2015 Was a Year of Learning

This started off as a facebook post, but quickly blossomed into one of those too-long updates that annoys people more than interests them, so I moved it here to annoy you. Cheers.

2015 was one of the most educational years I’ve ever had. More so than any of the ones I spent in school, college, or training for my career in law enforcement.

No, 2015 has taught me so very, very much about myself- and about other people as well.

I’ve learned a lot about trust. Sometimes it can be found in the strangest of places, yet be completely absent where you expect it should be. People you ought to be able to depend on to watch your back, stick up for you, or help you may completely vanish in your time of need, or worse yet- throw you right to the wolves if it better suits their needs. On the other hand, there are people who will give you a hand up without thinking about it, and they can often be the last people you’d expect it from.

I’ve learned about disappointment, and failure. Leaving a job I fought so hard to get when things turned out to not be what I had expected. Two and a half years working and training, then having to go right back to my ‘old life’ in IT was crushing. It sapped more energy from me than any night in the academy ever did. Then, there were the jobs I applied for throughout the year, the ones that didn’t pan out. Three interviews at three different colleges, nothing panning out. Professionally, I was as low as I’d ever been.

I learned a ton about hard work, perseverance, and patience. While job hunting I went over previous interviews, tweaked my resume, updates references, and kept hustling, the whole time working as a contractor between days doing IT. Ultimately, it paid off. I landed my dream job. Exactly where I wanted to be, exactly what I wanted to do. Months of struggle to make ends meet while  still putting my best foot forward in interviews and on paper paid off. Patience IS a virtue.

I learned how critical family is as a support mechanism. Through the lowest lows, coming home every afternoon to my wife and kids was the biggest morale booster I could have asked for. The two boys have a way of burning stress away (usually by creating their own brand of it!) and they’ll never know how important that was to me while I looked for work. My wife too, was the absolute pinnacle of my strength this year, and in 2015, I realized how much I NEED her support, love, guidance, and occasional reality checks.

I learned to appreciate love. We’re watching my brother-in-law’s marriage fall apart. It’s a tale of infidelity, lies, deceit, and cowardice. We’re watching other family members get dragged into the maelstrom of crap between the two of them. The whole time, my wife and I are holding each other a little closer, worried for them, but at the same time looking closely at what we have, and breathing a sigh of relief that after being together for twelve years, the doubts and misgivings which are the seeds to unhappiness…aren’t there. I have what I know many others are not lucky enough to have, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not appreciative of it.

Most of all though, the biggest lesson I’ve taken from 2015 is this:

THERE IS NO SCRIPT.

Life twists, turns, undulates, bucks, kicks, rolls, and flips at will. We can plan, sure. Plans are nice. But plans change. People change, circumstances change. Constantly. The more tightly we hold onto plans, the worse it hurts when they go into an upheaval. We need to be as flexible as possible when charging headlong through our lives. If we don’t roll with change, we’ll be rolled by it.

I’d like to tell a brief story that I think is a perfect allegory for what I am trying to say:

A long time ago, before I learned that my talents were better served backstage in theater productions than they were onstage, I had landed the part of a policeman in a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” One night, one of the actors jumped a full page of script and made his entrance long before he should have. As his foot hit the bottom of the stairs, he realized what he’d done. You could see it on his face. On Abby and Martha’s face too. The other policeman and I stood there for a second, and the half a heartbeat of dead silence felt like a week and a half. To this day I don’t know what I said, or what drove me to do it, but in front of a live audience, I ad-libbed two or three sentences, crushing a page of dialogue into just a brief moment, and put the show back on track. The audience may not have even noticed. We all did, but thankfully, whatever the hell I had said….worked, and we went on with the show.

The point of this story is that we’d rehearsed that scene countless times before the show. We’d even done a show or two before that particular night. It had all been planned out. The stage direction, the lines, the markings, the cues, all of it was perfectly planned and timed. Then, all of a sudden…it all changed. The success of that particular scene depended on someone flying by the seat of their pants and fixing it. This time it was me. The next show, it might be someone else. If we hadn’t rolled with it, who knows what could have happened. A botched scene can suck the energy out of a play in no time, and the whole thing can fall flat.

