There’s a group here in Seattle called Fresh Ground Stories that meets once a month. I’ve been dying to attend one of their events ever since I heard about it, but unfortunately they always seem to meet on a night when I work. That seems to be the case with all the cool groups in town.
This is a storytelling group, and each month they have a theme. This month’s theme was, “Who do you think you are? Stories that define you.” Well, honestly, after the year I’ve had and all the changes I’ve been through, how could I possibly resist?
So I wrote out a speech and I refined it and rehearsed it for weeks. I was a nervous wreck. 150 people were expected to attend. This would definitely be out of my comfort zone, but I arranged to take the night off anyway.
The more I rehearsed, the more I thought of this experience as closure. It felt as though telling my story would put a period at the end of the sentence, and I could say to myself, okay, now I’m here, in Seattle. This is home. What’s next?
As introverted as I am, even walking into a crowded venue all by myself is a scary proposition, but it turns out that Roy Street Coffee and Tea is a very comfortable place to be. The host of this event, Paul Currington, was a reassuring presence as well, and did a quick outline of the rules so that no one was left floundering. And then he told of a delightful tradition that he has. He says it takes guts for newbies to step on stage and tell their stories, so he always gives the first newbie of the night one of Roy Street’s delicious pastries, which he calls “The Scone of Courage”. But tonight they were out of scones, so he was giving out “The Banana Bread of Bravado”. I was charmed.
The first speaker stood and told a wonderful story, and it was quite clear that she had done this before, because she was quite good. Then to my utter shock, my name was called next. Hooo. I was shaking from head to toe. I had to plant my feet solidly in order to even remain upright. And then I began to tell my story.
Something that hadn’t happened in the million times I rehearsed it was my getting really emotional halfway through. I actually choked up a bit. I thought, “If you start crying right now, you’re going to completely lose it.” It took a lot for me to keep it together. Later, Paul told me that there was a collective gasp in the audience when I got to that part of the story. I didn’t hear it. I was so scared I couldn’t hear anything.
Well, actually, that’s not true. I did hear people laugh in all the right places. What a freakin’ rush! Now I know why people become performers! I want that feeling again. Soon. And often.
Before I knew it, I had made it through my story. I think I skipped a paragraph, but hey, that’s not too bad, considering. And nobody knew but me. The next thing I knew, I was being handed The Banana Bread of Bravado, and banana bread has never tasted so good.
Afterward a lot of people approached me and thanked me for telling my story, which made me feel great, and I think, I hope, we’ll see, I made a friend or two. I know I gave out my e-mail address to a bunch of wonderful people, and I really hope they will be in touch.
So what follows is the speech I gave, more or less. Don’t cringe when you see all the sentence fragments. It was meant to be spoken, not read. Paul also records these stories, and he sent me the mp3 of my speech, so I put it on line. If you’d like to hear it, go here. I think it’s much better with the audience feedback and the sound of the espresso machine in the background!
Who do I think I am? That’s a really good question. In the past year I’ve been so many things…
But let me start back in 2010 when I met Chuck, the absolute love of my life. He was a gorgeous force of nature. When I found out that he had spent weeks in a heavy black gorilla suit in a Florida July to promote his family’s start up business, I thought, “This is a man who will do anything, including making a fool of himself, for the people he loves. This is the man for me.” My life with him was full of passion and laughter and fun. The best years of my life. So far.
We did have our share of challenges, but we had each other’s backs. That’s all that mattered.
Then, about a year ago I went to Connecticut to visit my favorite Aunt. Chuck stayed home in Florida and worked and took care the dogs.
While I was up there, I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. It turned out to be the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, calling to tell me that they had found Chuck, dead in his pick up truck, clutching his asthma inhaler in the pharmacy parking lot two blocks from our home.
Yeah. So that was that.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was picking myself up off that hotel room floor.
Boy, did I feel sorry for the total stranger who was sitting next to me on that plane trip home. I was blubbering the whole way, and he was looking at me like I might be a suicide bomber or something. And I was in no mood to explain.
Since Chuck and I weren’t married, all I have left of that four year relationship is two of his t-shirts, a stuffed animal, some pictures and a lot of memories.
And then I got kicked out of our home when I couldn’t keep up with the rent alone. Good times.
So I was talking to a coworker one day, saying, “Man, I have got to get out of this town!” I never liked Jacksonville. It’s an ignorant, cultural backwater, but now that I had to drive past that pharmacy parking lot every day on the way to work, I hated it.
Well, he told me about a job opening in Seattle, and I thought, “Hmm. Never been to Seattle, but what have I got to lose that I haven’t already lost?” So I applied for it.
To my utter shock, they interviewed me over the phone, and hired me sight unseen. You see, I had been opening drawbridges in Florida for 13 years, and now I open them in Seattle. Yep. I’m that girl who makes you late to work, but at least I’m doing it for twice as much money and actual benefits for a change!
I borrowed a fortune from my sister and got a lot of help from friends and total strangers through an indiegogo fundraising campaign, and I drove myself and my dogs and all my stuff out here 9 months ago, But that’s a story all its own.
And I love it here. I love where I live. I love my job. I love this city! My God, do I love this city. It’s so nice to no longer feel like the only liberal turd in a conservative punchbowl! It’s so refreshing!
The downside is that with my weird work schedule I’ve yet to make any friends. (I actually had to take the night off to come here, and I work every weekend) There are times when I’m so lonely it’s physically painful.
So I’ve been a lover, a griever, an adapter, a mover, a risk taker, an adventurer, and an explorer. Who do I think I am now? I’m a survivor, but I’m also a work in progress. I’m learning to accept my own vulnerability and my own flaws. I have torn myself down to the very foundations, and at the age of 50 I’m slowly but surely building myself back up. Starting over at 50 isn’t for sissies, let me tell you.
I had a dream the other night. I was talking to Chuck and I said, “If you were alive, I wouldn’t be here. But I love it here. I hate that you’re gone, but I like where I’m going. How does that work?” He didn’t say anything. But I feel like he’s with me and he’s proud of me. And that means everything to me.
So one last thing: I have enjoyed exploring this city and this state alone, but it sure would be nice to have a friend or two to do stuff with. So if you have room in your heart for a Floridian who has been through the swamps and battled some gators, here I am, y’all.
Here I am.
Nope, that’s not me up there. This is a picture from a past story event that I pulled off Flickr. This is exactly the set up, though.