Looking Back & Feeling Haunted

Years ago, I took it upon myself to compile a sort of memoir of the life I’d lived. It was, to me, a sort of therapeutic purge. When I initially typed up the almost daily segments of what ultimately became a novel-length exploration of both the good and the bad aspects of my childhood and early adulthood…naturally, I focused a great deal on the bad. The dozens of blog posts associated with that attempted expiation were the most high-traffic blog posts I’ve written. Because of that, I’ve always entertained the thought of trying to clean up those blog posts so that I can make it something people could read without being near their computers or electronic devices. I assumed–perhaps rightly so–that something about what I was writing resonated with readers and made them feel better, or less alone in their own lives. I could be wrong. Maybe it was nothing more than morbid curiosity that kept people coming back for more.

I’ve been thinking about one series of entries in particular, apropos of nothing, and I thought it might be worthwhile to share a more cleaned-up and easy-to-read iteration of what I’d originally written back in 2014. This is a long one, so you’ll want to settle in. Each individual segment was written on a different day. Beyond fixing some of the language, punctuation, and editing sentences for clarity…this is what people were reading seven years ago.

I met her at a party one night when I was 15-years-old, only a couple of months before I got expelled for the latter part of the first semester of school. It wasn’t necessarily much of a party, mostly just a dozen or so of us hanging out. There was a little bit of drinking involved, some of us were smoking weed, but it wasn’t the sort of get-together that would get the police called on us unless the neighbors felt like being particularly awful.
I wasn’t an outgoing kid, and I barely spoke a word to her. That isn’t to say that I didn’t notice her or that she didn’t catch my eye. From that point on, I found myself looking forward to spending time with certain of my friends more than others because she was more likely to be around those people.
As it turned out, she had dated a friend of mine for a short while. She was also in 8th grade at the time, while I was a Sophomore in high school, so it felt like she was off-limits to me. It wasn’t the couple of years difference in age that posed the problem, but rather that she was the ex-girlfriend of one of my close friends.
Of course, all of this was irrelevant, as I had a girlfriend of my own at the time. That didn’t stop me from admiring her from whatever distance I felt I had to maintain, though.
She was beautiful in that girl-next-door, growing into herself sense. Also, in fitting with the girl-next-door dynamic, she was exceptionally sweet and not at all jaded or angsty like most of my metalhead, punk rock, druggie, and skater friends happened to be. As I got to know her better, it became clear that she was certainly smarter than most of my friends–and more personable. It struck me that–quite unlike me–it would be damnably difficult to dislike her. I only talked with her on occasion, in large part because she made me nervous, but also because I sincerely felt like she would think less of me the better she got to know me.
If everyone does indeed have a first love, she was mine.
She was the first girl to touch me in just the right way, as adulthood loomed on the horizon, when emotional and psychological identity starts developing us into the person we will ultimately become.
I feel I may want to clarify that I don’t mean she touched me in anything approaching a sexual manner. I’ve already established that she was off-limits, since you may not have been paying any attention.
If life had turned out differently, I like to think I might be able to look back on her as more than a crush or a passing fancy, but I don’t have the conviction required to believe that. As it stands, with the tragic way that things ultimately turned out, she is etched into whatever passes for a soul in me as being the first–and perhaps the truest–benchmark of what I would look for in love. That girl is seared into my memory in a way that no other could be. A few years later, I was accused of being in love with a ghost by a significant other who complained that there was no way anyone could compete against that.
I didn’t know it until later, but I had apparently made an impression on her as well. This was a bit of knowledge that, while comforting and flattering, served to make her loss all the more painful…but we will get to that soon enough, you impatient shit. I am having a difficult enough time writing all of this without you pressuring me to speed it along. Let me get to it my own way.
During the week following my expulsion from school, I reacted with a characteristic lack of impulse control. One of my friends–the girl in question’s ex-boyfriend–had been expelled simultaneously. This stood to reason, seeing as how he was frequently right there with me during those exploits that transpired while I should have been wasting away in the tedium and mind-numbing monotony of the classroom. He and I took to the interstate with our respective thumbs out, knowing that returning to our homes after being removed from school was something that neither of us was willing to do right away.
He and I made our way to where a couple of my friends lived and we stayed with them for a couple of days after discovering our newfound freedom. During those first few days, we ended up wandering through a couple of residential neighborhoods, checking cars for unlocked doors. One of those vehicles, a Dodge Caravan, happened to be the jackpot. Not only was the door unlocked, but the keys were right there waiting for us. As you can likely predict, we took the keys with us and took note of the location of that vehicle.
We were only able to stay with my friends one more night before we were left to our own devices again. If we’d had any common sense, we would have stopped right there, called it good, and returned to our homes to face the music. But, if we had been blessed with that sort of common sense, we would not have been us, and I would not have anything to write here, and we both know that you would be horrendously bored without my words to keep you company.
That night, with nowhere to go that we were willing to be, it was damn cold–as November nights in South Dakota are known to be. We walked the streets of the town, the constant movement being all that was keeping us warm. Finally, we got too tired to keep at it, and we happened to find a boat beneath a tarp in the parking lot of an apartment complex. It wasn’t perfect, but it was somewhere we were able to obtain some shelter from the wind and fall asleep in what was still painfully cold temperature.
That night was a deciding factor in what would become the biggest mistake of both of our lives. We had two paths ahead of us, and we brazenly marched down the wrong one with the sort of idiotic lack of awareness only total dipshit could manage to exhibit.
The following evening we returned to where we had found the minivan a couple of nights before, and we put those pilfered keys to use (with him behind the wheel because he was more comfortable driving than I was). We drove toward Sturgis with no real plan in mind, entirely unaware that we were on our way to crossing a line that would irrevocably change multiple lives for the worse.
I don’t rightly recall how it came about that we ran into his ex-girlfriend (the girl I was secretly interested in) and her best friend. Similarly, I don’t know how it was suggested that he and I could take them across the state to where the girl’s mother lived, but that became the plan. My friend asked me to go along with a story he concocted about how we had borrowed our recently stolen vehicle from one of my friends. There isn’t so much as a week that passes, even now, more than 20 years later, when I don’t wish I could go back and never utter that lie or that I could have spoken up and stopped the momentum we were building by simply telling the truth at any point over the following couple of days.
If I had any courage, to be honest, all of our lives would have been quite different…and I am confident in saying that they would have been better. I was selfish, though, and stupid, and I saw this as an opportunity to spend more time with this girl I had adored in silence. It breaks my heart to know that, as her best friend informed me some months later, they only climbed into that minivan because I was there and because they trusted me.
It seemed like a good plan. He and I would drop the girls off and then he and I would continue wherever the road and our continuing poor judgment led us. It started quite nicely. That night we drove across the border into Wyoming, just to get out of the state since we suspected that the vehicle was reported stolen. We slept in the van as comfortably as we could and cut back into South Dakota briefly on our way South and into Nebraska the following morning. Without any money, we shoplifted food, beverages, and cigarettes to get us by in addition to filling the tank and racing away from the fuel pumps.
Beyond my chance to bring this ill-conceived road trip to a grinding halt by being honest with the girls there was one other event that may have set us straight had our timing been better. We stopped at the college in Chadron, NE where a friend of mine was attending school but he wasn’t in the dormitory when we arrived. He would surely have provided a voice of reason, and I wish we’d had the patience to wait for him to return. We did not.
We slept in the van again that night in an isolated little town near the eastern portion of the South Dakota/Nebraska border. That night is one that I remember with painful clarity because it was one of the best nights I could have hoped to share with that particular girl. She came back to the middle row seat where I was attempting to sleep and fell asleep with her head in my lap. I spent a couple of hours watching her sleep and running my fingers through her hair. That night was a good one, it was a beautiful way to spend those hours, and I was happy when I fell asleep, feeling the pressure of her against me. It was a good thing I was so happy and content that night because it was the last time I would be happy for a good, long while.
The next morning made a nightmare of what only that night seemed to be a dream come true. But I am not going to get to that yet. I want to pretend this ends on a high note for just a little bit. Maybe, if I don’t document what followed, we can pretend there was a happy ending.

