By now, you know which position I chose, right? I picked the one that, on paper, didn’t make any sense, but the one that gave me the opportunity to start my life – to fall or fly.
So on April 23, 1995 (a Sunday afternoon), I packed up my Ford Probe with a week’s worth of clothing and moved to Harrisburg. Thanks to the generosity of a dear friend (I’ll call her “A”) who was already living in Harrisburg (and happened to be working at the same association), she convinced her husband to let me temporarily move into their spare bedroom. They had a blow-up mattress with my name on it! This arrangement allowed me to take the job without first having to find a place to live.
“A” and I were actually very good friends already, and she took such good care of me. She made sure my lunch was packed, and when I was nervous about going somewhere new for work, she’d take me on “dry runs” around town so I wouldn’t get lost. “A” introduced me to friends, and when it came time to move into my own place five weeks later, she helped carry what little belongings I had.
To say I didn’t have much when I moved to Harrisburg was an understatement, and I certainly didn’t have a “safety net” when I moved (other than “A”). I actually had very little money and possessions. But what I did have was a strong will not to blow this opportunity by falling flat on my face.
The generosity I received when I moved to Harrisburg still touches me today. Spearheaded by “A”, the ladies at work threw me a “here’s-stuff-that-we-don’t-need-but-you-can-use” luncheon. I received gifts ranging from groceries to a soap dish to even a cute side table (that I still use today). One of the ladies was moving, so she invited me to her pre-yard sale. For me, each item was only $1. I got a cutting board, toaster oven, pasta strainer, and other household things … including a Lazyboy recliner all for the grand sum of $20. Seriously. I actually still get choked up when I think about her generosity. She knew I barely had two nickels to rub together; she probably would have given me anything I wanted for free, but she allowed me to keep my pride.
By June 1, I moved into my own place – a house in New Cumberland that had been turned into four small apartments. Another coworker lived on the bottom floor. It wasn’t much; it was kind of dingy, small, and the ceilings were sloped in places (okay, so it was a dive), but it was in a safe neighborhood and what I could afford. I didn’t have cable; I used “rabbit ears” and got three stations. I didn’t have a bed; I slept on an ugly pea-soup green 1950s steel-framed pull-out sofa that my dad gave me. My towels consisted of two sets that Mom had given me in high school (in preparation for college), and the parents of my boyfriend-at-the-time bought me a shower curtain and bed sheets, since I didn’t have either.
Those first few months on my own were rough – very rough actually. There were weeks (and I know my father will cringe when he reads this) where I only had enough money to buy a loaf of bread, a container of margarine and a jar of peanut butter. That’s it, and I’d eat peanut butter toast for dinner. (And surprisingly enough, this wasn’t the poorest I’ve been … those days were yet to come. A story for another day.)
Like I said, the generosity of others was amazing. Luckily, my boss (and other co-workers) sensed that I was struggling financially and took turns inviting me out for “business” lunches. Sure we talked business – and it was all legitimate – but looking back, I now believe that many of those times were prompted by them wanting to make sure I had a solid meal in my belly. Also, “A” would invite me over for dinner at least once a week, and she would pretend to have “extra” fixings and bring me a sandwich for lunch.
Gasoline was cheap back then (less than $1 a gallon – can you remember those days?), so on the weekends I would drive home and raid Dad’s pantry (and the couch for loose change). He knew I did this and was okay with it, but I never let on how tight money was those first few months – and he never asked.
Another thing – my wardrobe was hideous! I am no fashion-ista, but my God, to look back on what I wore! Wowza! In those early months, I had five outfits – one for each day of the week – and most of them were dry-clean only (I obviously hadn’t read the tags for care instructions before purchasing them). Of course, I didn’t have the money for dry cleaning, so I hand-washed them in my bathroom sink and line-dried them in my apartment.
I could rarely afford to go to the Laundromat to wash my other clothing, so on the weekends that I headed to Dad’s, I toted my dirty clothes along. On the weeks that I didn’t go home, “A” invited me over to her place so we could do laundry together.
Each pay period, I made a little progress financially, and eventually, money became less tight. I could afford groceries, the Laundromat and even some fun stuff, too.
Looking back, I am not sure where I got the strength to face challenge after challenge after challenge. I guess I was just THAT determined (or stubborn) not to fall.
The whole year of 1995 was an interesting journey for me. I made a lot of poor decisions, but I eventually got my head out of my ass and started making better choices. I think making blunders is only to be expected when you are trying to figure out who you are. You make a lot of mistakes, but hopefully you only make the mistake once and can learn from it, grow from it and become an enriched person because of those falters.
So today, Friday, April 23, I say Happy Anniversary to Me! Fifteen years ago today I chose to take a HUGE chance that changed the course of my life. I am proud that I had the gumption at such a young age to take such a significant step, and what an amazing ride it’s been!