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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

My Mantra? Karma's only a Bitch if you are...

Things in my life are very good.  I am happy, as healthy as I could possibly be at 50, and live a very good life.  I’ve had my losses, lessons and struggles, but have managed to grow a little as a result of facing them.  For the most part, I have a pretty positive outlook on my future.  I’m in love, and engaged to marry an amazing man.  He is the love of my life, without question, and I am excited to build a life with him.  Not only do I get him, I get two beautiful step children to add to my brood, and am looking forward to the future….
Part of creating that future though, involves facing some less than fun hurdles.  Because CG and I are in different places financially, a prenup has to be drawn up.  I knew after my first marriage broke up, that I would never, ever go into another union without one, no matter what the situation.  In our case, I have far less than he does, so my kids will someday face getting far less than his children do when our estate is settled.  I just hope they’ll understand when the time comes, that I did the best I could for them.  They aren’t getting less because they deserve less, or because they were loved less by me.
I’ve found talking through a prenuptial agreement to be extremely difficult, but it has NOTHING to do with CG.  He is being more than fair about how we deal with what we each have now, and what we'll amass together.  It’s just that the stark reality of our inequity is a tough mirror to face.  Because I failed at my marriage, my children will have far less than they would have inherited if I had made it work.  The burden lies with me.  Have I done enough for my kids?  Is there any way for me to “catch up” a bit?  I don’t know.
What I do know, is that even if all they end up with is what I’ve managed to save right now, they’ll be getting more than most people in the world.   Even in their own circle of friends…
Yesterday my youngest , “Toby” and I were driving downtown early in the morning.  We drove past a large homeless shelter here, which has faced a lot of criticism.  The building was made to fit in with the rest of the downtown core, which mostly consists of new, shiny buildings.  The shelter has battled back by advertising that the clientele there is comprised mostly of the “Working Poor”.  What that means, is that 70% of the people there actually hold jobs, but can’t afford an apartment. 
As we drove by, Toby commented that he didn’t understand that statistic… and wondered whether addiction had a large part in why the “working poor” couldn’t afford a home.  He remarked that two of his friends have managed to make themselves a life without any support from their families, since the age of 15. 
One of these kids I know very well.  We’ll call him “T”.  He has been a fixture in our house for years, and became one of my “second sons” because he was around so often.  I knew things were rocky at home between “T” and his step mother.   T’s stepmom had no children when she married a single dad, and didn’t have any idea how to deal with a pre-teen boy.  Soon after the wedding, she became pregnant and had a little girl who was the light of her life, and T’s as well… he adores his little sister…. Anyhow, things went from bad to worse, as the situation began to cause marital strife between T’s dad and stepmother.  I didn’t walk in this step mom’s shoes, so I’m not sure why she felt it was her place to treat T the way she did.
Eventually, T moved out before he finished high school.  He managed to hold a full time job at McDonalds, attend and pass school, AND pay rent and buy his own food.  It was hard to do, but he managed to swing it.  During that time, I provided groceries, invited him to family meals, and bought him towels etc to get him started.   I’m sure it was a tough road.  T has since joined the Armed Forces, and is making a pretty good life for himself. 
The other friend, Miss “L”, is someone I don’t know at all.  Her father left the family and has provided no support to any of his children, even after the death of their mother.  This girl is excelling, and has great ambitions for herself.  Toby spoke about her situation as another example of someone very young, managing to thrive without a financial support system.  She is currently working full time, and at the age of 19 is attending college, and footing the bill for her school, her apartment, food and clothing.  It must be a difficult road for her sometimes.  When Toby told me about her situation, I decided another “Pay-it-Forward” opportunity was presenting itself to me. 
Pay-it-Forward is a great way to put pennies in the Karma Bank.  It gives both the giver and the recipient a good feeling if it’s done right…. It has to be handled so the person giving the gift doesn’t expect anything but good feelings in return, and so the recipient isn’t made to feel awkward.  I enlisted  the help of Miss L’s best friend… and bought her a gift card to a mall to be given to her anonymously.  Because it’s Easter this weekend, I also had my son pick up a chocolate bunny for her.  I have given her best friend instructions that the gift card is to be spent on something she wouldn’t normally buy herself.  A treat. 
My life was made much easier during a difficult time by two people who chose to pay it forward to me.  When I first left my sons’ father, I was in some financial difficulty.  I wanted to buy a home for us, and it was a stretch on one income….
A friend I met at work donated her wardrobe castoffs to me… Designer labels, many of which still had price tags attached.  She cleaned her closet out several times, over the years, and I benefited.  I truly believe my success at work was, in part, due to her.  My professional image changed when I dressed the part.
My second benefactor was the friend of a friend.  Someone I had never met.  When my marriage broke up, I was left with the van we had, but I was also left with the payments.   The friend of a friend had an old car to get rid of, and was asking around to see if there was someone who really needed one.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  It was a baby-blue, Ford station-wagon that was about 15 years old.  The car had been well maintained mechanically, so while it wasn’t pretty, it got me around for two years before I had to buy another car.  The fellow who owned it sold it to me for a dollar.  His only stipulation was that I promised to do something for someone else someday.  I have taken his generosity to heart, and have tried to share that spirit wherever I could.  I believe the world changes one good deed at a time.  One thought at a time.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Wake-up Call

