I never met my namesake, but I’ve always thought highly of his nephew. We spent much of our adolescence together, driving around back roads, sneaking beers, and passing each other in the hallways of our high school.
Now, we rarely see each other. Once, maybe two times a year. I’ll see him at the gas station or grabbing a pizza at the corner where we would end up after Friday night football games twenty-five years ago.
It’s like that in a small town. Every now and again, you brush up against your past.
This week, I attended a work conference that was more than a two-hour plane ride from my hometown. It was a last minute trip, an event to help me familiarize myself with the industry.
I walked the expo hall. Talked to vendors. Talked to clients. And spent time with colleagues who have been walking the same expo halls for decades.
A day and a half into it, I found myself unable to shake an inner dialogue centering on the question, “What the fuck am I doing here?”
The climax of the conference happened just after 4:30 p.m. yesterday, forty-five minutes into a seminar that wasn’t even halfway over. My inner dialogue was reaching a deafening pitch. Thoughts of fleeing the entire conference started to take over all rational thought.
“What the fuck am I doing here?”
At the 235th power point slide, I made a quiet dash toward the exit doors and took a seat outside the meeting room to compose myself. I pulled out my laptop to keep from looking like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown and opened an email from Free Will astrology, hoping Rob’s insight into the universe would give me some breathing room.
This was my horoscope for the week:
I hope your father didn’t beat you or scream at you or molest you. If he did, I am so sorry for your suffering. I also hope that your father didn’t ignore you or withhold his best energy from you. I hope he didn’t disappear for weeks at a time and act oblivious to your beauty. If he did those things, I mourn for your loss. Now it’s quite possible that you were spared such mistreatment. Maybe your dad gave you conscientious care and loved you for who you really are. But whatever the case might be, this is the right time to acknowledge it. If you’re one of the lucky ones, celebrate to the max. If you’re one of the wounded ones, begin or renew your quest for serious and intensive healing. Halloween costume suggestion: your father.
So much for avoiding the nervous breakdown.
How the fuck do you write this, only to have that show up in your inbox a week later?
If the question was, “What the fuck am I doing here?” The answer was, “Waiting for that email.”
I cried. And then I pulled myself together. I had dinner with my boss and a client. I watched them talk as I thought about that horoscope. I smiled. I nodded. I spoke up when there were gaps in the conversation. Mostly, I thought about what the fuck I am doing here. Not at the conference, but here. Now. This life.
Today I flew home from the conference. It’s always comforting to walk off a plane and through the gateway, knowing you’re going to be standing in your own kitchen soon. I was nearly skipping toward baggage claim, absentmindedly staring at my phone, when I heard someone say my name.
I looked up to see an old classmate I hadn’t bumped into for more than a year. It was the nephew of the man whose name I lifted.
He was headed to the state I had just come home from.