I arrived in New York State on February 14, 2004. I moved in with a friend who lived in a blink-and-you-miss-it town called Olivebridge and I was ready for my new chapter in life. I started searching through the local papers and looking online for jobs that I felt I was qualified for. With no college education and only a high school diploma it felt very limiting and I hesitated applying for many positions even if I felt I was qualified and sometimes even over-qualified for the job. I had been my ex-husband‘s right-hand for so many years, taking care of the bookkeeping/payroll side of his business but with no real formal education. I went on a few interviews which was scary since it had been SO long since doing such a thing. I finally landed a job as an office manager for the Depuy Canal House, a New York Times four-star restaurant located in tiny little hamlet called High Falls that was primarily made up of a postage stamp sized Post Office (pun intended) and 6-8 restaurants. I was thrilled to be hired for this position and loved the energy of the atmosphere and the quaintness of the town. The lady I was replacing trained me for one week and then she was gone and I was left to figure things out as I went along. I never used QuickBooks to keep bookkeeping records for my ex-husband‘s business but now I was faced with learning this newfangled software. Since math was always my best subject, I quickly got the hang of it and I was able to do my job with flying colors. My boss, John Novi, and I formed a close friendship and I felt he truly liked and trusted me, which from stories I would hear wasn’t usually the case with many of the office managers in the past. Before I knew it I was asked to do several different job tasks including filling in when waitresses didn’t show up or when we got extremely busy, being a hostess or bartending in the evenings, and cleaning the five B&B rooms that the restaurant also operated when we lacked cleaning staff. I got the hang of using Quickbooks and took charge of the company’s accounts payable/receivable in a way I believe no one else had in a LONG time. Life was good, I was making new friends, spending my days off roaming the unknown roads searching for “lost soles” and familiarizing myself with my new surroundings; I felt very much at home and my new life chapter was playing out very gratifyingly.
I arrived at my mom’s house in West Virginia to spend the weekend, I would be moving to New York soon so this was our last time spent together for a while. I shared with her and my sister my lost shoe sighting and how the “Nike” shoe had spoken to me and told me to be brave. My mom and my sister both thought this project of finding lost shoes on the side of the road was a brilliant idea and were very supportive and encouraging for me to get over my fears and tackle the project with passion and gusto. The more we talked about it the more comfortable and excited I started to feel about the project. My sister and I were in the car together and I was keeping my eyes peeled for lost shoes on the side of the road, as I searched for my next shoe a name popped into my head… “Lost Soles of the Highway”. It was the perfect name and it made me even more excited to face my fears and “Just Do It”. On the second day of my visit my mom and I went for a hotdog run. There was, it is now closed down, a little hotdog stand in Sissonville called Skeenies; my family favored Skeenies hotdogs and it was a trip that had to be made every time I visited. As my mom and I drove to pick up lunch we talked about my lost shoe project, my move to New York, and when I would come to visit again. We picked up our hotdogs to-go and on our return trip home I told her about my rainbow sighting. My mom thought it was a mysteriously fascinating story and shared with me how it had been a really long time since she herself had seen a rainbow. Without hesitation I proclaimed out loud “God, me and my mom need to see a rainbow”. We continued chatting and as we rounded a bend in the road there before us in all of its glory was a breathtaking rainbow. This time I wasn’t by myself, my mom was a witness to this miracle. Both of our jaws just dropped and we looked at each other in disbelief. We stared at the rainbow until it slowly disappeared into the atmosphere. I’m pretty sure a tear formed in both of our eyes, it was such a beautifully magical moment. From that moment on I knew rainbows would be my go-to sign that I was “on the right path”.
