner. How to softshoe with a kitchen towel to “My Blanket and Me” from You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. How to work a record player, to set the needle down oh so gently into the groove and smile at the scratching noise as it finds its place and begins to play. How to wake up with a smile.  How to shift seamlessly from one good morning song to another, from “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” (Oklahoma) to “Good Morning” (Singin’ in the Rain).

How to be quiet. How to be assertive. How to save your swear words for what really matters so that everybody will know how mad you really are. How to put your hands on your hips and stare down a fractious two-year-old.  How to distract said two-year-old when his mother leaves. How to entertain him until she comes back. How to call people out of the blue just when they need it most.

How to get rid of telemarketers.

How to make tea. How to make cookies. How to follow a recipe. How to put the Tupperware in the bottom drawer for the child to play with, even if you don’t have a child in the house, because there very well might be soon. How certain things are two-in-the-afternoon decisions, not two-in-the-morning decisions.

How there are very few things a Boo Boo Bunny can’t fix. How to bribe your children with Beanie Babies when they have to get shots at the doctor’s office.

How to care for candles. How to care for animals. How to care for others. How to give to those in need every little tiny seemingly insignificant chance you get, whether it’s a can of soup for a church drive even though you just helped with the Thanksgiving baskets last month, or spending a Saturday painting Tacoma beautiful.

How to pull on your big girl panties and deal with it. How to hold it together until you get home and then how to let yourself cry, and maybe eat some chocolate and curl up with an understanding cat if you feel like it. How to be the bigger person. How to stand up for yourself. How to stay young at heart. How to learn from your elders. How to show respect. How to command people’s respect. How to multitask. How to enjoy doing nothing.  How to take care of yourself.  How to love God. How to struggle with Him.

How books stay with us. How reading transports and transforms us. How reading together teaches us to be a family. How families don’t have to include just the traditional members. How families can stay together even when they fall apart.

How beauty is always available in the world, no matter how crabby and out of sorts we feel.


tulips-glossary_110603Some of these I never wanted to learn. Some of these I never knew she was teaching me. Some of them she may never have known she was imparting.

If I’m lucky and I keep working at these, I may just manage to turn out something like her. Wouldn’t that be something.

Senseless Part II

I knew something had happened when my friends’ Facebook profile pictures changed color.

The black, yellow, and red were unfamiliar to me.  We don’t spend much time on geography in school these days.

We should probably change that.

I clicked on ATTN:, a news source I follow on Facebook, to read about the attacks.  The state of emergency.  The outpouring of support on social media.  The cartoon someone made of a French flag hugging a Belgian flag.

At the bottom of the article, ATTN: had one of its usual poll questions.

“Are you shocked by this act of violence?”

The options for answering were “Yes” or “No.”  But all I could think was, “I wish I was.

This seems to be how the world is now.  I am far from blase about it, but no, I was not shocked.

Instead, I will be shocked, happily so, as in the wake of the Paris attacks last year, by humanity’s best responding to this demonstration of its worst. The volunteers.  The blood donors.  The people across faiths praying for peace.  As Mr. Rogers said, I will look for the helpers.


How to Help Victims of the Brussels Attacks Whether You’re in Europe or Across the Globe (Bustle)

Donate to Belgian Red Cross

 

 

 

“They John Boy-ed Him!”

Because my mom enjoyed The Waltons, Bird and I occasionally ended up watching her DVDs of the eponymous family and their neighbors on Walton’s Mountain.  Usually it was just the early years, the ones before Ma got sent to a sanitarium for tuberculosis (because the actress quit) and Mary Ellen got married.  The later episodes just weren’t as good, according to Mom, for multiple reasons.  But one day we found The Waltons on TV and decided to watch it.  Other than the actors all looking a bit older and dealing with somewhat more dramatic issues, it seemed pretty normal.  There was a stranger living with the Waltons now, but we figured he was a cousin or something.

Except everyone kept calling him John Boy.  The narrator.

“That’s not John Boy!” we exclaimed.  Mom laughed.  Apparently the role had been recast between seasons at some point.

We couldn’t believe it.  They were just asking us to believe that this was John Boy, the aspiring writer through whose eyes we saw everything on Walton’s Mountain?  It was clearly a completely different person.

“Yeah,” said Mom, “one season he went off to fight in the War and when he came back, it was this guy!”

“Wow,” said Bird.  “War really changed him.”

