I was nine or ten-years-old when my father led me and some of my siblings to a sandbar in the bay of Sea Isle City, NJ, at low tide. We were having so much fun splashing around in tidal pools, hunting in the shallows for starfish, and feeding clams to seagulls that we didn’t notice the tide coming in until the water was up past our ankles. We were a good fifty yards from the shoreline, and the water was rising quickly. Dad called a huddle and stood behind us on what was left of the quickly disappearing sand bar. He pointed to a house with a big deck three blocks to the right from where we entered the bay. “The undertow is strong here. Swim toward that white house with the deck that has three white buoys hanging off the side. Understand?”
We all shook our heads and waded into the deeper water with our father. I was ready to show my Dad and siblings what a good swimmer I was. I could see myself beating everyone to the buoys with my incredible speed and strength. Then I started swimming and learned what my father meant about the strong undertow. In spite of how hard I pumped my arms and kicked my legs, when I stopped to see my progress, the white buoys were the same distance away. I could see the rest of my family slowly making their way, my youngest brother hanging on my father’s back. No one was laughing. This wasn’t some fun challenge to finish our morning. This was going to be some hard work, harder than I’d expected. Making matters worse, there was a nasty swarm of greenheads diving at my head over and over. I tread water for a moment, tried to call my father, but he was too busy with my younger brothers.
So I took the deepest breath I could, closed my eyes, and swam underwater as long as I could. When I resurfaced, gasping for air, I noticed I had drifted in the opposite direction from everyone else. I felt this brief moment of panic, but the flies chased me underwater again. I held my breath and made long, manic sweeps with my arms against the undertow; this powerful force I couldn’t even see.
The next time I popped my head above water, I was even further away from my family. I gave up trying to get to them, and pointed myself toward the deck closest to me, using this crazy combination of doggy-paddle and breaststroke, with repeated passes underwater to escape the flies.
I eventually made it to shore and then walked four blocks to meet my father and siblings. I was exhausted – and shocked - at how hard it was to achieve what seemed to be a simple goal. I knew how to swim. I had the support of my father. I had my siblings with me, working toward the same thing. But none of that seemed to matter. In spite of best conditions, and my best efforts, I couldn’t get to where I was supposed to be – at least, not the way I had planned.
Ten years later, I was getting ready to swim in a different kind of bay, the one called “my career.” With a degree in Elementary Education from Penn State University, I was setting my sights on a future where I’d likely get into management, maybe become a principal. But the career undertow was stronger than what I swam against in Sea Isle City’s bay, and after only a year in the classroom, I quit teaching.
I regrouped, went back to school and got a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Temple University and for a few years, worked as a therapist for a psychiatric hospital in the Philadelphia area. I thought maybe this was it. I had a job in an interesting, challenging field working with an incredible mentor and friend. But once again, the undertow of life moved me in a direction I hadn’t planned. In 1993, my partner, Stephan, got sick and died from AIDS complications.
I knew I had two choices, let this incredible loss take me down, or find a purpose for this crazy, painful swim. A year after Stephan died, I learned about an acupuncture clinic in Boston called AIDS Care Project (ACP). They were “on the front lines” of the battle, and making a huge difference in the quality of life for hundreds of people. It was the future I didn’t know I was looking for.
I landed in Boston in the middle of the Blizzard of ’94 without a job, no friends, and not even sure if I’d be accepted to The New England School of Acupuncture. And none of it mattered. I knew I’d found my path. It was a bumpy, challenging four years of school, to say the least, but I made it, in spite of, or maybe because of, life’s constant undertow.
One month after graduation, I started working at ACP. It was, without a doubt, the best job I’ve ever had. I worked with some of the best minds in the field and still use some of their advice in my clinical work.
After ten years at ACP, I opened a private office in Boston where I treated a variety of conditions, including, menopausal issues, sports injuries, digestives issues and chronic disease (diabetes, Crohn’s, Parkinson’s). Contact me to learn more about my acupuncture training and experience and schedule an appointment here.
Writing and reading have always been passions of mine. I finally gave up wondering if I could write a book and actually did it in 2011, publishing my memoir Slaves to the Rhythm. Learn more here.
My newest book, A Little Chatter, is a collection of short stories. I loved working with these characters and watching where they took me. I hope you do too. Learn more here.