The picture to the left is actually a portion of the desert willow that lost the majority of it's branches due to a storm I posted about right before Labor Day a few weeks ago. Already it is starting to sprout new branches. My hope is that it will grow back stronger than before.
The tree reminds me of so many situations that we all encounter in life. In March 2001 the dot.com I worked for as a web developer in Boston went under. There was no warning. All employees were marched into a board room and given the bad news as gently as possible. I, on the other hand, was chatting with a co-worker in his cube and had no idea what had just transpired. I was filled in by a tearful co-worker and then I was told to go down to the HR manager's office so that I too could receive the sullen news. Our HR manager at the time was someone I just adored. She was pretty much the den mother of the office. She also was in tears as she explained to me that the office was shutting down. With the help of a co-worker, I packed up the contents of my desk into a copy paper box and loaded it into my car. It was one of those miserable Spring days when the weather can't make up it's mind whether to snow or rain, so we had a combination of both.
The very next day I was due to get on a plane to Florida for a week of R&R with a girlfriend of mine. My Mom said that I should take the week and figure out what it is I want to do going forward. On the way back from this trip we had a stop in Baltimore. Suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was going back to school to study massage therapy and I was going to do this in Arizona. Since I was 19 years old I knew I needed to be in AZ. There was this inescapable pull to be there. My Mom reminded me of everything I had going for me in Boston; friends, family, a boyfriend…But I couldn't get away from the thought that I needed to be here in AZ. I had only been in AZ once before. I had a layover at the Phoenix airport when I was attending college in Long Beach, CA at 19. The world seem so different from what I had come from. There was this unexplainable urge to be here. It did not matter what I was doing. I just knew I had to be here. Unfortunately when I did leave, I lost track of a lot of my friends. There are still a few I keep in touch with but it is inevitable that life is going to go on without you. My ex was okay with my leaving though we both were a little sad. We knew from the get go that we both weren't "the one" for each other. We remained great friends until his death in 2005. I will miss him for the rest of my life. Not to get too much off topic here, but after his death I had a dream about him that was so life like. He was standing at the bottom of this beautiful staircase and I was looking at him from the top. He ascended the stairs with his arms stretched out and the warmest smile on his face. I told him I had missed him so very much. Then we embraced. He seemed content and I woke up feeling that he was in a good place. There is a line in the Bible that reads something like "My Father's Mansion has many rooms." I like to think that the room I dreamt about is one of those rooms.
In late September 2001 I arrived in Phoenix to start a new life. My car was packed with clothes, a box of second hand china, and three ferrets who I could watch from the rearview mirror along the way. From the rearview mirror also hung a sign I clipped out of a magazine, "Do What Scares You." Most of my things I had given away. I went to Target to purchase a pillow and a blanket, and then I slept on the floor until I could purchase a futon. It was an adventure to say the least. I made it through massage school and thought I had hit the jackpot when a Day Spa hired me right out of school. I did really well that first year. I put a down payment on a house that was being built in an up and coming area of Phoenix that was known for it's agriculture (and not much else at the time).
The year the house was built, my massage business was starting to flounder. I moved in and that's when I realized I was really alone for the first time. Coyotes would run through the yard at night yipping. And then there was this dead silence that was overwhelming. Being a city girl I wasn't used to such things. Even though the house isn't that big, it seemed cavernous. I owned about two pieces of furniture and my voice echoed off the walls. My three ferrets were my family. That year they all got sick. One had adrenal disease, and then the vet seem to think the other two had gotten into something toxic because they were both suffering from cancer. I was so tempted to move back to Boston. On top of this, my step-mother was rediagnosed with breast cancer. I remember sitting in my bathtub and bawling. I was also in danger of foreclosing on my brand new house. It was a really sucky time to say the least.
Within a year though, things started to improve. I returned to church and started to pray, pray, pray. I got a job there as a church secretary which meant removing my piercings and wearing a skirt every day. This whole tranformation ended up being a blessing in disguise which I will mention shortly. I was still scraping by but the mortgage was paid. I eventually left the Day Spa and worked mainly at the church. In time I got a roommate who helped with the bills.
