In 2010 I left Northern Virginia where I’d worked as a Spanish language Family Support Worker with 27 clients and their beautiful children. It was a rewarding and busy job, but tough in that I was required to make home visits once and twice a month to each family. As you can imagine, driving around the DC area and getting caught in lunch time and rush hour at the end of the day made for a stressful job. I practically lived in my car. Not to mention the enormous binders I had to keep updated for each of the children of my 27 clients, which included their shot records, school and medical information, and a detailed, written account of each of our home visits. I felt I could never catch up.
Our manager Nancy was a wonderful, kind woman who understood when I told her I loved my job, but I’d decided it was time to return to my creative life as a painter and a writer. Nancy, a jewelry designer in her spare time, supported my decision wholeheartedly, and my co-workers also understood, despite their personal fears about what I’d be living on monetarily in the future. I didn’t care. I’d felt like a round peg in a square hole for years. I needed my creative life back.
Two months later, I bought an old house in Berkeley County, West Virginia and three months later, I moved to a state I’d only visited once in my life. It felt like I’d jumped off a cliff, but I trusted myself and the Universe, and never once have I felt I made a mistake. I finished writing my first novel, it was published in 2015, and here we are today. I’m still happy with my decision–the only decision for me–to paint and write full time.
Taking control of my life, adapting to new situations, and remaining flexible is nothing new to me as I grew up an Army brat, who moved and thrived every two to four years until college. I raised my kids abroad for 13 years, traveled extensively, and I took control and easily adapted to become a 50-year old single mom. I sacrificed until my children graduated from university and found good-paying jobs, and then moved to West Virginia. It was an easy decision. I knew it was time to focus on ME for the first time in my life.
So, fast forward to 2016. When my step-mom Rebecca, a lovely woman who has cared for my 84-year old father, who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s, called me in early January with an invitation to visit them, I jumped at the chance. Rebecca was concerned that my father wasn’t interested in eating and that his roommate’s death a few days earlier would negatively affect him; it was important to fly to Florida. I knew we’d be busy, so I decided to leave my laptop at home to concentrate on my family. Rebecca graciously paid for my airline ticket and my sister was able to get a week off from work, so off we went to offer moral and physical support, where we could. For five days, we visited with my dad, who now lives in a wonderful assisted living home, and enjoyed our time with Rebecca, who treated us to three days in Key West, Florida near the end of our visit. We had a great time, enjoying the warmer weather and each other.
Then we heard the news: a blizzard in the Washington, DC area which would also affect my adopted town in West Virginia. We watched the Weather Channel every few hours and on late Wednesday, Jet Blue called us–our Saturday morning flight was canceled. I’d survived the back to back blizzards in Northern Virginia alone with my dog in late December 2009, and knew this could be bad. Here I was thousands of miles from my house built in 1907, and my next-door neighbor was pet sitting for me. I had visions of my old roof caving in, of frozen pipes, and a leaking roof, which I know didn’t help my nerves. Then I realized that my neighbor and her husband would be shoveling for me, as well. I felt just awful. Thinking we’d avoid the blizzard by flying a day earlier than our scheduled Saturday flight, we changed our tickets to Friday morning. I called my neighbor to let her know. She told me that my Friday flight would never leave the ground. She was right–late Thursday evening, Jet Blue called about the canceled flight on Friday. And the representative informed us that the next available flight out of West Palm Beach Airport or Ft. Lauderdale would be Wednesday. Six extra days. Wow, we couldn’t believe it. What could we do?
Now, I’m a firm believer of not freaking out about such things, as I believe things happen for a reason, but…it was glaringly obvious my poor neighbor and pet sitter and her husband would be in deep kimchi with their own home and trying to shovel 35 inches of snow to get to my animals. I called my neighbor with the bad news, but she didn’t miss a beat. She was several steps ahead of me. If the power went out, she’d take my Chihuahua and cat to her home, where she lives with two large dogs and two cats, and two kerosene heaters. I felt bad, but there wasn’t a thing I could do. I thanked my neighbor profusely, and promised to give her my firstborn…who is now 30 years old! That’s what I call true friendship from a woman I’ve only known four years.
The weather reports were correct and for once, hadn’t exaggerated–my West Virginia town had 35 inches of snow by Sunday. And since I’d expected to be home by Friday, I now had an interview with The Center of Puerto Rican Studies to finish by Sunday evening, and I had no laptop. Rebecca graciously offered me her brand new Apple computer, which I wasn’t familiar with, and then I realized she didn’t have word processing capabilities. I didn’t want to fool with that, so I finished the interview in an email and did the best I could to find copies of my author photograph and a copy of my book cover, which were on my cell phone. It all worked out, but not without the fear that I’d lose the interview because the server kept shutting off. Lord, what a headache. But I got it done and was never so happy to press, ‘Send’.
As a full-time writer and blogger, I really missed working on my second book during my winter vacation. It was tough to put my new characters on hold, but it was a great time and opportunity to put pen to paper and write out scenes longhand. Sitting on the beach on our last day, I told my sister about my second book, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata’, and received good feedback. She loved the story. It was the first time I’d spoken my story out loud and it really helped in discovering weak links and missing information. I was newly inspired and anxious to get back to writing, but I also knew this visit could possibly be the last time I’d see my father. I vowed to enjoy every minute. Every day, I tried to remain in the present and not sweat the snow or my lack of a laptop.
Wednesday morning, we headed to the airport and the flight took off during a thunderstorm, which is NEVER my idea of a good time. The captain informed us that the extreme turbulence would most probably last the duration of our flight–two hours. I can’t tell you how terrified we were with the plane dipping, shaking, and careening left and right. I laced my arms through my sister’s arms, we prayed and kissed our butts goodbye. At one point, my sister asked me to please stop repeating, “Ay Virgen, ay Virgen” because that frightened her more, which I understood! But I guess all that fear bottled up inside was more than I could handle and I began to cry. The young woman to my right rubbed my arm and asked me what I did for a living, probably to distract me. I laughed and replied, “When I’m not crying on flights from hell, I write books!”
We landed safely, the Metro was working, and miraculously enough, the spot where I’d parked my car before we left for the airport had received enough sun because my car was entirely clear of snow! I drove right out of the spot and decided to park closer to my sister’s townhouse. When I reached a cleat parking spot, I turned off the engine and made my way inside. When I returned with my luggage, my car wouldn’t start. I couldn’t believe it! I don’t know where the hell I keep my reserves of patience, but I found it. My poor, long-suffering neighbors would have to add one more day of shoveling and caring for my home and animals, and my sister had to put up with me for one more night. Luckily, my area didn’t lose power, and I drove home on Thursday morning. I was happy to see the mounds of snow around my house. I love snow and had hoped I’d see a bit of it. Well, I wasn’t disappointed–there was at least 30 inches in my front and side yards.
I will never be able to repay my awesome neighbors for their tremendous kindnesses, and I am blessed to know them. My furry kids were happy to see me and my home was toasty and warm. I do wonder, however, why the Universe chose to preclude me from experiencing Blizzard 2016. I guess some experiences are meant to be, and it isn’t until much later that we see the Great Plan. It is often later when we realize the ‘why’ and are able to nod our heads and say, “Oh, now I get it.” I believe that to be true, but I’ll never leave the house without my laptop again.
Stay warm out there, my friends.
Puerto Rican novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker, inspire her stories.
‘A Decent Woman‘, Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club, and is listed in Centro Voices, The Center of Puerto Rican Studies, ‘Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season’. Book clubs across the United States continue to enjoy A Decent Woman. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society, and she is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.
Eleanor is a mother of two wonderful adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata’, and a collection of short stories.