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Catherine Fischer

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I'm Back! [Jun. 10th, 2008|10:05 pm]
Catherine Fischer
[Current Location |Arcadia]
[mood |uncomfortableuncomfortable]

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping… into the future…

It has been a hell of a year. More of an internship than my internship, really. I allowed my desire and need to professionally grow to meet the demands placed on me at that ultra-busy practice to subsume my desire and need to grow personally… in fact, I backslid, letting go of elements of my life I swore I would be working to reclaim (like better communication with the people in my life, and rediscovery of hobbies and personal passions). Instead, I worked myself into a pit of depression, leaning heavily on my friends at work to keep me sane, trying to support Brent in his 80-90 hour work weeks (only partially successful), and losing more and more of myself as it just hemorrhaged away.

Damn, I hate my obsessive tendencies.

I haven’t written anything since last December, when a computer interface problem (and subsequent user error) caused a loss of a year and a half’s original writing. Gone. Poof. Like children wiped out in some sort of digital plague, with only gravestones in my mind (“I loved the one using clematis as a metaphor for summer inertia”) to mark their passing. Then again, I’ve produced very little of value in the last 2 years… I seem instead to have devolved mentally and emotionally from the brittle, bright core of self surrounded in swirling chaos to shapeless protoplasm masquerading around as me, dissipated and vague, without any trace of self-awareness, motivation, inspiration, or creativity. In short, I Got Lost, blaming exhaustion for my lack of a life/personality.

I haven’t found my way back to the path yet, but I’m starting to hear halloos. Starting to feel more coherent, and conversant. And starting to feel pretty annoyed with myself for my dissipation, my waste of precious time.

I’ve started taking steps in the right direction by quitting my job. No, the timing is not ideal. Brent’s also looking for new work, as his internship ends in three weeks. With no nibbles, and with my same old bad financial habits, it looks to be a squeaky summer, until we can get down to work. But just knowing that there’s an end in sight frees me of a terrible burden of guilt and shame and fear and emotional exhaustion and cowering self-loathing. Here’s the ridiculous thing: I’ve done all this to myself. For no reason. I did this during my internship, and during my senior year -- it’s been a disastrous pattern that there is no basis for; it’s just inherent in my mental makeup. And it kills me. Lack of confidence, based on lack of experience, coupled with a not-so-nurturing boss whom I cannot effectively communicate with, leads me to shrink within myself, seeking fewer opportunities to learn, avoiding the boss, approaching each workday with terrible anxiety, and feeling bad about myself and my skills. (The boss in question seems to feel that browbeating me for long sessions and reducing me to tears will improve my performance and shape me to his mold, and dumping me without help into situations that are way over my ability level will improve my capabilities. This is not the mentorship I signed on for. Generally, I need someone to present a learning opportunity as a “hey, did you know…” or “hey, let me show you something cool…”, or even “hey, I was going to do this procedure, and I wondered if you wanted to scrub in and learn it”, rather than a “let me see you in my office” followed by making me feel I entirely mishandled a case.) And I have worked my heart out this year, taking every suggestion, working on my own time to improve my knowledge base, attending as much CE as I can, asking for different opinions and canvassing my colleagues for different ways of performing a procedure (medicine is frequently more art than science, as there are usually multiple right answers to a single question). While my colleagues tell me that I’m a good vet, and have grown consistently faster and more proficient, that is just not the feedback I get from the higher-ups, who have blasted me down to ground level, over and over -- even in situations where I was hurting from a failure and needed to be built back up. Too sensitive and thin-skinned for this place. I no longer wonder at its extremely high rate of turnover. I do wonder in awe and amazement at the tenacity of my colleagues, most of whom tell me they cried every night for the first year at that practice. And for the last year, I have wondered if I just needed to ride it out, or if I was just clinging to the devil I knew, rather than launching (as I hate to do) out into the unknown without a safety net. Gods. I agonize over decisions too much. As Robert Fulghum once said, “the examined life is no picnic”.

