We all make choices. Some of those choices are good. Some of them are not so good. Sometimes we end up lost.
I grew up in a town of 4,820 people in northern Ohio. Corn and soybean fields flanked my parents’ house and the houses of most of my friends. My best friend, a girl named Holly, lived on a working farm. Her father owned the fields that surrounded her house. One Saturday afternoon in October, Holly and I were out playing in her father’s barn. We leapt from the top of the hayloft to the floor below, flinging ourselves exuberantly over and over the edge. Holly’s father had forbid us to play this particular game but, as eight year olds often do, we gleefully ignored him. We laughed and screamed like banshees, lost in the adrenaline of free falling. We both heard his voice at the same time.
“Holly!” he roared, “What are you girls up to? Are you jumping from the loft again? Someone’s going to break their neck! Holly!”
We ran. We ran out the side door of the barn and across the yard, straight for the cornfield. Then we ran into the cornfield. We were lost within minutes. Full-grown cornstalks are tall, about six feet. We couldn’t see over them. All we saw was row after row of corn. We lost all sense of direction. We couldn’t hear Dale’s father yelling anymore. We wandered in that cornfield for hours, disoriented and crying. The corn stalks cut our hands, arms, and faces. When we finally stumbled out, dirty and bleeding onto the side if the road, we fell down shaking into the ditch.
I’ve never forgotten the feeling of utter and complete despair of that day. I’ve done my best to stay out of cornfields since then. I haven’t always succeeded.
Sometimes, I think that I must get lost more often than most people. Or maybe my life has an over abundance of cornfields. Or maybe I just make a lot of not so good choices.
At 19, I drove through a blizzard from Virginia in a red Ford Pinto to get to Syracuse, New York to see a boy. I didn’t see another car the entire trip. I couldn’t see more than two feet in front of me yet I kept driving. I pretended not to notice that the road was no longer visible, that I could very well be driving through a cornfield. I don’t know how much time passed before I came upon a road sign that I could read. It said ‘New York City’. I was going the wrong way. I pulled up next to that sign and waited, falling asleep beneath the green metal and white letters. I dreamt of New York City.
I lived in Texas during my twenties. I worked on movies and television shows in the costume department. One Monday morning at the ass crack of dawn, I was driving to work. The location was in the middle of nowhere, well outside of any city or town. Fog swirled around my car, making it hard to see. I carefully followed the MapQuest directions I had printed out the night before. I turned right onto a small road. The road quickly turned to dirt and gravel but I kept going; a gravel road in Texas wasn’t enough of a reason to think I was on the wrong path. I did become a little suspicious once I started hearing the thump thump of brush under the belly of the car. After about 20 minutes, I came face to face with a locked gate. Some roads out in the middle of nowhere in Texas are actually ‘private’ roads that run through the fields of ranchers. If the gates are open, everyone is welcome. If the gates are closed; well, you’re officially lost.
Somewhere in my 30s, I discovered the amazing joy and freedom of riding a bicycle everywhere. My first bike was a heavy, steel, black Trek hybrid with a back rack and metal baskets. When the show I was working on scheduled a beach resort party way out on the edge of Brooklyn in Far Rockaway, I didn’t think twice about biking the 20 miles to get there. I enjoyed the ride out as a good portion of it was along the boardwalk. I breathed in the ocean air as the wood planks clattered beneath my tires. The way back was a bit trickier. I made a wrong turn somewhere by JFK airport and found myself on a desolate street that looked like something out of The Wire. As I turned a corner, a few leaning brick buildings emerged. Three young barefoot boys in cut-off shorts stood in front of one of them. They yelled something and I heard a pop, then a sad, insistent hiss. They had shot my back tire. I kept pedaling, determined to reach the safety of the busy road I could see ahead. The skies opened up at about that time and suddenly I was washed in a cold, hard rain. I panicked for a few short minutes, racking my brain for someone to call. Miraculously, the panic subsided. I took a few deep breaths. I spotted an underpass that would offer some protection from the rain and headed for it. My hands shook as I changed the tire. I struggled with fitting the plastic tire levers into the rim to pry off the rubber so I could reach the useless tube underneath. Finally, I succeeded in extracting it. My fingers hurt as I carefully inserted a new tube. Water dripped from my forehead. I muscled the stiff rubber tire back into the wheel pinching my thumb and first finger of my right hand in the process. I checked my directions, figured out where I was, and got back on the bike. At the moment when my tires hit the wood of the boardwalk, the rain stopped as if by magic.
About a month ago, I accepted a job as the Costume Supervisor on a pilot shooting in New York City. I’ve been trying to be careful about the jobs I say ‘yes’ to. I’m not interested any longer in 14-hour days and unrealistic schedules and demands.
“I’m too old for this.” I jokingly say to people. But I’m not joking.
The film business is chaotic and under organized on a good day. On a bad day, and with too many inexperienced people at the helm, it’s downright hellish. I was lost in a dark abyss of exhaustion and frustration within a few days. I ferociously regretted my decision but convinced myself that it was only three weeks of shooting and I could handle it.
How so very wrong I was. Some choices are good. Some choices are not so good. And just because a choice is right for one person, doesn’t mean its right for every person.
I know what makes me lost. I know that, in order for my mind and soul to function, I need balance in my life. I know that I need time to run, to write, to think or I spiral into a frightening depression. I know that, even just three weeks of being trapped in someone else’s disillusioned reality, can send me straight into a cornfield. I know all of this and still said yes.
I stumbled out onto the side of the road a few days ago, scratched, bruised, and bleeding.
I’m still sitting in the ditch licking my wounds. I may sit in this ditch for a few more days, savoring my very un-heroic escape from this particular cornfield. I hope that, in the future, I might have the good sense not to enter every cornfield that comes along.
Some choices are good. Some choices are not so good. Sometimes we end up lost.