Beginning of the End

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 “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.


Showing 5 reactions

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  • Christina Calhoon
    commented 2017-09-06 18:29:40 -0700
    My husband graduated high school, went to college, got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees plus certificates. He had a high earning job, but loads of debt. He spent years working his butt off and “bettering” himself to “better” our life. He missed out on time with us, with me and the kids, and with himself, and his own hobbies and passions, hoping it would pay off. And then he died. He was 36.
    You can’t change the past. You can’t go back and make different decisions, and as someone else wrote, those other decisions would have had their own consequences.
    Your future, however, is still open. You don’t have to follow in the status quo. Decisions have yet to be made. It may be a mid life crisis, but it’s not truly a crisis. You may be stuck right now, but it doesn’t mean you will be stuck forever.
    As you know, nothing in life is promised, there is no guarantee. There is more than one path. Take a breath, talk it over with your counselor and the people in your life. Good luck.
  • Cathy
    commented 2017-09-06 09:40:35 -0700
    Would of…could of…should of. We all question whether or not we’ve made the right decisions in life. Can’t change the past, we’re in the here and now, can only keep going. I, too, am years ahead of you, in mid 60’s, and I still wonder about the “what ifs”. Tired. as you are, physically and mentally, more so these past 7+ years since husband died, just trying to figure it all out (2 businesses, plus rental places to deal with at his death). I have no answers, but I know you recharge in nature, so take advantage of any getaways you can, get lost in the woods again.
  • Anonymous
    commented 2017-09-06 05:28:38 -0700
    Sounds like you just had your mid-life crisis – which I define as the time when you realize that your life is probably as good as it’s going to get but you feel “stuck” due to choices you’ve made and you see no viable alternative other than to continue on this path until you retire. But you’re in very good company because that’s the way it happens for the majority of us who are not independently wealthy but whose sense of responsibility keeps us working.

    If this helps at all, from the perspective of a 63 year old who has 3 college degrees and then worked for 30 years as an employee, it doesn’t sound to me like you made “bad” choices in your life (you didn’t become a drug addict, you haven’t committed a crime, etc), so I don’t think you should have regrets. There would have been other consequences or other trade offs for any choice you would have made. For example, most people who went to college are also “stuck” being employees the same way you are, only they got started in their careers a little later so they not only spent money (or incurred additional debt) on their college degrees but also delayed earning money by getting into the work force a little later. A higher salary does not necessarily make them better off than you financially. Yes, you could have avoided a relationship with someone who had a terminal illness, but you would have missed out on the beautiful moments of the relationship that you did have with Megan and you wouldn’t have Shelby. If you’d continued to rent instead of purchasing your starter home, it’s possible (depending upon where you live) that housing prices would have escalated and you might have later found housing prices to be unaffordable even though you’d saved up more money, and then you would be regretting not buying that starter home when you had the chance (this is what happened to me 30 years ago in California). And so on. Any choice or decision we make can be second guessed. Sometimes we make mistakes, and yeah maybe things would have been a little better in one area of our lives if we’d made a different choice but then we wouldn’t necessarily have the other things in our lives that we don’t regret. There is no perfect path. This isn’t meant to be pessimistic, but rather some encouragement for you to sit back, take a deep breath, let go of the regrets, and either strive for acceptance or think constructively about how to improve your situation. Having read some of your previous posts I can see that quitting your job is not a realistic option for you. But perhaps in addition to your employment you might want to have a little side business where one weekend a month you take people on overnight hiking/camping trips in the mountains you know so well. No need to use your limited vacation time. Leave early on a Saturday morning, stay one night under the stars, return the next day. You never know, maybe once Shelby is on her own (which is only about one decade away) you might be able to turn it into a full time business and quit being an employee. I’m just throwing some ideas out there and trying to provide a little perspective from someone who is almost 30 years ahead of you. Someone else suggested counseling, which might be a good idea. Just know and take comfort in the fact that overall you are doing fine. – - Vicki
  • Lisa Richardson
    commented 2017-09-05 23:15:47 -0700
    My life has been amazingly similar to yours, but I’m 20 years ahead of you. At nearly 60 I’m feeling a huge pull towards that freedom. But I have a son in college and tuition is steep. The added responsibilities we carry as widows/widowers can warp our view. I recently realized I need to step away, even if it’s just for 24 hours, to rest and recharge. Thanks for reminding me of that need, and that I’m not the only one feeling this way!
  • Joseph Kearney
    commented 2017-09-05 13:12:21 -0700
    Seek Counseling. A good Counselor can help you see this through. You have to be able to talk about it. And take that last day you have the day after Thanksgiving. It will be a mini vacation and it sounds like you need it.