Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The screw-up, my eminent demise, and perfect clarity

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost

The end is nigh.

My grandmother called me Sunday night. She informed me that God may take my daughter away from me because she was at home by herself before the age of 16. Either God, or my ex-wife's parents.

After getting divorced and re-married, I can no longer claim the "head of household" tax status, and Scout's mother can no longer receive as many college grants, or any government subsidies to pay for Scout's daycare. Living in sin, by contrast, is much more cost effective. The higher tax obligation and new funds requirement for little Scout coupled with other financial support of my family (both cars, mortgage, the usual home expenses) has drained me of disposable income.

Tack onto all that the downturn of the American economy, AEP did not give raises to anyone this year, and the loss of my long-time roommate. No raise, no help with the mortgage, no tax refund, and an unexpected $130/wk daycare expense. I have since drained my emergency savings account trying to stay above water.

To try to make ends meet and have some leftover play money, I began selling my plasma twice weekly at ZLB Plasma Services with a bunch of knuckle-draggers, netting $55 per week if both donations were successful. After a few months of that, my veins became too calloused to continue. I resorted to other means of stopping my money hemorrhaging - not going out to dinner or movies, skimping on "luxury" groceries and buying generic brands, working from home more frequently to save on gas.

Stacey, whose gift from me for her 6th to 12th birthdays was an elaborate party, climbing adventures, a make-up/hair/dance party, jumpies in the backyard, reserving a gym and a gymnastics coach for a tumbling party, ice skating, always with a gaggle of friends invited along, and a stack of expensive presents from me, this year received jack shit. For her 13th birthday, I attempted to pull in as many of Liberty's family as I could into a pizza dinner for Stacey (she had a separate party with her mom's friends and family, my family lives out of state). A few showed up, but none of them watched Stacey grow up, or loved her as an infant and toddler, so while they came through for me and arrived with bells on, thoughtful presents in tow, there was an all-around awkwardness to the evening, and nothing memorable or adventurous. Failing the girl who has made me feel so alive for so many years is the only thing I truly consider a sin, and for her birthday this year I hit that nail square on the head, and I felt profound guilt, and grief, and dead inside for weeks afterward.

Stacey is a teenager now, and her mother is engaged with her much more than in her early childhood. My belief is that our divorce triggered something inside of Teresa to transform her, however my view of things has always been skewed from being too close emotionally to the action. In theory Teresa and I alternate two week shifts with Stacey, but in practice lately Stacey spends most of my weekends with Teresa, a practice that started shortly after our divorce was finalized. Stacey and I still have good moments, like tonight, for example, where we will go see a basketball game from the comfort of the AEP suite at the Schott, but she is very interested in soaking up as much mom as she can right now, and while I encourage that, I feel the loss and it weighs on me.

I was once a member of a home group of the Xenos church (new-wave Christian, similar to Vineyard and others trying to hold onto hipper members who don't want to wear suits and sing hymns). I had attended regular meetings for over a year, volunteered at the church grill, appeared in their newsletter in an article about my mentoring, and frequently babysat many of the group's children. After marrying an atheist, I naturally withdrew from the meetings to not cause a stir. Predictably, gone are the party invites and the frequent lunch get-togethers, and unexpectedly, gone are what I thought were strong friendships. I imagine all sorts of conspirings to explain this.. "He was never right for the group anyway, I could just tell." "He never loved Jesus, he lied to us all." I have no evidence of this, just paranoia. This would be less of a pain point for me, but on occasion one of them will call to ask me to help them carry something, or configure their electronics. No dinner invites, no asking after the family, no "sorry you're not with us any more". I feel the implication is that I'm good enough to be the help, but not a friend, but it's possible that they're being patient martyrs suffering a loss rather than aggressive zealots. I don't know if they're waiting for me to make the first move, or if they don't want me to.