This anecdote I believe, is the perfect analogy for what I mean when I say life doesn’t have a script, and that while plans are nice, sometimes the unplanned has to be dealt with if you’re going to be successful.

2015 has been a very educational year for me, and I’m looking forward to seeing what its lessons will mean for me when 2016 comes roaring in.

_____________

Happy New Year readers. I appreciate your audience this whole time. Your comments, your input, all of it has been a driving factor in what’s kept this blog of mine alive. May you have a safe and happy celebration of the new year tonight, and I hope that 2016 is the best you’ve had yet.
See you all on the other side of it.

~AD

 

 

 

 

Christmas 3.0

Christmas is finally over.

I don’t want that to sound like I’m not a fan of the holiday, or that I don’t appreciate it for what it is, but I’m extremely thankful that the unique set of stressors that accompanied this one are at an end.

My work schedule dictated that the usual Christmas day visits of my parents and my wife’s parents weren’t going to happen this year. As a result, my family came to visit on the 26th, hung around for a few hours, and went home pretty painlessly.

The fun and games portion of the show was Christmas 3.0, which involved my wife’s family, and occurred on Sunday the 27th. Dedicated readers will recall that I mentioned some marital problems between my brother-in-law and his wife. Well, it turns out those ‘problems’ stem from his having been wrapped up in an affair for the last few months. The breaking of this news caused massive contention in their family, mostly between him and his younger brother who now considers him massive slimeball.

My wife too, is not her own brother’s biggest fan at the moment, and MAY have given me permission inflict some level of physical harm on him. We all understand that things happen and people grow apart, which isn’t the problem. That sort of thing can be forgiven if it had been the case. The problem is the execution of the whole thing. He basically sent his wife away to be with her family this holiday season because ‘we need time apart’ – and could then spend time with the other girl. His wife, meanwhile, is looking for counseling options to try to mend the problems he told her they’re having. Did I mention she knows nothing of the affair yet? There’s a lot more to it than that, but he’s essentially checked out of his marriage, while she still thinks there’s a chance to fix it. An extremely shitty thing to do, and everyone seems to know it but him.
-The reality of the situation is that its playing out like an episode of “Mad Men” or some other TV show where this sort of thing has to be scripted because it is too ridiculous for it to be happening for real. But it is. It’s real.

So…yeah. Christmas 3.0 had the potential for a massive blow up. My wife has been seething with rage for the last week or so since finding out. When everyone arrived, the younger brother-in-law and I sort of huddled up for most of the day. He and I have always been very close, and traded barely-audible commentary about the situation. Aside from that though, things went smoothly. That is to say, the subject never came up. I was waiting for one of the boys to ask “Wheres Aunt B?” But they never did, and her absence from the family gathering was never commented on- missed though she was by my wife and I, who are very fond of her.

Even though I didn’t end up having to bury anyone in the back yard or explain to the local sheriff’s patrol why the neighbors had heard frantic screams for help from our property, it was a very high-tension time. (Note: I am not a violent person, and the insinuations otherwise in this post are artful exaggerations to give you an idea of just how annoyed with him we are.)

Wisely, the brother-in-law with the questionable morals kept quiet. He played a few games with the boys, and helped our oldest assemble a Lego set. (I take great joy in being able to say that he sucks at Lego sets, and had to be corrected by the 6 year old a number of times.)

I couldn’t get them out of the house fast enough on Sunday. Mainly because this holiday gathering was not the venue for anyone to tear a band-aid off and poke at a wound, and the longer they were there, the more likely someone was to pull that band-aid off.

Not for nothing, but it really isn’t my place to say anything at all about it. I’m an outsider. Yes, he’s my brother-in-law, but I don’t have any business sticking my nose into the situation, no matter how much I’ve grown to love his wife in the time I’ve known her. Still, that doesn’t stop me from tallying up the list of things I WANT to say, and may yet when the opportunity arises…nor does it make me want to reconsider my stance on gratuitous limb-breaking. (Remember, artful exaggeration.) She HAS become like a little sister to me, and I suppose I’m really more worried about her getting severely hurt than I am their marriage falling apart…if that makes sense.