That isn’t all that is dysfunctional about that place. There are well-established and well-empowered social cliques that seem to feel they have the right to villify any individual they please, for any reason. There is no communication directly between individuals -- it all goes through the head office. So miscommunications turn into giant games of “Telephone” involving half the staff, who then establish sides and take up arms against the party they feel has offended. That shit has cost the practice some very good vets over the years. It should not be tolerated in the workplace, but that’s how the place runs, and has forever, seemingly. Ideally, my new employer will employ a support staff that is actually supportive. I hate feeling hung out to dry over a mistake a receptionist made, that I am forced to take responsibility for the consequences of.

On the downside, there are some people I will dearly miss working with on a daily basis, most of them my colleagues -- the other associates. (A few technicians, and a few receptionists, too.) If I were working for almost any one of my colleagues, I would continue to stick it out through thick and thin. But the things that do not work will never change there -- my associates assure me that many have tried to implement changes, and have failed (and usually moved on). All of my enthusiasm met with the giant inertial blob of The Machine and fizzled it out. Now, I’m looking forward to simply being part of a team that wants me there, doing the best work I can and taking every opportunity to expand my skill set. I’m looking forward to not feeling sucked dry by the end of the week, so that my every weekend is spent in flat-out exhausted recovery mode. And I’m looking forward to loving my vocation again. After all, I sacrificed a lot to get here -- in pursuit of a career that I could grow with, that was personally rewarding. I have found myself wondering a lot, over the last year, when the sacrifices would pay off.

Bad habits I have realized I need to work on (and need a suitably supportive environment to work on in): I turf or avoid cases that I feel are beyond my capabilities, rather than tackling them in order to learn. Basically, I hate failure. However, the pace of practice at my soon-to-be-ex-employer is partially to blame; no one really has the time to guide me through uncharted territory, and I cannot afford to slow down and take my time navigating on my own. (Not to say that many of my wonderful colleagues haven’t stayed late to offer assistance! They have!) This is most pronounced when it comes to physical skills -- I have such limited physical experience, and some of my hands-on skills just aren’t what I would like them to be. So much of my education was spent reading and watching… I need help training my hands, now. Watching or looking at pictures just doesn’t teach the fingertips. This whole problem is compounded, of course, by my innate lack of self-confidence: I am uncertain of a skill, so I am trepidatious approaching the procedure, which kind of sets me up for failure. Perhaps I am too quick to give up, and hand it over to more experienced hands. That only leaves me feeling less confident. *Sigh.* I need to take courses in improving my confidence, and in taking failures as the natural process of learning. I hope my new employer can help me feel that way about it, rather than making me feel that more was expected of me, that I’m nothing but a big letdown. Gods, I hate feeling that I failed to meet expectations. Hate feeling that I disappointed someone invested in me.

Also, I should learn to be more proactive about asking for what I need -- I am notoriously bad at delegating or asking for assistance, since I feel that I incur resentment in doing so. But that’s what the support staff is there for! And yet, there is only one technician (my favorite one) who answers my “sorry to ask this of you, but…” with “that’s what I’m here for -- to work!” God, I love days when I get to work with her! She improves my efficiency by an enormous percentage -- the days she’s my assigned technician are the only days I leave on time. The other vets don’t have a problem grabbing people and giving them tasks -- just me. Confidence. Ugh.

Speaking of confidence, I’ve discovered a terrific new phobia to torture myself with: the fear that I am actually mentally unstable, and due to heritable chemical imbalance, headed for the sort of psychotic break my father experienced (and so graciously shared with me) a couple of years ago. Whee! Instead of feeling that I derive more meaning out of life through soul-searching and pursuing philosophical understandings of The Human Experience (which is how my father has spent his life, as well), I wonder if the natural, HEALTHY way to exist is to merely float along the surface, accepting all as it is and taking what comes, as my husband prefers to do. Gaaah! This is not an argument with myself that I can win: I double-interpret everything I do or have ever done with this new, more sinister view. I have always experienced wider swings of the emotional pendulum than most other humans of my acquaintance; does that denote chemical imbalance, or a personality predisposed to borderline personality disorder? Will it eventually crystalize into inflexible patterns of paranoia and anger and self-victimization, as it has for my father? Perhaps “normal” as viewed by the people in my life that could not identify with my mental landscape or state of being is really just that… perhaps, after a lifetime of arguing that there is no “normal”, that there are just people with differing views of and approaches to the cosmos… perhaps I’m wrong? And so lately, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to remember what I was like when I was happy, which I freely admit I have not been, in a long time. It worries me. I used to consider myself a mostly happy person. Other people used to consider me a mostly happy person. So who the hell am I now? I know when I departed from being that mostly happy person; how do I get back?

