When I took my first sabbatical in 2009, I left in July and came back mid-November. With the way it worked, you could go for up to six months and return to your old position but after that, and up to a year, you had to work your way into something comparable by applying, with no guarantee, which seemed like too much stress and ran counter to the feeling of letting go I wanted. So I opted for 4.5 months — July for backpacking, three months in Europe, a couple weeks at the end in the States. On my first day back I had a blow-out on the interstate and had to wait a good hour for the tow truck, and stand there on the shoulder watching how fast people drive, a Monday morning in mid-November with all that rain: the time in Seattle it really earns its bad weather reputation and deserves it.
When I got into the office my socks were wet and I was late, which looked bad returning from sabbatical, but I learned I’d be leading the same project I had when I left, they just doubled the goal and kept the name the same: a name I worked hard to change but couldn’t, also the name of a popular female contraceptive, a day-after pill, pointed out by some women on the project who suggested we rethink it: and when I left that group several months later to join another, I learned they had a project with that name too but it meant something different (and equally ominous), a business decision meant to go away quickly and quietly.
I accepted an offer for the new job in April but it was the same day Dawn found a house she was really excited about and so we drew up an offer of our own, which over-shadowed the news about my new job but didn’t matter, and when we arrived at the house for the first time I watched the kids run to the swings and decided I’d take a picture of the look on Charlotte’s face and try to save that in my mind forever, it felt like something worth saving.
They welcomed me in the new workgroup ad nauseam, which was really nice but grew tiresome it was so nice, and there was a house plant and card everyone signed, a detailed immersion binder, and after a month or so of this I got two new projects, held a kick-off meeting in late August but it was hard to get everyone together at that time of year with all the vacations, there were 20-some people and I hadn’t taken enough time with my business owner beforehand so that took up more of the meeting than it should have, her wrapping her head around the project — and though I’d led a coffee tasting and paired it with some really nice cheese, at the end of it I hadn’t met my objectives, which my boss pointed out nicely but it stung, and I guess for about four years I went back and forth trying to decide if I was in the right place, an arm wrestle in my head I couldn’t seem to win, trusting other people’s perceptions over my own.
By my standards I didn’t do as well on those first two projects as I should have, so I volunteered for a third one thinking maybe it was the projects that were flawed, not me — and it was my work on that one that got me nominated for a fourth, which was bigger than all of them combined, so I went on that project 100% but it was like the emperor’s new clothes, I couldn’t figure out why I was on it even though everyone else seemed to know, and this went on for about two years until I rolled off, and needed some rebound projects to flush the last one out of my system, to clear the air.
As it drew down to the end I wrote a few blog posts to capture how badly I felt, the conflict I had not being present with my family, acting distracted and unhappy, probably not worth being around anyway. I realize now why it was so hard for me to connect to anything because I’d lost the connection with myself, I had to relearn the lesson that so much of who we are is what we do.
I was somewhere very far away in a hammock in a breeze when my body jerked and I realized I’d been dreaming, that way the body jerks like it’s trying to catch itself from falling, trying to save itself from being taken away at the last minute.
I was circling the stairwell in a parking garage either going up or down I couldn’t tell, and the dream narrator (who never talks, doesn’t have to) let me know it was my old workplace, which meant I needed my security badge but it didn’t work anymore, I had no business being there now — these scenes from dreams like the script for a ghost, half-hearted performances, but strangely resemble our waking lives, our going through the motions, trying to find or mend something we can’t, trapped in time, unable to move on, fixed on a life only partly remembered in the past.
In the hammock in the breeze the way the sun lights the leaves and makes a swishing sound back and forth, I thought how perfect all this could be, if only for how I see things.