It always amazes me how a song can take you back to a particular time and place so immediately, even within the first verse. I hear a particular song and I am transported back to the break up with my first love, the year I started college, or a really joyous moment or event.
At the time, I was working in an administrative job, wondering what had become of all the promise I had when I was very young. The words teachers wrote in the pages of my yearbooks never left me. Words such as “I can’t wait to see all that you will become one day!”, and “You will go far in life.” I believed those words then-- I felt I had accomplished so much--and would continue to do the same. And then, I went to college.
I had always been an excellent student in high school, fretting over every test, every paper, and every assignment. The one place I felt confidence was in a classroom. But from the first day of college, I felt lost, adrift, and without purpose. I didn’t realize then that this feeling had more to do with breaking away from a troubled family for the first time than it did with academics. Every day for over four years, I felt I was drowning, paddling wildly, never able to get air. I finally gave up and left without getting my degree, and feeling more like a failure than I ever thought possible.
I got an entry level job right after leaving, and then some sales and administrative jobs. I was consumed with thoughts that I had let everyone down, especially myself.
And then, by chance really, I got an interview with a company in San Francisco. I didn’t dare think I would be hired, but I flew out to interview, got the job, and was told they wanted me there in two weeks. My head was spinning. I had told no one about the interview, had never mentioned a desire to move to California, and now it was happening.
My friends were cautiously supportive, but my parents were livid. They told me of all the horrible things that would happen if I left, what a terrible decision I was making. In the end, they forbade me to go. I felt shaken. It was scary, what if I was wrong?
My friend Judith, who has always been like family to me, believed from the first moment that this was something I should do. She had lived in San Francisco years before, and she told me of all the beauty and opportunity there, and all the things she saw for me. She never wavered in her belief that this was the right decision. She helped me realize that this was what I wanted to do-- I wanted more than anything to go.
I stayed at her house the night before I left. And the next morning, as I pulled out of her driveway, I saw her waving good-bye to me in my rear view mirror. I felt as if she was pushing my boat away from the dock, sending me out smoothly into this new adventure.
She had given me a gift before I left, a collection of some of her favorite books on tape. I don’t remember any of the other titles, but West with the Night by Beryl Markham has always stayed with me. This was a time when I still had a cassette tape player in my car, and there were 6 tapes, with nine hours of play time. The narrator’s voice was so ideal for the words--easing me into the first leg of my journey. The story itself-- of an independent woman taking on adventure and succeeding-- it was all so perfect. And in a way, it was the voice of my friend-- rooting for me, encouraging me, reminding me that I was on the right path.
To this day, if I see the green cover of that book, I am transported back to my little Honda, seeing the landscape change through my windshield. Each day that I got farther away from Atlanta, I was more enamored with the scenery—the flat, dry land of Texas, the jagged-edged mountains of New Mexico, the fluorescent-colored sunsets of Arizona. I knew that I had made the right decision. Whatever was before me, even if it was a mistake, I knew I was doing the right thing in that moment.
It ended up being the best decision I have ever made. The job I took there was, and still is, one of my most magical career experiences. I worked with amazingly talented, witty, and giving people, many of whom I still count as friends today. I began building a real career in that position, and felt liked and respected as I never had before. I believed I had purpose, and finally a connection with the words my teachers had written so long ago.
I know I would not have been able to see the opportunity for what it was had my friend not painted a picture for me. I am certain I could not have taken that risk without her support. I will always be thankful for that, and for the comforting words of West with the Night that carried me to my new home and my new life.