The morning of the worst day of my life started beautifully, which only serves to show how things can change. She was still sleeping against me when we woke up shortly after sunrise. I don’t think I even recalled falling asleep a few hours before, the last thing I remembered was the quiet sound of her breathing as I ran my fingers through the hair of her sleeping head. That would have been the perfect moment to have opened my mouth and told the truth. I have no doubt that she would have been angry with me for the deception, but I similarly have no doubt that she would have forgiven me…she was that kind of person, the sort of girl who couldn’t even conceive of malice directed at another person.
Of course, I didn’t say a thing, no matter how much I wish that I could go back and change that fact…if I had, we wouldn’t be experiencing the conclusion of this chapter of my life together. If I had simply done the right thing, I would be a better man for it…but I did not, and we’ll have to decide together what that says of me as a man.
I was shortsighted and took the beginning of the day as a sign that life was going to turn out just fine. I learned real fucking quick that the beginning of a thing has little to no relevance to determining how that thing will end, and if that is the only lesson you learn from me it will make this whole ordeal worth something.
Our agenda that morning was so simple. We were near some of the other girl’s family on the Eastern side of the state, so we were going to stop there and let her visit them for a short while, and then we would continue on our way to dropping the girls off as intended. Everything seemed to be going smoothly for us that morning and we filled up the tank again before leaving town (without paying for it, as you could probably guess) after that brief interlude with her family.
We were on our way down the highway when a police officer came along. He’d been heading the opposite direction, most likely because the cops had been called after a handful of kids in a minivan drove off without paying for their fuel. I don’t adequately know how to describe the feeling I experienced as I saw the cruiser whip around in the rearview mirror with lights and siren going, but terror and stomach-churning nervousness fall monstrously short as far as descriptions go. In a perfect world my friend would have recognized that we had reached the conclusion of our strange little journey and it was time to call it quits…instead, he accelerated.
Nothing about this situation could have played out well for us from that moment on. The girls were terrified and screaming from the second-row seat, begging him to stop the vehicle…but there was no indication that he was hearing them at all. Until that time I had never really considered the possibility that a minivan could reach speeds above 100 MPH. I genuinely hope never to experience that again.
To my credit–the little bit that I might deserve–I tried to get my friend to pull over at least long enough to let the girls out. I pleaded with him and swore that I would stay with him to see it through to whatever end we met if he would just stop and let them out.
There was no getting through to him, though. Under the circumstances, I can understand how he would have driven on, oblivious to the pleading from the rest of us in the vehicle. He was as scared as we were; more so, I suspect, because he knew that he was behind the wheel of a stolen minivan. Chances are that he wasn’t even hearing us while we attempted to get him to slow down or stop the vehicle. During the few minutes that followed the officer beginning his pursuit, there was nothing else going through my friend’s mind but a desperate need to escape and a cascade of fight or flight hormones.
I was angry with him for quite some time after this, and I liked to pretend that I would have done something differently if I had been behind the wheel, but I don’t know that events would have played out any differently had that been the case. Under the same conditions, I may have had the same panic response that led him to run rather than stop and accept the consequences of our actions. The simple truth is that I don’t know anything of the sort, and it was unfair of me to be angry with him for reacting out of fear. I let go of that anger a good number of years ago, forgiving him for, but not forgetting the events of that morning.
The high-speed pursuit didn’t last long even though it felt like forever while it was happening. My friend pulled off from the highway onto another road as soon as the opportunity presented itself, presumably to try and lose the officer and extract us from the god-awful situation we were in. Sadly, diverting our attempted escape onto this alternate road directly led to the horrible outcome that was soon to arrive. No one would have anticipated the sudden transition from pavement to gravel, but the inevitable outcome of hitting the gravel surface at close to 120MPH was highly predictable.
We were out of control almost immediately and the minivan flipped into the air before rolling a few times and coming to a stop upside down a good distance from the road.
The specifics of the accident are difficult to recall, having happened so damn fast. I remember my seatbelt snapping and I have some flashes of recollection of being thrown around inside of the vehicle before being ejected from the rear hatch of the minivan. I remember bouncing and rolling along the dry, hard-packed dirt ground for a while before things finally became still.
I don’t recall losing consciousness at all, but I sure as hell wasn’t fully coherent at first. It was the sound of the other girl crying that shook me out of the daze I was experiencing. I picked myself up from the ground and stumbled over to where she was laying on the ground. I could see that she was hurt, and badly, but I tried to tell her that everything would be ok and that there had to be an ambulance on the way. She asked me if I saw her friend, and it took me a little while to locate her.
I frantically searched the ground for her, my eyes not focusing quite right, but I did finally see her a short distance away. She wasn’t crying at all and didn’t appear to be moving, so I began to walk over to where she was laying as quickly as I could.
I was almost to her when the officer yelled from the road for me to lie down and wait for the paramedics to arrive. My body wanted me to listen to him, but I had to get over to her so I just kept walking in that direction until I couldn’t stay on my feet any longer. It had been pure adrenaline that kept me going that far and I had just burned through it, I guess. I don’t really remember hitting the ground, but I was laying there again, my head tilted awkwardly to the side to keep my eyes on the girl who had only a short while before been sleeping peacefully pressed up against me. I swear that she was breathing and looking back at me, but the mind plays tricks on us during times of great stress and I can’t trust the things I believed myself to have seen.
I only later learned that the van had landed on her during one of its impacts and that her heart had burst from the pressure. It was something to that effect. My lies and cowardice, selfishness, and stupidity had broken her heart. That was the lesson I carried with me from that horrific day.
She didn’t make it through that morning, didn’t even survive to make it into the ambulance as far as I know. I didn’t know any of that until later. If she was still breathing while I lay there on the ground with my eyes locked on hers, I may have been the last thing she saw before she passed away…and she deserved something so much better than that, she deserved to see something beautiful and peaceful to carry with her into the end.
Her friend’s injuries were severe enough that she had to be flown from the nearby hospital to one where they could properly tackle the rebuilding process required to repair the damage from the accident. I saw her again just a few years ago and she still walked with a noticeable limp, and it made me wince to see it.
Beyond numerous contusions and psychological damage that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, I fractured five vertebrae in my middle and lower spine. My insistence on walking around immediately after the accident certainly couldn’t have helped that condition.
The driver was uninjured and taken into custody. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to serve a year in a juvenile detention facility for the part he played in the accident. There was no attempt to convict me of anything, apparently determining that I was being punished enough thanks to the injuries I sustained in the wreck…but I would have gladly traded places with my friend if it had been an option. Some part of me wanted to be punished, needed it…but I was not. The owners of the minivan did not press charges out of some sense of compassion for the children who had been involved in the theft and subsequent tragedy, but I remember halfway wishing that they had…just so that I could have been held accountable.
I was only a month shy of my 16th birthday, and I was a killer. I may not have been behind the wheel, but I was just as complicit in killing the first girl I loved as the boy who had been driving. Growing up Catholic taught me about sins of commission and sins of omission…and that is a lesson I took to heart. I was actively involved in the theft that placed the fateful Dodge Caravan in our careless, stupid hands…that was a sin of commission. I spent a couple of days during our little road trip neglecting to tell the truth, which would have saved us all a great deal of pain and suffering…that was a sin of omission. I may not believe in God, the dogma of the Catholic faith I grew up in, or any of that silly spiritual nonsense, but the concept of sin is something that I can embrace. Sin, to me, is the way that we wrong those around us. It’s the choices we make that directly or indirectly hurt the people in our lives.
This is the point where I should tell you about the time spent in the hospital and the god-awful, painful nightmare that was her funeral, but I can’t do it, not right now. I’ve spent too long thinking about this tonight, picking at wounds that I’ve never quite allowed to heal, and I need to step away for a bit. I’ll tell you the rest, just not right now.