Then one night in June 2004 my life changed forever. I was friends with a girl from the church. She also wasn't 'born' into this traditional practice of Catholicism like most in the church were, so she still was one of the only people I knew at the time who still like to go and toss a few back after work. She took me to a Mexican restaurant called Poncho's that had half price margaritas on Friday nights. We sat at the bar for awhile sipping our drinks when in walked a man that had me doing a double take. My friend and I both looked at each other in awe. This man was the most attractive man I had ever set eyes on. He was dressed in a navy blue t-shirt and Levi shorts. I couldn't keep my eyes off of him. It was like catching something beautiful and not wanting to look away in case the sight should suddenly disappear. I watched him drink his beer and chat with his friends, while trying not to be too conspicuous of the fact that I couldn't help but stare at him. He was cleanly shaven and was leaning over the table to chat because the music was so loud.
The music changed to a waltz, which is very common in traditional Mexican music. There was a man standing next to me. I recognized him as the man that was chatting with the very attractive guy at the table. You know, the one I couldn't keep my eyes off of. I was a little disappointed but agreed to dance with him when asked. His name was Mariano. He said he was trying to get his friend to dance with me. I didn't comment too much. I left not long after while giving one final glance to the man in the navy blue t-shirt who did not even give me the time of day. I forgot about the incident and a few weeks later I stopped by Poncho's again with the same girlfriend. Who walks in but the same attractive man. This time though he asked me to dance. I didn't know him but something felt so right. It was like my soul had danced with this man a thousand times before although it was the first time we had physically been this close to each other. He said his name was Ruben. He was even more beautiful close up. Surely he must have a million girlfriends. Heck, he's in a bar. He must have women all over him all the time. When he asked for my number I told him I didn't have a pen. When I went to leave he placed his arms out to hug me and I shook his hand. I still wasn't sure.
A week later he was back. I made up my mind after talking to friends that knew him that I would give him my number and see what happens. I approached him this time. He said he'd come by and sit next to me. After making me wait 20 minutes, he finally did join me at the bar. He bought me a beer and then he ordered some take out. Due to the fact that he would be working early the next day, he had to get home. We chatted for awhile and then he got up to leave. He said it was nice seeing me. Then I mustered up the courage to say "would you like my number?" Luckily he said yes. He called me on a Tuesday night and that is how it all started. I spent many nights pinching myself, wondering if this was real. I wanted all my single friends to know what this felt like. It was an incredible journey to get to the place in our lives where we would actually meet. I have seen Ruben close shaven on two occasions; the day we first saw each other, and then on our wedding day. He usually wears a goatee. Ruben doesn't know me as the Goth girl I used to be. I show him pictures of how I used to dress and who I used to hang out with back in Boston. He knows me as the long skirt wearing church girl who didn't cut her hair, and wore very little makeup. He can't picture the piercings because he was never into pierced women. The tattoo? Well, that's not going anywhere so he's just had to learn to live with that.
The church did not approve of this courtship because Ruben is not Catholic and had no desire to convert. I'm not the type to offer up ultimatums, especially in regards to religion. Faith is a personal thing and not something to be dictated. I eventually lost my job at the church due to this. In the end though, that dark cloud had the most beautiful silver lining. I worked as an assistant manager at a women's clothing store. In time I knew something better would come along. Women's instinct? Sure enough I was hired at M-land in 2005. In April 2006 Ruben and I married. Ruben ran into Mariano not too long ago. He was the man that asked me to dance the first time I saw Ruben. He asked Ruben, "whatever happened to that girl you danced with that night at Poncho's?" Ruben's reply? I married her.
Moving to Arizona wasn't all fun and games like I had pictured it would be when I moved here. There were some really tough times that ended up shaping the future and the path that I continue down to this day. I didn't realize it at the time but there are so many blessings to be had from life's difficulties. Where there's been a fire, vegetation grows back stronger. In life and in nature, things work together so eventually we see and we 'get' the big picture. Next week I will celebrate 7 years of living in Arizona. The silver linings of several dark clouds of the past continue to make themselves known, and the blessings and lessons of these times are too numerable to count. While there will always be 'dark clouds' that obliterate the light from time to time, I will look forward to those silver linings that present themselves in ways never imagineable.
~In Memory of Carl H. Strasswimmer~
1969 – 2005
~And In Memory of Petey, CJ, & Cindy~