It was February 8, 2004, right before my move to New York, that I made a road trip to go visit my mom and my sister in West Virginia. I was traveling down route 36 in Coshocton County Ohio towards I77 and I spotted a SHOE on the side of the road… I got so excited! I started traveling with a camera in preparation for the next shoe I might spot ever since spotting that ladies brown clog a few weeks back. I pulled over and headed back in the other direction of the divided highway, turned around again and drove slowly until I came upon the shoe, pulling off on the shoulder just before it. I grabbed my camera and then froze, I couldn’t move! The thoughts of having strangers stare at me while I took a picture of a lone shoe on the side of the road terrified me. This was a busy four-lane highway, the chances of there being a window of opportunity where there were no cars was slim to none. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw a police car coming up behind which only added to my anxiety. “Oh my god, what am I going to tell him” I thought as I pretended to be fumbling with something in the passenger seat as he slowly drove by; he didn’t stop to my dismay. I sat there struggling with my fears and watching cars pass by, hoping for a minute of time when there were no cars in sight. I finally mustered up the courage… I grabbed my camera, jumped out of my car and took the fastest three photos of that shoe; I don’t even know if I even bothered to focus the camera. I jumped back in my car where I felt safe and protected, I was sweating and my legs felt like Jell-O. Back on the road and on route I replayed the whole scenario in my head over and over, repeating to myself “you’re never gonna be able to do this, you’re never gonna be able to do this”. I decided that having strangers stare at me while doing something odd was well out of my comfort zone. As I drove onto the I77 entrance ramp the image of the shoe I just took a picture of popped into my head; so bold and so vividly, it was as if the shoe was speaking to me… “Just Do It!”, the shoe shouted. I gasped and then calmness settled in, yes, I thought, I just have to do it. If someone would’ve asked me to describe that shoe I probably would’ve said it was a white sneaker; I was so nervous and took those three pictures so fast that I really don’t think I would’ve been able to recall any details, so it was strange when that image popped into my head. I was using a film camera back then so there was no pushing a button and getting a look at the pictures I had just taken to verify anything; I would have to wait until that roll of film was all used up before being able to confirm the make of the shoe. A couple of weeks and one more shoe sighting later I anxiously opened the freshly developed photos… That shoe looked nothing like what I thought I remembered but it was, in fact, a Nike!
I made several trips to New York before moving there, checking the area out and trying to decide whether I wanted to live there or not. A couple of notable things happened on two of my return trips to Ohio, things that would follow me into my future. The first was spotting a single shoe on the side of the interstate. I was driving in silence, the radio was turned off and I was alone with my thoughts, soul-searching if you will, and weighing all of my options. I only got a quick glance of the shoe, as you can imagine driving 70 miles an hour, but I was able to notice that it was a brown woman’s clog and it looked practically brand new. I thought to myself… “How the hell does someone lose one of their shoes going 70 miles per hour down an interstate!?” This was not the first time I had ever seen a single shoe alongside the road, but this time was different and I really went off deep in thought thinking about this bizarre phenomenon. “And why is it always one shoe”, I thought. I concocted a plan to travel the country searching for these single shoes, trying to find their owners and documenting their stories for all of humanity. It was at this moment I realized my soul-searching turned into sole-searching and my life as a lost shoe collector was about to begin.
The next occurrence happened after the song “I Can See Clearly Now” came on the radio. I sang along at the top of my lungs, hearing the lyrics like I’d never heard them before. The song ended but I kept singing the line “Here is my rainbow I’ve been praying for” and I got to thinking about rainbows and how magical and rare they actually are. I had just driven through an area of rain and it seemed like the perfect ingredients for a rainbow, so out loud I asked the Universe for a sign. It was a very specific request… “Universe, if I am to move to New York State to start the next chapter of my life, show me a rainbow”. I was somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania and I kept my eyes wide open to spot that rainbow that I was sure the Universe was going to show me. A few hours passed and I had pretty much given up hope, I was about an hour from being home in Ohio when out of nowhere a marvelous rainbow appeared. I think my heart skipped a beat it was so surreal. I smiled and simply said…”Thank you, I will move to New York”.
Benji was the spitting image of Max, right down to the adorably rotten personality. I truly believed that he was the reincarnation of Max and it was difficult to leave him behind when I moved in with a friend’s sister after separating from my husband. My husband and I had just grown apart; I guess I should say that I grew apart. I just wasn’t happy and after 17 years of trying to figure out ways to make things better and countless nights of crying myself to sleep, I came to the realization that people don’t always grow together and you certainly cannot make someone grow along with you in the same direction. In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I wanted a divorce, perhaps I just needed some time away to think. I went “home” on the weekends to visit my cats and talk things out with my husband. It was about three weeks in and during one of our many discussions that it became very clear it was time for me to move on. My visits “home” became fewer and farer between as I figured out what the next chapter of my life was going to look like. I got a job as a an inventory auditor, it sounded SO much more fancy than it was; basically we went into grocery stores at 5:30am and took stock of every single item on the shelves by visually counting the items and punching the numbers into a machine that hung from our hips. It was a monotonous job and certainly didn’t pay well, but I have fond memories and it prepared me for a very different life ahead. My husband agreed to a divorce, it was fairly quick and painless, and about 3 months later I decided to move in with a friend who lived in NY. I had every intention of bringing Benji with me, my other cat Sophie (the cat who would fetch) had gone to live with my mom in WV. About a week before my big move I got a call from my ex-husband, he was sobbing and I could barely understand a word that he was trying to speak. There was an accident, Benji was... gone. Oh my poor boy, why did this have to happen right before you were coming with me to start a new life! I was distraught but held onto a little piece of hope that perhaps he would come back to me a third time.