My first couple of hours in the hospital consisted of numerous x-rays and images being taken. I realized how badly injured I was when asked to stand for a series of x-rays and, upon reaching my feet to the ground, it felt as if my spine was collapsing like an accordion on raw nerves. I’ve never felt anything before or since that has compared to that pain. I sincerely hope that remains true. I was assisted in laying back down and advised not to move until they had a chance to examine the images they’d already taken.
The doctor who came to see me expressed a sort of admiration when the first words from my mouth were essentially my begging him to tell me about the two girls who were brought in with me. He indicated that he was pleasantly surprised because almost anyone else, in his experience, under the circumstances would have started by asking what was wrong with themselves before even thinking about anyone else. I didn’t deserve his respect or admiration; at that point, I couldn’t have given a shit less about my condition, even if I had been rapidly dying. I was there by the actions of my own stupid hands, but those two girls were there because of me as well, I felt responsible for whatever might have happened to them.
It was then I was informed that the other girl was being airlifted to Sioux City, IA due to the severity of her injuries. These consisted of a shattered ankle and pelvis along with numerous other fractures. It was devastating to hear that she had been hurt so badly, enough so that it took me a moment to collect myself and recognize that he hadn’t told me anything about the one person I was most concerned with. I had to ask him directly about her and his hesitation before answering was all it took to confirm my worst fear. I don’t recall what he was saying and was only able to focus a fraction of my attention on his words at the time, he was telling me that she hadn’t made it to the hospital…he was telling me about the extent of her injuries when I interrupted him, insisting that I needed to see her.
Her mother had been contacted and was on her way to the hospital to identify and claim her daughter’s body. The doctor informed me that I would have to wait until she arrived and approved of it before I would have permission to see the body myself.
I had never met her mother before this, and I was terrified. I knew that there was no way she would agree to let me see her daughter, not after I had helped to kill her. The wait those following couple of hours was horrible. I imagined numerous scenarios in which the woman tried to kill me after the trauma of losing her daughter hit home. In none of those would I have lifted a finger to stop her.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, though. Her daughter had learned from a wonderful example in the woman I met that afternoon. I had no way of knowing how difficult it must have been for her to look at me and talk to me with compassion, but she didn’t shy away from it. She was kind and understanding, and she didn’t decline my request to see her daughter.
I got wheeled into a room where there was one other occupant, still and silent. A nurse helped me onto my side, so I could face the girl who’d been sleeping so peacefully only half a day before. My mind played cruel tricks on me. I kept seeing her chest rise and fall with breaths that she wasn’t taking and subtle movements of her eyelids that she wasn’t capable of making.
I had to stretch awkwardly and painfully to take her hand, muttering unintelligible pleas for her to come back to me and squeeze my hand. I spent the whole time talking to her, and I have no idea what I was saying any longer. I remember trying to pray to any gods that might exist to simply let me take her place, crying that I would give anything to have me be the one who had died in her place…an exercise in futility.
The nurse was patiently waiting outside for me to tell her that I was ready to go, but that never happened. I probably never would have called out for her. I was finally removed from the room when they needed to prepare her body for being transferred across the state for funeral preparations.
I spent the next couple of days in that hospital, becoming acquainted with the god-awful uncomfortable back brace that I would be wearing for months to follow. I was miserable and depressed; if those words even come close to describing how I was feeling…my interactions with others could probably best be described as being despondent. Something about me made a positive impression on one of the nurses who was caring for me though, as she kept in regular contact with me for a few months after I was discharged.
The ride back home was a terrifying ordeal in its own right. South Dakota had gotten hit by a winter storm. My mother, along with my favorite uncle, still drove across the state to recover me from the hospital. I was more than a little bit uncomfortable being in any vehicle for a long time after the events of a few days before, and the steady snowfall did not help matters at all. It was even more uncomfortable being forced to face two people who expected better of me, two members of my family who believed in me and the “limitless potential” I had always been told I exhibited by family, teachers, and the like. I can’t imagine the disappointment they must have felt, and thanks to my children turning out far better than I had, I doubt I ever will be able to.
I didn’t know whether I should attend the funeral. I felt that my presence there would be disruptive, that it would be an insult to her memory, that it was sacrilege of sorts. I would likely have avoided the funeral altogether if I hadn’t been able to ask permission of her mother, to ask if my presence would even be welcome there.
It was at the funeral when I learned that she used to talk about me now and again to her mother and grandparents, that she had a fondness for me that I had been entirely oblivious to, that preceded that single night we had together while she drifted off to sleep peacefully as close to being in my arms as she ever was. It wasn’t until some time later that I learned from the other victim of the accident that they had only joined the driver and me in that vehicle because I was there and they had trusted me…which taught me that people were better off not trusting me.
Between the cocktail of pain medication and muscle relaxers and the emotional turmoil of the circumstances, most of the funeral is a blur to me. I do remember not wanting to leave the gravesite until well after most everyone else had gone. My mother was grateful (and I suppose I was too) for the two friends of mine who had also remained behind, because it was those two boys who finally got my attention away from the cold ground and helped me to my feet, encouraging me that it was time to go. Aside from the cemetery groundskeepers, we were the last four people still there.
I honestly hadn’t noticed that we had been left alone. My mother’s fear may have been right, I might have intended to crawl down into that hole myself…I don’t adequately recall.
After the funeral, her mother kept in touch with me, and when it was time for her to return home in December, she asked me to join her and her parents on the trip. They were good people, better and kinder than I could ever hope to be, so I know that there wasn’t a malicious desire to hurt or torture me for my part in the tragic accident…but they wouldn’t have been more successful at applying torture if their motives had been cruel. I traveled with them for hours, welcomed and treated with kindness that I did not deserve.
When we arrived I was shocked and appalled to discover that the bed I would be sleeping in for the next few days was a bed belonging to a ghost. I slept on sheets that she had slept upon countless times while staying with her mother. I lay awake at night staring at posters she had placed on the walls and listening to a stereo she had listened to while sleeping in that room as well. I went on walks with her mother through a town where they had walked together many times. I shared meals with a devastated family suffering from a terrible loss, and this was the one time in my life when I sincerely entertained the thought of suicide. It was at that point when I stopped taking my pain medication. It was only partially because I felt that I deserved the pain and was cheating somehow by deadening it.
It was only a short while later, after returning to school for the spring semester, that I swallowed those pills I had been saving. It didn’t work out as planned, I became disoriented and barely functional, and sick. But I kept breathing. Some friends, good friends I didn’t deserve to have escorted me from the school and kept watch over me to see if I needed to be taken to the hospital. I was high, but I was alive…and there have been times in my life when I wish that had turned out differently as well.
Well, there you go…that particular story is done. I’m sure there is more I could say, details I didn’t include…but you’ll have to live with it as is because I am tired of sharing this bit of my life with you. There is a limit to my endurance, and we have reached it.

