I am 36 years old. Soon to be 37. Although I’ve held the titles of Marine (6 years), Lifeguard (3 years), Father (10 years), Widower (3 years), Husband (9 years), Boyfriend (9 years, cumulatively), and Student (13 years...I never went to college), the title that has been with me the longest, up to this day, is “Employee” (21 years).
I have been employed since I was 15 years old. I started as a lifeguard in high school, then on to the Marine Corps. After that, I worked retail for a few months, and as an iron pourer in a foundry for the better part of a year before finally landing a job in IT...my “career” field.
The longest stretch of time I’ve had “off” since I was 15 years old was 10 days.
That’s it. Less than two weeks at a time have I been unemployed or on vacation. I’ve weathered “reductions in force” and slowdowns in the economy. I’ve always seeked out, and started new jobs before leaving my previous employers. Even when the iron foundry, where I worked for minimum wage literally dumping 3000 degree molten iron into buckets, was going through lay-offs, I was able to find work in IT before they shuttered the factory.
By many measures, I’ve been “successful”. I’m a homeowner. I have 3 nice vehicles. Shelby has never needed for anything. I’ve always had health insurance...even when Megan’s healthcare bills were over 1.5 million per year, they paid out and covered us.
I’ve worked for all of it, sure. I mean, hell, I was back at work full time TWO DAYS after Megan died. Sitting at home wasn’t going to pay the mortgage or put food on the table. I couldn’t take a sabbatical or an extended time “between jobs” at any time when Megan was alive, because A) she was disabled and couldn’t work, and B) we couldn’t afford to have any lapse in insurance or bill payments at any time.
So here I am, closer to 40 than 30. I get 10 days of paid vacation a year, and I have one day left for 2017. I’m still going to work to pay mortgages, car payments, and to have health insurance. Every weekday, some nights, and some weekends, I’m tapping little plastic keys and staring at a screen.
I realize that I am lucky to have a good job that pays well. I know that being a 30-something homeowner with 3 cars and no college debt is becoming more and more rare. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging though. I’m fortunate...more than many.
To what end is all of this though? I currently do not have a college degree. I don’t truly OWN my home or 2 of those 3 cars. I miss being a Marine, and I regret having not re-enlisted. My wife is dead, my debt almost reaches my income, and for the next 4 months, I’m “allowed” to take one day off. I’m stuck in the damned rat race, and I have been since before I was legally allowed to drive a vehicle.
That “stuck” feeling is really weighing on me lately. It makes me regret every major decision I’ve made since my teenage years.
I could have went to college...instead, I joined the Marine Corps.
I could have stayed in the Marine Corps (and retired THIS YEAR)...instead, I became a civilian and began a career”.
I could have went to college AFTER the Marines...instead I went right to work.
I could have avoided a relationship with someone who had a terminal illness...instead I dove right in, and I’m left a widower.
I could have easily just rented or saved money a bit longer...instead I bought a “starter home” that I don’t really care for.
I could have driven my old car for years longer...instead I’m paying out the ears for a “new” car.
I could have taken at least a month or longer off when Megan died in order to figure out a new normal...instead, I stayed right in the status quo and went back to work because it felt “safe”.
I’m still in the status quo. Albeit a widower, with Sarah by my side and Shelby quickly growing up. I’m at a point where I can’t even begin to look towards the future, because the present takes up all of my capacity. I can’t even really step back and look at my past with anything other than a critical regret. I used to be proud of the fact that I was a Marine, husband, and homeowner. Now, it seems as if I’m only an “employee” because of those other titles.
It’s safe. As long as I keep working, I don’t really have to worry about losing my home or feeding my family. But, I’m tired, both physically and mentally. The most traumatic thing that ever happened in my life was watching Megan take her last breath, and I “moved forward” almost immediately. I didn’t take EXTRA time to grieve. I just added the title of “grieving husband” to all of the other titles. 3 years later, and it hasn’t changed. The time to step back and take stock of life has long since passed. It’s too risky...right?
I don’t know how to get out of this rut. My sense of responsibility keeps me working and employed, while my sense of freedom taunts me from the shadows. For over two decades, I’ve never really had any freedom. The only future I can foresee is to continue this routine for another 4 decades or so. Maybe I’ll luck out and get a few more days of vacation, or pay off a loan, but I don’t see anything other than continuing to be an employee.
Is the end game to work until I physically can no longer do so, then slowly die? I hope not, because that means the beginning of the end was when I was 15.