So yeah. When they all finally left the house at an hour which was far, far too late for my comfort, the entire family breathed a sigh of relief. My wife and I because they were gone, and nobody ended up screaming at each other, and the boys because…well…they were exhausted from wading through the pile of new toys, games, and books that Christmas 3.0 had to offer.

For now though, All of the Christmases are over. The problems that were brought under our roof have been removed, back to their origin source two hours away. We still have to think and worry about them, but we aren’t staring a massive problem dead smack in its face. Its smarmy, doofily-bearded face.

’tis the season. Pass the eggnog.
Rum. Pass the rum. All the rum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Brotherhood”

It was cold. The wind wasn’t helping any either. I didn’t know what time it is, but then it really didn’t matter. I was standing with my back to a chain link fence, flanked by literally thousands of family members.

These weren’t the family I share blood with. Well…one is. My father was with me. He and I were standing with three other representatives from our fire department, which had joined with hundreds of other companies on this blustery morning.

We are together a mere three days after Christmas for the funeral of one of our own. A few days before Christmas, a department in our region lost a 19 year old firefighter in the line of duty. I didn’t know the kid, but it didn’t matter. When my chief asked if I was interested in going to the funeral, of course I said yes. He was a brother to me.

If you’re not a member of the emergency services at some level, it is easy to take the phrase “We’re like a family” and downplay it as exaggeration. It isn’t. We train together, we work together, we fight together- be it fires, crime, or injury/illness, the emergency services IS a massive family.

I’m not the only one to think this either. This is evidenced by the thousands of other firefighters who showed up yesterday morning to say a final farewell to one of our young brothers.

We arrived at the staging area in the back lot of a junior high school, pulling our two trucks into line with the other twenty five from our county. Immediately after, other departments started to arrive…and continued to do so for HOURS. Trucks of all shapes, sizes, and colors rolled in, jammed with firefighters from everywhere in the state, some as far away as Boston. After a while, we packed onto buses and waited outside the funeral home. The young man’s casket was carried by pallbearers to the back of one of his department’s truck, a backdrop of bagpipe music doing everything it could to wrench tears from my eyes.
Then the procession departed. We stayed behind, and formed up on either side of the road. The procession circled the block, then came back to where we stood, flanking the road. As the truck went past, anywhere between two and five thousand (depending who you ask) firefighters rendered a hand salute, and not a sound could be heard but for the grumble of the procession engines.  Again, it left us and we went back to staging. While the funeral service was being held for the family, the fleet of over 200 fire vehicles went to the road leading to the cemetery. We flanked the roads again, this time with every emergency light we had flashing. Massive ladder trucks, one from the FDNY, flew a giant flag at the entrance of the cemetery. The procession came by at the end of the funeral, and one final hand salute was given as the truck carrying the casket, and vehicles carrying the boy’s family drove by.

It was all I could do to keep from openly weeping myself. I glanced to my left and right, and for as far as I could see on either side of the road, were trucks and men who had come in from hundreds of miles in some cases, just to stand in the cold and pay respects to a young man they’d never met.

I saw the faces of the people inside the cars. The family and close friends of the deceased hero. Their tear-filled eyes were wide as they took in the sight on either side of them, a sight which was among the most beautiful displays of togetherness and brotherhood that I have ever witnessed- even as I hope never to see it again.

I took a few photos of the day, but they don’t really do the event justice. There was a photographer there though, who managed to capture it all very  well.

The only one I have that stands out though, is the first I took of a truck from my own county that summed the entire day up in just a few words.

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Santa Watch, 2015

Tonight I had the chance to witness something so amazing, that for a few moments I wasn’t bummed about having to work and missing Christmas Eve with my kids.

I was in the patrol car heading down to an apartment complex to check locks on the doors. All of a sudden, the county-wide radio started with some pretty heavy traffic.

“County 9-1-1 to all stations and home monitors, be advised, Santa has been seen in the area.” Before I a ‘what the hell?’ could register on my lips, the State Trooper on duty a few towns away radios in.

