Making amends

When I worked at the finance company I was presented with some difficult but wonderful challenges. The company was going through some growing pains and I was immediately tasked with some big issues. Their need was in the “back end” of the business. That is a nice way of saying “repo”.

When I joined the company they were being inundated with cars coming back due to bad loans. My background in appraisals and remarketing proved to be a valuable asset. I had connections with auctions all over the country, offered alternative outlets such as salvage auctions and private sales, and I created a valuable network of tow companies.

One particular tow operator was a local guy named Mike. I essentially inherited him when I joined the company but his role was minimal and I expanded it. I always try to do business with a local guy, it’s just good business.

Mike is a really likable guy, the kind of person I enjoy doing business with. He was a independent with one truck but willing to work all day to earn a living. I gave him a lot of tows. He did a pretty good job for me for a few months and then I began noticing a side of him that didn’t work for me…he “Yes’d” me to death and wasn’t honest about his availability. He was growing his business through AAA tows and had begun to fall behind. He failed to tell me that he hadn’t gotten to previous assignments while gladly accepting new ones, which chaffed my ass greatly. I had to cut him back.

It wasn’t long before Mike came to see me in my office to apologize for his underwhelming performance. We talked at length. I told him how the demands of my job required a more reliable transporter and that I would keep him on but on a more limited basis. He reached across my desk with his big, greasy hand and shook mine, thanking me. He was hard not to like.

Mike continued to work for me for many years and was of great service on the AAA end of things helping me and my family with our five cars.

One Saturday I was getting ready to go out and my car wouldn’t start. I tried jumping it, it was dead. I called Mike and asked him if he could help. He was there in 15 minutes.

He pulled in with his rusty old Ford pickup, his dog and wife in the cab with him. I said hi to his wife, a very unpleasant and morbidly obese woman who I had never seen smile. She grunted in my direction.

Mike somehow got my car started. I asked him if he took credit cards. He didn’t. I was at a loss. I had no cash on me. He said don’t worry about it, remarking that I give him so much work that it more than worked out. I sheepishly thanked him.

His wife scowled at me.

I always felt bad about that day. Yes, I did give him a lot of work but I should have been able to pay him. I lost my job soon after. Mike and I lost touch.

Last week I saw on FB that he had a birthday. It caused me to reflect on my past dealings with him and how much I liked him. I decided that it was time to right a wrong. I took out my checkbook and made out a check for $100.00. I grabbed my stationary and wrote a short note.

Mike, I always felt bad about never paying you for the AAA service years ago. You’re a good man and you deserve better. Please accept this check as good will for a good deed.
Take care,
Bill

I mailed it that day. He FB inboxed me 3 days later thanking me. He said I shouldn’t have. I disagree.

My mother likes to tell me that I am determined to spend every penny I have. What she doesn’t get is that I am charitable within my means and I am not afraid to make amends.

Besides, the check to Mike isn’t about money.

It’s about respect.

where were you on that fateful day?

17 years ago to the day
I can’t see the world
quite the same way
disgusted by how far
some will go
to destroy those
they don’t even know
it escapes me
it really does
the hatred and venom
their twisted cause
For some the anger has faded
not me
I’m eternally jaded
where were you?
on that fateful morn
when buildings fell
and hearts were torn
I still look to the sky
I stop and ask myself why
airplanes staying in the air
are no longer a given
our only crime?
our way of living
lives changed forever
innocence was lost
the widows and orphans
such a tremendous cost
if broken spirits were the goal
the bastards failed
Old Glory’s still on her pole
It brought out the best in us
the tables were turned
we rose to the occasion
as the buildings burned
First Responder’s responded
with soldiers and regular Joe
reacted with a fierce resolve
that we had yet to show
for a short, glorious time
we were all brothers
put aside our differences
respected each other
came together as one
hatred can only conquer
if you choose to let it
hang your head today
and always remember
The weight of your heart
on this day in September
mourn for the lost
the brave and the strong
celebrate those that fight for us
all the year long
on this anniversary
of an event so heinous
may faith, hope and charity
always sustain us

Why me? Why NOT me?

“Listen carefully, Billy”, my Grandfather said. He looked me straight in the eye.
I cried because I had no shoes. Then I met a man who had no feet.”
“What does that mean Grandpa?”
“It means, Billy, that you should never complain because there is always someone who has it worse than you. Be happy with what you have.”

I was a young boy when he said that to me. I don’t remember what I was complaining about but after that exchange I learned that men, men like my Grandfather, don’t complain.

