Orange Chacos

I should have seen it coming sooner.  The handwriting was on the wall.

I had planned, so carefully, which was uncharacteristic, for my exit from journalism into teaching.  Although I had loved being a reporter, I was ready to go.

I had just spent two years taking Praxis tests, and filling out applications for alternative certification programs.  Because of all this forethought and planning, I had been accepted into a six-week program that, if successful, would end with me being presented a provisional teachers certification.  That, in turn, hopefully, would allow me to be hired to teach high school English.

I had no financial cushion that would allow me to quit my job to focus on the training.  I would have to keep my full-time job as a reporter for the local newspaper.  So, I painstakingly developed a plan, and somehow got my bureau chief to agree.  My brilliant idea was that I would go to my classes during the day, and do my interviews and writing, for our section, at night and on weekends.  The certification course was set to start the day after Memorial Day.

Floating around on the edges of this intensive plan I had orchestrated were rumors of deep layoffs at our newspaper.  This downsizing was anticipated to hit every editorial department, and would be announced May 21.

“Our section is safe!” my bureau chief assured me.

While eating a piece of chocolate cake to celebrate my 42nd birthday, on May 20th, a premonition went through my brain.

“You’re going to be laid off!”

As would be expected, my first reaction was panic. I tried to alleviate my fear with the assurance I had received from my boss. Then I felt some peace, a feeling that it would all be okay.

However, when the phone rang at my desk, just a few minutes after 9 a.m. that fateful morning, it was the managing editor.  When he asked me to come to the main office, I was not surprised.

The ‘heads-up’ that I had gotten from the universe did not stop the feeling, in the pit of my stomach. And the fleeting moment of peace was nowhere to be found. The bottom was falling out of my world.  During the 16-mile drive from my office, back to the Baton Rouge headquarters, I did the only thing I knew to do.  I called my ex-husband, on the phone, and made him talk to me the whole way.  I don’t even remember what he said, but the sound of his voice kept me ground on the earth so that I was able to walk into the building, and have my livelihood taken away.  I even had to find the strength to muster a “thank you” for the pleasure of working there.

I knew, in that moment, that the move to teaching was what God wanted for me.  I had to close the door and walk forward with no safety net, and no looking back.  It was going to be a long summer.

I understood fairly quickly, after my training started, that my carefully thought out plan would not have worked.  I would not have been able to fulfill my journalist job obligations and complete the teacher certification program.  And, forced on my own to choose, I would not have been able walk away from my livelihood.

Although leaving journalism in that way wasn’t exactly what I wanted, becoming a teacher was what I wanted. However, I would not have willingly sacrificed my steady paycheck.  I wanted, somehow, to seamlessly move from one career to the other.  I certainly would not have chosen to be thrust out the door into the cold world.  Already, that same afternoon, I felt impoverished, sitting in my rundown Garden District apartment.  It had holes in the kitchen floor, rats in the ceiling and bees in the porch columns. I sat crying with my dogs, Ruby and Daisy.

There was no turning back.  There was no opportunity to say, “No, wait! I really didn’t mean that I was going to leave. Don’t let me go. I will change.”  It was done.  I had been open about my plan to leave eventually, so, in hindsight, when making decisions to cut, I was an obvious choice.

The door shut so tightly behind me, I went home and did the one thing that seemed most natural to me.  I cooked peas and cornbread.  I explained to my best friend that I could cook from scratch and therefore, I would not starve.

Then the graces started.  My landlady insisted on cutting my rent until I was working again.  My sister sent me fifty dollars.  Then a package came from my mother.  It was a pair of orange Chaco sandals. Fancy hippie sandals. Something I had been wanting for months, even before I had gotten laid off.  Something I could not justify buying for myself.  The note inside said that she had found them at a consignment store, never worn, and that she thought they looked like something I would like.  If I hadn’t already believed there was a God, the Chaco sandals would have made a believer of me.

It was indeed a lean summer.  However, by the time the woman who would be my first principal squeezed my hand and said, “I am making your dreams come true,” and offered me a position teaching 10th grade English, I was not surprised.  I had excelled in my training.

I walk hard on this earth, and so I am hard on shoes, especially since becoming a teacher.  If they don’t serve me well, I toss them out.  The Chacos have been around now, for eight summers, since they appeared magically on my doorstep.  The buckle on the right one is cracked where one of my dogs bit it at some point.  I don’t wear them as quite as often the last couple of years. I have a newer pair of Birkenstocks that feel more comfortable.  I could toss the old Chacos out, but I will not.

They remind me that I am not alone, I will get what I need, and that everything will work out just fine.




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