Thursday, July 29, 2004

PART 24 - Believe It Or Not

Who didn't like this show? Catchy tune, too.

Greatest American Hero Theme Song Lyrics
Believe It Or Not

Look at what's happened to me
I can't believe it myself
Suddenly I'm up on top of the world
It should've been somebody else
Believe it or not, I'm walking on air
I never thought I could feel so free
Flying away on a wing and a prayer
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it's just me . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The only thing you can count on is change. After a couple of years at the Boy Scouts, I left for greener pastures. During my tenure there, I had learned (at that time) a very valuable skill: I had learned how to operate a WANG word processor. My sister had started her career as a LAN/WAN administrator, and she had worked with a couple of technical writers. "Rita, you can write as well as these people. They make pretty good money. Why don't you look for something like that?" she suggested. Good idea, except I had zero experience as a technical writer. "Well, you wrote correspondence and reports for those lazy ass Boy Scouts, and you worked for me documenting my networks," she said with a wink. I thought about that. It could work. She and I didn't share last names anymore - we were both married. So, I embellished the ol' resume, and struck out to find my fortune as a technical writer.

Within a few weeks, I landed a nice contract at a software company near my parent's house. The founders of the company, two college dropouts, were incredibly smart guys, and they had money to burn. They didn't blink at my unfinished degree, knowing WANG was enough, and I began editing their massive library of software documentation.

There was no desktop publishing back then, it was all word processed pages printed out, with screen shots and hand-lettered flowcharts cut and pasted into "makeready" originals to hand off to the printing company. It was a labor-intensive way to publish, and I was looking for a better way. Somebody mentioned that there had been a machine at one time that was supposed to create graphics, but no one could really figure it out. After a little searching, I found it. It had been relegated to a corner, and when I first saw it, it was pretty dusty. It was rumored that the guys had paid better than $9,000 for it, and it had been sitting idle for a couple of years.

The Apple LISA - a technological marvel

It was called an Apple LISA, and it was amazing. The whole thing fit on a desktop - no mainframe and workstation (this was 1988, remember, PCs were a rarity.) It had its own printer, and its own software built in. The screen had pictures of file folders, and it had a mouse attached that guided a pointer on the screen! I had never, ever seen such a thing, and I fell in love, right then and there. Every spare minute I had, I devoured everything I could find to read or learn about that machine, and within a few months, I was dubbed the "Apple Master" and hired on as a permanent employee with an even nicer bump in pay. I had to shake myself; was I really earning this kind of money?

Initially dubious of the contract and the opportunity, he urged me to be cautious and think long and hard about leaving the BSA. Once I landed the contract, my salary nearly doubled. He was stunned - I was outearning him. Not by much, but I made more. He was incredulous that I could sit at a desk and generate more income than he could fighting fires and sweating in the sun for hours. It was a tough blow. He was proud of my accomplishment, but I could tell that it hurt him, too. The balance of power shifted - let's face it, I was getting a little older, and for the first time, I was able at this point to earn enough to live with or without him.

Not one to back down from a challenge, he resigned from the fire department and took a job with FedEx. With his new schedule, he didn't have time for the landscaping business, so he sold that and pocketed a little profit. He still volunteered for the county fire department, and the boost in salary made us neck and neck, salary-wise.

He seemed to mellow, a bit. Maybe it was because he was able to be home every evening and didn't have the other job waiting for him. Maybe it was because we were financially stable, maybe it was because a suitable amount of time had passed in the marriage without any betrayal on my part. We enjoyed our home, and we tried to spread the wealth a little with his family.

Good Lord, his family.

He was the next to youngest in a family of 7; 6 boys and one girl. The eldest brother was a HUGE man, 400+ pounds, and I loved him dearly. He was sweet and kind, and he always had a twinkle in his eye and a funny story to tell. His weight had been the bane of his existence, and he had tried and failed many times over to shed himself of it, which made me love him all the more. He was married with 3 kids, and he was pretty much the most easygoing one in the family. His weight had pretty much disabled him over time; the doctors had told him that it would be hard to imagine him living much past 40. Already in his mid 30s, he was beginning to feel the ravages of the weight.

The next two brothers were fairly unremarkable - hard workers, married with children, and they pretty much kept to themselves.

The fourth brother was a drug addict and a drifter. He constantly floated between his hometown and Chicago. He had been in and out of trouble his entire life, and was considered a bad apple. I had never seen a bad side to him, certainly nothing like LP. To me, he was sweet, unassuming, and grateful for the kindness of others.

The lone sister had run far away from her family and the town when she was 15. After many years of living in Florida, she had returned with her husband and three girls to the hometown, and had taken up temporary residence with Brother #2, her favorite. She was as industrious as my husband, with a quick temper and a funny disposition. I liked her immensely, and I always got a kick out of watching her smack my husband on the head or chastize him for any perceived misstep or wrongdoing. He never crossed her, and he loved her dearly. She cleaned houses for a living, and because I was working long hours with long commutes, she offered to clean for us. Initially, she wouldn't accept payment, but we insisted, and we became the first of many happy customers. She was as meticulous a worker as he was; I could have NEVER done as good a job as her; it seemed effortless for her.

The baby brother was a late life baby, like me. He was incredibly smart, and incredibly angry. He resented his parent's poverty, and often threw temper tantrums that were only settled when my mother in law summoned my husband to come over and "straighten him out". My husband was more like his father than his brother; their father was too old and too worn from years of hard labor and drinking to deal with the boy. Their mother was prone to long bouts of black depression and fits of anger, which was hard for me to fathom until I saw it for myself.