Have I complained since then? Of course, it happens. But my brain immediately flashes back to that quote. And shuts me down. It has served me well, in fact it was one of my greatest life lessons and shaped who I am today.

People often told me during the height of my Illness that my positive attitude, and crippling denial, inspired them. I wasn’t waking up with the intention of inspiring others, I was just listening to my Grandpa. I was keeping my kids from worrying about me. I didn’t want to burden anyone.

People tell me now that my jokes and overall positive attitude about my current situation helps them. How else am I supposed to be? Should I complain? It’s not my style. It’s not becoming of a man. And nobody wants to hear it.

Why?

Because someone always has it worse. I know it. I’ve seen it.
I have friends who have lost children at the toddler stage to cancer.
I’ve been to Children’s hospital in Boston and read books to children who would never leave that hospital.
There are families everywhere dealing with dead children, wounded Veterans, mental illness, MIA’s and POW’s, gun violence, terminal illness, no Health Insurance, pending bankruptcies, the list just goes on and on.
They all have it worse than I do.
Most of them wish they, or those that they lost, were only on dialysis.

I’m strapped to a dialysis machine 3 days a week. So what? I’m alive. It may kill me, and then again, I may get a donor. It could be always be worse. One thing I have learned in my 53 years of walking this green earth is that I’m not special, I’m just a cog in a great big wheel. I never say Why me?
Why not me?

I have always said that where I am is where I am suppose to be. That applied wherever I was. Why isn’t it feasible that I am right where I am supposed to be doing what I am supposed to do at this moment?

I was given a brutal reminder of this tonight when I got a call from my friend Steve. I met Steve when I lived in an apartment complex as my family tried to bounce back from the foreclosure. We were instant friends. We hung out often and had a lot in common, in particular crumbling marriages and the love of our children. When he got divorced and moved, we stayed in touch.

Steve became very ill after he moved. His diabetes, once under control, had destroyed his liver. He needed a transplant. When I had mine, he was the first friend to visit. He had questions of course, but he was there as a friend.

Flash forward a few years. Steve was deteriorating. It was affecting his job as a Teacher. He was missing work and couldn’t find a balance in his meds, the side effects were destroying him. Soon after, a group of Teachers that praised him to his face went on to stab him in the back. He was forced to defend his ability to enlighten young minds to a committee of people who wanted him gone. After suing the Teacher’s Union he claimed a meager, insulting settlement and he walked away with his dignity in his pocket. No accolades or thanks for his 20 years of service or retirement party.

Steve lost most of his friends. Or they lost him. He is now pending disability. He just sold his car because he can’t make payments. His ex-wife is taking him to court over child-support he can’t pay. She knows he’s trying without income but wants to punish him. He can barely talk, an hour after he takes his meds he loses control of his voice. He is on a list for a cadaver transplant, it’s his only hope. Unlike a kidney, a Liver cannot be given by the living.

Tonight, I asked if he would drive up and spend a couple of days with me. He can’t because he has to be nearby in case there is a fatal car accident that will produce a proper tissue match. Plus, he has court tomorrow because his ex-wife is not done ripping his testicles from his scrotum.

Steve would love to be me. Right now, I love being me. I have friends and family who support me. My wife acted with dignity and compassion in our divorce. My children love me and will never be a pawn in a big game. I won’t die if I don’t get an organ donation in the next few months.

I worry about Steve right now, he has been a good and loyal friend. I am not worried about me right now at all.
Why?
As sick as he is, he was the one to call me to see how I was doing. How about that?

Were you to ever utter the words “what else can go wrong?” the universe very well may take it as a challenge.

Flopping like a carp…a Mike Valentine tale

This post is the 3rd installment in a series.You can catch up here and here

Mike had just collapsed on the conference room floor.

His co-workers swarmed around him anxiously barking questions. Are you alright? Where does it hurt? Can I get you anything? Can you talk? Mike Valentine wanted to answer all of them but the pain in his side was crippling and he couldn’t get the words out. The muscles below his rib cage seized, failed to relinquish their grip. He couldn’t breathe. He clenched his teeth and tried to draw breath. His GM reached down and sat him in an upright position against the wall and handed him a glass of water. Mike leaned forward, grabbing his ankles, trying to stretch the spasm away. Finally, the pain subsided. Mike sat against the wall, sipping the water and tried to regain his composure. He looked up, the entire room was staring at him.
“It’s all over.” Mike said. “Let’s continue.”
“Are you nuts?” his GM said. “You’re going to the hospital.”
Someone in the background offered to call an Ambulance. Mike resisted, insisting that it was over and he was fine.
“Have you had that happen before?” the controller asked.
“Not like that.” He lied. The truth was that he had. Not as bad but similar. He had mentioned them to his Doctor and they could find no explanation. Just one more thing to deal with.