There has been a great deal of change in my life since the last time I sat to blog.  I will, at some point, work through it all, and write it down, but some of it has been too raw for me to sift through.  Some of it has been absolutely wonderful. 

Just to summarize, I turned 50 in June, and just a month later became engaged to CG, July 28th.  From that happy crescendo, I crashed to the ground just 3 weeks later with the death of my amazing mother.  The next few months were an awkward blend of messages from people who know me… “Congratulations!.... sorry about your Mom”… or "So sorry for your loss, but you must be thrilled to be engaged" was hard to know what to feel, but I made it through.  I know my mom really thought CG was the right guy for me, and knew he'd treat me right.  That means a lot to me.
I will delve into the whole scenario someday just to sort out how I feel about being a “Middle Aged Orphan”.  Yes, that really is a term… it’s a strange phenomenon and can leave a family in tatters.  This blog post, however, isn’t that story.  It’s the story of friends of mine, and how they changed the trajectory of my life.
I started working for a large, very recognizable oil company in 1989.  When I began, I worked as a technical assistant to a group of geophysicists.  The work was interesting, but the things I was being asked to do, like filing and folding maps, wasn’t intellectually stimulating.  My boss recognized that I needed to have a little more substance, so agreed to let me join a group managing seismic data.  Seismic is the study of sound waves through the earth.  Sound waves can be directed through the rock below the surface of the earth, and then recorded as it bounces off different rock formations.  The speed the sound comes back to the surface tells a geophysicist what sort of rock lies below, and can help determine whether or not a specific area is a good place to drill for oil or gas. 
My job was to manage that data.  I had never really been exposed to that sort of stuff, so the learning curve was pretty steep.  Thankfully, I was trained by a woman the gorgeous Miss “S” who had actually worked out in the field as a jughound.  A jughound is a guy who walks for miles, carrying a huge, very heavy cable on his shoulders.  This cable is equipped with many spiked receivers that are pounded into the ground using the heel of his heavy boot.  Most "juggies” work in very inhospitable places like the arctic in freezing cold conditions, or working in the heat of summer on a prairie somewhere.  I was absolutely shocked when I heard she’d done that job, because she was a well groomed, well coifed woman, who wore beautiful clothing and jewelry. 
“S” is warm and funny, and we soon became fast friends.   We started going for walks every lunch hour… she to shop and me to offer a second opinion.  She was very sweet, and recognized that as a young mother with two small children and a husband in school, I didn’t have money to spare.  She started bringing me in garbage bags full of beautiful clothing she had either tired of, or didn’t like as much when she got it home.  These were designer labels, sometimes with the price tags still attached.  While my husband and I were poor as church mice even when he got out of school, because of her generosity I didn’t look as though we were struggling.
Knowing she had the means to help a little, she approached her handsome husband “C”, who was running a large seismic company's operations, to ask if he could use a weekend worker.  That conversation changed my life.  "C" said he could use another part time guy, so my then husband took the job.  He worked just a couple of weeks before “C” recognized he had a great engineering and problem solving mind, and offered him a full time job.  From there, he was promoted to heading the equipment repair department, and eventually into the local leadership team for operations. 
Needless to say, “S” didn’t need to work, but being childless, she enjoyed the camaraderie in the office, and I have to say, she was one of the hardest working women I have ever known.  I respected her very much, and was devastated when she and her husband moved to Houston to manage international operations and further grow the business.  She quit her job and decided to be a stay at home wife. 
“C” had started at his company at it’s inception, when there were just 5 people in an office.  It’s now one of the two largest Seismic companies in the world, employing over 50 thousand people world-wide.  Part of their success is due to "C" and his dedication to both the company and it's founder.  He wore beautiful suits, and became the face of the company, but never forgot he’d started his career as a jug-hound, and would roll up his sleeves to help repair equipment, or go out to show a crew how to do the job properly.  His employees loved him, and would’ve walked through fire if he'd asked.
I can remember my ex telling me once he’d been handling an equipment issue in Houston.  Apparently they’d had some trouble with cattle chewing holes through the casings on the geophone cables.  As he sat there, up to his elbows in dirty equipment, “C” came in, threw his Hugo Boss jacket over the chair next to him, rolled up his sleeves and started fixing cables right alongside the crew.  When he left, the guy sitting on the other side of my ex said “Who the hell was THAT?”  To which my ex replied “That’s the guy that signs your boss’s, boss’s check!”
“C” and “S” seemed to live a charmed life, and were utterly devoted to each other.  They were a striking couple, he very tall and muscular, with a full head of sandy brown hair and the most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen.  She, the delicate dark haired beauty.  They laughed loud and often, and their love for each other shone through every time I ever saw them together.
After the move, we continued to keep in touch even though we were so far apart.  I missed our daily walks, and even more the talks we had.  She had a gentle way of showing me when I needed to stand up for myself, so it was during a visit to her I decided to end my marriage.  She never encouraged me to do so, just allowed me to talk it through, throwing in intelligent and insightful questions as I vented and wrestled with the decision.  It was the right choice for me.
In around 2001, “S” and her husband bought a property in Mexico, and were working toward a retirement there.  Her husband had recognized the stress he was under during a large merger, when he personally had to let 5000 people go, and decided to take a year off.  I came to visit during that time, and asked him if he planned to return to work.  I remember him looking at me, pausing for about 30 seconds and replying “The only way I’m going back is if they offer me an OBSCENE amount of money to come back.” Gesturing with his hands the way you do when describing the size of a very large fish.
The next time I saw him was about a year later… I walked in to my office, and saw him signing in to attend a meeting.  When I asked what he was doing there, he just did that gesture again, and mouthed the words “OBSCENE...OB-SCENE!” at me with a wink.   That was the last time I saw him.  He retired for good in 2004 before he hit 50, and they moved to their paradise in Mexico full time.
Over the years, we kept in touch, with invitations to come down to their home to visit, or me going to an all inclusive and asking them to join me for a week, but it seemed like the timing was never right.  Our communication slowly dwindled to a yearly Christmas note and I’m embarrassed to say this year I thought to do it, but promptly forgot and never did send the update even with all I had to share this year.  My bad.
On January 2, I got a text from my ex.  It’s rare for us to communicate now that our boys are grown, so I opened it thinking he was looking to connect with them.  The note was a shocking three liner letting me know “C” had died on New Year’s Eve.  He was just 57.  I caught my breath, nearly throwing up when I was hit with what the magnitude of my dear friend’s loss would be. 