After a member of the church group called me Sunday night to help with his new plasma TV, I went over and configured it and hooked it up properly to his DVD player and cable box. Afterward, we sat on the couch awkwardly for a few minutes until I bid farewell and hustled back home. After that scene, I stewed for a while on the condition my life is in right now, and slept fitfully, and not for very long. I awoke early Monday morning, showered and left the house before anyone else, and came to work to focus on something that would keep my mind off of things. Usually having emotional baggage helps me at work, I dive into my work with glee and write some of my best code. Usually.

When I got to work Monday, I signed onto my computer, got my morning pop and handful of sweets, and began to tackle an email to SMS paging problem that's been plaguing my group for a couple weeks. And I made a mistake. A very terrible, costly, possibly job-ending mistake. A mistake the magnitude of which I have never made in the 14 years I've been in IT. In the 20 years I've been employed. In the 26 years that I've been a computer user.

I forwarded close to 22,000 emails to my cellphone as SMS messages.

So on top of my grandmother telling me to beware of God for my bad parenting, on top of fearing that I have failed and lost my daughter, on top of being without money, and having lost most of who I thought were friends, on top of fearing for my ailing house since I don't have an emergency account right now, and my back being periodically in pain, and my usual social conundrums like getting people I love together and not being able to find an activity everyone is satisfied with, trying to bridge the worlds and be likable to both a freespirited family and a conservative work environment... On top of everything, now my job will be in jeopardy when AEP gets my multi-thousand dollar phone bill right before the end of the year, throwing off the books, changing the managers' bonus amounts.

Is there a lesson here? Absolutely, it goes like this: Maya, maya, maya; all is illusion!

The worst that can come from this is after my inevitable firing, my house gets foreclosed on, I lose my cars, my wife and Scout, possibly even Stacey. If that all comes about, I'll rebuild some sort of life eventually, and on occasion ponder the butterfly effect, how not checking a filter before hitting "save" can have such a drastic effect on so many lives. I'll continue to read, I'll continue to write. I'll definitely continue to alienate myself from everyone I meet, and die the way I predicted as a teenager: alone. I'll be able to say to myself then how insightful I was in high-school, pondering life on my tiny bed in the tiny apartment at 6361 Proprietor's rd. Hell, maybe I'll go live there again.

I have lost a lot, at least according to my recounting above, however I've lost nothing. In reality, the consequences of my giant mistake Monday morning haven't come to bear yet. Maybe AEP will forgive the mistake, maybe Verizon has seen giant corporate screw-ups like this before and will write it off. If I lose my job maybe I'll find another one and keep all my stuff. If I lose the job and the house, maybe I won't lose the wife and Scout. And if I lose them, maybe Stacey will still love me like she did when I was rich. But if she doesn't, there is still no reason to despair. I touched her life. I showed her what love looks like. I gave her the happiest memories that a father deeply in love with the apple of his eye could.

After the gut-wrenching hour after I realized what I had done, and my frantic attempts to stop the bleeding by asking our mail team to halt the messages (too late) and our cellular group to contact Verizon to turn off my mailbox there (no effective escalation path for that type of emergency) had all failed, I had an amazing moment of clarity: I was happy when I was alone and working a blue-collar job, and didn't have a house or people depending on me, or a circle of friends to keep happy. Maybe the mistake was fate, or a self-fulfilling prophecy after crying in my beer over my perceived problems, but regardless, any consequences from this won't be bad. They may be severe, and life altering, but I can face them all. I love my wife and daughters, but I can be alone again. I like being a homeowner with a fancy car, but I can live in an apartment and drive a beater again. I'm not too old to start over, and I'm not too proud to live without Things.

Who knows, if this issue passes by without comment at work, maybe I'll quit my job and sell my house anyway. Get that passport. Visit Japan like I've always wanted. Get my back healthy again and get some insane construction job, or deliver for UPS in some sexy brown shorts. No matter what, I will still love life, and still find enrichment and fulfillment. The people who stay with me through it I'll call family, and the ones who don't, I'll wish them well on their journey, and never look back for them.

Here's to screw-ups, life's cure to the stresses of pressure and time. *clink*

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