Once we recovered from our laughter and agreed never to watch those later seasons again, this experience gave rise to a new phrase in our household. “John Boy” became a verb, meaning “to recast a character without warning or transition and simply ask the audience to go along with it.”

I was home on a break from school one day when Mom and Bird wanted to catch up on the season finale of a show we were currently watching.  Bird, who was texting a friend who had already seen the episode, suddenly burst out laughing at her phone.

“They replaced the brother!” she gasped.  “Oh my gosh, they John Boy-ed him!”

Sure enough, toward the end of the episode, the family entered their home to find a strange boy leaning against the kitchen table.  Gasping, they all embraced him, addressing him by the brother character’s name.  Apparently he had been at boarding school (because the old actor was in rehab or something).

“Well,” Bird deadpanned, “John Boy’s home from the War.”

Full Circle, or The Ins and Outs of Bus Routes

I’m sure the bus driver thought we were crazy.

The Commodore and I, mere freshmen at the time, had grown tired of dining hall fare and decided to take advantage of the communal kitchen in our dorm.  We weren’t too ambitious – something as simple as pasta and Parmesan would have made us happy.  But neither of us had any ingredients, and the small convenience-store-like market downstairs didn’t stock much beyond dental floss, Snapple, and crackers.  So we needed to go grocery shopping.

We didn’t have a car, either.

So we decided to take the bus.

We boarded the bus early in the evening, joining a handful of grad students who lived off campus and the few fellow dorm-dwellers who were venturing outside university-owned territory.  We wanted to be back for youth group at 8:00, so we figured we had allowed plenty of time.  The Commodore, better versed in the bus routes than I, showed me the loop we would be taking on the map.  Our chosen bus ran through the part of town affectionately known as Apartment Land (where we now live), then through campus to the downtown area where Safeway awaited.  It would be a while, but it was better than walking.

Eventually, as another batch of upperclassmen got off to trudge toward their respective apartment complexes, I asked which bus we would take to get back.  The Commodore flipped through the bus schedule while I mused aloud about the weirdness of boarding public transportation with bags of groceries at our feet.

“I’m sure we’re not the only students to do it,” the Commodore said, scanning the page.  “This is a college town.  Plenty of people probably don’t have cars.”  She pointed to a colored route on the map.  “This is the one we’ll take back.”

“OK.  How often does it come?  Is this going to be a super speedy shopping trip, or do we have time for Starbucks?”

“Ummm…” She ran a finger down the column of ETAs for each stop.  “Uh oh.”

“What?”

As it turned out, we were on a daytime bus that was making its last loop of the day.  The night schedule wouldn’t start until 9:00 pm – an hour after youth group – and it wouldn’t get to Safeway until almost 10:00 – an hour after the store closed.

So we sat and we rode the bus all the way through its loop back to our dorm.  The driver gave us a puzzled look when we stayed on all the way through town, even when he had to stop at the transit center for almost 20 minutes.  By the time we got back to our dorm, we were the last people on the bus.  Stepping off, we smiled and thanked the driver, who just sort of squinted at us before driving away.  We ended up with no groceries, no dinner, and not going to youth group either!

I was thinking about this adventure while riding the bus home last week.  I truly hate the crowded nature of bus travel, so I’ve learned to time my rides home, waiting until about 20 minutes after classes let out and the swirling mass of people leaving campus has ebbed.  I have the bus tracker that allows me to get to the stop right on time, and I know exactly which routes to take depending on which building I’m coming from.

This is a far cry from our unexpected full-circle ride freshman year.

College, of course, is about much more than learning to navigate public transit and plan your grocery shopping trips better.  But it’s those unexpected parts of my college education that have arguably helped me grow the most.


PS – this is my 100th post on this blog!  Which is strange to think of.  When I started, I figured it would be a once-a-week thing that might trail off into oblivion once I got bored, but instead it’s been a way for me to chronicle and process my thoughts, as well as keep up my (admittedly sporadic) writing habit.

Thank you to everyone who finds reading about my life to be entertaining – I hope you enjoy what you find here.

 

Rejecting a Resume Builder

I might have done something dumb.  Or I might be getting the hang of self care.  The line between the two, at least for me, is occasionally hazy.

The email came from out of the blue, with Congratulations! in the subject line next to the name of the University Lit Journal.  I’ve been published in this journal before (2 stories in one issue, actually), and submitted to it multiple times…but not this past semester.  I hadn’t had time to work on anything I felt confident submitting.

