How One Book Completely Changed My Life
A Short Story by Rebecca J. Brock
I woke up with a start; I was having a horrbile nightmare. I could feel that my pajamas were soaked, I was sweating like a pig. I could still see those scary red flashing eyes from the demon in my dream, my stomach was quesy and my hands were shaking uncontrolablly.
However, waking up (even from a hellish nightmare) wasn't much of a relief. My life was in complete scambles. How did I get here? I wondered to myself. I groped around for the light switch. It wasn't very far from my bed, my studio apartment wasn't much bigger than a closet. I flipped it on and...nothing. Damn! My power had gotten turned off.
No wonder I was sweating, this was the hottest July in New York City on record. Well, I was probably exaggerating about the record part, but in my 26 short years, it was the hottest I had ever experienced.
It was 2010 and I had graduated with a degree in theater several years earlier. New York City was the most obvious place I would end up, but it was also the most expensive. My dad reminded me of this fact whenever he got the chance. I had waitressed for 3 and a half years while picking up a few acting gigs here and there. I was proud of myself for paying off all my student loans. I worked my ass off, taking double shifts whenever I could. Sometimes my feet would ache, but it never stopped me from trekking to the subway and making my auditions on time and prepared. I truly loved what I did for a living. Deep in my bones I knew it was my life's purpose. I couldn't even imagine doing anything else.
So once I landed my first union commercial as a principle role in 2007, I quit my waitressing job. This was it I thought, I'm going to make it big. I was on my way to living my dream. I was on cloud nine, nothing could stop me!
However, life doesn't always go according to our plan. As the saying goes, "Man plans, God laughs". If He was laughing right now, I'd probably lose all faith in myself. But surely He was laughing, because He knew what was coming next. But I had always been an optimistic person, and I wasn't about to let anything get me down. Even though I barely had a cent to my name, I chose to remain positive. Electricity or no electricity.
I didn't want to blame all my financial woes on an econmic downturn. But 2008 was a brutal year, and every business was looking for ways to trim the fat. Unfortunately for me, advertising budgets were the first thing to go. Most companies would just replay commercials from the previous year and currently I didn't have one running.
Landing a principle role in a union gig was the gold standard in the industry. If your face was recognizable, you got paid everytime your commercial aired. It could run multiple times anywhere. Sometimes it would run for years (I only knew about this through rumors, it had never happened to me).
My family wasn't exactly happy about my choice of career. My father said, "Well, what are you going to do when you get to NY?". "Well dad, I'm going to find an agent and they will send me on audutions." "What happens after that?" he asked. Clearly my dad didn't know much about the acting business. But it didn't matter, it was my life. I had put myself through school and I just knew I could make it.
I stumbled around searching for my "kitchen". It was more like a cabinet, a mini fridge and a microwave. But it served it's purpose. Unless you're a chararcter actor, one of the requirements of show business was to be thin. I thanked my lucky stars I was born that way. I knew I had a flashlight in the cabinet, it should be right behind this can of expired soup. Ah! I found the flashlight!
I flicked it on and was momentarily overjoyed that the batteries hadn't run out. I quickly scanned my apartment. The demon was gone, or at the very least, he was invisiable. I sat on the edge of my bed and wondered why I needed the light anyway. It was still nighttime but I didn't have anywhere I needed to be the next day. So I swtiched the flashlight off. I needed to save the batteries...just in case.
I lay back down on my bed. Falling asleep again was out of the question. It was just too damn hot. And I had too much on my mind. What the hell was I going to do about my situation? I had already crawled back to the restaurant I had worked at and begged them to give me my job back. Unfortunately there was a new manager who had no clue who I was. I had applied at several other restaurants and a coffee shop near my walk-up but still, nothing. I couldn't even call the places I had applied to as my phone had already been disconnected a few days earlier.
As I began to spiral into self pity, I thought about calling my parents. My step mother would be so smug with her I-told-you-so snide tone of voice and she would probably get off on telling me what to do. But I simply had no other choice.
I waited until 8am when I knew my dad would be awake and rang him from the nearest pay phone. "Alexa!" my dad exclaimed. I could hear the relief in his voice. He had been trying to call me and was getting worried. I explained my situation and swallowed my pride and asked him for a small loan. Just until I could land another acting gig or a waitressing job. "Sure Lexi, I can help you out. Let's at least get your phone and power turned back on."
I could hear my step mother pick up the other phone. Oh crap, here we go I thought. She was very controlling of my father, especially when it came to money. They were married she'd say, so it was her money too. My dad couldn't even buy himself a diet coke without asking her for permission. I felt my eyes roll into the back of my head. If you could actually win an Oscar for eye rolling, I'd have at least one already. Then she started talking in that whiny voice. UGH!