“Well, we’re driving you to the hospital then. I’m not giving you a choice.”
Mike dropped his shoulders in defeat as he was pulled upright. He allowed his coworkers to take his arms as they ascended the stairs, walked outside and got him into a waiting van.

By the time they had reached the local hospital Mike felt fine. He didn’t want to go in. He had been the local hospital route before. It was always the same thing, they would run some tests and send them to his own doctor. Nothing would be accomplished except the waste of a lot of time. A doctor would come out and ask if he knew that he had Kidney issues.

There was a bigger picture here shaping up. Mike’s GM was going in with him. When the words “Kidney Disease” are spoken, it will be the first time his company knew that he was sick. Two hours before, he was bulletproof. That façade was about to crumble.

As they entered the building entrance, he tried to get his manager to leave him. He wasn’t changing his mind.

The check-in process was fairly quick. It was early afternoon, the ER wasn’t busy. Being in an affluent community didn’t hurt as well, Mike’s home hospital was often flooded with drunks and victims of violent crimes. There wasn’t a lot of that in this sleepy Massachusetts town Mike mused. Within 15 minutes Mike was seen by the ER physician. He was asked a bunch of questions about his health history. They did a run-up of blood work. The ER doctor was clueless regarding the episode. Mike was not surprised, no one else had ever figured out why he had these attacks either. The Doctor scribbled on his board, muttered something to his attending Nurse and went on to another patient. Mike was left to make small talk with his GM until someone came back.

To his encouragement, his manager didn’t talk about the events of the previous hours. He instead shifted gears to talking about some of the business matters that he wanted to review in the now cancelled meeting. It was a relaxed conversation and they actually accomplished something. Before long the ER Doctor poked his head in.
“Are you aware…” time stopped for Mike, he knew exactly what was coming…3,2,1 BOOM
“that you have serious kidney failure?” Mike high-fived himself mentally, he  had called it.
“Yes, I am aware” he replied as he looked over at the furrowed brow of his boss.
“Are you being actively treated for it”? the doctor asked.
“Not as actively as I should, perhaps” Mike replied. “But here’s the thing, is it related to why I’m here?”
“Not that I know of” he replied.
“Then we’re done here unless you have some suggestions.”
“See your Nephrologist. If you have his contact information I’ll have your labs forwarded.”
Mike gave him what he asked for and they left.

It was a quiet car ride back to the office. Mike decided to just get it over with.
“I have Kidney Disease” he offered. “Now you know.”
“Well something has to be wrong with you, you were flopping around on the conference room floor like an epileptic Carp.”
They shared a laugh. Then Mike asked “Does it change anything?”
“Like what, you mean your employment status?”
“No.” Mike rephrased his question. “Is this something that I should have told you when you hired me?”
His manager didn’t flinch. “That’s why we have health insurance, you dumbass. How long have you had it?”
“Since I was a teenager. It’s unpredictable in its progression. I think it’s getting worse.”
“Do you think you should have told me on the interview?”
Mike stroked his goatee, stalling.
“Yes and no. It really hasn’t affected my work that I know of. I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t think about the what-if’s”. When I met you, I wanted you to see the man for the job, not some sick guy. Does that make sense?”
His manager nodded. “So now we know” he said.

They drove the rest of the way in relative silence. They drove through the security gate and as a courtesy he was dropped off at the door. It was 4:30. Mike was thankful and he got out with the intention of going in, grabbing his bag and calling it a day. As he nodded a thank you for the ride Mike was asked
“Where does stress fit into all of this, you know, with the kidneys?”
“I don’t think it helps, I know that much. Why?”
“Because you’re wrapped tighter than a convenience store sandwich. You try to do too much. You’re the first one in, last one out. I’m not asking for that. Take it easy on yourself. You’re getting the job done.”
“Thanks. It’s how I’m wired.”
“No, that’s how Superman is wired. Your name is Mike, not Clark. Smarten up.” With that, he put the car in gear and drove to his reserved spot.

Mike went directly home for the first time in weeks. He had some things to think about.