“Confirming Santa sighting, heading towards Delhi.”

Then, sleigh bells. I shit you not, someone was jingling sleigh bells over the radio.

Local town PD chimes in a few moments later.

“County 9-1-1 to Village of Delhi patrol, can you confirm Santa sighting?”

Village responds affirmative, then notifies dispatch that Santa has completed his drop and was seen heading towards the next town.

This continued for a while, until the NORAD Santa Tracker had him leave our area.

Absolutely hilarious, and I’m sure it did wonders for the morale of others who have to work tonight. I know it did for me.

Merry Christmas Readers, and I hope your emergency dispatchers are keeping their eyes open as ours were.

 

What I’ve Got.

My wife shared some news with me today that really cast a shadow over the day. Her brother and his wife of five years are having problems and are spending Christmas apart. We very much love the two of them, and while it isn’t any of my business, I couldn’t help but think about them all day.

I also have been thinking about my own marriage a lot lately. My wife and I have been married eight years. We’ve survived a rather debilitating bout with post-partum depression, job losses and layoffs, career changes, a couple of moves, empty bank accounts, gas tanks and refrigerators, broken cars, late nights with babies, and training for a new very stressful, possibly dangerous job with oddball hours and inflexible demands.

Our marriage has been under constant pressure almost since it began. But none of it has been internal. Our stressors have always seemed to be external, things pushing from the outside. Thing is, the harder they pushed, the harder they squeezed….all they seemed to do is press us closer together, preparing us for the next round should it come when we least expect it.

Of course we’ve had rough patches. Of course we’ve fought. We’ve each made mistakes. We’ve had our share of tear-filled nights, slammed doors, and later-apologized for words. Some of those instances still hurt to look back on, but none of them proved fatal.

I don’t know what makes us different than other couples- or…even if we ARE any different. Maybe we’ve just gotten luckier. I don’t know.
I do know that after we heard the news about her brother and his wife, I stepped back and looked at us. We’ve been dragged over some rocky ground, but some soft grass too. We’ve weathered the tough times, and enjoyed the good times, always together. Our children aren’t what’s ‘keeping us together’ either. They’re not the glue that binds us, they’re separate parts to the whole mechanism, and we’re ALL glued together by the experiences we all share.

Sooner or later, we’ll get the details about what happened to her brother and his wife. Whether I want them or not. (I don’t.) I’m hoping that they can hash this out and it’s never spoken of again. I won’t ask, they won’t tell. I’m hoping they fix whatever is broken, and that they can enjoy the sort of life and marriage that I have with his sister. They’re both amazing people, and they always seemed so happy together.

But I know things happen. I know that ‘taking a break’ doesn’t often end well. I know the two of them well enough to know that if something was significant enough to separate them during the biggest family-related holiday of the year, that they aren’t going to end up laughing this off in a few days over a glass of wine or two.

I don’t know how they’ll end up. I don’t know how my own situation will end up in 5, 10, 15, 20 years. Nobody can look that far ahead and say that everything will be perfect.

What I do know is that what I have is important, and needs to be held on to, appreciated, and treated as carefully as if it could all vanish in an instant.

I usually say something like “I’ll keep you posted” right about now, but the truth is, unless something ground-breaking happens, I probably won’t mention it again. It isn’t my business beyond comforting my wife, who was hit hard by this- her and her brother are very close, so pain he’s feeling, so does she. Perhaps not as deeply, but to deny it being there would be a lie.

I’ll have something more uplifting for the Christmas Holiday in the next day or so, I promise. I’ll have lots of time over my Chinese take-out Christmas dinner, because hey- guess whose on duty?

 

 

 

 

The Narrator Visits the ENT

Greetings. I won’t apologize for the lack of content anymore. By now my steady readers know that I’m running some strange hours at the new job. Though, I collected my first paycheck today, so I have to stop calling it ‘new.’ It shall henceforth be called ‘work.’

Anyway. With times all jacked up, my opportunity for posting isn’t as prolific as it used to be, which is just as well, since I don’t have as much content to be talking about at this point in time either.