Embracing Change

In early March of 2021, I interviewed for what I hoped would be a second job I could work in the evenings and over the weekends, to gain some much-desired experience and add some surplus income. I anticipated being able to pay off my 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander SE early, maybe purchase some new camera gear, and add a bit of savings for potentially rainy days down the road. This is not how things worked out.

I had spent almost six years working in a call center environment for GE Appliances. Initially, it seemed like the sky was the limit for me there. I was promoted from my original position in less than a year, and promoted again in another six months or so to a position I’d decided I wanted when I’d gone through training in May of 2015. For the next two years, I worked as a Team Support Specialist, fielding supervisor requests from consumers, providing floor support when not otherwise occupied, approving or rejecting requests to bend our guidelines for individual situations, and assisting our new representatives for the Consumer Relations department as they first started taking calls (and for the subsequent month or two until they were dispersed to their respective teams).

I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing at that time, the work itself was rewarding and the people I worked with were largely a fantastic group of people. I only vacated that role when a position I desperately wanted became available. I applied, and was hired, for a position as a Trainer and Curriculum Developer for the Product Service Specialist department (essentially technical support and the GE Appliances answer center). For the following year, I got to work in a position I might never have considered leaving. I didn’t exclusively train new representatives for that position, occasionally training new Consumer Relations classes as well as aiding with training for our Home Delivery department (interfacing with Home Depot and certain other retailers for whom we assisted with delivery/installation of new purchases for consumers). There was hardly a position I couldn’t slip into within our particular call center environment without the slightest bit of difficulty.