This last line of questioning got started during an event that occurred in the middle of my mini-vacation with Brent, at the end of May. The Portland Rose Festival rolled around, even if the summer weather still hasn’t, and we went to play at the waterfront carnival, since we had 5 days off together (we spent them exploring locally). As we walked in, I thought I recognized marimba music (Shona music from Zimbabwe, which I adore), and I dragged Brent to the main stage to check it out. The marquee showed the band playing was Boka Marimba -- one of my favorite bands! And suddenly, all of the terrible evenings their joyful, danceful, exultant music got me through came crashing in on me -- the nights I would play it loud to dissipate the dreams of my mother dying, the nights I could no longer focus on studying but couldn’t sleep because the crushing weight of grief over the failure of my first marriage would land on me the instant I closed the books, when I played the music and danced to exhaustion… their music took me from the happy person I was, looking forward into a future I was eagerly working to achieve, through terrible metamorphosis, into the person lost and fractured I have become, looking backward to discover some lingering thread of self to work with to reweave myself into a whole… one I could wish to be. I broke down and started crying -- helplessly, in great racking sobs that embarrassed me, that I could not control. And I realized that I had not dealt with the grief and the pain of the past 6 years, as I thought I had -- I had only buried it under new joys (such as meeting and falling in love with Brent, which now takes on the character of a sort of frenetic, rebounding self-preservation in my memory), new experiences (some of which were also painful, which I was keenly sensitized to), and time. I have failed to make sense of this all on my own, as I thought I was doing. I have failed to heal, which I always thought was as easy as breathing, always saw as my personal birthright. I have tried to move on with no foundation beneath me. And realizing this at last, I think it’s probably time I sought help to get through -- and past -- it all. Next step: figure out where. And stop trying to go it alone. It’s stupid that I withdraw into myself when I most need to reach out. That I have the least to say when the most profound changes are underway.

Poor Brent. I don’t think he really knows what to make of this, but he’s gamely trying to figure it out, and to be there for me. He deserves better; he deserves the happy person, the me of better days. I’d like to achieve that for my own sake, of course, but also to have that to gift him with. I’d like to have that to offer the world.

From: mortaine
2008-06-11 01:05 pm (UTC)
Hey, we'll be in Portland in August for a few days. A friend is getting married, and it's my birthday, so hope to see you then!
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[User Picture]From: copper9lives
2008-06-11 04:10 pm (UTC)


We'd love to see you! Seems as though you two have gotten the nomadic bug lately -- cool! I've got a bad case of wanderlust myself, but no chance to satisfy it just right now...
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From: jackdarkhand
2008-06-15 07:45 pm (UTC)

Dynamic Balance

You are terribly, terribly tough on yourself.

I know you have your flaws. But I wish sometimes that you could see yourself through other's eyes, set against the backdrop of the rest of humanity. Maybe that's why life surrounds us with so many people - so that we have something to compare ourselves to, to see how we're doing.

To me you've always seemed laike a great person, beautiful and smart and always full of wonder. And that's all I've ever heard anyone else say about you. It isn't that we're all blind and you just know the dark parts of yourself. We're not all stupid and we're not all wrong.

No, it's that we are comparing you to the rest of humanity. And in context, you come out looking pretty great.

Life isn't trivial. It is an ongoing messy chaos in which nothing is ever resolved. Nothing is ever stable, but it is possible to get dynamic balance - ongoing motion without too much toppling over.

You have a vision of perfection, and you are painfully aware that you never live up to that vision for long. My wish is that you may also develop an honest image of yourself, and how good you look to the rest of us. Between those unresolvable opposites - perhaps that's where your dynamic balance exists.

