April 20th, 2013 - Jenny Currier Shand
I woke up on April 20th in Rhode Island, 2,100 miles away from home. The fact I’d made it here felt like a trifold miracle.
To begin with, I was working as an English teacher at a military academy in Roswell, New Mexico -- my hometown – and my designated vacation period had already passed. As a first year rookie, I made the mistake of asking my students to turn in their giant term papers the Friday before spring break. I spent my entire “vacation” grading hundreds of pages of questionably researched persuasive essays. Finding time to travel before summer seemed unlikely.
Secondly, airline tickets were extravagantly priced. I did a cursory check online and the cheapest option I could find – the redeye with an 8-hour layover - was $750, too much to spend on a three-day weekend.
Third, my only experience of Rhode Island – that coastal, microscopic New England state on the opposite side of the country from me – was the summer I spent with my Rhode Islander ex-boyfriend and his family. How could I justify a trip to Rhode Island when we had broken up six months earlier? That would make me seem delusional at best, a stalker at worst.
I decided to disregard the third point altogether.
The first problem worked itself out fortuitously, with all of my students having a “Celebration” (the word I used for “Test”) scheduled on April 19th, something a substitute teacher could easily handle. I could have them review for their tests on Thursday, when I would depart, and all I’d need to do was create a study guide. My plan began to materialize – maybe a trip was possible.
If only I had an extra pot of gold lying around.
One of my friends, someone smart enough to understand that debit cards work internationally, suggested I try withdrawing money from my New Zealand bank account at a local ATM. I had worked in New Zealand in 2012 and never closed my account, nor did it occur to me to check my balance. I tried withdrawing $500, and suddenly, by God’s grace, I had money for a plane ticket.
But I won’t go unless I can find a plane ticket for $500, I reasoned, a list ditch effort to preserve my sanity.
The first Expedia result was exactly $500. Sanity gone, my tickets were purchased.
If you had asked then me why I was going – which several of my friends did – the answer I gave was a profound “I don’t know.” Even in my journals, I wrote, “I have NO idea why I’m going, what I hope to accomplish, or where I’ll stay.” But I felt called to go, as if something important would happen there. I likened it to Noah building a giant ark and the whole town thinking he was crazy. My efforts seemed less noble than Noah’s, but I felt God was at work nonetheless.
The week leading up to my trip proved to be a memorable one for the nation. The Boston Bombing happened that Monday. The airport was shut down for the day. Then American Airlines, the carrier I would be flying on, cancelled/rescheduled all of their flights. On Thursday, my plane took off and landed without a hitch. I arrived in Boston, rented a car, drove into Rhode Island, just missing the lockdown when the manhunt for the bomber took place.
As I said, waking up in Rhode Island on April 20th of 2013 felt like a trifold miracle.
By the morning of April 20th, I had already made one visit to my ex-boyfriend and planned to see him again that night, like the truly moved-on person that I was. (Please see February 26th, 2010.) But on that beautifully sunny Saturday, I spent the day walking all over Rhode Island. I began on a paved bike trail called the Blackstone. It was a trail I had walked with my ex years before, but I’d only traveled north with him. This day, I decided to walk south.
Soon, the bike trail opened into a neighborhood. I spotted a green road sign: a bike with an arrow pointing right. I figured I just needed to walk through this neighborhood and then the trail would pick up again. I saw another green bike sign, left arrow.
On it went, for eight miles. I walked through three towns – Cumberland, Central Falls, and Pawtucket – determined to find the trail again. I traversed several underpasses and one detention center, which I thought was a friendly spot for basketball until I saw the barbed wire fence. Just as I was about to give up on my quest and turn around, the scene changed: a plethora of leafy, green trees; women pushing strollers; young adults jogging; people walking their dogs. I had arrived at some mecca where people were supposed to be walking. I felt safe! I felt at home! I didn’t realize it, but I had found Providence.
Looking back, I see that the miracle I wanted God to work in my life – the ark I thought I was building – was to save the relationship with my ex-boyfriend. I hoped we would make amends and somehow find a happily-ever-after life together.
But now I realize that my calling was to Providence itself, a city I would call home for nearly a decade, where I would make lifelong friends, deepen my faith, discover a love for Greece, find my niche as a food writer, and ultimately meet the man I would marry. The day I spent walking 15 miles on my own showed me I could make it in “Lil’ Rhody” without my ex-boyfriend and enjoy it. The memory of that walk ultimately prompted me to pack my car, quit my job, and move there three months later. Rhode Island was the ark that brought me out of a life I needed to leave and into the life I needed to find.
Jenny Currier Shand is a dolphin trainer turned writer who has strong feelings for gelato. She works remotely as a Renegade Review Responder, and her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Sunlight Press, and Vagabond Magazine. She lives in Dallas, TX with her smokeshow of a husband, and she (still) hopes to find an agent to publish her travel memoir about Greece. Follow her adventures on Instagram @travelingfoodwriter.
In keeping with today's theme, Jenny still supports Rhode Island charities, like the Sojourner House, that funds housing, support services, and advocacy for all those who have experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse. A little help goes a long way.