The following year a new fur baby came into my life. One of my husband's employees took the kitten from a young girl at a convenience store, she was trying to find a home for it; he was trying to impress her but really had no desire for a kitten. As soon as I laid eyes on him the words "It's a little Max!" spilled out of me. He looked just like my Max did when he was a kitten, that same pale buff-orange color, semi-long hair and fluffy tail - well he had to grow into that but I digress. My husband and his rag-tag construction crew just laughed at me for squealing over this little ball of fur. Ben, the employee who half-heartedly adopted the cat from the girl he was trying to impress, told me that he thought there was something wrong with the kitten's leg because it seemed to have a limp. I scooped him up and took him into the house, gave him some food and water and showed him where the litter box was (I still had all these things because we always had two cats, one was never enough). He ate a bite, drank a bit and hopped right back out of the litter box. I took him outside and placed him in the grass that seemed too tall for his little body. As he maneuvered the blades I did notice that he seemed to hobble a little as he walked, but nothing that would make one overly concerned. My husband and I sat outside with him that evening and watched as he played and chased a butterfly, we talked about how much he reminded us of Max. Then my husband said something that, honestly, was quite bizarre coming from him... "His bum leg is the same leg that was broken on Max", I just looked at him and then a thought struck me. I jumped up and ran into the house and went to the calendar that I always kept hanging in the kitchen, I looked at the date and thought back to the day when Max died the year before; it was the exact date. Whoa! Could it be, could this kitten be a reincarnation of Max? Do such things really happen? Am I the kind of person who even believes in this type of thing? We decided to name him Benji, after Ben (Benjamin) who brought him into our lives. A couple of weeks later I took little Benji to the vet to get him checked over, I told the veterinarian that he favored the one leg, she felt around on him and told me that she did feel that his leg had been fractured but was healing and there was really nothing we could do but keep an eye on it, but he would probably be just fine. She examined him more thoroughly to see if there were any other injuries or issues and when she turned him over there was a scar going down his belly. Whoa! I was speechless for what felt like forever and then I told her about Max and how he died and his injuries and how he looked just like this kitten. We just stared at each other and then stared at the kitten.
WARNING! - IF YOU ARE OF A SENSITIVE NATURE, THIS INSTALLMENT DEALS WITH THE TRAGIC DEATH OF A PET.
Max came first. He was, what I would call, a buff-orange cat with semi-long hair and a fluffy tail. He could be mean and rotten and then absolutely adorably lovable. There was something about Max that stole my heart more so than any of the others, perhaps it was all of the claw and scratch marks I endured over the course of his short lifespan. I believe he was only two or three years old when he was hit by a car. It was Labor Day Monday and I was preparing some food for a cookout later that day. I saw Max sitting at the top of our long driveway staring intensely at something at the bottom. He was not one to wander down the front of our property toward the road, when he was outside he would always explore the backyard and the woods. But whatever had caught his eye made him make a mad dash towards it. I stopped what I was doing, put on some shoes and headed outside to go capture him and bring him back home. As I was walking down our long driveway I noticed a truck drive by rather slowly, when I got to the bottom the same truck was coming slowly back the opposite way. He stopped as I approached the road and rolled his window down - "I think I hit one of the farmer's cats" he said, I lost it and immediately started crying. I asked the man if it was an orange cat but I made no sense to him through my blubbering, he asked me to repeat and I slowly spelled out "Was it an orange cat". He nodded his head, "yes I believe so". I started screaming Max's name "Max, Max!", I finally heard him meowing, he had made it back across the street. In an attempt to dart back across the road towards home he was hit by the man driving the truck, I found him in the weeds on the bank at the edge of our property. I scooped him up and carried him as quickly as I possibly could up our long winding driveway, crying with every breath and pounding beat of my heart. I just kept telling him he was going to be OK as I looked down at his sweet little face hanging on for dear life, he had a big gash in his belly and his left hind leg was just kind of hanging. I got him into the house and took him down to the basement where I kept the pet carrier, he did not want to go inside, I had to force him in probably hurting him even more than he was already. I carried the carrier up and set it in the garage, rushing into the house to call around and find a vet that was open on this holiday Monday. I finally got someone to answer and they said that they would meet me at their office. I put Max in the car and rushed to the vet, crying and praying that he would be OK. He was in the animal hospital for three days, on the third day I went to visit him, I put as much of my body as I could in his cage with him and gave him some love and said my goodbyes because I just had a feeling he was not going to survive. Later that night the doctor called and said that there just wasn't any more that they could do for him.