The details I was able to get from mutual friends are even more sad.  "C" was a vital man.  He was born into a family with some struggles, and as a result, he'd given up alcohol when he was 24.  He never touched another drop.  He ate well, and exercised.  He was doing things right.  The day he passed away, he had complained of indigestion and begged off going out.  I'm not sure whether it was during the afternoon when his wife ran out to do errands, or whether she had gone out that evening to see friends, but the fact is, she briefly left him alone.  When she came home she found him, already gone.  My guess is, his indigestion was actually a heart attack in progress.  I imagine what that must feel like for his wife... how heavy must those feeling of guilt be?  I can imagine her asking over and over "What if I'd stayed home?"....
I reached out to her immediately, a couple of days later got a brief reply, and am now regretting that I didn’t take the time to email her much more often.  I will not head to Mexico for the “Celebration of Life” but will reach out in depth in a few months.  I know, from experience, there are tons of people around for the first while after a loss, but that falls off, and there is little to fill the void.  I'll ask her to come for a visit, or will arrange to meet her down there.  I will be there to listen to her vent, to give a shoulder if she needs to cry.  And I will remember, every time I crawl into bed with CG that my time with him is a gift. Any moment, one or the other of us could be gone. 

Either way, after the dust settles, I hope someone will be there to listen to the one left behind.