Confused, I clicked.

They had accepted my piece for publication, pending revisions, and needed a bio and headshot of me by Friday.  I didn’t recognize the title of the piece they mentioned, but the girl who had emailed me knew me from previous classes and one of my other friends was the managing editor, so it probably wasn’t a case of mistaken identity.  I texted Editor Friend.

“Um, it’s the piece you wrote for Professor C’s class,” he said.  “Last spring?  Here, I’ll email it to you.”

Vague memory dawned.  It was a creative nonfiction piece about my time abroad the summer before, but I was thoroughly “meh” about how it turned out.  Professor C, though, loved it.  He had encouraged me to submit it to University Lit Journal and, when I wasn’t sure, asked if he could at least use it as an example for his creative nonfiction editors.  I said that was fine, and maybe I would revise and submit it for publication eventually.  I never got around to it – had forgotten all about it, actually.

And now University Lit Journal was offering to publish it.

I remember how it felt getting the email saying that not one but both of my previous (fiction) pieces had been accepted.  I was exhilarated.  Over the moon.  Skipping down the sidewalk (well, I do that anyway because I’m basically a 5-year-old pretending to be a college student, but you get the picture).  The meeting with the editors to go over revisions was one of the best workshopping experiences I have ever had, and I was truly proud of the product when it came out in print.

This time around, all I felt was panic.

I did not have time budgeted for this.  I did not have a spare hour to meet with the editors again, much less several afternoons to devote to revising the piece to a point where I would be happy to see it in print (again, this was not my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and though when I reread it I could see some potential, it would take a while).  And I had no desire to carve out that time.  I didn’t want to rush to a meeting where my own writing would make me feel harried and inconvenienced.  I didn’t want to spend energy that I needed for class, work, thesis, feeding myself.  I didn’t want to pick up a project that someone else had started on my behalf.

“How much would you hate me if I said no?” I texted Editor Friend.

Some people might think I’m crazy for retracting my piece.  “How much time could it really have taken?” they might cry.  “You should have jumped at the chance to get published again!  I’m sure if they wanted to print the story it would have been fine no matter how you felt about it.” And maybe, being a young almost-graduate who’s hoping to get an entire book published eventually, I should have been grateful for the chance to have another printed piece on my resume.

But I just wasn’t.  And I have enough of a sense of ownership of my writing that I wanted to be excited if I was going to have something printed.  I didn’t want it to feel – well, like this.

So I retracted my “submission” and immediately breathed a sigh of relief.  Now I could focus on the stuff I want to write – like my thesis, my manuscript, and this blog.  Maybe it wasn’t the best choice for my resume, but it was what I needed to do for myself right now.  And I’m okay with that.

The Blessings Jar

I can’t work in clutter.  My room, in the upheaval and un-routine-ness that accompanies a new semester, had been in an Uneasy State of Chaos for a while, and I was sick of it.  So, working counterclockwise around my room from the door, I Cleaned – and yes, the capital is warranted, because it was no mere 10-second tidying up.  I dusted and organized and rearranged and adjusted until everything fit Just So.

I was on a roll until I got to my nightstand.  One of the Random Things that had come to rest in obscurity right next to my bed was a pickle jar with the label peeled off and many slips of multicolored paper inside.

2016-01-19 19.37.17

My Blessings Jar.

I’d forgotten about it, failed to keep up the habit, since last year when Bird gave me the idea (which I think she got from Pinterest).  As I swiped the dust rag over it, I thought now might be a good time to empty it, start fresh, swear to myself that I would chronicle at least One Good Thing each night from now on.  Settling criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, I poured out the tiny scraps and began to read.  Some made me chuckle, like liquid dishwasher soap from when the Commodore and I finally ran out of that awful powdered stuff and bought a gallon of the liquid we preferred.

Some, like Bird’s smile when she saw me in the chapel after her retreat, made me cry.

It amazes me, sometimes, the magnitude of things that can be tethered in tiny characters inked on paper.  The moments I had found worth recording were instances of love, support, and shared strength from my parents, my sister, the Commodore, the Southern Belle, the Engineer and his family, my friends from church, and my coworkers.  All the people in my life had contributed to these scribbly bits of paper showing me how many families I have looking out for me.

