Ten years ago:

The first thing Amy did when she got home was go and see her grandmother in the hospital. The second thing she did was call me so we could start hacking each other to emotional pieces. It surprised me, but it probably shouldn't have. This is how we had been working for years to this point, and it wasn't as if things were going to suddenly change with one little trip.

Whatever little sliver of idealism that we enjoyed while she had been visiting evaporated when the miles between us were restored. We were no longer forward thinking people making plans for the future, but were instead complaining about the way things were. Why couldn't I just scrap everything and move back to New York already? Why was she suddenly so attached to her family that she was unwilling to talk about moving to Michigan? Everything was back on the negotiating table.

This is the kind of thing that happens when two emotionally unstable people start having big discussions about what they really mean to each other. This is why relationships built on this foundation crumble to pieces when things start to go sideways. It is so clear to the outside observer, but hard to figure out when it is actually happening. I now pity what the two of us were doing to ourselves.

I was frustrated at going over everything once again, and I was hurting from being placed back into this position. I was irritated at having this happen all over again. I had my hopes all up in the air only to have them crash around me again. All of my suspicious about being dumb enough to fall back into this trap were confirmed, and I didn't take it well. I said some mean things and hung up the phone.

Naturally it wasn't the end of things, only one more step to the inevitable end. But it was a lesson that needed learning.



My boss a the store said that the district manager was very impressed with the current state of the store, and that he felt it was largely attributable to my contributions. I had been on a really positive tear the last few months, and the kids were happy and the numbers looked good. So good in fact that, if I was willing to move, I was on the short list for taking on a store of my own in the immediate future.

How immediate, I asked. Next week maybe, he responded. There was a store in the Meridian Mall in Okemos that needed a manager, and they were trying to figure out who they could put in there. My boss felt pretty confident that I would get the position if I put my name in for the spot.

Even though this was a mall job, I had spent the last few years building a nearly cult-like mindset around my employment. My militant approach to work was demonstrated by my desire to one day run my own store, fulfilling some kind of prophecy set forth by my former bosses in Horseheads. Many of the times I pushed myself in the store came from this desire. Sometimes it resulted in alienating my coworkers, or being overeager for things, or getting depressed when sales numbers went down even if they were out of my control.

Goals and dreams for my future had always been foreign concepts. Growing up in a blue collar family on the fringe of the rust belt meant that my family perceived the future as something to be defended against. Having something to build towards was a good way to end up disappointed and set back. So the idea of my own store was something I considered dangerous, but also alluring. Being told that my store might be just around the corner was dizzying.

So when I found out that it didn't happen, I was crushed. When I found out why it didn't happen, it destroyed me. The conversation went something like this:

My Boss: "So, Tim says he's interested in the Okemos store."
DM: "Sure, have him drive out on Tuesday, and we'll do the interview. I'll fill out the paperwork and see about getting him a set of keys."
My Boss: "Um, Tim doesn't have a car."
DM: "What? He doesn't have a car?"
My Boss: "No, he doesn't even have a license. He takes the bus up here every day."
DM: "Well, I can't have a store manager that can't get to the store in a hurry if there is an emergency. I'll have to find someone else."

The main reason that I didn't have a license is that I had never been able to afford a car. There was never enough money for acquire one and insure it. I was either frantically saving for college, or scraping together every penny to try and find something to eat. Even then, I was paying off debts and trying to set up a life for myself that wasn't paycheck to paycheck. A car was a luxury that I couldn't afford.

I felt like I had been denied a promotion because I was too poor, and I made it known to my boss in no uncertain terms. I told him I found it ironic that, in order to move up within the company, the first thing I should do is go out and find another job. In my bosses' defense, he did go right to the district manager and tell him about the conversations we had. This led the DM to comment how he was shocked that I had been trying to fully support myself on an assistant manager's salary. I resisted the urge to remind him that he was the one that managed my salary, deciding that it might taunt him into firing me.

I guess this was the first time where my prospects at work weren't directly dependent on my interpersonal relationships with other people. It was suddenly clear that I was working in that kind of environment that had little to do with my skill set or my devotion. Instead there were unwritten rules based on ideas like conformity and expected standards, and I didn't know how to handle that. I try and remember this in my current cult-like employment, where the same rules still seem to apply. I'm not sure this is a healthy thing, but at least I am aware of it when I encounter these situations now.

I started not caring so much about work after all of this happened. It was one of the few things that I actually felt attached to at the time, and it felt like something had died and I didn't know how to handle it all.



Sitting here just now, writing and thinking about it, this is actually the point where I completely unraveled. I wasn't unaware of it at the time, running along in the normal routine, but I had started going nonlinear. I wore out or stopped thinking or gave up or something. After this, things were different.


Notes on a life in exile: A retrospective
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