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[User Picture]From: copper9lives
2008-06-16 04:27 am (UTC)

Re: Dynamic Balance

Re: those other people around me...

You are absolutely, unequivocally, indubitably right. As usual. And that is why is so imperative that I come out of my self-imposed exile and GET A FRIGGIN' LIFE! Namely, by not holing up like a wounded animal, snarling at anyone who approaches too closely -- I need to get back in contact with the people in my life, who give shape and meaning to my existence on this plane. My people. My family. Like you, and your darling wife, who kept me sane with her lifeline of letters while I bemoaned my hardships during vet school. Like my friend Chuck who drove down from Washington to have lunch with me today, and who was a life-raft down at Ross during my divorce (he'd just been through the same thing). Like the wonderful friends, far and near, who have been brave enough over the years to see past my shit-screen to the real me in here, and who have still been audacious enough to keep calling.

Enough with the solipsism, already! I embrace the world, and all the delight it holds in the eyes and arms of friends!
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[User Picture]From: renae127
2008-06-22 04:57 pm (UTC)

I get it

Cat...I wish you had shared some of this with me, but understand how hectic things get. Time for email or even a journal slips right on by. I know what you mean about having a good mentor and feeling a lack of confidence in your abilities. I, too, have been there...and faced work with dread. Especially when I worked almost the last 5 months totally by myself. Thank God for great techs. I owe a lot to them. BUT....what I figured out is I know way more than I give myself credit for. I usually knew the answers....

As usual, and even in school....you were always hard on yourself. You are beautiful and talented...extremely smart. This is how I see you. Now, are you going to let me down? :o) Life is too short to be unhappy, stressed and dealing with bullshit. Time to pull yourself up by the bootstrings! I'm glad you quit that hellacious job. Good step in the right direction. I have been listening to a series of motivational tapes by Anthony Robbins. I highly recommend them for helping you to take control of your life. By the way Brent deserves YOU! He married you for a reason...don't forget that. By the way, I'd like to think I qualify for one of those good things that came along! Much Love.
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[User Picture]From: copper9lives
2008-06-28 10:33 pm (UTC)

Re: I get it

Thanks, darlin'. Well, I'm beginning to get it... the picture is being delivered from so very many friends...

I'm waking up! I guess we all beat ourselves up to varying degrees... I need to not take it so personally, to feel that I'm so all alone. If I'm alone, I've most certainly done it to myself; it's time to change that. So the somnolent torpor that descended on me 2 summers ago, the total inertia of a fly trapped in amber, is finally lifting. Life is getting better! I'm excited to move forward, upward, onward.

And you ARE one of those life-changing good things! :-) And continue to be, dear.

My love to you, far, far away.
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[User Picture]From: copper9lives
2008-06-30 07:30 pm (UTC)

Re: I get it

Thank you, Dana.

You know how a wounded pet will hide, cutting itself off from those who could help it? I guess there's always been a bit of that in me. The help I needed has always been all around me; I only needed to ask for it. I really don't know why that has always been so hard for me.

Thank you for being there for me, always. I love you.
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[User Picture]From: naturegeek
2008-06-29 05:52 pm (UTC)


Oh Cath - I have tears in my eyes reading this! I love you so much, and ~I~ am such a shit. You called, you invited me to a weekend festival, and I never called back to give you an answer! God how can I be such an ass. I wish we were closer to Portland, but it's a long way and we are in the working all the time to make up for playing all the time last year mode now. Anyway, busyness, excuses, beating myself up - we're related, what do you expect? ha.

This is a very insightful entry, and I think you ~do~ need to ask for help - god isn't that hard? Our family has some really stupid and weird stigma applied to getting counseling - very lame. Your mom had it, my parents had it. We are tribal creatures, troupe monkeys, we need help from time to time!! We are not ~meant~ to go it alone (whether you take that on an evolutionary level or on a more spiritual level - same same). I swear, most of my best friends are on Prozac, or something similar! ha. I'm not a fan of chemical treatment, but what I'm saying is that the people I love, find the most inspiration and joy and insight from being around, are all pretty much nutjobs!! hahaha. Otherwise they wouldn't be nearly so much fun :) So, welcome to the Monkeyhouse, Cath! Nurse Ratchett over there will fix you right up! oh, wait, no, THAT's not a good image... hahaha.

