The Year That Changed My Life (Part 1)

When I don’t know where my life is going, I always lean back to the past. It just makes me feel better—like I actually came from someplace.

Last time we were here, at Completely in the Dark, it was the mid-1980s.

I’d left University of Iowa for a proofreader gig at a direct mail marketing corporation in Hopkins, Minn., where I’d moved in April 1986. It was my first-ever apartment (photo at left) and I was proud that I had a full-time job. I had benefits, a 401k (another first!), a new girlfriend, and I entertained coworkers with dinner parties and nights on the town.

It was a heady time.

Of course, heady was never enough and I crashed under the weight of it all in 1987. The Cliff’s Notes of the story include recovering in 1988, taking another shot at finishing an undergraduate degree, and changing work from day to night shift.

In 1989, the work change gave me time to write my first screenplay, The Wandering Moon, and still pay the rent. Then I set another goal: I’d return to England that autumn, the first draft in my hot little hand, and complete research on outstanding questions I had about the story—not to mention seeing the locations up close and personal.

Plus, it would be my 30th birthday.

I knew I wanted that milestone to mean more than a passage of years—it had to bring new purpose to my life.

In hindsight, it did. Big time.

It’s important for me to remember all this now because I’m at a similar crossroads.

I’ve just come off probably the hardest decade of my life, beginning in 2006 and finally turning around last year. Over that time I gained two new jobs, back-to-back, a condo home (with a mortgage!), a girlfriend, and was on a strong foundation.

Then 2008 arrived.

Both my parents died. The economy tanked. The following year, the girlfriend and I broke up; just over two years after that, left the full-time job. Everything went south, fast. The losses accumulated year after year from then on—less work, less money, finally losing my home and having to move in 2016. It was horrifying. But friends remarked my inborn Stoicism seemed to bear me through it all. Sometimes, not so much.

Now I’m seeing some exciting possibilities on the horizon, and I’m reminded of the year that changed my life—1989.

That year pushed open the door wider because I hunkered down and did the work. On the way to the office for evening shift, echoing in my head, I heard horses’ hooves clacking on cobblestone streets of 1864 London, after I’d been working on the script all day.

I had a goal for year’s end, and I made it.

I saw it was all possible.

So here’s how the journal begins telling he story of the year that changed my life:

Wednesday, 15 November, 1989. The Return to England.

Huh. What a day. It’s been absolutely dream-like. The plane got going late (7:05) and then we had a 1-1/2 hr. stop-over in Boston where we filled the plane to capacity. I sat next to a young guy from Oxfordshire named Gary and his red-headed little boy. The rest of his family (wife and daughter) were a few rows behind us. He was the first Brit I’ve showed The Wandering Moon to. He was impressed and amused.

Earlier, Hollingsworth had driven me to the airport in his newly bought used pickup truck. Traffic was backed up for miles and a snowstorm had begun. I was feeling jittery and anxious. The flight was tedious. I tried to read the script, then I tried to sleep. I dozed for about an hour, listening to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and dozing off to the hum of activity around me. That was the moment this dream journey began. I sat opposite on the aisle of the plane with a girl, blonde, early twenties, from a town outside Bath, county Avon, who was flying back home after staying with an American family in Wisconsin. She seemed very shy—in a tired way. She was also lovely. We only chatted now and then.

When the plane arrived at Gatwick, we all said goodbye—I hustled through Customs, getting pounds Sterling, then making the train to Victoria, London. It was a dizzying ride—my jet lag was extreme and I was swirling in my head just trying to stay awake. The countryside flicked by more frantically than I’d remembered it had when I took the coach in ’82. At Victoria, I struggled with my baggage as I attempted to relearn the Subway and eventually lugged my way to 6 Ladbroke Terrace. The Israeli/Iranian guy running the place had given up my room with facilities, but he had a cheaper room without, so I took it. I took a hot steaming bath down the hall as the maid made up the bed, and then the phone rang as I prepared to take a nap. It was Dan calling from Gatwick—Sharon had missed her flight out but her luggage was on its way to the US of A sans Sharon. So Dan & Sharon made plans to come up to see me in Kensington, then we’d go out shopping for a day’s worth of clothes for Sharon and, afterwards, supper. I slept for almost an hour, after which I phoned Abi (not at home) and Joy Melville (of the Ellen & Edy biography) and she was hurrying to meet a deadline, but she was interested to see the first draft of my script and we made plans to get together between Nov. 25–27 when I returned to London.

Dan & Sharon arrived at Holland Park Hotel around 6:00 and after a brief tour of my doormouse-sized bedsit, we went shopping. It was a fun evening, chatting happily with friendly London salesclerks. We gawked at all the toys and food items at Harrods. Then we had supper at a little café in Knightsbridge called “The Stock Pot”—chicken, soup, coffee, cake—they treated me to a birthday dinner. I got back to my room at around 9 o’clock & called Abi. Her boyfriend was over and she was doing his laundry. We chatted for a bit—I saying I’d see her on the 25th. London! What a cacophony of noise, sights—beautiful women! Tomorrow EARLY:

1) Get coach ticket to Tenterden

2) See “Choosing” at the Nat’l Portrait Gallery

3) Get back and packed and out of Hotel by 11:00

4) Get on bus to Kent!

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~ by completelyinthedark on February 10, 2018.

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