Twelve fifty-eight P.M. That can’t be the time, can it? I thought, squinting at the clock by the bed. Two months ago I would have been up for eight hours by now. I’d be deep in some project for Angels on Earth, where I worked as an editorial assistant.
Times had changed. Now I was unemployed. There was nothing for me to get up for.
I got out of bed and made some coffee before booting up the computer for my daily job hunt. It had been two months since I’d quit and so far I hadn’t had any offers. The truth was I wasn’t excited about the local jobs I’d applied for anyway.
My job at Angels was perfect. I loved the work, loved the readers, loved discussing angels all day at the office. Too bad it took two and a half hours to get there in the morning. I stuck with the commute as long as I could–nearly two years. But in the end it was too much.
Plus my husband, Alan, had started traveling to Boston regularly to care for a sick relative. With my work hours and his schedule, we were lucky to see each other more than a couple of hours a week at most.
Quitting my job to look for something closer to home made sense, but on mornings–sorry, afternoons– like this one, I felt like I’d made a big mistake. Filling out yet another online job application form, I wondered what was going on back at the office.
What new stories had come in the mail that day? What illustrations were finished? I was missing it all. By the time Alan got home I was more miserable than ever. “If I had only tried harder, I could have handled the commute,” I told him. “I’m just a wimp.”
“You’re not a wimp,” Alan said. “A wimp would never have lasted so long. A wimp wouldn’t have even tried at all.”
Try, I told myself. That’s what I had to do now.
The next morning I got myself up early. I was determined to focus on the future. The first thing I did was check my e-mail: two rejection letters. It almost felt like a sign. “I’ll never find another job. I blew it.” Clearly, when I quit my job, I’d left all my angels behind.
When Alan got home he could see the shape I was in. Not that it was hard–I was lying face down on the couch, flat and listless as a deflated party balloon.
“We need to cheer you up,” said Alan. “Let’s do something fun.”
“Fun?” I muttered into the couch. “What’s fun around here?”
Alan thought for a second. “We haven’t gone to find a letterbox for a while. Why don’t we do that today?”
I turned over on the couch. It had been a long time. So long I’d almost forgotten how much I loved doing it. A friend had turned me on to letterboxing years before.
Letterboxers hide waterproof boxes in secluded locations for searchers to discover using clues they find on the internet, or by word of mouth from other letterboxers. The messages weren’t exactly left by angels, but they were exciting just the same.
You never knew what you might find inside a box, but there was usually a book to sign and write a note in for others.
“Let’s check on the Appalachian Trail,” Alan said, clicking on a letterbox website. “There’s bound to be some boxes there.”
Sure enough there was one not far away, if we could find it. The next morning I awoke feeling different. For the first time since I quit my job I felt like something exciting might happen. I had a purpose again!
Alan and I drove into the mountains and started walking the trail. I checked my phone, where I’d saved a list of clues to help us find the box. “Turn right at the forked tree,” I instructed. “Then follow the path with the fuzzy stones.”
“Fuzzy stones?” said Alan. “What does that even look like?”
I had no idea, but I was eager to find out. Hunting forked trees and fuzzy stones gave me an excuse to really pay attention to my surroundings. The mountains were beautiful, the sun shining through the trees full of brightly colored leaves.
Those same leaves carpeted the ground in red, orange and yellow. I loved the way the sound of my feet crunching along mixed with the call of distant crows and the wind whistling in the branches. I’d have missed all this if I was at my desk back at work, I thought.
“Here’s the tree!” Alan said. “The rocks really are fuzzy. They’re covered with moss.” We moved onto the next clue, then the next. Some were relatively easy, like our forked tree. Others were written as riddles.
“Walk up the stairs, and you’re almost there?” I read. “There are no stairs on a mountain trail. Unless… oh my gosh!”
We rounded the corner and discovered a waterfall running over the rocks. Right beside it was a set of stone steps. I ran up them into a clearing where I examined tree stumps and checked under rocks.
When I brushed away some leaves from around the base of a mossy overhang, I felt cold metal against my hand. “Alan! I found it!” I yelled.
Alan crouched down beside me as we opened the box. Inside was a little notebook and a collection of trinkets. But the real treasure was the messages written in the book. Notes from the East Coast, West Coast–one letterboxer had come all the way from Spain!
“This place seems so isolated,” Alan said, “but look at all the people who have come here. It’s wild to think about.”
I signed our names in the book, wondering who would find the box next. Then I put the box back into its hiding place. “Bury me in leaves!” I shouted suddenly. In minutes Alan had me completely covered. I couldn’t stop laughing.
The wind on my cheeks, the smell of the earth, the sound of the waterfall–and my husband beside me. This day was almost too good to be true. And you thought you were missing out on everything, I thought.
All the reasons I’d had for leaving my job made sense now. As much as I enjoyed the work, my free time was just as important, especially time spent with the people I loved. I missed my job, but I missed this too. I’d forgotten how much.
Hand in hand, Alan and I walked back to the car. I no longer had trouble keeping my mind on the future. Maybe I didn’t know what was next for me, but whatever it was it would be full of surprises. Life was a treasure hunt. And wherever I went, I would take angels with me.
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