My husband and I never had any children, once we decided it was “that time” and after several attempts at becoming pregnant, we went through all of the basic tests and found out the issue was with my husband. We were in our mid-20s and thought we had “all of the time in the world” to process and cope with this news. We had no insurance and certainly could not afford to pay out of pocket for the vast majority of tests and treatments, our best personal guess was that the Meningitis that he almost died from when he was 13 years old had something to do with it. The doctors went over all of our options but we both decided that it “was what it was” and if it was meant to be it would happen naturally. I can’t say that I was too awfully upset with the news; my mom always said that I preferred Barbie dolls over baby dolls so maybe that was a hint that I wasn’t cut out to be a mom to a human. We found joy and happiness in being parents of a variety of fur babies: dogs, cats, goats, and some non-fur babies: ducks and fish. B.J. was our first pet as a couple (initials stand for our first names); my Dad got her for us as a gift. She was my heart dog, a terrier mutt and oh so smart. Kitty Babe, a solid white cat with blue eyes that was deaf, was B.J.’s best pal. They traveled with us every time we made trips to WV to visit our families, our parents thought of them as their grandkids and loved them just as much as if they were real children. After several years, and many different types of pets, we came to the realization that cats were our favorite, so much easier and way less needy. Gosh now that I try to recall I believe there may have been one too many to remember, but my favorites by far (and the ones that I felt a soul attachment to) were Max and Benji.
My husband refused to fly in an airplane; he never had and refused to consider it. So our journeys were limited to discovering only those places that could be driven to. Since he was in the construction business and we lived in Ohio, our travels usually took place in the winter after all of the holidays had come and gone. We pretty much, over the course of our married life, drove all over the United States. We never made it to the state of California though, something else my husband seemed to be as afraid of as flying for some odd reason. We spent a lot of time in the south and Florida to escape the cold but we made a few trips out west as well; visiting Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, the Badlands, and countless other national parks and quirky places of interest. A couple of my favorite and most memorable places were in Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes located in Mosca, and St. Mary’s Glacier which is located in Idaho Springs and sadly, I hear, not much left of it these days. I also adored New Orleans which we visited pre-hurricane Katrina. There was something about it that was so different and unique from any place I had ever visited, I believe it left me with a deep desire and longing for more diverse, cultural experiences. In 2003 I finally took my first plane ride. My husband was in Florida at his usual winter vacation spot and I had stayed back home, our marriage was on its last leg and we decided to take some time apart. Some friends invited us to join them in Las Vegas, a place we had never visited, and in one last attempt to work things out we booked the trip and the airfare. I was beyond ecstatic and shocked that my husband was agreeing to board an airplane, and all by himself nonetheless as he would be flying out of Florida and I would be flying with our friends out of Ohio. I can’t say I remember a whole heck of a lot about that trip other than I sat in the middle seat on the plane between my friends to feel protected from the unknown, and it ended up not being scary at all and would be the start of my many flights to many locations around the world.
One day, in the spring of 2006, I decided to sell a few personal items on eBay that I felt no longer served me, the me that I had become after moving to New York State in 2004. It was a bold move, I knew one person and quite honestly didn’t really know them that well, but my life in Ohio didn’t feel the same after divorcing my husband of 17 years and if I was going to reinvent myself I might as well go all in: new town, new people, new everything. For so long I identified myself as someone’s wife, one half of a unity, and I devoted so much of myself to helping him make his dreams come true that I lost touch with what my own dreams actually were, if I even ever truly knew. We were childhood sweethearts and we married young, I was 18 and he was 21. We got married on the exact same day that I graduated from high school and the next day I moved with him to Ohio where he had been living and working for the past two years, coming back home to West Virginia to visit me pretty much every weekend until we married. He was a high school dropout but a hard worker and absolutely brilliant at architecture and construction, it was his gift and he could probably frame a house blindfolded. After a few years, with my encouragement and support, he started his own business; he did all of the labor and I did the bookkeeping and payroll. I worked a handful of part time jobs just to get out of the house and make friends. Our life seemed normal and felt fine and right on track. Many would say that we were living the American dream; a brand new house, brand new cars, a big diamond ring, extra time and funds to travel...and lots of traveling we did.