Working title

Words | Brooke Mazurek Images | Paige Mazurek


I.  New York, New Job, And A Shaman-Induced Escape


Three months before I turned 28, I quit my job, packed up my apartment in Brooklyn, and wrote a five-page letter to Russ, my boyfriend of four years and a man I still loved deeply, explaining why we needed to break up.

The question I was so often asked when people found out I was dating a musician was, “What else does he do?” Did he teach music or play in a wedding band? Bartend or waiter and then gig at clubs after work? “Even if he had a desk job, he could still identify as a musician,” my Mom once said to me. It reminded me of my homestay mom in Costa Rica who years earlier had served me a plate of pork when I was still a vegetarian. “Don’t worry,” she had whispered. “I won’t tell anyone if you eat it.”

Stability was the word so often thrown around by our parents, but for Russ, stability lay in the singularity of his commitment to something so unstable. There wasn’t and wouldn’t ever be anything other than music. And against all odds, he was now bracing himself to spend 300 days a year for the next two years touring the world with a hugely successful band. All while I was preparing to throw my own stability out the window.


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I had spent the past six years after college working my way up the editorial chain in magazines. From wonderfully talented people I had learned what it meant to package a story. How to tap into the feeling of something that interests you and turn it into a viable feature. The way images and words interact on the page and the importance of making every single word, even the ones in captions, count.

But in January of 2017, days before I watched with vicious dread as Donald Trump was sworn into office, I started a new job. It instantly felt like a wrong turn.

I could tell you that the panic that set in could be chalked up to my new boss, a person whose layers of anger and sadness were caked on like layers of paper mache. But it would be unfair to blame only her. There was some greater emotional stewpot that was churning. Thrice daily escapes to a bathroom stall where I would hold my breath and my tears whenever someone walked in, became a necessary. I cried in subway cars and on sidewalks, over plates of falafel and while reading newspapers. I didn’t always understand why there were tears and I resented both that they existed and that I couldn’t stop them.

So I set up a Skype session with a shaman named John who I met in California a few years earlier (more on that later). From adolescence up through adulthood, John had survived seven near-death experiences but never thought much of it. Before he became a shaman, he had worked as an engineer and though lucrative, it had been, for many years, a source of misery.

Over Skype we talked about how John had come to be a shaman, how there were signs that took him years to comprehend and then quilt into a narrative laced with greater meaning. “Your soul,” John told me, “is crying just as just as mine once did. You can either listen to it now, or you can let all of the feelings get pushed down and confront them years from now when they comes back again,” he paused. “And they will come back again,” he promised.

I spewed out a list of reasons why a life change wouldn’t work. I had no savings, there were student loans and debt that needed to be paid off. There was rent in New York, and sure, I wanted to only write--but how could I stay in New York and make that happen? And what about Trump? Outside of my own bubble, it felt like the world was ending. Like someone had hit the self-destruct button.

“I understand what I need to do,” I told John. “But still, I need to think about it.”

Your soul is crying just as just as mine once did. You can either listen to it now, or you can let all of the feelings get pushed down and confront them years from now when they comes back again, and they will come back again
— Shaman John

Then I got attacked in the subway.

A few weeks after my talk with the Shaman, I’d been on my way home from a concert when a man asked for directions. It was late but I always traveled late, and I didn’t want to be the jerk who walked away. Wasn’t that part of the problem with Trump’s America? That you could look at someone and label them a predator, and thereby perpetuate the fear-of-otherness cycle that seemed to be tearing apart the entire country?

So I explained that the C train wasn’t running, that this lost person would have to transfer to another line—only, he wasn’t listening as I spoke. He was staring.

The hair on the back of my neck raised.

He followed me when I walked to the other end of the tunnel, and followed me when I eventually  got off of the train. I’d been wearing a necklace with my name written in gold script, which is why, when the man began sprinting after me, he also called my name: Brooke, Brooke, why are you running, Brooke?

I was lucky that night, I made it home. And three weeks later, as the last of the hives that had immediately broken out all over my body disappeared, I put in my two weeks notice.

The collective “they” say that after 10 years of living in New York, you can officially call yourself a New Yorker, yet with my status newly earned, I suddenly found myself waking up in my childhood home on the outskirts of a town named Boring.

As I worked from the front porch, I marveled at the thick silence that had settled in around me. But there were nights when that silence felt suffocating. For hours, I would lie awake dumbfounded that I now had an old life and a new life. I catalogued the things about that old life that I missed. I saw Russ in everything.

“I’ve taken a wrecking ball to my life,” I told myself.

But I also knew that this current chapter, however temporary it was, had been a result of many things and not an impulse. I wondered where it had all started, what that first domino was.

I realized it had appeared a year and a half earlier, in March 2016.

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