Between the Cracks

One foot in front of the other? Maybe not in the recession.

Five months into my engagement, I bumped my hand against a marble counter top and knocked one of the tiny, ethically sourced diamonds out of the band. My fiancé, the one who’d given me that ring with so much love, generosity, and pride, took the news incredibly well. “It’s covered under the protection plan,” he said. “We’ll get it fixed right away.” But that didn’t stop my tears. I felt betrayed by my own clumsiness. I hated that I’d put the first crack in this new life I was building with him.

I was one of those young adults who took an embarrassingly long time to get my shit together. I fell into a job the summer after I graduated college, and stayed there too long because the job was easy and the happy hours were amazing. When I finally woke up to the fact that I wasn’t building a future, I quit to pursue my half-baked dream of living in New York City.

I didn’t have any connections in New York, or the relevant work experience needed to acquire the kind of creative, writer-y job I had in mind. And about a month after I moved in with family in the Long Island suburbs (I’ll just be here a few weeks until I find a job and an apartment in the city!), the stock market crashed and the economy began to unravel.

What followed were a few pretty shitty years. First, there were two years of working spirit-numbing temp jobs in Long Island, a place with all the edge of the city but little of the magic. Then there were another two years in a job where I was terribly underpaid, and where my coworkers undervalued me almost as much as I undervalued myself. But I kept chugging along there, because even though I hated it, it was the first job I had that gave me a shred of the experience I needed to get one of those dream jobs I’d been on a million unsuccessful interviews for.

I know that there are many people out there who had, and still continue to have it much, much worse than I did during the recession. Having to work a temp job you’re overqualified for is nothing compared to losing your home or not having money to feed your family. I wasn’t destitute, just frustrated and demoralized.

Finally, something terrifying but ultimately wonderful happened. I got laid off on Memorial Day weekend. That summer, I worked harder than I ever had before at my job search, fueled by rage and desperation and fear that this was my last chance. I only applied for jobs that excited me, and I wrote amazing cover letters that made it seem like all those temp jobs had been part of a master plan. And it worked! A week before Labor Day, I went to work in a Manhattan skyscraper where a certain Beyoncé-marrying hip-hop mogul also has offices. I found a job that blended my skills and my passions in a way I never would have expected. It even made use of my creative writing degree!

I’d finally learned to accept the fact that things take time. You don’t become a grown-up with a dream job and a kick-ass apartment and a perfect partner overnight. But since life is funny, that’s when things started moving insanely fast. I found an apartment in the five boroughs. I excelled in my job and took on new responsibilities. I found the creative, like-minded friends I hadn’t had since college. I took tap dancing lessons and began writing sketch comedy. Six weeks after moving into my apartment, a cute nerd I’d messaged on OkCupid asked me out on a date. A year and a half later, he asked me to marry him.

He is always quick to point out when I’m being too hard on myself. He won’t let me look back and call my twenty-something self a failure, because in the end, I didn’t fail. I just took a longer path to the life I’d envisioned for myself. And my relationship with him is proof that I’ve made progress in letting go of the shame of my “wasted twenties.” I hadn’t even tried to date during those Long Island years, because who would want to date a perpetual office temp who didn’t have her own place? Accepting his love, and later, his proposal, was proof to myself that I’d finally learned to accept myself as capable of being someone’s partner.

My ring is a lab created sapphire in a diamond halo setting. It wouldn’t medal in the Diamond Olympics. But to me, it’s a status symbol. I don’t think wearing this ring makes me better than anyone who doesn’t have one, but it does remind me that I’m better than I used to be—more loving, more focused, more grown-up. And a (totally irrational) tiny piece of me felt that damaging it took that status away from me.

It took the jeweler a week to repair my ring. During that time, I let go of the guilt I felt over damaging it. This small accident didn’t negate my progress. In fact, it honored my journey. I’d spent some time in repair, too. And I’ve learned that it’s possible to restore my sparkle.

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