That being said, we did take a trip to an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialist today for The Narrator. For a few years now, when he sleeps, he lets out this long, protracted moan/groan for the duration of an exhaled breath. Not all the time, maybe for a half hour or so every night. He’s got no sleep interruption, no trouble breathing, no signs of well….anything. Even his teacher says that there’s no indication that he’s sleepy of unfocused during the course of the school day. Our general practice doctor referred us to the specialist, who was basically stumped after he ruled out tonsils as being the problem. “Everything looks normal.” So, because nobody seems to know what the deal is, we’ve been scheduled for a sleep observation session.

Basically, the little guy spends the night in what we’re calling a ‘hotel room’ where he’s hooked to all kinds of wires and electrodes that monitor his sleep patterns. My wife will go with him while I put in for some personal time and hang with Mini-Me for the night. He’s terrified, even after getting a little tour of the office and being shown what looks to be an extremely comfortable bed. The whole operation looks very well squared away, and my biggest worry is that I can’t be there with him while he’s getting evaluated. I know kids inevitably turn to mommy for comfort in stressful times, but I can’t help but want to be there for him myself.

Even today, I didn’t have to go with them up to the doctor, and even rolled the dice, gambling on whether or not we’d be home in time for me to leave for work without getting in late. (We made it) Still, I couldn’t NOT go.

So, that’s been all set up. He’s very nervous, but we have a month to go to build him up for this. Which means that I have a month to teach him that being brave isn’t the same thing as not being scared. He may want mommy there when the time comes, but I can’t help but feel like this is a ‘daddy’ lesson, and I’ll try my best.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Lessons From the Overnight Shift

 

Last night was my first taste of an overnight shift. I pulled an eight hour shift and two hours of overtime, getting me home around 6am this morning.

Aside from learning that a college campus before finals week is EXTREMELY uneventful (thankfully) I took away some other things too. These lessons and observations are not work-related so much as general, things that aren’t necessarily apparent in the daylight.

  1. I get three hours of energy from a 5-hour energy drink. I had one in my locker for a few days, and when I found out that I’d be getting home at 6am, I tried to time my usage of it to encompass the tail end of the shift, as well as the drive home. I fell short, and need to adjust properly. Either that or simply up my coffee intake appropriately.
  2. If it is 5:40am and I am third in line behind you at a gas station after a 10 hour shift, still half an hour from my bed…and you’re buying lotto tickets, I will hate you like no other human has ever hated before. All I wanted was a bottle of orange juice and a soggy breakfast sandwich so I could survive the rest of my trip and get to my pillow, and this guy is standing there with a line of other bleary travelers behind him. “Gimme a #3, a Lucky 7, and two #8s.” Situational awareness fella, situational awareness. I’m not the only person who thinks this either. The guy immediately behind you turned and looked at me with a wry little smile. I shook my head and tried to smile back, but ended up snarling I think. You were the enemy, and everyone hated you.
  3. While I don’t usually have a problem picking up hitch hikers, even I won’t get the guy on the darkened side of the road before 6am in the rain. Even being armed, I wasn’t taking chances. The guy was trying to escape something, and I wasn’t about to become a skin hat for him. No thanks. My sense of compassion is as dead as I would have been in that set of circumstances.

Days of night are very interesting. The dynamic of humanity shifts, and nobody is the same person they are when they’re soaking up vitamin d.
As I write this now, the sun is already sinking low in the sky. Today is ending, but my day is getting ready to start. I’ve had a glorious four hours of daylight today, and it was nice, but I’m starting to get used to the world being inky black outside of a soft halo of streetlight or hum of florescence.

Who knows what lessons tonight shall bring?

 

When Coffee Stops Being Optional

Up until the end of last week I’d been working a pretty typical day schedule at the new job. 7am to 3pm. I’d be home by 4 or so, and have the evening to wind down. That was for the purpose of getting me acclimated to the place, the job, and the people. Now that I sort of have my feet wet, I’ve been swapped, to 7pm to 3am.

The shifts themselves aren’t so bad. I like working at night. The trouble is that hour-long drive home at the end of it. The first two times I did it, I realized quickly this would be trouble. I didn’t fall asleep behind the wheel or anything, but my focus was nil. All it would take is one deer, one wet/icy road, one….ANYTHING out of the ordinary, and I could have been in trouble.

