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Island in a Stream

I’m here alone.

Big city, lots to do, lots to see – a lot of time to occupy so I don’t slow down…

…and realize what a decision this is that I made.

As a little background, I was a factory worker.  For twenty years of my working life. I lifted seventy pound blocks of rubber onto a conveyor belt for a meager living.  Then became an autoworker at three times the pay and rammed my knuckles bloody putting seals in transmission bell housings, gauging parts that came off the lines, loaded the lines, unloaded the lines, jobsat (plural of jobsetter) a bank of three axis grinders, mills, and polishers.  The pay was okay, the benefits were good, and I was wasting away inside because it didn’t feel like that was who I was or what I was supposed to be doing.

The upside was that I was home every day.  Half of those twenty years were spent on second shift.  Some more of it was spent on midnights. When the kids were younger, second shift didn’t matter.  I spent more time with them than if I’d been on days.  But then they reached school age and I was there at home while they were at school, and when they got home from school, I was just going in to work.  I’d get home at eleven thirty and kiss their smooth foreheads and tell them I was home and I loved them and they’d smile and kiss me and instantly fall back to sleep.  Second shift is a family killer but we survived.

My first awakening to the idea that there was more than factory life for me was when my National Guard unit was mobilized for a port support mission and I was stationed at Fort Hood for all of 2004.  Tawnya and the kids ended up moving down there with me for most of that year.  The kids were in Texas schools for half the school year, and it caused them to be away from their friends for a few months but we moved back and put our life back together.  Except that every day I went back into the factory after that, I wanted to be somewhere else.

When the manufacturer I worked for started talking about offering to buy out some employees jobs, I jumped on the chance.  Tawnya and I talked about it, but I think that was more of me convincing her why it was right.  I bought out my job, cashed the check, and took a position with an ROTC program back in Texas.  The plan was that when the coming school year was over, the family would move down there to join me.  My oldest son wanted to finish high school with his friends.  Less than six months later, I was back in Indiana for reasons I won’t get into here, burning through the rest of the buyout money we hadn’t spend paying off some loans or put away into the 401k.

A few months after the boy graduated, I was offered a position at National Guard Bureau in the D.C. area and gratefully accepted.  Told my boss at the new insurance job I’d trained for, and started packing right before Christmas of 2008.  Then the phone call came that there was a problem with the funding and not to quit my job yet or anything drastic like that.

Ended up not being funded until the following summer, and I had to take another ROTC job in western Illinois until the orders came to keep the finances afloat.  I was away from home again, but was within driving distance for weekends so I’d jump in my car Friday afternoons and zip down US 24 to be home in time for a late dinner.

When my orders were cut for DC, we loaded up the truck and moved the family again.  This time it just about crushed both of my daughters.  The oldest was a senior and I took her away from graduating with her friends.  And the youngest daughter probably still hates me to this day because she had such a rough time of it. The youngest boy rode out both moves with seemingly no scars.  He adapts to everything.  When we were done with the gig in DC, we moved back to Indiana where I’d gotten my next military assignment at Camp Atterbury, settled down in Shelbyville and bought a house.  We got involved in the community and I started doing bicycle and health advocacy in my spare time.  I promised that I wouldn’t take the kids out of their schools and away from their friends again.

Then the Army announced that the military base I worked at was being retired as a mobilization platform.  Shortly after that they announced that the program I worked for was being moved to Fort Bliss, and all the Indiana employees were to look for other employment opportunities.

I had a years notice.  Made good use of it, too.  I put in applications in Indianapolis, Columbus, Shelbyville, Greensburg.  Sent resumes out for everything I was remotely qualified for.  In eight months, I got one bite that wasn’t a complete insult (by insult, I mean ten to twelve bucks per hour).  I made it to the final round of interviews for that position, but didn’t get the job.  At that point I told Tawnya I was going to apply for some emergency management jobs in D.C. just to see if I’d get any bites.

I had three offers of employment within a month, and accepted the most promising of them.

Now I’m back here again in D.C.  and Tawnya and the kids are in Indiana.  I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know how this is going to pan out and that is scary.  There are two things I know for sure.  Number one is that is easier for me than being unemployed and looking for work in Indiana.

The second is the more painful of the two, and that is…I know this is killing Tawnya.  And that is killing me.

That is the point of all of that rambling above.

I married a simple girl.  When she gave me her heart, it was her whole heart and it was forever.  All she wants is to be with me.  Some people don’t like to hear talk like that, because they think that everyone should be self actualized and maybe it isn’t healthy to be so intertwined with another person. They don’t realize that sometimes self-actualization is being devoted to another person so completely that no matter what else is going on, all you want is to be with them.   When you ask someone what they want to be, they usually answer with a job description.  When I ask Tawnya what she wants to be, her whole being says, “I just want to be with you.”  I don’t deserve that.

All she wants is to be with the jerk that I am.  And here I am again in D.C.  Hoping to get home as much as possible after my training is over.  But it won’t be enough.  I know that it won’t be enough.  Not for her. All she wants is to be with me. Do you get it? I didn’t. I live in a utopia somewhere in the future where we’re going to be together and we’re going to be happy.  She’s sitting in the living room babysitting to keep her mind off the fact I’m not there, and it isn’t working.

I can tell you that this job I got is great.  Its what I spent the past seven years training to do.  Its why I got my Certified Emergency Manager credential.  Its why I’m in the home stretch on my master’s degree in the same field with a 3.96 GPA.  But I have to be here in D.C. to do it.  And every day I do it, at least for now, is a day I’m not with her.

And all she wants is to be with me.

When we were teenagers we used to snuggle on her parents couch listening to Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton singing “Islands in the Stream.”

That is what I am today.  I’m an island in a stream.

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