I often felt like she would care about me more if I was her biological daughter, but she had never been able to have her own children. I listened to her bitch and lecture and kept nodding my head until I realized I was on the phone and she couldn't see me nod. "I get it mom. I know you were never supportive of me becoming an actor but this is how the business works. Sometimes you book lots of gigs and other times you don't. Yes, yes, I do save everything I make but it's been a while since I booked anything...and yea I've applied for other jobs. I'm working on formulating a plan without giving up my dream. I just need some more time."
I was relieved to hear the operator ask for more quarters and I was out. I told my dad we were about to get disconnected and I heard him say he would drop a $500 check in the mail. Whew. I heard my mom mumble something about a book but I wasn't paying much attention to her. I was just happy that I'd have power again in a few days so I wouldn't get dehydtrated from sweating.
When I made it up the three flights of stairs to my tiny apartment, I thought I might actually be dying. Sweat was pouring down my face and into my eyes-I could barely see. My heart was pounding through my chest and for a moment there I was sure I couldn't breathe. Somehow I made it into my little apartment and man was it hot in there. I was certain I was just having a panick attack, I knew the symptoms all too well. But help was on it's way so there was no need to panic.
I tore off the sweaty clothes and took the most refreshing cold shower. Afterwards I felt renewed and somewhat energized. I decided to take out my loose change jar just to get an idea of how much money I had until the mail came in 2-3 days. I counted the change more than once, just to be sure, and it turned out I had almost $10! I let out an unitentional scream. Why hadn't I checked this jar before? Well, whatever, it didn't matter. I headed down with all the money I had in the world to buy myself a happy meal. I wasn't much of a fan of fast food, but my grumbling stomach talked me into it.
After I satisfied my belly, I decided to take a stroll around my neighborhood. One of the reasons I loved living in this city was that it was constantly changing. Old places shutting down with something new popping up in it's place seemingly mere minutes later. I took a turn down a street that I hadn't been down in a long time and I caught a glimpse of a very well lit fancy sign. EVERYTHING $.99 it read. Um, really? was my first thought. I wasn't sure how a store with Manhattan rent prices would last very long selling everything for $.99. But in the meantime I wanted to check it out. Of course I had to count my chump change again before I could buy anything. This was the first time I realized that not everything in a .$99 store was actually $.99. False advertising, go figure. I rolled my eyes at the thought. But I did find a little fan for $2.99 and I was elated. It was poorly made, the kind that your cab driver has clipped onto his dashboard in order to save money on gas (and without AC the driver's BO makes the taxi ride almost unbearable). I wondered for a moment if I had started to smell like those taxi drivers...
The day the check arrived I acted like a little child waiting to get a glimpse of santa clause. I knew what time the mail usually arrived, and since it had been 4 days since I spoke with my dad, today had to be the day. It just had to. I wasn't sure if I'd survive much longer. But the good news was that expired can of soup didn't kill me so I gathered my time here on earth wasn't up just yet.
The check wasn't in a regular envelope, it was in a bubble mailer. It had my name scrawled on it in my step mother's handwriting. Cue the eye roll. I secretly hoped my dad's threat that my rolling eyes would get stuck back in my head weren't true. So far, so good.
I ripped open the package only to find the book my mom was going on about when I ran out of quarters at one of the only pay phones left in the city. My heart stopped for a minute when I didn't see a check. But I opened the cover and there it was! Thank God I muttered under my breath. To my surprise and delight, my dad had written a little note and shoved in $60 cash (most likely while his wife wasn't looking.) Today was a great day! I shoved the book aside and ran out to get my phone and power turned back on.
The book was entitled "365 Thank Yous" and was later renamed "A Simple Act of Gratitude". Once I had called my agent and checked in and called every place I had applied for jobs, I settled in to read. I kept my cable TV turned off to save money, so reading a book was an obvious choice. I had cranked up my little window A/C unit and my tiny box was so nice and cool. Ah, it's the little things in life that made me happy.
I read the whole book cover to cover. I literally had nothing else to do. I hate to admit it, but it was pretty interesting. The author John was down on his luck. No money, no job, his second wife had left him. His outlook seemed bleak. No one would loan him money, it seemed all hope was lost.
