Then, it all happened. A little over a week before Thanksgiving, I moved from my tiny town in west Tennessee to Franklin, TN. Franklin used to be a small, incredibly gracious southern town whose primary claim to fame was that it was the site of what some have called the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Now it's a sprawling suburb of Nashville, home to many country music stars, a place of McMansions, real mansions, homes on the National Register of Historic Places, and the most charming downtown business district I've seen in years. If a city wants to learn how to revitalize its downtown, they need to talk to the people in Franklin.
One day after I moved, with boxes and furniture crammed into an apartment about half the size of my old house, I started my new job. Like my old job, it's only part time, but I have a promise of full time employment here within a year. I'm also making more money at this part time job than I did at my former job and whatever errand running, baby sitting, elder sitting, dog walking, house cleaning odd jobs I could scrape up. (I would go months without a full day off and still often worried if I'd have enough gas and groceries to make it through to the next paycheck.) Best of all, at my new job, I'm treated with courtesy and respect -- something that was frequently lacking at my last job tending the 'zillas of the bridal world.
I am happy and truly hopeful for the first time in years. This isn't the teeth gritting, white knuckle kind of hope that I've had for years. This is the kind of hope you have when things have gone right, and you have reason to believe that other things can go right as well. Here are some of the changes.
My old commute to my primary part time job was 25 miles one way to a strip mall with a pot holed parking lot. I worked every weekend. Saturday and Sunday, when most people normally relaxed, I was up early and dealing with the section of the public that is encouraged to have an entitlement attitude and to think that bad manners are what is expected of them. Now, I drive 2.5 miles down the street to my office. It's located in an antebellum former home. My office was probably once a ladies' parlor. It's small and cozy with twelve foot ceilings trimmed with dentil molding. It has a non-working marble fireplace flanked by Corinthian columns, the mantle immediately over the fireplace is backed by a mirror, and there is a second mantle on top of the columns. It's right next door to the public library (which is four times the size of the one in the city where I used to work, even though the population here is about the same) whose land is dotted with trees that look a century or more old. It's directly across the street from a memorial garden on the site of the battlefield. The state wants to buy the other lot across the street, now occupied by a pizza joint, a tortilleria and Mexican grocery to build a small state park about the Battle of Franklin. I'm also just down the street from a Civil War Museum, and surrounded by houses marked by Historic Site signs.
If I choose to drive just another two or three miles down the street and make a few inconsequential turns, I can drop in on my sister and her family. If I want to drive about 20 minutes the other direction, I can visit my oldest friend. If I drive a little less than an hour south, I can visit my daughter, and upon her invitation, that's exactly what I've done for the last four weekends.
I've been to a great concert (Nashville in Harmony, the GLBT choir in Nashville) at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. One of my friends plays in The Brass Band of Nashville, who were accompanying the choir that night. This is an 80 plus person choir that nearly sold out a TPAC theater. To give you an idea of the scale of the production, the last time I was there, I saw the Broadway touring company of Phantom of the Opera.
I'm getting to go to church again, visiting around on Sundays. I was invited to the Christmas concert at a friend's church, in which she was singing, but couldn't make it because I was with my daughter who got sick that day. I've been able to attend a Christmas Eve candle light service and was invited to two others. One thing that's taken a little getting used to is the church music here. I grew up in a church with a huge choir and a famous within the Southern Baptist Convention choir leader, so good music in church is not news to me. However, when the musicians and soloists are also professional recording artists in Nashville, it's a whole other level of good.
In the weeks I've been here, I've seen more people socially than I had in the previous three years. My life in my last little town consisted of going to a job I didn't like and then coming home to be in a house alone. I truly feared that I had forgotten how to be with people on any level other than professional courtesy. Now, I really do have to look at my calendar and make choices. "Oh, I'm doing this that night. I'm sorry, how is this other date to get together?" That's such a common thing for so many people. For me, it feels like a miracle.
My sister and I are getting along better than we have, well, ever. We can joke with and tease each other. We've developed more respect for each other. On Thanksgiving and the two Christmas celebrations she hosted (one for her husband's large family gathering of about 30 people and one for the intimate gathering of just her and my immediate families), we decorated, prepped and cooked together, and found that it was both easier and more fun when we did it together. Without intending for it to happen, I also became a souffle' queen over the holidays with my carrot souffle', corn souffle and cheese grits souffle' all being hits for the holiday dinners.
The relationship with my daughter is great. She has worked exceptionally hard in college after dropping out her freshman year at Lambuth and then starting over at Middle Tennessee State University. She left Lambuth with a GPA of slightly over 1.0. Her overall GPA now is 2.96. You know what it's like in college. If you start off with a high GPA, it's easier to keep it high. Start off low, though, and it's very hard to bring up. She's done it, and even though she still has at least a year before she graduates, she's looking at and planning for graduate schools. Can I also add that other than this last semester, she's also worked the whole time she's been in school? Yes, I'm proud, and I'm inspired. She, better than anybody, knows just how hard these last few years have been on me. They were just as hard, if not harder on her, but she's managed to move forward.
She's also told me more than once that she is so glad to have me around. She spent the night with Christmas Eve, and the next morning when we were getting ready to go to my sister's, she stopped me in front of the mirror. People have always told her that she was a mini-me. I was the exception, and feature by feature, we went through what she could tell came from me and what came from her dad.
We can talk about him again. We've both felt a good bit of guilt since his death. His behavior became so odd in the last years of his life, but it happened so gradually that until it was truly bizarre, we didn't notice the changes that much. I had thought, before he died, that he had just quit caring about me, his daughter, and his family. I withdrew because it hurt too much not to. C., well, she was a teenager, and he didn't know how to handle his little girl becoming a young woman. Independently, we have both wondered and have finally discussed if he was suffering from vascular dementia. This creates a different kind of pain, but it has made getting over the hurt his behavior caused go a little smoother.
I am moving forward too now. I felt like I was dying in Tiny Town, this empty death in life. More than once, when I was so sick earlier this year, anemic from daily blood loss, in constant pain from daily migraines, I thought that all life would ever hold for me again would be poverty, pain, loneliness and sorrow.
I was wrong. I wake up every day with"Thank You, God" in my heart and on my lips. There are times I find myself crying still, but it's with gratitude. I have a family again. I have friends again. I have a job where I'm treated well, and I've learned enough to know that I am more than my job, and my self-respect doesn't have to hinge on what I do. I have a clean apartment that's just the right size for me, and it's getting more attractive every day. I'm having fun decorating again. I'm living again, more than a just a polite robot at work and a tired hulk of woman flesh collapsed on a not so comfy chair.
I went through a long decade of pain and loss, and now things are looking up. It's just been a few weeks, but I know that good things can come back into a life. I'm happy. I'm very happy, and I've learned that I'm rather strong. I'm very loved, and I've been richly blessed with times hard and good. Thank you again God, and it may feel a few days late for this, but...
God Bless Us Everyone!