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Sheila Blanchette Headshot

Just Like Heaven

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I don't believe in heaven or hell. Although I was raised a Catholic, I am not a religious person. I do not belong to a church and I don't ever pray but my father prays for me, every day when he attends morning mass. I know lots of very spiritual people and I respect their beliefs. I just hope they respect mine. There will be no conversions here, no seeing the light. I have my beliefs, you have yours. Just like you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, you can't make someone believe.

That said, I saw the light yesterday on my drive home from work. The light on the beach as a passing rainstorm created a rainbow that led to a stunning sunset that made me believe that what I am doing with my life right now, in my mid-fifties, is the path I need to be on, the road I need to travel.

It was an ordinary work day. I was at a job I actually enjoy. For me to say I enjoy doing bookkeeping is a rare thing. I've been doing it for thirty two years now, a career I fell into by default because I took some accounting classes in college. As Josie, the heroine of my new novel, Take Me Home, says:

He'd grown up to be a bread deliveryman, owning his own truck and his route, delivering to supermarkets starting at four in the morning. "I don't know if anyone ever says, I'm going to deliver bread when I grow up. It's one of those jobs so many of us fall into. He wasn't that happy with it," she said.

The first day I worked at this particular job my boss went out to get a soda. He asked if I would like anything. "I'll have a ginger ale." "Ginger ale?" he asked with a bemused smile, as if that were a strange request. I happen to think ginger ale is one of the most thirst quenching beverages in the universe. But that's me, not him.

They got back on the road twenty minutes later. He was exasperated but trying to be patient. Josie set the coffee in the cup holders, put a napkin on his lap and spread cream cheese on his bagel. Her pocketbook and a large tote bag were at her feet. "Why do you have all that stuff under your feet?" he asked. "Because I need all this stuff . I've got my book in here, the maps, the restaurant info in Niagara Falls, my cell phone...." He interrupted. "Aren't you all crowded and uncomfortable with all that stuff underfoot?" "No," she said, as she reached down and took a soft, luxurious throw out of the tote bag. "I like all this stuff, it's like my security blanket. It's cozy. Stop glaring at me, what do you care? You're not sitting here." "I'm not glaring," he said. "I just think it's crazy to be all crowded like that." "Well that's you, not me," she said. "Eat your bagel."

Like the character in Talladega Nights, my boss likes to get all jacked up on Mountain Dew. Now when he goes out for soda, he automatically comes back with one ginger ale and one Mountain Dew. We like what we like.

Sharing a soda break, we discussed the news. I took a big sip of my ginger ale followed by a sigh, "Aaaah." It's a slow satisfying 'aaah', a sound of pure epicurean pleasure. It drives my husband crazy but I can't help myself, ginger ale is just so damn good.

The day passed quickly. We got a lot of work done. I listened to music, he listened to talk radio. We discussed a variety of topics throughout the day. When we left work at five, the parking lot was covered with puddles. Apparently it had just rained. The sky was still gray, more showers off in the distance.

This was the kind of thing that drove me crazy in my cubicle. I felt like I was in prison. I was disconnected from the natural world. The bright overhead lights bothered my eyes, the constant hum of the HVAC system and the clicking and clacking of keyboards set my nerves on edge. But that was forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year. The work was mind numbing, repetitive, boring. As Sophie, in The Reverse Commute said,

"It's always month end, quarter end, year end , over and over. If I don't get out of there, it'll be the end of my life. Accounting is like the slow march of death. The work marks the passage of time and every year it's the same. The work never changes, and your life marches on."

Today was different. It's once a week, my boss is entertaining. Laid back. There is no corporate cheerleading, no rules. The atmosphere is casual. The scent of blueberries from an air freshener plugged into the wall drifted over to my desk, reminding me of the town I left in New Hampshire, home to not one but three blueberry farms. My daughters and I, along with my cousin Kathy, picked bushels of berries every summer, filling the freezer with bags full of them. Months later, on cold winter mornings, we would make blueberry pancakes with Vermont maple syrup. My daughters live in Colorado now and Kathy passed away much too soon, from breast cancer at the age of fifty one. I remember how sad I felt when I defrosted the last bag of berries we picked together. How bittersweet those pancakes tasted. How quickly time passes and the blueberries are gone.

I took Route A1A home, crossing the Intracoastal bridge then following the high rises along the ocean. The rain was still spitting, the wipers set on intermittent. They squeaked across the window. A rainbow appeared to emerge from the depths of the ocean. I tried to snap a picture as I sat at a light, there is no parking along that particular stretch of road.