I excelled at that role, receiving post-training scores that rivaled or even surpassed colleagues who had been in the same position for years before I’d gotten the Trainer position. I successfully graduated the first class with 100% perfect attendance in a long time, largely by instilling a sense of accountability to one another and to me in each of the trainees in that class. Maintaining perfect attendance as a class, through the whole of our training period (five weeks) became a challenge my trainees wanted to achieve…and they did indeed achieve it.

I had a particularly low attrition rate (individuals who did not complete training vs. the total number of trainees who had started my training classes) and a great many people I trained were promoted internally within months of graduating from my training classes. I can’t take all of the credit for that success rate, as I could only work with the people who came through the door, but I did prepare them for everything I conceivably could and made certain they had the clearest understanding of what they could/should do when unexpected scenarios presented themselves.

The year after I’d become a Trainer, the company hired a new Director of Quality and Training from outside of the company and everything changed. The writing was on the wall, there was a push to start from scratch and establish a whole new training environment for GE Appliances. I honestly expected that I’d make it through the new interview and come out the other side still a Trainer. That was not how things worked out either. Instead, I found myself in the unpleasant and unfortunate position of needing to either find a new role within the company (if appealing positions became available before the Valentine’s Day of 2020 deadline) or accept severance and part ways with the company.

I had done nothing wrong. I’d not only displayed competence and capability in every role I’d had within the company for the previous (almost) five years, but I had exceeded expectations whenever I’d been given the opportunity to do so…and now I was being forced to apply for positions I didn’t really want so that I could keep my job, my pay, and my benefits as they were. I maintained as much positivity as I conceivably could, having been dealt a blow like that. I’d not only lost the position I’d worked for years to obtain, but I was also potentially going to lose my job altogether. My two colleagues who’d been in the other Trainer roles opted for severance…and it was a choice I understood, with their greater seniority with the company. I was not thrilled with the way things had turned out and my colleagues weren’t either. I suspect anyone would be hard-pressed to accept that sort of turmoil with a smile and total acceptance.

I did find and accept a new position within the company, in one of the only roles where I might have new things to learn. Until the Valentine’s Day deadline, I continued working as a Trainer…assisting not only my replacement who’d been hired from outside but also the lady who’d taken the Director position. I held no bitterness nor resentment toward these people, and I worked hard to make sure the transition could be as seamless as possible for all parties involved. I wanted the department to continue being successful after I’d vacated my position and moved on to the lateral role I’d been able to find.

I was still in a pseudo-leadership role in the new position. There had been no pay cut and no major adjustment to my schedule. I should have been happy. I was not.

For a period, I was content with the new position, learning a different side of the business and doing things I’d never had to do in previous jobs within the company…but contentment is not the same as pleasure. I found no pleasure in what I was doing. At this point, I was just doing a job and collecting a paycheck. There was no more passion and there really wasn’t any room for surpassing expectations or going above and beyond in the role where I’d found myself.

Sadly, it became apparent that there seemed to be no room for me to go anywhere else within the company either. I interviewed multiple times over the final year with GE Appliances, even managing to impress people who worked at the corporate level in one of those interviews…but I didn’t find acceptance in any of these attempts to perhaps move back into a position where I could feel something rewarding in what I was doing. More than that, certain members of the leadership within my particular call center environment seemed to actively strive to keep me precisely where I was. I felt I was receiving none of the respect I had absolutely earned through the years I’d put into the company up to that point. In fact, I felt actively disrespected in some instances.

I began feeling stifled and demotivated. I dreaded even moving from my bedroom to my home office to log into the work computer to start my day. The pseudo-leadership role I’d pivoted into was beginning to feel less and less like a “leadership” position and more like something being micromanaged and otherwise dismissed.

Sure, I was making just shy of $40k a year and I had three weeks of vacation to look forward to every year as well as a bank of accumulated paid-time-off that rolled over into each new year and could have become quite substantial. The health insurance, dental, and vision were fantastic and reasonably low cost. There was plenty to keep me there, and so I remained in that position I’d never wanted in the first place for more than a year.

I applied with Gray Television (the media conglomerate that owns/operates the ABC and FOX affiliates, KOTA and KEVN, locally) because a friend of mine who works there had told me a position opened up for a Technical Media Producer (a combination of master control operations and directing newscasts). He and I had worked together at KNBN (the local NBC affiliate) years before, during the eight years when I’d worked there between 2002 and 2010. I’d made a comment during one of our conversations that I actually sort of missed working in television broadcasting and he had that remark in mind when the position became available. I’d worked in Master Control for ten years between my previous stint with KOTA (when it was still locally owned/operated) and the years I spent with KNBN. I’d also worked in any number of positions in the production department for newscasts, aside from directing. This seemed like a fantastic opportunity I’d be foolish to ignore.

I applied, not sure whether I’d even be considered, having been out of the industry for 11 years. I’d worked here and there in various production capacities for short films being produced/directed by local filmmakers as well as working on the Full Throttle Saloon television show for what became their final season of the series…but those were different things altogether from what I’d be needing to do in the Technical Media Producer (TMP) role. I figured it was worth a shot, just because of the potential to gain some new experience and expertise while making some extra money. Working part-time in television again might be refreshing enough to make me hate my full-time job just a little bit less.

It turned out that there were no part-time positions available. The job was full-time and they wanted me for it.

I was going to be facing a pay cut to almost half of the $19+ an hour I’d been making (not quite half, but near enough that it’s not worth being more precise) if I accepted the job. There was no way I could work both jobs, I spent a while dwelling on the logistics involved, and it simply wasn’t an option. I told them that I’d need to consider things and weigh everything before making a decision. I wasn’t sure if I could realistically take that sort of financial hit. They accepted that I wouldn’t have an answer until the afternoon of the following day. Based on the reaction when I called and stated that I’d like to accept the job, I don’t think they expected me to take it, knowing how much money I’d be losing in doing so. Though I’d gone into the interview hoping to increase my income (instead, I was being faced with potentially decreasing it dramatically), I also knew that I wasn’t happy where I was, regardless of the income level.