So often it’s easier to remember the one bad thing that happened at the end of an evening, or late in the afternoon, and let it erase all the silliness and contentment of the morning and lunchtime.  A whole day can be colored by just one negative thing.  But when I force myself to think of just One Good Thing, it’s funny how more Good Things start to come out of the shadows, shyly raising a hand to say, “Remember me?  You didn’t have such a bad day after all.”

I tucked the old blessings away in a box and set the empty, hopeful jar on my freshly dusted nightstand.

I think this is a habit worth attempting again.2016-01-19 19.38.25

When Your Worst Fears Don’t Come True

Occasionally I have nightmares where Bird or the Engineer or some other loved one is hurt, or even killed, and I can’t get there.  I am on the other side of the country in these dreams, or even in another nation entirely, and all I can do is cling to my phone and rush around demanding that someone, anyone, help me get there.  Even if I can’t actually do anything, even if the person is comatose in this nightmare and probably won’t make it, just being physically near them somehow makes me better able to handle the situation.  But, since this is a nightmare, I never quite reach them.  I just struggle against unreasonable transportation until I wake up.  Then I lie back, heart racing, and remind myself that it’s not real.

Until it happened when I was awake.

About six weeks ago, I got a phone call from an unfamiliar number.  The person on the other end seemed to know a bit about me, introducing himself as a friend of the Engineer, who was down in California for the weekend.  We exchanged brief pleasantries, then:

“He’s okay, but he was in a car accident.”

Only a few words made it through after that.  Everyone’s fine… hospital now… let you know more… he’s talking… asking about you…

“Did you call his mom yet?” I managed to ask.  No, he hadn’t, she was his next call.  (Actually, as it would turn out, he wouldn’t be able to get through and I would have to call her and tell her the news myself – a call I never want to make again!)

I hung up and walked into the living room, where Bird – at least in this nightmare-come-true she was safe – jumped up from the couch at the look on my face.  When I told her what had happened, I think I just kind of dissolved.  “Do we need to get you to LA?” she asked, hugging me.  “I will get you on a plane, I will buy you a ticket myself.  I don’t have any money, but I will get you on a plane.”

I knew, logically, that that wasn’t feasible.  There was no reason for me to go down and sit around with a bunch of strangers waiting to hear more.  It would make much more sense for his mom to go, if anyone needed to.  He might still be home in a few days – hadn’t his friend said he was talking?  Talking was good, I thought.  So I walked around the house and refused to put my phone down for a moment, just in case.

Even after I talked to the Engineer himself later that day, and again that evening, I still felt on edge.  The worst had happened, I thought, and yet it hadn’t.  He was (mostly) fine, no broken bones, no internal bleeding, no measurable concussion – none of the horrors from my nightmares, besides the accident itself, had come true.  So I was left waiting for the Real Worst Thing to descend.  His head injury would take away his feelings for me, I thought, or some overlooked complication would leave him clinging to life a few days later.  Somehow I couldn’t let myself believe that the nightmare had come, had passed, and hadn’t manifested my worst imaginings.  I couldn’t believe life was letting me off so easy.

Now, I don’t mean to downplay this.  The accident did take its toll on the passengers in both cars; the Engineer took a few weeks to recover fully.  But he was home the next day, walking and talking, acting normal, if a bit tired.  And in the days afterward, everyone involved kept saying how fortunate they had been to escape with comparatively minor injuries between them.  A slightly different angle, a few feet farther, a little faster – it all could have been so, so much worse.

As it was, life went on.  Stiffly, perhaps, and with a slight twinge occasionally, and maybe a few more naps, but it went on.

I still fear harm coming to people I love.  I still hate that helpless, hand-wringing feeling I get when all I can do is carry a cell phone from room to room, waiting for news.  I still plan out what I would do in some broadly hypothetical worst-case scenario.  But I’ve come to realize – slowly, painfully – that the worst-case scenario isn’t the only scenario possible.  It’s as if God was saying, “You see?  It happened.  One of your greatest fears happened, and you came through it.  That can happen too – it doesn’t have to turn out for the worst.” I don’t believe God sends bad things our way, but I do believe He uses them to shape us a little more into the person He wants us to be.  In this case, I think He was helping me to be less fearful, more hopeful.  Somewhere down the road, one of my nightmares will probably come true, in partial or full form, again.  And it will be scary and awful and I will wish it hadn’t happened.

But unlike my dreams, unlike wrenching myself desperately into consciousness, that situation will have a resolution – and it might even be, with His help, for the better.