Letting Go of the Dream




So I’m staring at my computer, holding back tears. Which isn’t actually unusual in my office. I work for a large, international animal welfare organization and I’m a staff writer, so it’s my job to tell people the true stories of what’s going on in the world with regard to animals. And pretty much all of those stories are tear-worthy, whether happy or sad. Only today, my tears really don’t have anything to do with puppy mills or pigs in gestation crates.

            Today I’m at the end of my rope. Near it, anyway. I think I can see the just of in the distance. Today, I’m really close to giving up.

            I’m not talking about suicide. I tried that once about 20 years ago and vowed to never go that direction again. Better or worse, I’m here to live out this life. The thing is, since that time, after my failed attempt, I made a conscious decision that if I was going to live, I was going to make my life meaningful.

            I’m going to turn 40 in a few months. In the last 20 years, I’ve published two self-help books for teens—one for kids with chronic illness and one for GLBTQ teens. I’ve done media, given radio interviews, had book signings, all that. I’ve had kids write to me asking for advice, or telling me they didn’t kill themselves, or they were going to try reconciling with their parents because of my books. Even though they’ve won awards, I’ve lost more money than I’ve made doing those books and everything that came with them.

            I had a “successful” career in the non-profit world with a company that supports medical programs for the military. I was eventually at the point where I was making a six-figure salary, but I was miserable. I didn’t feel like I was truly helping anyone, and my boss started asking me to do things I didn’t feel were ethical. So I quit. In the last few years, I’d started going to school part time to become a massage therapist and was doing that on the side. It was my outlet—a way I felt I was doing something for people to help them in a meaningful way. When I quit that fat salary, I became a full-time therapist. I also started teaching massage, along with communication skills and ethics, at the local massage school. It was meaningful work and I felt happy and fulfilled, but the teaching job paid so little it was basically volunteer work, and with the downturn in the economy and heavy competition, my massage business suffered. I sold my house and moved into an apartment.

            During this time, a good friend of mine who had been my assistant teacher, well, we fell in love. Big time. I felt happier and more fulfilled with another person that I had ever been, or even thought possible. A lot of that is because our values are perfectly aligned—it’s more important to both of us to do something meaningful and good in this world than to just make money.

            We moved down to Florida, briefly, but decided to come back to the DC area because we want to get married and start a family, and we decided that we should do that near our own families, because we want our children to know their grandparents and aunts and uncles. Plus, I found a dream job, working as a writer for this big animal welfare organization. My boss at the time apologized for the salary, but I worked out a deal where I work a compressed schedule so I can have every other Friday off to see massage clients. So every other Friday and ever Saturday, I still get to do something else I love. I still get to help those clients.

            Trouble is, even working six days a week, I don’t make enough to support us. My girlfriend and I want desperately to start a family, but she’s been unable to find meaningful and sustainable work. The most wonderful, positive, gritty person I know and no one is willing to pay her a decent wage.

We are so in love. And we are so in love with doing good in this desperate world. I gave up my huge salary. She has passed on countless offers from rich men who wanted nothing more than to buy her anything and everything she’d ever want in exchange for her company. We both have said “no” to easy so many times, it’s as if the devil himself has made us his personal project.

And every day we tell each other, “I love you so much.” And, “It will get better.” And, “It’s just around the corner.”

But it’s just getting harder. Our parents don’t support us having kids because we don’t make enough money. We have amazing friends who believe in us being parents so much that they are willing to donate the biological material to make that happen. Trouble is, the husband is getting a vasectomy this year, and we can’t afford the fees to have the sperm frozen. Nor can we afford the $15,000 per treatment for IVF with another donor if we wait.

So we’re just standing here, hands open, doing the best we can to keep going forward. But in spite of how hard we’ve fought to get here, it feels like nothing we truly want for ourselves is truly within our grasp.

My girlfriend said to me yesterday, “It’s strange to feel so rich, yet it’s in a currency no one’s interested in.”

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I was walking down the hall thinking, “Maybe this is it. I mean, we’re just making ends meet, and there’s no relief in sight. Our families don’t support us. I’ve gotten rejection notices for all the writing projects I’ve sent out in the last year. My massage practice is stagnant. My job pays next to nothing. Maybe it’s really time to give in. To say that our dream of having children? It’s not going to come true.”

Then my head got misty—like a creeping London fog. When the smog cleared, I’d been mentally transported back to an event a little over two years ago. It was an alumni tennis tournament at the college I’d gone to, and my old doubles partner and I were playing. We ran into one of the professors, who’d been my partner’s college advisor. While they talked, I stayed silent. I’d never had him for class and knew he didn’t know who I was.

Suddenly he paused, then turned to me and said, “Wait, I know you.” I assumed he thought I was someone else, but he said, “You’re Kelly. I used to watch you play.” Now, you should know I was never our number one player. Top five, usually, but I was nowhere near as good as our best. We had an NCAA-ranked number one who never lost. I figured he was remembering someone else, but then he said, “You were a really scrappy player.” Well, that did sort of sound like me. He continued, “A real fighter.” Thinking back, I remembered him coming to the courts, but I never knew he was watching me. Then he said, and this is the part that rang in my ears, “I made a point to watch you every time you played, because I knew that no matter what the score was, you’d keep going. You never gave up.”