Since starting with Gray Television on the 19th of March, my 16-year-old daughter and my significant other both seem to think I’ve been happier. My schedule was all over the place during these first three weeks, and the permanent shift I’m transitioning into has me waking up at 3:45 AM Monday through Friday, but I can’t deny that I’m happier now than I’d been for more than a year with GE Appliances. Not only that, but less than three full weeks into my new job and I already spent almost a full hour and a half directing newscasts today. Good Morning KOTA Territory is an hour and a half morning newscast that runs from 5:30 to 7 AM (on KOTA, obviously), followed by Good Morning Black Hills from 7 to 8 AM (on KEVN, in this case), and then there’s an interval until the Noon newscast runs on KOTA for half an hour. This morning, I directed most of the 5:30 to 6 AM segment of Good Morning KOTA Territory, the full 6 to 6:30 AM segment, as well as the full KOTA Territory News At Noon. Naturally, I had another director there to shadow me in case I fucked something up beyond repair–I didn’t, by the way–but I already feel like I’m treated with more respect with Gray Television than I had with GE Appliances for quite some time.

There, now you have an update on what’s been going on in my life.

Sometimes there are more important things to consider than money, though it can be damned difficult to take a leap that will diminish one’s income. It’s not a choice everyone can make, that’s for sure.

COVID-19 Vaccine Dose One

My timing couldn’t have been better, transitioning from my role with GE Appliances to my new position as a Technical Media Producer for Gray Broadcasting (KOTA/KEVN).

It was just last week that 1E classifications became eligible for COVID vaccinations. I immediately jumped on that and scheduled my first dose for my next day off, which happened to be today.

Now I simply have to wait another four weeks until I can receive dose two of the Moderna vaccine.

Why the Neurodiversity Movement Matters

I was a reasonably young child when I was diagnosed with ADHD. I wasn’t one of those cases where the diagnosis was just being tossed around and applied to kids behaving as kids always have…in my case (as with many others back in the 1980s), it was a legitimate diagnosis. I was prescribed Ritalin at that time, and it did seem to do the trick–when I was in school. By the time I’d been home for a little while, I was twice as difficult to deal with as I’d been before the diagnosis and prescription. Before that, I’d been a handful–no surprise to anyone who knows me as even an acquaintance, even as an adult–after that, I was a holy fucking terror.
It didn’t take long before my mother stopped me taking the Ritalin, because it was ultimately a bit of an issue. If it had been a few years later, they probably could have found some sort of scheduled dosage that might not have produced the same negative side-effects. Whatever the case may be, life goes on.
Years later I was further diagnosed with passive-aggressive personality disorder, not to be mistaken with someone behaving in a passive-aggressive manner. They are two distinctly different things, though there are some commonalities in the manifestation of passive-aggressive personality disorder and an individual being a passive-aggressive asshole–but there’s no sense in going into that here. As with other personality disorders, there is no drug treatment associated with the passive-aggressive disorder–it’s a wiring issue rather than a chemical one.
Passive-aggressive personality disorder frequently goes hand-in-hand with anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder (MDD), suicidal ideation, and substance abuse. You might have guessed it if you figured there’s a reason I mention all of those things in particular.
You win the prize!
There is no prize.
Get used to disappointment.
In addition to these things I’ve already mentioned, there have been strong signs of PTSD related to assorted experiences from my childhood (both as a young child and in my teen years). With all of those factors combined, I like to think I’ve turned out to be a reasonably functional adult and a productive member of society. I definitely have my issues here and there, and I can certainly still be quite difficult to deal with in even small doses (depending on the day)…but, all-in-all I’m keeping it together rather well if I do say so myself–and I do, so don’t argue with me.
I wish there had been something like the neurodiversity movement when I was younger, or that it had been more well-established and well-known at that time. I spent most of my life feeling like there were things wrong with me as if I were broken or damaged in some way–and perhaps I was to some extent. I still frequently refer to myself as being precisely that. I laugh and joke about how I’m broken or damaged, dysfunctional and maladjusted…but there’s that kernel deep inside that curls up into a little fetal shape whenever I do it.
It’s ok, though, I’m a bit of a masochist.
The neurodiversity movement is focused on treating these (mostly high functioning) people as being nothing more than a natural (and sometimes valuable) thread of the overall tapestry of human diversity. It’s refreshing and more than a little bit liberating to be treated as if I fall into a spectrum of what can simply be called a person with a normal human brain–as preconditioned as I might be to consider it anything but normal.
There are a lot of us out here.
Some of us are more high functioning than and some less so, but there’s no cause to pretend that we’re somehow less than other people, regardless of where we fall on that spectrum. It takes some degree of patience to deal with some of us, myself included. Personally, I recognize how challenging I can be on a normal basis and I make concessions for that. I’m not exclusive in doing so. Most of us who fall into the neurodivergent categorization are well aware of these things and we’ve learned to cope (as best we can) and to provide a bit of leeway for others in our lives. This isn’t true for everyone, of course, as there are extreme cases, but a large number of us are just like everyone else, just with a little bit more psychological/emotional/mental baggage in tow.

For some additional reading on the Neurodiversity Movement, I’m including the following link:

https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/empowering-your-child/building-on-strengths/neurodiversity-what-you-need-to-know

Part Thirty-Eight: Life After Meth

It was the final little span of time while the degenerate and his wife were in my life, after my roommate and I had opted for a life of relative sobriety and clarity in our lives and in our home, that I ended up being involved in what would be one of my strangest and categorically one of the worst relationships of my life…though a wonderful little girl did come out of it, so I can’t claim that it was all bad.

The girl that I ended up involved with was the daughter of the degenerate’s wife, someone I had dismissively met years before and not remembered. In my newly adopted sobriety she and I bonded over our mutual disdain for the junkies and tweakers still populating our respective lives. She and I had both recently sobered up and felt more than a little bit of contempt for those who hadn’t made the same choice.