As I approached Delray with its metered parking along the street, the sky lightened up, the colors were brilliant. There was something magical about the way the shoreline looked that evening. The ocean met the sky in stunning shades of blue I'd never seen on the paint chips my husband brings home from the paint store. The air was alive with magical possibilities. I abruptly swung into an open parking spot. There were a lot of them. Delray was busy on a Tuesday night but most people were in the bars and restaurants due to the inclement weather. The guy behind me slammed on his horn. Hey, I've been living in Florida for almost a year now even though I'm still driving with NH plates. I forgot to use my blinker, what can I say? I'm turning into a Floridian.

I ran onto the beach. Except for one other couple, I had the place to myself.

It was quiet, a profound peaceful quiet which was like a sound in and of itself. I was acutely aware of the lack of sound. But as my senses sharped and I listened closely, I heard the gentle sound of waves lapping the shore and a seagull squawking as he flew overhead. There was a slight breeze, it was chilly. I wasn't wearing a sweater, just a cotton blouse. I ran barefoot towards the water's edge, having kicked my sandals off when I hit the sand.

I knew what was happening up north. A major snowstorm was barreling into the Northeast, the snow started a few hours earlier. If I were back in my cubicle, I would be sitting on a snowy highway in the dark, inching my way home after another uninspiring day, the wipers building an ice damn on the side of my windshield. Cars would be off the road, sliding into the median while I gripped the steering wheel with both hands, hoping I too wouldn't end up in a ditch.

I raised my arms up, stepped into the light of the fading sun and twirled around a few times, dancing along the shore line. What the heck, I had the place to myself. I had the feeling I didn't want to be anywhere but the place I was right then. Pinks, reds and oranges emerged as the sun set to the west. I was blown away.

I can't describe the feeling that came over me. But I understood, better than I've ever understood anything, that the move I made almost a year ago was the right move to make.

A year after selling the farm and moving to Florida, I am still struggling to make a living as a writer. I write in a time when self-publishing has exploded, authors sell their ebooks for 99 cents or give them away for free. Websites and local newspapers publish your work but don't pay you. Despite all this wealth of reading material and emerging talent, it's still extremely difficult to get through the hallowed halls of traditional publishing houses. At times it feels like the only people who get book deals and agents are Sarah Palin, her daughter Bristol and Snookie.

Regardless of my chances at success, I am here doing it, sitting at my desk in front of the blank screen, writing. The words quickly fill the page although this is hard word. Hours are spent self-editing and tweaking. Searching for a better word, flipping sentences, reading and rereading, adding epiphanies as the thoughts begin to gel, to come together, and my life, my story, starts to make sense. To me anyway. It might not make sense to anyone else but I refuse to listen to the Debbie Downers. That's them, not me.

I just published my second novel, Take Me Home, two weeks ago.

Josie Wolcott traveled the road of life without a map, positive that the simple act of starting the journey would get her to the place she needed to be, detours and roadblocks be damned. Fifty two years old , her nest empty and her marriage lost to her husband's inability to keep his own wanderlust zipped inside his pants, she threw caution to the wind, setting off to reinvent herself once again. She refused to listen to the naysayers with their endless litany of, "You can't do that." Her reply, "Why not?" Never one to passively wait around for something new to come along, she set out to find the possibilities, owning her mistakes when things didn't work out, which unfortunately happened once too often.

Like Josie, and all of us, I am on the adventure that is my life. I will make mistakes along the way. I've made them before. But this is my unique journey and I'm traveling the only road I can, not knowing where it will take me or if I will ever get to the place I want to be. This lifestyle isn't for everyone, but for me it is working. I am much happier these days. I work as a temp, I have a lot more time to write. I also have a lot more time to walk. I write a blog about walking and as Gywn Thomas once wrote, "the beauty is in the walking, we are betrayed by destinations."

I now spend my days the way I want to spend my life, doing what I always wanted to do, most of the time. I'm not thinking about 401Ks, I don't have one. I've sold just about everything I owned, I've reduced the bills and taken the first step on a journey that leads to an unknown destination but as T.S. Eliot once said, "only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." The novels I write are filled with middle aged characters battered by the uncertain times we live in, figuring out their next move and trying to find happiness wherever they can. They are acutely aware of how short but also how beautiful life can be.

I'm writing it all down as I go, so stay tuned and I'll let you know exactly how far one writer can go on her own.

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