SO . . . each facet of this family had their own special brand of pressing need, and we seemed to be the "go-to guys", since we were childless and well-heeled, comparatively. We got the call, whether it was watching kids, or refereeing squabbles, or paying for unexpected car repairs, or wiring money for bus tickets. We wanted to help; it alleviated a little of the guilt of the inequity of our lives versus theirs. It was a tight family, and my husband seemed to thrive on being the lynchpin. I enjoyed being in a large, boisterous crew, so different than what I was used to. I loved all the nieces and nephews (all 10 of them) , and I usually had some subset of them at my house on weekends to swim and spend the night.

It felt like the right time to start talking about kids. Well, one of us thought it was the right time. He always seemed to adore kids, all kids. He would smile and wave at little ones at restaurants, he was always the fireman that conducted the class tours of the station, all of the nieces and nephews giggled with delight when he played silly games with them, and he always took care to pick out birthday and Christmas gifts for every one of them. He seemed to adore kids, but he was adamant about not having any of our own.

The first couple of years of marriage, I was beginning to hint, but he wouldn't entertain a discussion about children while we were struggling so hard. By our third year of marriage, we had worked our way up to a debate. Back and forth, many of the same old arguments came up to discourage me: he would zing the ball into my court, saying we were in debt, we couldn't afford for me to have a baby. I would return with a backhand, reminding him of the fact that we would have plenty of money if we stopped handing it out. Unfazed, he would smack the ball into a corner just beyond my reach, winning the point, saying that I was too heavy to think about getting pregnant, and anyway, he wasn't sure if I would be a good mother . . .


Once again, he was setting a bar for me. Once again, I felt compelled to prove to him that I could and would meet his expectations. It was an old pattern for us, and I fell right into it. It seemed completely reasonable to me that he would point to some flaw or shortcoming I had as a reason not to have kids. He made it seem matter-of-fact; he didn't want unhealthy kids, therefore, he wouldn't have kids with an unhealthy wife. The evidence was there. I had stopped taking the pill years before when my doctor wouldn't renew the prescription for me; my blood pressure was too high to safely be on it. Frankly, I was surprised that I hadn't gotten pregnant already, but the explanation that I was at fault seemed completely plausible.

I grudgingly agreed. Along with gaining weight, I seemed to be tired alot. I was struggling to keep up with everything that I had going on. I didn't really enjoy all of the things that I had loved before: keeping my house, visiting friends, cooking. There were days that I just called in sick to work and stayed in bed all day. He didn't really know what to make of that; he figured the extra weight was just tiring me out and declared that more exercise was the answer to the problem.

I began to diet again. Each time was proving to be harder than the time before; all of this yo-yo gain and loss was taking a toll on me. My diets got more drastic, and I began to use over the counter stimulants to help jump start the loss. I was exercising, and I was losing. I wasn't sleeping much anymore, but I was feeling panicky, just like I used to. I tried to ignore it and get back into the swing of my routine, and when the weight was finally gone (again), I pressed him on the children issue.

Evidently he had been thinking about it for quite a while, because he approached me with what seemed like a perfect idea. "You know, last Christmas, the fire department delivered toys to the Family & Children's Services offices. I was talking to the workers there, and they were mentioning how many kids were in the system, and how hard it was to find good foster care placements. That got me thinking: why don't we become foster parents? It will help the kids, and it will give us both an idea about what it is like to have kids full time." It seemed as close to a concession as he was willing to make, and I was willing to do it to prove myself AND to help the kids. It wasn't a perfect solution, but by this time, I had learned to adjust my expectations to my reality.

While we were completing our parenting classes and foster care certifications, he got word that FedEx was planning to close the sorting facility in our town and transfer the workers to another facility near downtown Atlanta. I was already commuting 2 hours a day; his commute would be closer to 3. We were both growing a little weary of his family's constant presence, and we were beginning to turn ourselves inward toward our own goals and plans, knowing full well that we couldn't continue providing a safety net to them forever. It seemed like divine planning: we would sell our house and move closer to Atlanta, giving us some distance and some time alone.

We put the house on the market when the announcement of the closure was made. Our pretty little house sold in 10 days, netting us a nice profit of about $15,000. We had been looking at homes closer to Atlanta, and had found one that we both loved when word came down: FedEx had reversed the decision, and decided to EXPAND the facility in our town and transfer the Atlanta workers north to our station instead. Here we were, no house, caught with our pants down.

Things were iffy there for a few weeks, when I saw a very small ad in the local paper "For Sale By Builder - Must Sell. New 3 bd/2 baVictorian style home, full bsmnt. $79,900. Seller pays closing." Right, I thought. This place must be a crackerbox. On a whim, I called and got directions to the place and spoke to the builder. He and his partner had built the house, and the sale had fallen through and they had not had any takers since. They were paying the construction loan every month, and they had started a new subdivision one county over and wanted to dump this house, quick. When I assured them that we were ready and able to close and move in a week, he drove out to meet me right then. Driving to the property, I tried to keep my expectations reasonable. We were in a pickle; if it was a decent house, it would be a good buy.

The house was located about 4 miles from his work. When I pulled up, I shrieked and covered my opened mouth with my hand, in complete disbelief. This was the most beautiful house I had ever seen. Wraparound porch with gazebo, cheerful yellow siding with white gingerbread accents, beautiful backyard that backed up to a wooded stream. This was too good to be true. The inside was beautiful: stone fireplace, crown molding, oak cabinetry. I turned to the builder and asked him if he could wait 15 minutes for me to call my husband. Within the hour, he had arrived, and we signed a contract to buy that house.

2 weeks later, when we moved the last of the furniture in that beautiful home, it felt as though we had won the lottery. Too giddy to sleep, we congratulated ourselves for all the hard work, for the search that had uncovered this treasure, and for all that we had been through to get us here. That night, surveying our property from the gazebo, his arms around my waist, we softly kissed and whispered thanks to each other for sticking it out for this reward. We had never been happier.

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