When I say that she sobered up, I mean only that she had stopped using methamphetamine and cocaine, because she was still one hell of a drinker. There was one evening in particular during which she emptied a bottle of gin into a bowl along with a can of Dr. Pepper and thirstily continued to drink from said bowl like the classiest woman I’ve ever met. Being highly intoxicated by the time she was done, she was in no state to go anywhere so I invited her to just sleep in my bed with me that night. She ultimately stormed out of the house in the late night hours without even putting her shoes on because her attempt to seduce me failed for two reasons, the first one being that I wasn’t interested at all but also because there is one thing I have always insisted on; I will not sleep with a woman who is intoxicated unless we’ve had a sexual relationship already in place, I don’t know if it’s a moral code or what one might call it, but it would feel too much like taking advantage of someone.

Had I been in a better state of mind, without the after effects of months of heavy drug use and a thoroughly confusing non-relationship that I told you about already, this girl and I would not have become anything more than friends. I wasn’t particularly attracted to her, physically or otherwise, but we did click in some respects that surely could have made us friends at the time. I was not in a good place though, certainly not a healthy one yet, and she was very much interested in me.

Who was I to deny her interest; I wasn’t someone anyone else would want?

There was pressure from her mother for us to get together as well, because she had met my two oldest children and determined that I would be able to give her a beautiful grandchild or grandchildren, if only I could be persuaded to become intimate with her daughter.

The whole situation was fucked up, and only became more fucked up when both the mother and daughter approached me (together as well as separately) in order to propose that I knock the daughter up and then I could leave the picture altogether if I so desired.

I sometimes have those moments when I am forced to question whether I am mentally retarded in some small way or at least severely unbalanced, and my agreement to that plan was definitely one of those things that elicit that rumination.

It didn’t remain as clean and businesslike as all that, as she and I fell into a sort of relationship together…and she did indeed become pregnant after only a couple of months. I wish I could regret that, but the daughter we had together makes that impossible for me. Children have a way of doing that sort of thing to us, turning an otherwise regrettable experience into something we wind up treasuring even if there is nothing else worth holding on to from a whole period of our lives.

I will say that, if it had been possible, I would have preferred to have this daughter with a different partner though…a better alternative would not have been difficult to find.

During the pregnancy itself, things really weren’t so bad with her. She may have given up drugs prior to meeting me, but her alcoholism went on hiatus during the pregnancy and that served to make her a much more tolerable human being. She was so proud of herself for being completely sober for the first time in I don’t even know how long, and it was contagious enough that I was proud of her as well.

That didn’t last long.

It was only two weeks after our daughter was born when I received a phone call from her while I was at work because she needed me to pick her and our daughter up after I got off because she was drunk in an apartment downtown and there was no one sober who could get her and our newborn daughter home. After retrieving her she repaid my kindness by vomiting in my car, having managed to do little more than put the window down before evacuating the mostly liquid contents of her stomach.

This became a routine for us, not the puking in my car part of it (thankfully that was only the once), but the retrieving her drunken self from somewhere or another. Initially it was once every couple of weeks, for a month or two, and then it was once a week, and it kept getting worse until it was a couple of days pretty much every week that I was having to rescue our daughter from some place her mother had dragged her off to in order to be drunk, slobbering, stupid drunk.

The relationship didn’t survive her drunken escapades after we moved into a new house shared with my former roommate, the waiter, and his girlfriend. Having friends around helped me to build up the necessary self-respect to offer her an ultimatum, that she stop drinking so much or she needed to leave. Of course, I was the bad guy for putting my foot down like this.

This was not the first time, nor was it to be the last, that I was faced with a woman who treated me like I was an asshole for little more than standing my ground and displaying a modicum of self-respect and dignity, demanding a little bit of decency and consideration from my supposed partner. Clearly I am a fucking idiot because there have been more than just one or two women I’ve become involved with who considered it an intolerable affront for me to demand any such thing. Maybe it has to do with the sort of women I attract (looking, as I do, like a fleshy pin cushion), maybe it’s just something about me that makes me seem like I am suitable to be walked all over like a carpet and shouldn’t have the audacity to demand more from these women. Whatever it is, I damn well need to figure out how to change it one of these days. That sort of shit gets old really fucking quickly.

As you can probably guess, she opted to continue drinking her life away rather than concern herself with being a mother or my partner. She moved out with our little girl and continued living her life as she preferred. Thankfully that baby girl still ended up with me a lot of the time, during my days off and when her mother was at work I would keep her there with me since there was no other babysitter available.

The fact that my daughter was spending so much time with me even after her mother moved out was something that made me exceptionally angry about what came next in this particular story.

It was less than year after being out on her own that the mother was picked up drunk by the police, in a car full of other drunks, out on some errand or another. She became hysterical and insisted that the officers let her return home or take her there to her baby. The police checked out the house in question and found our daughter asleep in her crib in a house full of drunk and/or high individuals, not a sober person in sight.

Our daughter was taken into protective custody and Child Protection Services placed her in temporary foster care. I didn’t find out about any of this until a couple of days later when I called the mother to inquire as to why our little girl hadn’t been dropped off with me.

I was livid, to put it mildly.

My being angry was made no better when I was finally able to contact someone with Child Protection Services to demand that they let me know what was going on with my daughter and why I hadn’t been contacted. They rambled off some bullshit about how they had no contact information for me and that they were going to keep her in foster care because they didn’t feel that it would be a good idea to have her in unfamiliar or strange surroundings. Think about that for just a moment, they placed her with total strangers as foster care rather than send her to be with her own father, with whom she had spent probably as much time as she had with her mother, if not more. This was the sincere, totally straight-faced response that I received from these people. These are people who have to have achieved some manner of college education before they can work for that department, and yet the total lack of reasoning capability exhibited by the caseworker I spoke with was beyond astounding to me.

It offended my mother and grandmother as well, and they began petitioning the caseworker to pull her head out of her ass in what was probably a more civil tone than I was managing to muster after a couple of days time. I am not ashamed to admit that I was not composing myself in quite the gentlemanly fashion I probably should have been…under the circumstances I had every right to be angry.