But instead of sulking about and playing the victim, everyday he wrote a hand written thank you letter to practically everyone he knew. And miracously his life turned around. I'm not going to ruin the ending for you should you chose to read it, but it seemed a bit far feteched. Instead of taking action he just expressed gratitude and miracles occured? I scanned the back to see if it was labeled "fiction". Even though his story gave me goose bumps, the whole thing just seemed unlikely. I went to put it in my closet and literally couldn't find one small space to put it.
I guessed my next project would be to clean out and reorganzie my closet. My closet was not your standard closet in a studio apartment. I could actually walk in it, making it a quasi walk-in closet. It was a good thing too becaue it doubled and tripled as kitchen cabinets and storage. Basically everything I owned was in there.
I got pretty into the organizing, it felt good to be productive and I found things I didn't even know I had. On the top shelf I could see the box with my mother's things in them and I wondered if I needed to organize that box too. It had been so long since I went through her belongings. It caused too much sadness. She had died before I had even turned one, and I have zero memories of her. But today, I longed for her. I wanted to see her handwriting, to touch her soft sweaters, and to smell the faint scent of roses on her scarves.
I pulled down the box from the top shelf and my first reaction was that I hadn't remembered it being this heavy. I almost toppled over but instead I steadied myself and let the box fall over, it's contents spilling and covering the floor of my tiny apartment. Good thing nothing in that box was breakable.
I sat down on the floor among her belongings. I could feel her spirit sitting there with me, guiding me. I felt prompted to turn my head to the right, and my eye caught a glimpse of a black object. I reached for it and picked it up. It was a little black velvet book. It even had gold letters enscribed on it calling it a "Little Black Book".
I was mystified, I had never seen this object of hers in my entire life. I had gone through this box so many times, how could I have missed this? I opened it slowly, as if it might break due to all the years it had been through. Sure enough, it was my mother's little black book, with every single address and phone number of everyone she had ever known including how she knew them and from where.
There were people in there I had never heard of as well as cousins and second cousins I had lost all track of. Once my dad remarried my step mom, his life became all about her family (and well, her obviously. I had unceremoniusly diagnosed her as a narcissist).
Suddenly I had a brilliant idea! Well, looking back on it I believe my mother in spirit gave me this idea. Why don't I write a thank you note to everyone I know, including some I don't know in this book and see what happens? It worked great for the author, why couldn't it work for me?
Since I already knew where my stationary was thanks to my organzing, I got to work right away after reorganing and securing my mother's box on the top shelf. I worked endlessly, only stopping to eat, use the restroom, shower (on some days) and sleep. Five days later I had dropped every single letter I wrote into the closest mailbox. I felt so grateful to have had enough stamps to send them all, as I hardly ever wrote hand written notes. Hand written thank you notes seemed to be a lost art I mused.
Then something funny started happening to me. I became grateful for every tiny little thing. I wasn't purposely trying to do this, it just seemed to come naturally. I was grateful for the breeze on my face when I felt hot. That my train arrived at the exact moment I stepped on to the platform. Seeing a homeless man struggling and being grateful I wasn't in his situatiuon. The smile my otherwise crabby neighbor gave me simply because I gave him a huge grin for no reason. I found that daily gratitude was easy, because it didn't have to be about anything big. I was grateful for the roof over my head. And for sure everytime I switched on my light, I was grateful to have power.
I'm sure you know how this story ends. Gratitude does bring miracles, that I can attest to because of what happened next.
I got a call from my agent, I had a call back! I walked into that call back so full of joy and confidence that I just knew I'd book the job, and I did! A principle role! While on set I didn't think much about how much money I'd make. I simply enjoyed the day, so grasteful to have booked a job. How much money I could make depended on too many varaibles, how often it was aired and of course how long it would run. I was just grateful for the job, and being a principle had it benefits too. We always got to eat before the extras and each had our own hair and makeup artist.
I wasn't even expecting a check in the mail so soon from this gig. Ususally it could take months before I'd see any money and it would also involve calling the accountant at the agency multiple times to the point of boarderline harassment. But there it was, on top of the pile of mail in my tiny mailbox. I practically squealed and bounded up those three flights of stairs faster than I ever had. I got inside, dropped my purse and bags from Duane Reade and tore open the envelope. Carefully of course, I didn't want to rip the check. There was a check for $20,167.88! I had to sit down on the edge of my bed. I looked again, maybe I had made a mistake? Surely I hadn't read it correctly and my dyslexic brain might have put the comma in the wrong spot? But nope. There is was, a check for 20 grand with my name on it!!!
From that moment on, I made daily gratitude a part of my routine. Gratitude truly does bring miracles. 🌠
The next day I decided to give the book to a struggling friend. My only request was: "When you're finished reading it, pass it along to someone else who might need it."