What I'm trying to say through all my jokeyness is, of ~course~ you've failed to heal. You didn't give yourself any time. And there's nothing shameful in that, nothing shameful in not healing, nothing shameful in still needing to grieve years later, nothing shameful in asking for help. It just is. We all deal with tragedy in our lives in different ways - smothering it with busyness is a perfectly normal way to deal with it, and it works, mostly. But nothing works completely, because we never truly heal or "get over" important stuff that happens in our lives - we just learn to integrate it better into who we have become. We learn to work with it. Live with it. Allow it and go ahead and be happy anyway.

I whole-heartedly agree with other friends of yours who've posted here and said nice things about you. You ARE amazing - really incredibly intelligent - brilliant, even, funny, talented - omg - so talented. And yes, beautiful - absolutely beautiful. and you are also all the other things you know you are, too - always needing assurance, never feeling good enough... enough. Enough. Maybe that should be your mantra - enough. "Because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, dog gone it, people like me!" he he. Seriously, though, Al Franken's act aside, "Enough" is a powerful mantra! On so many levels. It's hard for over-achievers and stars to be happy with simply "enough" though, isn't it? But that is so self-defeating, because then there ~never~ can be enough.

I'm going to continue this in the next comment because I was 700 characters over the limit - damn limits!! I have things to say!! ha.

To Be Continued....
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[User Picture]From: naturegeek
2008-06-29 05:52 pm (UTC)

Re: Enough


Your work situation mirrored my experiences teaching middle school a few years ago. I haven't worked since. I'm damaged by that experience. The best compliment my principle ever gave me was that "no one complained." Great. All the teachers I know said I was given an impossible task (2 grade levels, six preps, first year in the classroom), but I felt I should have been able to do it, and instead I went to work every day burdened with the impossible weight of my own inadequacy - I've never felt so completely UN-empowered, so inadequate, so alone and isolated and unsupported. It was hell. People always think that when I say I had a hard time teaching middle school that it was the students - not at all! They were what kept me coming back, day after day, week after week. I couldn't bear to think what would happen to them if I quit. They were wonderful, and complete buttheads at the same time, but that's what middle school is. I didn't take it personally - I knew they liked me as much as I liked them, and their behavior was just what they did because of their age and stage in life. It was the system that dragged me down - I refused to be "another brick in the wall" and I couldn't do what I was expected to do by the school, the district, the state, and the federal government. Could Not Do It. No amount of self-confidence would have helped me do it. I need to "get back on the horse that threw me" I know, but I'm just not that interested having finally seen what the system is like from a classroom teacher's perspective. I love teaching, love kids, love learning, but I think I'll stay an informal educator, thank you very much.

I only share that to re-affirm your decision to leave your job. You need a supportive environment, and I do too. You need to be appreciated for your talents, skills, knowledge, dedication, humor, wit, all of it. Go out and find it. And let it be enough.

And I'll try to follow my own advice, too - now THERE'S a challenge! :-)

I love you - and I am glad you are back online (I've missed you!) and lifting up your head and looking around - it's a good feeling, even if a bit scary. I'll see you around!

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[User Picture]From: copper9lives
2008-06-29 09:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Enough

Wow. I've always been amazed at the fortitude of teachers, having the willpower to go at all, given how the system fights and impedes you all every step of the way. I've often wondered whether The System perhaps ought to fail, since it's so desperately beset by bureaucratic humbug that it's barely functional at all? Wipe the slate and start over. And I agree: there are some sacrifices that are not worth making. Why do we expect ourselves to do the impossible, given no tools to accomplish this? This was my first real year in practice; I said, up front, that I wanted and needed guidance, mentorship, to acquire the skills needed to practice the way I want to be able to. I don't like trying something for the first time without an experienced hand to guide me... having WATCHED the thing done is not the same! I'm cautious, because I hate and fear failure.

