Walking in a new direction

I’m sitting at work watching a marathon of Star Wars movies. It’s quiet at the youth shelter on the overnight shift and I can get a lot of things done. My only real distraction is the ticking clock on the living room wall. Clocks should be made to be silent, but it’s not my home and it’s not my clock, so I try to shut the noise out as best I can as I continue to think about the direction my life is now headed toward and how I’d like to get there.

After making the decision to leave my position as a reporter at the Scottsbluff Star-Herald, I have had a lot of time to think about where I want to go and who I’d like to be once I get there. The past two months have provided me ample time to think and contemplate everything swirling around in my head, sometimes so much that I can’t sleep because the options open to me are many and I suck at making decisions. For the past fifteen days, I’ve spent most of my free time thinking about these things.

My friends have been good at giving me the space I need to get my shit sorted. One of the first things I do is start taking steps away from social media. At first, it’s not easy. There are people on certain platforms that I don’t want to lose touch with, but, at the same time, I’m also aware of the fact that a person’s life can’t be lived by looking at other people’s lives through the voyeuristic lens of social media.

I’ve stopped “checking in” via my cell phone. I don’t log in on my laptop during work. I’m down to about fifteen minutes a day of scrolling.

My friend, Candice, texted me earlier in the day. She is an excellent copy editor and has agreed to look at some of the pieces I write when I feel I need an “extra set of eyes” on my work. I’ve written a review of a book about Crazy Horse, the great Lakota leader. Usually, when something I’ve written bothers me, I can set it aside and come back to it later. Whatever it was is glaring once I return. When that doesn’t happen, I bribe Candice with a free coffee to help me sort it out.

Candice made some edits and had some suggestions. I look at the email. Without reading the words, I see her extensive notes in blue, reassuring me that my concerns were warranted. We have a chat about meeting for coffee/tea at Cappuccino and Company. We’ve been doing that regularly since I left the newspaper. Our conversations cover a range of topics and I always look forward to our meetings.

With our meeting set, I try to quell the many thoughts stirring in my mind so that I can get some sleep. I work the overnight shift and rule number one is, “don’t fall asleep.” I walk upstairs and climb into bed, making sure to pull my bald eagle blanket up around my ears. I hate having my ears exposed when I sleep because they get cold easy. I’ve always suspected it was because of that time they burned when I was five years old.

I spend a few more minutes thinking about my immediate upcoming plans before dismissing them so I can get some shuteye. I will wake again in about five hours, those thoughts still on my mind.

When I get up, I start thinking again. It’s what I do. My friend, Sandra, has offered to take me hiking one day during the first week of September, my choice which day. I replied a week ago to a tentative yes on Thursday.

The day after Labor Day is also known as “the worst day in my life.” Sandra knows the story behind how it came to be and was extending a hand of respite in the fresh air. I already knew when I said yes to Thursday I was going to back out of it.

I sat down at my computer and replied again to her email. I’d like to change the day to Monday, I wrote. In my mind, when the worst day rolls around, maybe there will be some lingering happy thoughts of hiking in the open spaces of western Nebraska to make the worst day one with fewer traumatic memories.

I’ve been mired in that day for the past thirty-five years. Each year, the anxiety of the day approaching makes me nauseous. I’ve been stuck in this moment of time for nearly four decades. It’s meant that I can’t keep jobs for long – I’ve left the vast majority of my jobs sometime in the Fall – I’ve lost friends who don’t/won’t understand, and it’s affected my ability to move forward in life.

I’ve been thinking about that last one for the past five days. It’s also not just the day, but a series of events through the end of the year that I have fixated on for decades.

I’d like to get to a point in time where the day after Labor Day passes and I don’t give it, or the memories, a thought. I’m not there yet. I’m working on it. I hope the hike helps.

I’m already a bit more hopeful than usual because so many life circumstances have changed this year – all for the better. The past four or five days I’ve spent in silent contemplation thinking about what I can do to change my thinking about this time of year.

After eating my green beans, carrots, and sugar snap peas, I munch on a Crunchie bar Paul put in my lunch bag. As he saw me off tonight, he told me he put something in my lunch bag and he expected me to eat it. It’s the last Crunchie and it will take about a month to get more shipped from England.

I’m still thinking about how to handle the coming two weeks, but for the moment, I’m busy opening my packet of animal crackers as I watch AT-ATs walk across the ice planet Hoth. Han and Chewy are busy repairing the Millennium Falcon while the rebels fight the Empire, holding them back so the bigger ships can safely get away from Echo Base. I’m not a kid anymore, but I still love animal crackers and the temporary joy they bring while watching movies from my childhood.

I don’t think anything will ever compare to the exuberant feeling of being stuffed into the back of my grandmother’s gold station wagon in 1977 to head out to the Fair Oaks Drive-In to see this movie called Star Wars.

The day after Labor Day is still two weeks away. I will spend it alone, but I feel more hopeful than ever. For the first time in my life, I have a job that takes mental health seriously. My job is quiet during the majority of my shift. I don’t worry too much about my PTSD or what’s going to trigger me at work because my stress levels have been incredibly reduced and my coworkers and bosses are supportive of each other.

This year is the first time in my life that I can focus on the issue of the worst day in the world without external aggravations, influences, or distractions. I’m not saying the day will be perfect, but I’m starting to think clearly about where I need to go.

Sometimes, I feel like Luke sitting in Yoda’s hut on Dagobah not seeing the bigger picture or understanding the things being taught to him. Luke always wanted to get to the end result without putting in the effort required to get there. I get that. I push myself too hard, too quickly sometimes and it always comes back to bite me in the ass.

I have my own Dark Side Cave to enter now and face my own Vader, with whatever I bring with me. I hope to fare better than Luke.


Night Terror


A soul who sought solitude in the places I roam


  1. Mary Ellen Kilmer

    One aspect of your prior work at the Star Herald that I appreciated was meeting you. The other great aspect was reading your great articles, which I miss.

  2. Jerry Lewis

    I’m with Mary Ellen. Once our church made pillow cases for the Shelter, the reason being that when the kids left there, they would have something in which to put their gear, something made because somebody cared. Would this be helpful again, or do the kids all have backpacks now? Jerry Lewis

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