Monday, July 1, 2013

You Don't Get Over it, You Just Get on With It

I read in a Facebook post once that behind every cynic is a disappointed idealist. I don't believe I've ever heard a phrase that fit me so well in my entire life. When I was younger, I was what you might call a textbook idealist. I believed the best in everyone, no matter what. I was raised in a traditional Roman Catholic household, and was raised to such ideals as that faith teaches. I embraced the idea of a loving God and a chance at living in a world beyond this where no one knew anything even remotely similar to pain, suffering or torment. When I was younger, however, I was also not nearly as wise as I am now. I'm still not as wise as I would like to think I could become, but I like to think also that I've learned a thing or two in my 32 years.

Now that I think about it, I believe my idealism started to erode a long time ago, though I can't pinpoint an exact moment in my life when it might have started. All I know for certain is that at some point I became much more cynical about the world I live in. Perhaps there wasn't just one moment where it all came crashing down. I don't know. All I know is that these days, I've found it hard to find the good where it used to stare me right in the face. Maybe it's because life wasn't what I thought it was. Maybe it's because there has have been so many changes in my life that I no longer believe there's any sort of rock or safe harbor for me to sail to in times of emotional distress. This blog, ,now that I think about it, reflects that change rather accurately judging from the older posts versus the newer ones. Before when I started this blog it was for the purpose of keeping track of my then current schooling at MTI College, where I was studying at the time to become a paralegal. I finished that schooling, marking the end of a milestone of my life. I completed half of the two year program, and was looking forward to completing the second half, yet that never materialized. Perhaps it was due to my own lack of action. I'm not entirely sure, but for whatever reason that second year never materialized. I despaired, as any human being would when their chosen path turns into a dead end.

Funny. As I wrote the above paragraph, I came to realize that maybe there was a single moment where everything went awry for me. It had to have been the day, the very first day, that I willingly missed going to church. I don't know which day of my life that was, but it was sometime after I graduated high school and stopped having my mother watch over my shoulder every Sunday to make sure I went. I just...stopped for some reason. I'm not even sure what the reason was. Maybe it was because I thought I could make my own decisions about my faith and my life. Maybe it was a rebellious streak I was experiencing without ever knowing it. I'm not sure. All I do know is that I did it. What I didn't know at the time was the effect it would have on me years down the road.

After high school, I didn't know it, but I was lost. I was wandering, trying to find an identity that I didn't even know I was missing. For a long while I was enamored of being a writer to make a living. I was told since eighth grade that I have a gift for the practice, and I even lurched about experimenting with ways to learn the profession before shifting my focus to drama and acting. On the stage a new me awoke. I'd done stage performance before in an extremely limited capacity (forced assignments in elementary school and a dance class in high school that I needed to fill an elective slot). But it was during my senior year of high school that I truly came alive in such an avenue as stage performing. I'd never had so much fun in my entire life. I shifted career choices, not because I was disappointed, but because I felt that there was a new purpose in my life. 

I think the first time I felt the despair I mentioned earlier, though, was when I lost my first job. I worked for five and a half years at my town's local Burger King. I was good at it, too, though I got off to a rocky start, as it was my first real job. After a while, though, I became their most valued employee. I say this without any sort of false modesty. I was good at that job. Everyone said so, and I knew it because everyone said so. I was on the fast track to high level employment at my first job because I was idealistic enough to believe that I could succeed. I believed I could go as high as I wanted if only I worked hard enough and long enough, and kept an eye out for the opportunity.

And then I got fired.

You read that correctly. I got fired from the job I'd held for five and a half years. The story behind that is that I was working the cash register one day, only to come up short by a few dollars. My current manager was talking to my new manager about this, and the new one was told that a second offense in that regard would result in termination. Not really thinking about this information, I went about my day as normal making an effort to be more careful about keeping track of the money in the cash drawers.

It happened again.

I came up a meager amount short, but it was by a wide enough margin to bring about a suspension. Okay, a suspension. I could handle that. I'd been suspended before for making a mistake, why not again? At least I wasn't getting fired. Or so I thought at the time. After a week's suspension I came back to work ready and rearing to resume my duties, only to discover that I'd been left a note. The note was simple. It stated that my employment was terminated because of the fact that my drawer had come up short.

This was when I knew true despair for the first time. I could not believe that someone of my reputation had been ousted from his job because of a simple mistake that anyone could have made. To this day, I'm convinced that I wasn't terminated so much because of that, but because that manager was cleaning house. I wasn't the first one he'd fired, and I wasn't the last, either. But I certainly felt like I was the only firing that mattered. I couldn't understand the why of it, and when I can't understand the why of it, I get angry. I got angry when I was fired to the point that I cried openly when I was in the shower that night. It didn't help that when I told my mother she reacted less than favorably, and took her anger and confusion out on me because I was there. I had another job at the time at Paradise Bakery, believing that I needed it to supplement my income. I used it to that purpose for a time, of course, only to lose the extra income of Burger King in the process. Once that happened it became my sole income. Instead of appreciating that fact, I dwelt on the loss I'd suffered. I lost a great deal of self-confidence when I lost that job, though I didn't come to that realization until much later.

Time passed, as time is wont to do. Nothing changed about my life much in those years after I left Burger King, but I thought I was still persevering, trying to find a way to make my own way in the world. I wasn't. I was spinning my wheels. I still am, to some degree, though I've found another career choice that involves the courtroom and might be more suited to my talents. God willing, it'll be so.