So, I found a little gas station that is mercifully open all night, and have started to experiment with exactly how much coffee I need to drink in order to stay awake long enough to get home and go to bed.

I’ve become a living science experiment. How much coffee? When is the latest I can drink it so that I get home, but am not kept awake for any longer than I need to get changed and fall into bed?

I’ve literally reached a point in my professional life where I am RELYING on coffee to get me home after work. I’ve taken to looking with disdain at people who utter things like “I can’t function without my morning coffee.” or “I’d die without it!” …mostly because those statements are truth for me.

I’m sure after I spend some time on this shift, I’ll get used to it and won’t have to worry about falling asleep while I drive home, but right now its still VERY new and VERY difficult to get into.

However, this job is worth any challenge that I’m faced with…..even if it means working 2 hours of OT and hanging out until 5am tonight instead of 3.

….my experimental data is going to be all messed up tomorrow. The good news is that I’ll probably sleep until noon for the first time since I was in college.

Stay tuned to find out how this new schedule, new job, and new set of challenges are effecting the wife, kids, and my own self. Because the changes cannot be denied, and the results are very, very real.

Goodnight all.

 

 

 

 

Apocalyptic Disappontment

Im not sure I want to live in a world where something is allowed be given a name as soul-warming as ‘Caramel Cheesecake square,’ and it tastes like something squatted from the nether-regions of the most gastrically distressed creature of the underworld. 

Too sweet, too rich, too MUCH to be enjoyed,  half of it ended up bouncing down the westbound lane of a state highway. 

Thanks Dunkin Donuts, for shaking my faith in all that is good and right with this world. 

A Promise Broken

Last night kicked off my entry into the world of night shifts. For two weeks I’m working from 7pm to 3am. I left the house just as the boys were getting ready for dinner. The three-year old Mini-Me didn’t like that. He cried and simpered as I got ready to leave.
As much as that was painful to witness, it wan’t, and isn’t the worst part of this.

When my wife and I were engaged to be married, she was visiting me at the apartment we would move into together after the wedding. At one point, a fire call came in for a search and rescue in the middle of the night. I kissed her goodbye, and told her I’d be back as soon as I could. The fire call was just up the road from my parents’ house, and ended up stretching into the very wee hours of the morning. When it was over, I crashed at the house, figuring on going back to the apartment first thing in the morning.

When I did get back, I found a very upset fiancee. The whole time I was gone, she worried about me. Then, as the night turned into morning, and I hadn’t returned or called, she worried more. When morning came, she’d not slept much, and I still hadn’t come back. We talked about it, and she told me about how she used to worry about her father when he went to work as a police officer every day. Even as a small child, she worried that something terrible could happen. Now I was doing it to her all over again. Of course I apologized, and promised I wouldn’t do it to her again, that I’d at least call the next time I was out.

Six years later I changed careers from IT, and entered into the exact same profession her father had gone into. I’d done it again, and I would continue to do it for the foreseeable future. It was worse now, with two little boys that I left her with each night as I went to the academy, or started a shift.

In spite of this, in spite of me forcing her to single-parent a lot of the time, as well as run her shop and maintain the house as needed…her support has never wavered. When things got tough and I missed out on a job, she didn’t try to sway me to something else, something safer. When I got hired at my first job, she was as happy as I was. When unfavorable circumstances led to me decision to leave the security of that job, she was the first to say “You’re better off without them.” She stood by me as I drove hours to interviews, and each time I went she scanned the web for school and housing for us and the boys, in silent preparation in case it came through.

When I landed the current job, which promised me weird night shift hours, mandatory overtime, and the probability of so many missed holidays, events, and family time….she still hasn’t wavered. Not even a little. Her support of me is as strong as it has ever been, in the face of….who knows what goes through her mind every time I go.

My biggest regret has nothing to do with the work. I love the work. My biggest regret is that I’m putting her through something I promised, and at the time very much meant- that I’d never do again. Instead of keeping that promise, I put her through it every. single. night.