My special purpose

On Thursday I entered the dialysis clinic with my bag containing a blanket, books, my laptop, headphones and half of the trepidation I had felt on my first visit. I was greeted by an entirely different Nursing Staff, which gave me the opportunity to drop my “oil change” joke 💀. It was fairly well received. I’m going to ask for a tire rotation next time to test the waters.

I already know the routine. I weighed in and sat down while 2 nurses, 2 potentially new sounding boards for my repertoire of Dad jokes, went through an impressive routine of programming the machine and unwrapping needles and fastening clamps and god knows what else. It really is something to watch, it must have taken a hell of a lot of training. When they were done and I was hooked up, they went on to other patients and I settled in for 3 boring hours.

I wasn’t in the mood for TV and not ready to read so I looked around the room. There are 12 stations in the room and every chair was full. I recognized most of the patients in the room from my first visit. The staff was all new to me. In particular I noticed a thin, older woman with a buzz cut making the rounds of the patients. I figured her to be the Nurse Manager. She was making her way towards me. After spending a few minutes with the gentleman next to me she came over and introduced herself as Kim, the clinic’s Social Worker. She knew who I was, had researched my case and apparently was looking forward to meeting me. Part of me wishes I could say the same. I respect social workers and what they do, but their goal is to get me talking about myself and my condition and how it has affected me and everything else that I don’t want to talk about. I deal well by not talking about “it”. Social workers chew away at my armor.

Kim sat down next to me and asked me a few questions about my overall reaction to the dialysis process, was I feeling better? Did I have any issues or complaints? Standard stuff. I immediately found her east to talk to. I had been anticipating an interview and instead found myself in a conversation. I certainly had time so I decided to drop my guard a bit and see where it goes.

The questions flowed easily from her and although it was standard fare; how long have I been sick; my marital status and my living situation. I answered all of them honestly and in some detail. She was taken back by my story, especially at the saga of my marriage collapsing. She kept asking, in different ways, if there was a chance at reconciliation and I continued to say no. She was surprised at my acceptance of the situation but dropped the subject. She then asked me if I was working, would I be able to or plan to in the future. I explained my situation with SSDI and that seemed to satisfy her. She then asked me what I used to do for work.

I found myself telling her all about my most recent position at the finance company and of all of the things I loved about it. I don’t know how long I spoke of it but when I was done and looked at her she looked captivated.
“If you could see the look in your eyes as you talk about that job” she said.
I had actually teared up as I had told her my tale.
“It meant a lot to me, Kim. You will never hear me utter a word of hubris, but when it came to that job I was damn good at it. I miss it.”
“I can tell.”

The conversation eventually wound down and she moved on to another patient. The emotional reaction to talking of my career lingered on. I explored it deeper and had an epiphany of sorts. Of all of the things I hate about my current situation is that I am no longer needed by people in my life. My family no longer seeks or expects support from me. I no longer go to work each day and try, in some small way. to make a difference in someone’s life. See, I had no throttle control before this happened. I was “all in” on life with family and career. I was active as possible as a parent and a husband, Teaching, mentoring and loving my kids while giving what remained of my ass to my job was what I lived for. I was a doer, a guy that made shit happen. A guy people came to. I was a great father, husband, friend and co-worker. I rode bikes and walked miles in the name of charity. I donated money I didn’t have and didn’t care.

Now I have none of it. Maybe the pace proved too much for my body.

I have beaten to death my family life on this blog and it is well documented that I love my family with all of my earthly strength. But I haven’t discussed work often and it was a big part of who I was. Men have often been accused of strongly tying their self-worth to their profession. I was guilty of this. I vowed never to be the guy who called in sick and no one noticed. My job, to quote Steve Martin in ” The Jerk”, I had found my special purpose.

The days when people came to me for advice; when calls were transferred to me because no one else knew enough or how to talk to an irate customer; having the owner boast that you are the “best in the business”; being given a seemingly impossible situation and finding a way to fix it. I have such fond memories of talking to people where the conversation started as a confrontation and ended with a “thank you.” It wasn’t that I was particularly skilled at everything, I just knew how to talk to people and I really, genuinely cared about them. I was proud to go home many days of the week with the knowledge that I actually may have helped someone through a tough day. I don’t have that anymore.

I have tried to be as useful as possible since the collapse. I volunteer at the food bank, I help some of the older people in town with basic chores. I don’t charge them, they don’t have the money. I am kind to my fellow man and I put out zero negative energy into the universe. I hope to become healthy enough to volunteer at a camp for the families of terminally ill children next summer. I am being the best person I can be.

But I don’t feel needed. I can’t believe how much I miss that feeling.

