Shortly before I turned 18, a juvenile court judge strongly suggested I would be doing myself and the citizens of New Haven, Connecticut a big favor if I found a new town to live in. New Haven judges were notoriously hardcore – they lived in caves, afterall – so I wisely took this judge’s “suggestion” to heart.
Conveniently enough, some friends were taking a 3000 mile road trip to The City of Angels to begin school that Fall. I thought it might be smart to sign on and join them, only I had no job and no money. What I did have though, were friends and parents of friends. I went around to all of them and asked to borrow money to make the trip. I earnestly promised to pay each of them back, with interest. By summer’s end I managed to raise the princely sum of … $150, which I tucked neatly away into an A2 size envelope for safe keeping. A few days before I was scheduled to leave town, I wrote out Thank You Notes to all the people who’d lent me money. I tucked each of those notes into its own A2 envelope, addressed and stamped each and tucked them into my single backpack – the only baggage I would be taking with me to LA. Or so I thought.
As my friends and I hit the outskirts of New Haven on departure day, I asked them to pull over and let me mail the Thank You notes. It wasn’t until 3 hours down the road when we pulled into a rest stop for lunch that I realized what I’d done with the $150 – I’d unconsciously made some postal worker’s day unexpectedly richer. $150 then was roughly worth the equivalent of $1100 today.
What I mostly remember about that incident is the feeling of loss, terror and dread that came with the realization that I’d dropped the money envelope into the mailbox along with the Thank You notes. It felt like my very survival was now threatened. Here I was, hundreds of miles from home – soon to be 3000 – with no job and no money – a stranger in a truly strange land. My friends thought it was haha funny, however: they nicknamed me, Markis J. Mynusmoney.
Fast Forward Fifty Years
After exploring holiday gift possibilities with my daughter this year a few weeks before Christmas, she convinced me that the best possible gift I could give her would be … money. This goes against all my holiday conditioning, but Amanda can be very convincing. So one morning I got up early and searched around for a gift envelope and a card to put some cash into. What did I find? An A2 envelope and a “Kick Butt Take Names” card that my friend Joanna designed. That felt like a suitable message matching my daughter’s general expressive holiday energy.
I decide to send Amanda $200. I go to my small cash stash to count out four $50 bills. Except … there are only 3 fifties there. What the heck: Let’s make it a $150 gift then. I put the three bills and the card into the envelope, address, stamp and seal it and lay it on my desk to take out to the mailbox later that morning.
The day unfolds with the usual work in my office – researching, writing, phone calls, bill paying. Around 9AM I gather up a bunch of papers and junk mail and walk out into the living room. As I pass the woodstove, I decide to toss the papers onto the fire that’s burning low. The papers instantly bring renewed energy to it, but I suddenly have a distinctly uneasy feeling. “I should probably put stuff like that in the paper recycling,” is the thought that goes through my mind in response to that body feeling.
It’s not until lunchtime, when I go looking for the gift envelope for Amanda that I realize what the distinctly uneasy feeling was actually about: all I can see are the 3 fifty dollar bills going up in flames. Suddenly, I’m sick to my stomach beyond all measure. Instantly, images of the experience of depositing my only $150 in the mailbox outside New Haven decades ago surface in memory. It feels like I’m in great danger all over again – with the future completely uncertain, and my ability to take good, conscious care of myself fully at risk. How could I be so mindless all over yet again?
In THIS Moment, Everything’s All Right
Fortunately, I have practices that I’ve been doing for years to help calm me down when accidents happen or traumatic memories resurface. Immediately, I leash up Olliebear and we head off to the Log Trail. On the way over, I take mindful breaths, exhaling longer than I’m inhaling. When we get to the trailhead, I immediately let loose with a long stream of invectives, cursing every thing and every one I can think to curse. Ollie doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, but he likes the energy. Off we go, jogging deliberately up the windy trail.
By the time we return back to the trailhead 40 minutes later, my brain and body have calmed down considerably. When we get back home, I take out another card and another A2 envelope and once again address it to Amanda. This time, however, I write out and enclose a holiday check.