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Non Fiction

Escaping Lake Limbo

Maria S. Cuasay

In the winter of 2009, my mother stared out our apartment window and said softly, "Is this all there is?" It was a rare moment of lucidity. On the 28th of December 2010, she passed away free at last of Alzheimersī unbreakable grip. She was 78 years old.

My younger brother John grinned at me as I picked him up from the hospital this past Labor Day. He had been at deathīs door for the past two weeks. By sheer will, he was alive and optimistic. He kept repeating, "Iīm going to make things better with my kids and my family. Iīm going to make changes." At 4:03 AM on October 19, doctors removed his ventilator. He died from a fatal lung disease that affects 2 people out of a million. My brother was only 43.

I grieved for my mother. I grieved for my brother. I grieved for myself. I thought about missed chances and dreams unrealized.

A week after my brotherīs funeral service, I was at a park. It was time to seek out life and the living. From the bleacher seats, I watched kids playing soccer and squirrels scampering across the grass. I took some selfies to mark the occasion. It was the start of my Life 360 project. It called for reflection and a life changing decision.

I was eight when my father and I joined my mother in Chicago in 1976. My parents were 44 years old. That year I watched them take two or three jobs each to save money. We bought a suburban house and John joined us in 1978. My two youngest siblings and grandparents followed. While my parents worked, I was quasi-parent, shopper, translator, sitter and peacekeeper.

When my parents became too sick to work, I took a night shift job as a computer operator. Technology had never been a career goal but I had an affinity for it. It was an exhilarating experience for a high school senior to be earning $15 per hour. Instead of college, I focused on work. I advanced through persistence, self education and generous colleagues who shared their knowledge with me.

Writing was present in all my jobs but I didnīt think of it as a skill in itself. What I knew about marketing and sales was the minimum necessary to do my job. IT was my world and that was just fine with me.

Fast forward to 2005. I was a successful consultant living in Florida. I was divorced and childless. I liked my life as it was. I had a close circle of friends and was financially secure. I was living the American dream. Then my father called from Chicago with news. My mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimerīs disease. I made the instant decision to return to Chicago and become a caregiver.

Caregiving had one upside. I found a real passion for writing. Stories bubbled inside me at all hours. I typed and edited on my laptop. I dared myself to post a story online. One story spawned twins and those had triplets. Creative writing was a welcome escape from the realities of caregiving for elderly parents. I realize now that it was writing that had kept me sane.

After my motherīs death, I continued to do small technology consulting projects. I found new interests in serial fiction, podcasts and old time radio dramas. I was somewhat content guiding a rowboat in circles on Lake Limbo.

That was the case until I lost my brother. I saw Lake Limbo for what it was - a slow death by comfortable, self-inflicted stagnation.

As I sat in the bleachers, notebook on my lap, I scribbled answers to the question "Is there anything more for me?" Most of my answers were related to writing. Technology held little appeal. I was unwilling to learn a new programming language or the latest design methods. The end of my caregiving days was a matter of when not if.

I recalled conversations I had with John. The phrases "Do something for you" and "Donīt waste a second chance" kept replaying in my mind. I had made a 360 degree change in my life when I decided against college. Moving out of state was another change. Returning to Chicago was a third change. Was there a fourth change left in me?

My answer was a resounding affirmative. I wrote "Day 1" above a list of things that I needed to accomplish or acquire in order to shake my rowboat out of the doldrums and back into the moving currents. I had three items - become a professional freelance writer in 2016, a move to a warmer climate and more adventure traveling. The last two had to wait. The first was within reach. How much did I want it?

Real lasting change requires commitment and focus. I had to be a writer not simply dream about being one. I had to live and breathe writing. I had to make each day be a step forward away from Lake Limbo.

I stopped accepting technology projects. I told my family of the new direction I was taking. I finished revisions of an original novel. It took a year to write but I have learned an enormous amount. My next draft will be better. Just before my brother took ill, I had became a trainee editor of BellaOnline. Now no longer a trainee, I’ve decided to treat my editor position like a job instead of a hobby.

Iīve finished courses in digital marketing and social media. I have yet to fall in a love with Facebook but am cautiously flirting with Twitter and Pinterest. I’m doing a diploma course in copywriting to fill in the skill gaps I know I have. Lastly, I’ve put my shingle up on the Web. I’m open for business as a writer.

The waters are choppy and the oars are heavy as I steer my rowboat straight. I’ve got my eye on the far shore of Lake Limbo. Once there I’ll start walking until I find an ocean of new possibilities.

Where will I be 365 days from now? Iīll still be in Chicago typing away. Framed and hanging on my wall will be a copywriting diploma, a copy of the first check I earned as a writer and my first client testimonial. Next to the testimonial is a colorful canvas print. I will be 49 years old.

Today is Day 16 of Life 360. Itīs been a productive day. I have a vivid canvas print in hand - a vintage travel poster for the Cote dīAzur. Tomorrow Iīll buy a frame for it and hang it up.

Iīve added a ship in a bottle to my shopping list. A rowboat paperweight wonīt do. I want a schooner or brigantine with billowing sails.

Itīs open seas ahead. Iīll be ready when the wind picks up.