Let’s hit the course… a Mike Valentine tale

this is a continuation of a post from last week. You can catch up here.

His brief moment of warmth towards Tracey over with, Mike Valentine vividly recalled how much she had fought him when he was hired. Tracey thought that she should be Sales Manager and for a while refused to even come into his office. She thought it should be hers. Little did she know that he was partially hired to “reign her in” and “get rid of her cleanly” if possible. It needed to be done. She had a well documented history of insubordination and she was so disliked by staff and customers alike that other auctions would thank Mike for having her, that she was driving business to them. Mike never lost sight of that when dealing with her. She was either going to get in step with his way, or she would be gone. Two years had already passed and he was no closer to getting rid of her than he was but he had some great success in curbing some of her bad habits.

Dismissing her from his mind, he again focused on his emails and his upcoming day. He heard the door of the office next to him bang and he realized that Bob was in. He grabbed the flyer for the golf tournament and went in to say good morning. With very little convincing, Mike left the office with a check request for 500.00 to buy a foursome and a list of potential dealers to invite. He had to move. The tournament was in 2 weeks. He had to make some calls. It took all of one hour to secure the foursome. He invited one active dealer rep and his owner, as an award for regular business. He then invited a dealer whose business he had been trying to secure for some time.

Mike was excited for the first time in what seemed forever. Golf tournaments were the biggest perk in sales while also serving as the ultimate means of securing clients. Mike constantly battled ringing phones and interrupting employees are the worst when visiting customers. On the golf course you have between 6 and 8 hours, depending on the size of the tournament, and you have their full attention for the entire time. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, it was a day off from work with pay and an expense account. As he walked back to his office he felt a spring in his step.

For the next 2 hours Mike finished his morning routine. He called his reps, discussed their game plans for the day, offered advice or suggestions as needed, asked if assistance was needed with any customers and generally made it known that he was paying attention. When he was satisfied that the reps were on the right track he finished his emails and prepared for the 11 AM Managers meeting.

Preparation was ingrained in Mike Valentine’s DNA. It wasn’t enough for him to know what was going on. He insisted on being prepared for any question, no matter how far out of left field it may come from. His manager had come to expect this from him, his memory of tiny yet important details had earned him the affectionate moniker of “Rain Man”, after the iconic 80’s movie. It was difficult to maintain this level of attention to detail but it was what, as his father always preached, “makes one man stand out more than another.” His dad didn’t say that as a statement of exceptionalism towards his boy, but instead to reinforce his belief that a man’s achievements in life define him.

At 10:55 Mike, feeling accomplished and prepared, folded up his manifold and made his way through the office to the stairs. As he started the ascent he felt winded after only a few steps. He paused, tried to catch his breath and not convey his condition to the coworkers walking by him on the stairs. He looked at his phone to pretend that he was reading an email while he caught his breath. Was he hung over? Was he dehydrated? Was he just out of shape? These questions danced through his head as he regained his breath. He finished the flight of stairs, paused outside of the already full conference room and waited until he wasn’t puffing before he went inside. When he walked in his GM sarcastically thanked him for joining the party. His co-managers snickered in unison.

The meeting consisted of Mike the GM, Bob the AGM, Mike, the Fleet lease manager, Office manager, Reconditioning shop manager and the Body Shop manager. Mike was in a decent mood and the meeting was smooth if not boring. Mike had little patience for the details of the margins, collection policy changes and oversight matters. He only cared if they were bringing in, and selling more cars than they were 1 year ago at that time. That was his job. Volume. But he listened along and chimed in when asked for his input.
He didn’t feel well and he feared that his face was showing it.
As the meeting turned to the Office Manager on his right, Mike was suddenly overcome by a sharp, stabbing pain in his left side. It hurt so instantly and intensely that Mike yelped loudly in pain. Not wanting to make a scene, he struggled to get up from his chair and make his way to the door. Two feet before he reached the door, his co-workers bleating at him as the waves of pain tore through him, Mike Valentine collapsed on the floor of the conference room.

More later…

Blogoversary

1 year ago I started my blog. I was at an incredibly low point in my life and I believed that putting it to paper, putting it out to random strangers would assist me in exorcising my demons. It did so much more than that.

230 posts, not including many discarded, later I find myself in a caring, supportive community that has embraced me at best and at the very least allowed me to share my unusual, unique and perhaps inappropriate take on life, love, family, work, relationships and chronic illness.

My blog, and consequently you, have become part of me.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement, support, friendship and feedback. And of course, thank you for reading…