Can you think of a defining moment in your life? A moment where you hit a milestone of sorts that worked to define who you are – or who you are always in the process of becoming – by acting a certain way that you didn’t realize you were capable of? I’m not sure I’m explaining myself very well, so here are some examples for you.
When I was nineteen years old, I lived with my sister and her husband in New York City (where the dreaded red pepper incident took place) and worked as a Docket Administrator for a prominent law firm on Madison Avenue. (Don’t ask me what that title means. I kept track of attorney calendars, but I’m sure this isn’t a necessary position anymore with current technological advances.) Shortly after arriving at work on one particular day, I started feeling sick. Like, not sure which end is in more trouble sick. Like, things aren’t going to go well for the next several hours sick. Like, there’s no time to worry about whether or not my boss will be annoyed if I ask to leave work sick. Luckily, my boss was understanding (she was awesome) and could see by the look on my face what kind of condition I was in, so I left. Normally, my commute involved trekking several blocks, taking a tram ride, and then a bus to the apartment, but I didn’t have that kind of time or energy. I dragged myself to the bank next door for cash to get a cab. Waiting in line for a teller (this was the early 90’s and bank machines weren’t advanced enough to deal with paycheck deposits, etc.) I knew I was in trouble. As I get to the counter and hand the teller my paycheck and deposit slip, I whimper “Where is the bathroom?” He barely looks at me and in a monotone voice, he rattles off “We don’t have a public restroom here you can go to the Orange Julius on the corner of…” This is my defining moment. Normally, I’d timidly accept whatever response I was given and probably apologize for asking such a silly question and then send him a bouquet of flowers for wasting his time, but I was here alone and I was beyond desperate. With whatever strength was left over after holding in the evil forces that were working to fight their way out of me, I cut him off mid-sentence and blurted out in a sick, crackling voice “It’s. An. Emergency.” This may not seem like a big deal, but I was a fairly sheltered, introverted, 19-year-old from the suburbs whose first journey out of New England was this venture to New York City. As soon as he looked up and saw my pathetic face, I was promptly led to the private inner workings of the bank’s lower levels where a kind woman escorted me to a bathroom, made sure I was ok, and allowed me to rest on a bench for a short while until I felt comfortable enough to leave. Once outside the bank, I hailed a cab (another defining moment for me) and held in my vomit during a ride that, even if I wasn’t already violently ill, would have made me so. I suspect the cab driver could see by my pale green complexion that he needed to get me to my destination quickly if he didn’t want to have to power wash his back seat. I barely made it through the door of the apartment and then the door of the bathroom before unleashing the demons. I don’t know if it was a stomach bug or food poisoning or the forces of good and evil fighting for control over my intestines, but I was out of commission for the next two days.
Again, I’m aware of how insignificant this seems because, even recalling it now I’m wondering why it was (and still kind of is) such a big deal for me. I think it was because it was the first time I handled something on my own like an adult. It was just me in a big city and despite my crippling shyness and insecurities (not to mention loathing of public restrooms) I did what I had to do to take care of myself. Progress, people. It’s all about progress. (I preach as I type in my pajamas from the safety of my private home.)
There are other instances where I felt I was at a turning point in my life, where I reached a level of strength or power that I didn’t realize I had – like when I stood up for myself by shouting “How dare you?!” (like the overly dramatic protagonist in a bad Lifetime made-for-tv movie) to an obnoxious, self-important co-worker who questioned my work ethic. This was followed by a succinct lecture on my duties and how well I performed them which, as far as my recollection is concerned, was worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. (yeah, I know that doesn’t make sense but I want to emphasize how amazing I thought my impromptu speech was)
And another time, I went to a wake all by myself like a big girl with the full understanding that there would be very few people there I might know. Because I’m not practiced in the art of wake, I did have to text my mom to find out what I’m supposed to wear because apparently I’m not that grown up yet. (The conclusion was that black is good, but not necessary, and so long as I’m not in a clown suit I probably won’t get kicked out. Thanks, Mom!)
So, while none of these may be particularly outstanding in general terms, especially to those of you who are far more psychologically adjusted than I am (which is pretty much everyone) they were particularly outstanding to me because of how fully aware I am of my weaknesses. (Which are a hassle, man… really!)