It took a while to get through to these people and it was finally agreed that our daughter would be released back into the custody of her mother if she agreed to leave the home and roommates she had and was residing with me. So, she and our daughter began occasionally staying in the house with me, but mostly they would show up early in the morning on the days when the caseworker was going to perform an evaluation of the living conditions. I know that I was breaking the law by going along with this deception, but those jackasses were not going to release my daughter into my custody, and I sure as shit didn’t want her mother living with me again. We manipulated the situation to our mutual ends in order to get our daughter out of foster custody and I feel no guilt about doing so.

The mother was no more suitable to be caring for our daughter than she was before that whole debacle had taken place, but I was damned if that little girl was going to end up staying in foster care any longer than she already had…and it worked out, to some extent.

Sadly, the mother is no more suitable to be a mother today than she was then, less so in a number of ways. She has been in and out of treatment programs four or five times since then for drug and alcohol abuse, Child Protection Services has become involved in her life again at least one more time, and our daughter has been almost exclusively living in my custody for a number of years now, which is where she belongs. It’s just a damn shame that her mother seems to be unwilling or unable to provide a better example of what it means to be an adult and a woman.

I sure know how to pick ‘em, right? You can shut up though, I don’t need your judgment, and it’s not like I’m unaware of the fact that I have some pretty damn poor taste or judgment when it comes to the women I allow into my life. It’s not always a disaster though, just most of the time.

Part Twenty-Two: A Step Back In Time

I spent a good, long while telling you about my sordid and pathetic history with women during my teen years a short while ago, spotlighting some of the most important relationships that I’d been a part of during that period of my life, and there are more of them to discuss because I would be remiss to avoid talking about them. First, however, I need to go back a little bit further…well, a lot further, because my problems with interacting with women stretch back a long way.

It might have been a direct causal relationship between what happened with my next door neighbor as a child and the fact that I developed an unhealthy interest in sex and sexual gratification at an early age. I ended up having to see a counselor when I was in third grade because my teacher caught me rubbing my penis up against the bar underneath my desk, kids are never as sneaky and subtle as they seem to think they are, and I was no exception to that.

It was at approximately that same time when I developed a bit of a crush on a girl in my class, and that part is perfectly normal. What was not normal was the way that my crush on her manifested itself. I was a creepy little shit, expressing stalker tendencies as early as second or third grade, riding my bike across town to the neighborhood where she lived and proceeding to ride my bike back and forth along the street in front of her house. I even went so far as to become friendly with a nice old gentleman who attended the same church as my family because he happened to live across the street from her, all so that I could watch her house from the workshop that he had in his garage.

What was easily the pinnacle of my creepy behavior regarding her revolved around a gift that I wanted to give her. I had been wandering around in the hills throughout the day, like I frequently did, when I came across the carcass of a deer that had probably been hit by a car and limped off to die where I later encountered it. This was not a fresh carcass by any means. Limbs had been removed by carrion eaters, what was left had become dessicated and was in a state of advanced decay. The thoughts that followed my discovery are not the sort of thing that should have seemed reasonable to me at the time, but they apparently did. I saw those remains and immediately determined that I was going to use it to fashion a fur coat for the girl I was interested in.

It was probably a mile and a half to two mile walk directly through the center of our small town from where I exited the hills to home, and I walked calmly that whole distance dragging a deer carcass behind me like it was a perfectly rational thing to be doing. This damn kid that people already seemingly thought was spooky enough (admittedly they had adequate cause to think that I was perhaps a bit touched) comes wandering through town in the middle of the day with a rotting animal dragging behind him. Scratch what I said before about not knowing why other kids wanted to beat me up when I was a kid, I think we might have just uncovered the solution to that particular mystery…or at least part of it.

My mother was less than enthused with finding a dead deer at home and it was placed in the garbage. When I couldn’t find it, I located it in the garbage can and placed it in the fort that my grandfather, uncle, and I had built for me only a short while before. It disappeared from there while I was in school, and I couldn’t find it again. I didn’t throw a fit or anything of the sort, so I wasn’t entirely insane…there’s some comfort to be drawn from that. I never did get to give her the coat that I planned as a gift and was thus able to avoid being placed under psychiatric care, because I sincerely doubt that outcome could have been avoided if I’d tried to hand her what would have probably been a poorly skinned pelt from a decaying corpse. Looking back on this, I’m having a difficult time not laughing, because my sense of humor is decidedly perverse.

My apparent obsession with this girl was unhealthy and if it was an adult behaving the way that I was, they would belong in jail or some sort of mental heath institute. I ended up dragging my best friend into it as well, the same friend I was experimenting with sexually during those early years. I began calling this girl and just breathing into the phone or hanging up as soon as she or anyone else answered. I had apparently learned my seduction techniques from a late night viewing of When a Stranger Calls.

I want to say that it was fourth grade when that all came to a sudden end though, as her family had called the phone company or the police and gotten the number traced back to my grandmother’s house where I’d been calling from that day, with my friend right there beside me. This was back before the days of Caller ID. I don’t recall if the police got involved or if there was just a threat of that happening, but my best friend and I got into trouble and we weren’t allowed to see each other for quite some time after that.

There’s no denying that I was a truly spooky damn kid, with some serious issues…I’ve known that for a long time. My social skills leave me with limited capacity to properly interact with people even today, but especially women, and it has been that way for as long as I can recall…but it was definitely much worse back then.

I had one other major crush as a child, a girl who lived in the trailer court across the street from where I grew up after my father sold the house out from under us before the divorce was complete…yeah, he was a real sweetheart at times. This girl ended up being my best female friend for close to half of my life, since I successfully avoided creeping her out and getting the police involved…but I have absolutely no idea where she is today.

We used to be almost inseparable. She was the one person I could rely on who would frequently be available to join me when I slipped out of my bedroom window and wandered around town aimlessly throughout the middle of the night. There were a couple of kisses between she and I over the years that we were friends, but nothing beyond that, and there were even a couple of times when we called each other boyfriend and girlfriend, though the words were essentially meaningless, being as young as we were.

It’s sad to consider how easily people used to simply drop out of our lives, especially in the days before Facebook and Twitter, or even MySpace. Kids growing up today really do live in a totally different world. I’ve lost touch with a number of people over the years, but this girl would certainly be the one I most wish I could catch back up with.