A week ago Tuesday, I went for my social work licensing exam at a nondescript office on Long Island. I was anxious about the exam because it covered a lot of ground (three and a half years of classes, plus whatever else a social worker might need to know), and because the style of questioning is meant to be tricky and confusing. But I had spent months studying and preparing, and I generally do well on tests, so I was managing the anxiety okay. And then I reached the office building and had to find a parking spot. The building I was looking for was in a large complex of office buildings, and even though I’ve been in that area before, I’d never been to that particular building before. When I did my practice drive a week earlier there was a free spot right in front of the building, so I was unprepared for contingencies, like all of the unreserved spots being taken and having to find the underground lot.
I had no idea where the entrance to the underground parking was, and, at first, I ended up in the underground lot for a different building. After wandering around blind corners for quite a while, and finally finding an exit back to the above ground world, I was tempted to just park in one of the reserved spots and risk being towed. But then I balked. I really don’t want to be towed. Or ticketed. Or have to find an alternative way to get back home (I do not have the uber app, or anything like it, on my phone, nor do I have any idea how one might use it). So, with ten minutes left before I was supposed to be at the exam, I went searching for the entrance to the right underground parking lot, and finally found it. Most of the spots underground were reserved for companies in that building as well, but I found a spot on the lower level that was magically free and unmarked. There were no numbers for the spots, or for different sections of the lot, and I didn’t even see a sign for which level I was on, but I had five minutes to get upstairs so I couldn’t worry about that, yet. I found a stairway up to the ground level, and then another to the second floor office suite where I would take the exam, and I made it with one minute to spare.
The pre-test procedures were complex and unnerving: five or six palm scans, two forms of ID, an awkward photo, putting my cell phone into a plastic bag that would have to be cut open at the end of the test, and relinquishing everything except for my ID and my glasses to a locker. I couldn’t even bring my own tissues, or sucking candies (too loud). Then I had to go to a second staff member for more safety procedures: another palm scan, checking my glasses for tech, checking my pockets, and the tips of my ears; I had to push up my sleeves and pat down my pant legs to prove nothing was hiding there either.
Finally I was allowed into the testing room, with my locker key, and my ID for company. I couldn’t make any noise, and I would have to raise my hand if I needed to get up for any reason, which they preferred I not do until I’d finished the exam.
The test was one hundred and seventy questions, and, with the tutorial at the beginning and the survey at the end, took me an hour and a half. I spent half the time stretching and shifting and trying to get comfortable in the supposedly ergonomic chair and staring at the blurry computer screen (Allergies? Anxiety? Stroke?). About two thirds of the way through the test I started to worry that I might fail and have to sit through the horror all over again, but as soon as the final survey was finished (Did you enjoy this test? How was the drive? Did you really need those tissues?), the screen changed and told me that I had passed the licensing exam. The drama was over. I raised my hand to be allowed out and they gave me a print out of my score and wished me well, and sent me to empty out my locker and walk out into freedom. Okay, not freedom exactly, because passing the test meant that I would have to start the job search, which was a crushing weight quickly descending on my head, but, you know, free for the rest of the day.
I called home to let Mom and the dogs know that I’d passed, and survived, and suffered mightily, and then went in search of my car.
Except, the route I’d taken up into the building was closed to me in the opposite direction. The actual door that had opened into the building had no handle going the opposite direction, and I didn’t see any other doors nearby. So I went looking for another set of stairs, and went down two levels, and started to look for my car. I didn’t see anything familiar, but I hadn’t paid close attention in the first place, so I wasn’t worried, at first. I walked around the whole floor three times, getting more and more anxious. I called home and got so far as telling Mom that I was lost underground and couldn’t find my way out, when the phone cut off.
So I did the only thing I could think of and retraced my steps up into the building. My legs were starting to wobble with exhaustion, and my neck and back were still hurting from the hour and a half at the computer, but panic carries a lot of adrenaline, and I was moving pretty fast. I tried another route back down into the parking garage and wandered the floor two more times, nothing.
I went back upstairs, and looked for signs I might have missed, and doors I might not have opened, afraid that my car had been towed, or stolen. Eventually, I tried a different floor of the parking garage. I was sure I’d parked two levels below the ground floor, but I was desperate, so I tried going down only one floor. Suddenly there was a sign that looked vaguely familiar, so I kept walking, and walking, and walking, and there it was! My car!!!! Just waiting there for me, not towed away or stolen or made invisible by aliens trying to mess with my head.
I called home immediately and Ellie barked at me, trying to tell me that I had been gone way too long. I felt like a truck was sitting on my back, but at least I wasn’t lost anymore. Mom promised a special celebratory dinner, but I warned her that I could still get lost trying to drive out of the underground labyrinth. But at least wandering in circles in the car took less time than wandering on foot, and I finally made my way out into the sunlight, and on my way home.
I was shaking with leftover tension, but able to drive home safely and get my greeting from the girls and from Mom and eat some dinner. The exam was over, and successful. The trauma of the day was over. But, I didn’t feel any relief. I felt like I was still stuck in that underground lot, with no clear signs telling me where to go or what to do. Even safe at home, with the girls sleeping next to me, I still felt like I was walking that endless labyrinth, and I realized how familiar that feeling has become for me.
I feel like every step forward in my life has been a step into the dark, with no clear signage, and no certainty that I’m even looking in the right place. Even when I can find clear milestone markers, like graduation, or a passed exam, I still don’t feel a sense of relief, because I don’t know which road to turn onto next.
I wish I could say something reassuring here, about how, eventually, I always find my next step on solid ground, but that’s just not true. What feels like solid ground to someone else doesn’t necessarily feel right or solid to me.
The next step is to send out resumes and tap into any contacts I may have, and network (eek!) to find a good first social work job. Hopefully the labyrinth will be more clearly marked in the future, or else I’ll have to bring Cricket with me on job searches, so she can warn me when I’m going in the wrong direction. Or at least let me know when I’m getting closer to snacks.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.