I got thrown to the wolves at that practice. I was expected to cope, based on what I could get out of books, with no one to back me up except my frantically busy (but ever-supportive) colleagues. Part of it is probably my fault: I should have said "I'm interested in learning this procedure; could someone scrub in with me and guide me while I do it?" One of my bosses was furious with me for not having the capabilities to succeed with a complicated surgery; the spirit was willing, but I did not have the skill. Nor did we have the equipment, nor technicians who had been trained to assist with it. I bit off way more than I could chew, had no one to bail me out, failed horribly, and felt so awful about the whole thing that I was ready to quit veterinary medicine. Then the same boss who didn't back me up on the case beat me up over it in his office for 2 hours; I was having a crisis of confidence, and he wanted to punish me. Every interaction we had after that point was about punishment. I put up with it for 4 months, even though I dreaded working the days he was around -- he'd always find something to yell at me about, and wouldn't be satisfied until he'd reduced me to tears. At one point, he told me (trying to convince me to charge double for an ultrasound by scheduling it in-house) that my time was worth being charged for, and in the same conversation, he was angry with me for not coming in on my day off to learn a surgery from him! The breaking point was when, due to an interaction that a colleague witnessed, I realized it was personal. So I quit. No fixing that. Here's the thing: I kept getting evil glares even after I gave notice, like he was angry with me for bailing on the practice! At least the yelling stopped. I will miss my colleagues a great deal; they were family, and terrific mentors, and really bolstered my confidence. I'll miss my other boss, too, who had a great and gentle way of teaching, an easy way of suggesting things that helped. But when I get back on the horse, I'm going to question its pedigree a great deal more closely, and choose one with a comfortable gait and temperament; after all, it's going to be a long ride. If I'm ever going to get over my fear of failure, I need to be supported through the inevitable nonsuccesses until I can be satisfied with failure as part of the learning process. I need to learn to be satisfied with having done my best (and doing and redoing, until success is achieved). I need to learn to accept Enough.

You have always been so very good at teaching, at infecting your students with your enthusiasm for learning and love of your subjects, at meeting them on their level and developing a rapport with them; that's a priceless skill set. There has to be a teaching position that will recognize and reward you for that, will see you as a precious asset to be courted and supported. Maybe it's outside The System. There's a niche for you, I know it. There are students desperate to learn, who just need someone interested in teaching them -- need someone they can connect with. Have you thought about the community college level, perhaps?

Anyhow, I'm rambling. I love you; I'm sorry you had such an ugly year, too. That which does not kill us... makes us bitter old people! Heh -- just kidding.
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[User Picture]From: copper9lives
2008-06-29 08:39 pm (UTC)

Re: Enough

Thanks, Deed. I completely sprang a leak reading your wonderful comments... guess you always did have the mainline straight into where I live, didn't you? But that's one of the reasons I've always followed in your footsteps, as your namesake: in many ways, we are a lot alike. Light half, dark half, always journeying, never arriving. I crave stability and then stagnate in it, craving change...

And things are definitely changing. I'm finally shaking off that solipsistic summer somnolence that trapped me in amber two years ago, starting to surface like the dreamer from the deep water of the unconscious. Time to go out in the sun! Maybe I just needed the unconscious processing time to get through it -- kind of a hard time to pick to do so much professional growth (but then, life is what happens when we're busy making other plans).

I love you, Deed. You're definitely one of my favorite monkeys in the monkeyhouse, and you've reminded me where to look to get the help I need -- it's all around me. I just needed to ask.

BTW, there will be bluegrass at other times, and I can understand the urgent industry that must needs follow a year of travel; I don't blame you for it. The week after we bought the tickets, I turned 39 -- THIRTY-NINE! -- and threw a great party; I wish you could've come. Brent and I will be road-tripping to Yellowstone this coming week, to see Josh and Nikki, and show Brent my old stomping grounds (he's never been). I'll post pictures, if I can manage to organize my mess of a website and photo library.

Anyhow, thank you so much for the reminder, and Bishop's not too far away -- there will be other roadtrips, and my goal is to make them in the direction of the people I love and miss. Salvation is a journey of a thousand miles, and I've taken that first step.
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