– Linda Bittle, Duvall WA.
My friend Sally likes to say that I saved myself.
I don’t think that’s entirely true. The woman I was on the day that I realized my husband was walking away from our long-term marriage no longer exists. I found a lot of help on the journey from being that wounded woman to becoming this woman that I am today. I can’t take full credit for it. I’d say God used a book club, a gun club, a ride on an elephant, a road trip with my sister, and a George Strait song on the radio to get me moving…and then I put myself into the hands of a bunch of what I initially viewed as hippie survivalist types in a temperate rain forest 2000 miles from home and trusted them to teach me what I needed to know to move on with my life.
Sally’s right about one thing, though. I didn’t wait for someone to save me. I made a decision that my life had to change drastically, and then I took some seemingly crazy steps to change it.
It’s a pretty cool story about how I learned, at the age of 48, to make fire with sticks, build and sleep in debris huts and snow shelters, find water and food in the wild, pay attention to bird language, and track wildlife , and the one that I initially sat down to write…but, it’s not the story that demanded to be told. As it turns out, I’ve been practicing a different sort of survival skills since third grade.
The impetus for changing the focus of this story came in an envelope from the Missouri high school from which I graduated in 1977. I’d contacted the school district to ask about getting a copy of my transcript because I’m considering taking some classes. That single sheet of paper sent me boomeranging back to the first time that I thought that I’d made it through a rough spot and that my life would unfold from there without drama or pain or challenge.
It wasn’t so much what was on the paper, but in what was missing – which was my entire childhood. The top half of the page had no information at all about my elementary school grades or attendance records.
Nothing from first or second grade where I started, in a rural school where 1st-3rd grades shared a room and a teacher (4th-6th grades did the same. Older kids were bused to the nearest “big” school.) I loved school then! That’s where I learned to read. Both my parents were readers, and story time was great, but I wanted to read for myself. That school was too small to have a library, but the Bookmobile came regularly, and I strove to always collect the most gold stars for good behavior or academic excellence (mostly that meant printing neatly in my Big Chief tablet) so that I could go onto the traveling book collection to choose books for our classroom.
Nothing from 3rd grade, when Mom left the farm with me, my 2 years younger brother and toddler sister and moved us to a town with 3 third grade classrooms. No mention in my permanent record about the damage that did to a generally shy child who loved nature and hated crowds and noise. But that school did have a library, and I made good use of it.
No mention of the last part of 4th grade spent near Las Vegas, Nevada with my Dad. Or the fact that I moved back to Missouri after that. Or that Mom got married…a lot. Or that we moved…a lot. No mention of how I (or my siblings) dealt with that and the ever-changing configurations of family. The years from 4th – 8th grades were chaotic and spent mostly in the larger town that had the good school library, and a wonderful one on the town square. I spent a lot of time there, and the librarians soon learned that I had a good vocabulary and could comprehend what I read and so those angels soon gave me freedom to check out any book I wanted from the adult section
My transcript does note that the information for my high school years was compiled from records from three other schools, a different one for each year. Freshman and sophomore years were in mid-Missouri farm towns. My junior year was in northern Arkansas. I’ve already mentioned that I graduated from a Missouri school. I read my way through the libraries of each of those schools.
I was a good, but not exceptional student. I did especially well in history and English class. The only D I ever got was in PE. No one ever voluntarily picked me for a sports team. I participated in some activities, including the newspaper and yearbook, and won some awards for history and art. I was absent a fair number of days, often due to illness, but sometimes due to family emergencies. Still, I graduated 17th in a class of 98. The transcript doesn’t say it but I’m proud of that. It wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship for college, but it was better than anyone expected of me.
There were times when it would have been easy to quit. Give up. Settle for the trailer park. But I was an ambitious kid and I knew how the story arch was supposed to go. After all I was a reader.
In a novel, the hero or heroine faces great obstacles with each success followed by another crisis. Like a character in a book I became resilient. Reading taught me to believe in the happy ending. To recognize that the least likely of characters could overcome challenges and win the contest. To believe that I might, too.
More importantly, I learned that there’s always another book, another story. The sequel – the part after the happy ending – is at least as harrowing as the original. Challenges keep coming as long as we draw breath, and we better learn how to handle them when they come. Sometimes that means doing the craziest thing that you can think of…and that’s another story.