Earlier today I sat on Ty's back porch and we both reflected about my recent blog post about drive and determination and how I refuse to be held down by anyone who doesn't share my vision for my life. Ty told me about the twists and turns in his life, some through no fault of his own and others that leave nobody else to blame. I recounted to him, the abridged version of how I came to be on his back porch on this day.
I started with the rundown of ups and downs in the late 90s and my inability to see past my own feet. I recovered professionally and excelled at every job I ever had, despite my inability to maintain that focus in the classroom of even my local community college. On we went to the days of the NYSE. I'll never forget walking up Broad Street and stopping across from the front of the New York Stock Exchange, flanked by 2 of my closest friends back then. We went from adolescents to adults together and there we stood in suits and ties as working professionals in the financial district of Manhattan staring at the ornate facade of the exchange. We didn't speak much but we didn't have to. What a long walk we had made from those teenagers we once were. I mentioned the collapse of buildings and the economy they brought down with them; and the collateral damage that was my fledgling career. Next was the odd jobs I held to pay the bills before I was sure to be restored to my place in corporate America. That day never came and I enlisted. These last 8 years have come with their own set of challenges but all were personal, none were professional. There's very little that is based on merit in the military. It's easy to show up and just do your job.
We spoke of finding ourselves and deciding what we want to be when we grow up. I can get a paycheck, that's not what worries me. I want to be the man I was destined to become and I think environment has a majority stake in the shape of that. Environment is geography, people, class, job, culture, and everything that creates the ecosystem in which each of us lives.
It's not dissimilar to my fish tank. I have a tank full of beautiful fish in my aquarium. They are all tropical community fish. They get along and thrive when the environment is perfect - water temperature, pH balance, food, oxygen, etc. There are other beautiful fish that thrive in their own environments, that may be vastly different. People love Betta fish (aka Siamese fighting fish), for example. Their native habitat is made up of puddles and rice paddies. Murky water that houses fish of fantastic and vibrant colors. You would think that if those fish can live in that, they can live in anything, but they would not flourish in my tropical community tank. My environment isn't made up of terrible people and the environment itself isn't awful. It's just not the one for me. I've always known this. Anyone who knows me has as well. I cannot flourish here.
It all started because we were talking about finding my pen, that is lost in this apartment. To everyone that borrows it, it's just a pen. It's an overpriced pen. It's another one of Jason Viglione's grandiose possessions that no normal person should own. Those are not people who have taken the time to understand why I clutch that pen so tightly. What they don't know is that inside that pen is not just ink, but a life once lived. Inside that pen lives perfectly tailored suits, the energy of the city, the feel of brisk winter winds through narrow downtown Manhattan streets, the smells of the multi-cultural cuisines peppered throughout the city, and the entire ecosystem that was my dream. With every stroke of that pen, memories of the life I was meant to lead and on my way toward doing so, spill out on the page.
I was given that pen as a gift by my employer, as was every new employee at the company, on the day of my arrival. I opened the single breasted jacket of my first suit and slipped the pen in the inside pocket. It cost a mere $150, the suit not the pen, and was bought for me by my dad before the interview. (As an aside, that man is about as modest as it gets. He's never bragged about his intellect, finances, accomplishments, fatherly vision or just the person he is; although given his outcomes of all, it would be well within his right to do so. Yet, it didn't take much for him to speak of his pride for me when I got that job). The moment the pen went into that pocket, the suit tripled in value. See... it's a beautifully crafted $300 Mont Blanc pen that is all black with highlights of platinum. It's a status of your value to this small, elite IT consulting company that keeps only the top financial companies as customers. My daily home in which I represented the company was, of course, the New York Stock Exchange.
It was the late 90s and Wall Street was riding high still, despite the dotcom implosion. Corporate IT was the new technological royalty. We were what was called "geek chic." Then came the infamous Tuesday morning one September and it all evaporated. By the time the dust settled in my life it was 2004 and I was in South Carolina as an Airman First Class in the US Air Force. My pen was with me, nestled in the pen pocket of my desert camouflage uniform that was issued to me. I'd complain about ironing my uniforms that were built by the lowest bidder because the seams didn't line up just right. It was a far cry from the Brooks Brothers suits taking up space in my closet, known in the military as a wall locker, most of which cost me in 2000, the same as I made in two weeks in 2004.
What a tumble I took. I've always felt that if I had worked just a little harder, been a little more focused, smoothed out the rough edges just a little more, then none of this would have happened. I'd be home with my family. I'd be doing what I love near the people I love. Sure, if none of this happened, I'd have lost out on some great experiences and excellent people. But that's a sacrifice I'd have made, given the choice, if it kept me at home with the most important people.
It's 1am in Mississippi, where I'm currently stationed. I'm recovering from my fourth leg surgery, induced by the strenuous workouts over so many years as required by the military. I'm not as well off financially as I could or should be had I stayed "up north" (as the southerners like to call it). I just missed Easter Sunday with my parents, my brother, my grandmother and some extended family. I'm divorced and I'm alone. I'm counting the days until my magnificent and triumphant return home. I'm unhappy.
And... I can't find my pen.