It was the feeling of heaviness in the limbs after treading water for an extended period of time. The cloying weight of water and betrayal by the body as the head slips beneath the surface. The burning of the lungs as they ache for air.
That is how in over her head she felt. Recently over promoted due to a supervisor’s departure, she was doing her best in an impossible situation.
Solace was found in her childhood hobby, writing. The night of Tuesday, April 10, 2012 she wrote what would become a defining blog post, a point from which she marks time.
Encouraged, lifted above those dangerous waves by her faith and a recent venture back to her love for the written word, she fatefully penned, “When I grow up, which is NOW, I am going to be a writer.”
Six days later Aisha Willis learned she was losing her job.
- - - -
“You don’t know how to give yourself any grace.” The words of Judy Horton, best friend, mentor, and other mother comforted like nothing else.
It was May 2013, and Aisha was still fighting an old darkness.
Standing in the lush green and cobblestone courtyard, on her cellphone, the conversation’s soundtrack was the falling water splashing behind her in the fountain. The Architecture building towered over her physically and emotionally.
“I didn’t finish. Now I’m here for writing,” she complained.
“Aisha, you made all A’s your first semester after 14 years and you want to talk failure?”
The idea that she was heartbroken over not being an architect while exceling at communication suddenly seemed absurd.
“I can’t afford to fail again.” It had taken more courage than she knew she had to return to school. She felt this was her final chance to succeed.
“You won’t. Your dream is alive and kicking. And I’m here with you to help you. I love you.”
- - - -
The sun had just set April 20, 2014 as she prepared to leave. Easter dinner was at her sister’s house and hugs with the adults were complete.
As she spoke with her soon-to-be 10-year-old niece, Lauren, Aisha heard an odd tone in her own voice. Next Kennedy, the youngest, whose eyes never quite met hers during the conversation,
turned for a quick kiss and ran away with a “Bye!”
It was the next conversation that rang the alarm inside. Jordan, the 7-year-old, middle child, exhibits characteristics of autism and born with an extra chromosome, Down’s syndrome.
She is affectionate, but her attention is usually elsewhere and when she speaks, it’s on the level of a 3- or 4-year-old. That night she looked into her Aunt Nikki’s eyes as she spoke with a big smile. Without prompting Jordan joyfully said, “I love you Aunt Nikki!” and wrapped her little arms around Aisha’s neck. The haze was broken.
Aisha could see her destructive thought pattern. But she chose to focus on the arms holding her as tears disappeared into Jordan’s wavy mane of brown hair.
She was saying final goodbyes to the children, to ensure Lauren took care of her little sisters, that Kennedy listened to her parents and that Jordan was always careful.
Life was too much of a trial and she felt the pursuit of her dream was killing her. She was ready to let it.
I’m a failure. Life, I hate you.
The weight of waiting had taken the air out of her lungs. She was underwater and ready to drift into the darkness.
- - - -
The difference in her was marked. Her head was down, eyes not as bright and she wasn’t reaching the heights expected personally or from others.
“The first time I heard her, she struck me as a different kind of student.” Mindia Whittier recalls over a cup of tea in her office. She’s a senior lecturer of public relations at University of Texas at Arlington.
She is referencing an impromptu speech given by each student on the first day of class.
“Aisha was eager to present and her delivery struck me. She is the kind of person who has an influence on others.”
But the Aisha she witnessed in late April 2014 was not the same. She had only submitted one graded assignment and appeared to be distracted. This behavior was inconsistent with her participation and conscientiousness about her performance.
During a one-on-one session Whittier asked permission to ask a personal question. That was all it took.
As Judy said about Aisha, “She loves and lives like a child. Once she determines that someone is
safe, she throws her cards in and will trust them.”
Having decided that Whittier was “safe,” she shared the issues she was facing. Most of it stemmed from the financial burden of not working for two years. This inability to perform in a profitable workplace made Aisha hesitant in school.
She was working for the student newspaper but everyone knows you don’t go into journalism for the pay. She was facing the possibility of four F’s for the semester and eviction from her home. She felt as though she failed. Again.
The gloom was the water she had been treading. But somehow in that moment she saw a light. This woman across from her, an instructor who had no obligation to her, seemed to care.
It was April 22, 2014, and she with her head down and in a quieter voice than normal, told Whittier of the dark thoughts she had been thinking.
- - - -
“Your picture will go here.” The MacBook’s display showed the company’s “Leadership” web page. Aisha’s picture and story would live there soon. “Do you want to give me the copy?” Jeremy asked with a bright smile.
“No.” The ink was still drying on an agreement for her to serve as the content and communications manager for his company. At his inquisitive glance, “I think you should write it. I want to know what made you pick up the phone to select me. Your why will be others’ reason to trust me too.”
He nodded, still smiling. The partnership was off to a good start. The first client to benefit from this connection arrived.
The gentlemen discussed while she began the research process to craft the best message. Aisha chimed in with aspects to consider from the communications and sales standpoint.
As the three discussed business in the sun-filled seating area, Aisha couldn’t help but marvel internally. Was I really that close to the edge four months ago? I’m on leadership team of this company and can envision a future for my own team.
The wonder of it all nearly brought her to tears but she chose to express with words. Taking to Facebook she penned another set of defining words.
“Apparently you can, in a short space of time, go from surviving one of your nightmares to living out a dream. Time to put in more work.”
She smiled as she thought, “Life I’m coming for you.”