Much happened in my life that I could go into detail about, but the long and short of those intervening years is that the despair lingered, though there were intervening moments of happiness during those years, I didn't notice them. Or if I did notice them it was only as someone notices a fleeting memory they hold fondly. As something they've lost and can never have again. It continued that way for years, even though I either chose not to see, or was incapable of seeing.

Fast forward to 2008. The political event of the century. The first black president was on his way to being elected, and I was here to see it. I was lucky enough to become politically aware at this time, too. Though part of me at times wishes it weren't so. The things I see in the news each day make me want to give up each and every day, some more than others. There are fleeting moments of  a positive nature on the news, of course, but they are so few and far between that I often wonder if the good outnumbers the bad. I still despair, more openly in fact, because of the state of the world and the fact that I was largely powerless to stop many of the bad things that happened from happening. I felt weak, impotent and powerless. Yet I had someone with me by that time that would help me in ways I could never have imagined back then.

I met Stephanie a year before we started dating. It was a fairly innocuous meeting, and we didn't talk, though we shared the same group of mutual friends at Sierra College. All that changed a year after we met, when Steph and I began coming up with character concepts for the game and we discovered a mutual creativity for storytelling. We still express this tendency today over chat programs wherein we play the characters whose stories we're telling.

Steph and I grew closer as the months passed, and eventually became good friends. I still remember the moment it began, too. She'd announced to the group that she was going for a walk around campus and that if anyone cared, they could come with. I chose to be her companion that day on her walk, and I listened as she told me her troubles, offering what little advice I could on the matter when prompted. Little did I know the huge impact this would have on my life from then on.

After that walk, I believe Steph began to change as well, and definitely for the better. The talk we had that day was only the first of many to come, the ones back then focusing mostly on her troubles with her then-boyfriend. Eventually, Steph grew to realize through those talks that she deserved better than she had, though at the time I didn't know that I would be the "better" that she would end up with. Yet looking back I wonder if I wasn't just the "better" that she needed, but the "best". They often say that George Washington was the only one who could do what he did at the time that he did it. Is the same true with me? Perhaps I'll never really know, but I've always believed that things happen for a reason, and this had definitely happened for reasons I wouldn't immediately notice.

After I met Stephanie and we began dating, the despair lifted. It had always been a goal of mine for many reasons to have a significant other, and I'd had a small number of people I'd called such over the years before her, and many false starts in between those, but with Stephanie it was different. It was very, very different. For one, the others I'd known had some measure of self confidence. Steph didn't have any when I first met her. I suppose that's what first drew me to her. I've always had a bit of a hero complex, and I saw a chance to help someone who needed it. It's been a long road, but I think I've done well, if I may toot my own horn for just a bit. I didn't yet realize that the hard times were just around the corner.

Those hard times would hit, as hard times often do, like a ton of bricks. I would like to believe that we didn't see the hard times coming, but looking back I think we were just in a state of denial. Her parents were elderly. Older than my own parents are, which should have been the first indicator. The other obvious indicators were their respective states of health. Her mother was long disabled from years working as a nurse, and her father had smoked for years and , as we would find out later, had developed esophageal cancer in addition to his heart disease. It was the second of these that would claim his life a few years into our relationship. Three years later, her mother's numerous health problems would claim her, sending her home to the Father Above.

The first three years were hard, but bearable. It didn't seem bearable at the time, but the fact that we got through it tells me that they were in fact bearable. Losing Steph's father, my would-be father-in-law, hit us both right in the heart, but Steph took it a lot harder than I did. Or perhaps we took it equally hard and just had a different way of showing it. I focused my grief into helping Steph deal with hers, only really letting it show after her cat had to be put down after he was gone. Steph lost her job weeks after he left us, and then her childhood home months later. They found another place, after which time I stayed with them permanently for a year, before opting to take an offer from my Dad to help me get my own life in order and move back in with him and mom. 

It was during this time, just as I was starting to readjust to living with my parents again, that Steph lost her mother. I got the call when I was at work that Steph had called 911, and was going to meet me at the hospital when I got there. After waiting for several hours we found out that Irma Pauline Eckhardt had died of heart failure. After three years of trying to hold on, God proved that no matter how tight the grip, when he calls you home, you have no choice but to answer. Well, answer she did, and left us wondering why it had to happen.

We wondered for a long time. I think Steph is still wondering. But I've at least come to some sort of answer that makes sense. The both of them died when they did because we needed to be thrown from the nest. After they were gone I realized that we'd been depending on them too much. It was then that I realized I had been depending on my own parents too much as well. I poured myself into my studies and steph into hers, and we soldiered on, but the despair still lingered.

Fast forward to today. I've lost my job at Staples due to layoff, Steph has finished school after returning and has student loans coming down the pike, and I'm still trudging along with my own schooling. I'm not getting hours at my new job, though I'm lucky to have found one, and they insist that they're going to give me hours, but I'm forced to look for other opportunities in case they don't. The despair came back in earnest after being gone for quite a while. I had a row with my mother because of that despair. I contemplated suicide because of that despair. But here's where things start looking up.

I've been watching Touched by an Angel on reruns lately, and the lessons that show teaches have stood the test of time, at least for me, and some have hit especially close to home, but there is one that repeats itself over and over again each episode: God loves you. I hear it at least once each episode. I sometimes have trouble remembering this fact, but the episodes have done wonders for helping me do so. 

What's my point after so long a post, you ask? My point is that I have chosen, after a sleepless night writing this post, that I choose to keep going. I choose to remove the despair from my life and replace it with the optimism and hope I had when I was growing up. I choose to be a positive force and face the hard times with those I love, helping them when they need it, and getting help from them when I need it.

I will not give up.

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