Tuesday, July 16, 2013

my last eighteen months ... and last forty eight hours ...

"I will dedicate,
And sacrifice my everything,
For just a second's worth,
Of how my story's ending.

I wish I could know
The directions that I take?
And the choices that I make?
Won't end up all for nothing.

Show me what it's for!
Make me understand this!
'Cause I've been crawling in the dark,
Looking for the answer.

Is there something more
Than what I've been handed?
'Cause I've been crawling in the dark,
Looking for the answer ..."

-- "Crawling in the Dark" by Hoobastank.

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"Steve!"

I heard my name being called out ... but I didn't think there was a chance, it was referencing me.  It was about 11:15am yesterday morning, arguably the worst day of my miserable last eighteen months.  And trust me, peoples and peepettes -- finding a "champ" out of these last eighteen months, is tough.  There's too many to choose from.

So I kept on walking.  After all, it's pushing 90 degrees at lunchtime, there isn't a cloud in the sky, and I'm already in a very foul mood from the events of the morning ... and what the outcome of those events will mean for me going forward.  Also, Rage Against the Machine's "Guerrila Radio" had just popped up on the iPod, and it was almost to my favorite part, the lead into the first chorus ("F*ck it!  Cut the cord!  Lights out!  Guerilla radio!  Turn this sh*t up!!!)

Then, again, this time, unmistakable: "STEVE!!!"

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This has been a brutally rough eighteen month stretch.  It started last February, when my car crapped out on me.  It's outside of warranty, and I quite frankly (a) owe too much on it to get rid of it, and (b) can't afford to fix it properly.  So for awhile now, I have relied on the generosity of others, the kindness of friends, as well as the good folks with the KCATA, to get to where I need to go.

Which is why I was walking two blocks to Panera yesterday to grab some lunch, in the ridiculous heat, instead of chilling in an air conditioned vehicle.

What is it that Garth Brooks once sang?  "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers? / Remember when you're talking to the Man upstairs / That just because He doesn't answer, doesn't mean He don't care? / Some of life's greatest gifts?  Are unanswered prayers."

I've had a lot of those over the last eighteen months.  A lot.

Yesterday?  (jack lemmon's character in "Grumpier Old Men" voice) I think God finally remembered you, pop.

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Anyone who knows me knows the next bomb(s) to drop, via bowling league, and the timeline, is the ongoing Three Mile Island disaster that it is.  I'll just simply leave it at that.

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Oh, yeah -- and I'm still a "bitter clinger", "clinging to my gun and religion*", over November 6th.

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(*: which is hysterical: I despise Mr. Obama ... yet I have never even fired a gun, let alone owned one, and I have serious issues with matters of faith, that lead (led?) me to just not give a damn at this point.)

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The next bomb to drop: two days after Chiefs LB Jovan Belcher brutally murders his fiance, then kills himself in front of a horrified coaching staff and general manager, a co-worker of mine collapses in the cafeteria as lunch is winding down.  She stood up, fell down ... and never got up.

Doctors spent almost two weeks trying to figure out the cause.  What is it about unanswered prayers?  They kept searching, kept wondering what caused her shortness of breath, insanely high blood pressure, general fatigue, and rapid weight loss.

Her heart stopping was the best thing to ever happen to her, as the doctors caught the cancer, and she is thankfully beating it.

From that day until May 16th, a short-staffed to begin with accounting unit was down to two people: me and my boss.  We somehow held it together for six months.  We somehow figured out the annual statement, somehow managed to get through two quarter-ends, and one year-end.  We somehow, through working on Saturdays, Sundays, even working well into the night, got through the annual audit (which was a catastrophe, thanks in no small part to our "fling it against the wall and pray we get it right" approach we had to take at year end).

On May 15th, my co-worker celebrated two half-day weeks back.  Her favorite color is purple.  Virtually everyone in the department, in a show of solidarity, strength, unity and love, wore purple that day.  I wore an old TCU polo shirt I hadn't worn since I was in college ... and last time I checked, I graduated the day the House impeached President Clinton.  (Let's just say, it was a little snug.  And I'm not exactly a big dude.)

It's been a rough year health wise in my department at "company I work for", with four people battling cancer.  Thankfully, all four are well on the way to recovery, or are already in remission.

But only three of them, remain.

And I wore that polo shirt yesterday, for only the second time, since I conned that fine Big XII institution, into graduating me.

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Of all the things in my life that have gone wrong, that have p*ssed me off over these last eighteen months, nothing angered me more than May 16th.  At least until yesterday.

The day was as perfect as could be.  If you remember (and God, do I ever), 9/11 was a picture perfect late summer day across virtually the entire country.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky here, and it was pushing 90 degrees.  Ditto in New York.  Same deal on May 16th -- sun shining, birds chirping.

There were purple flowers on my co-workers desk.  Reggie, from our sales team who sat next to my co-worker, had left a really neat thoughtful gift: a simple "Welcome back!" written on her dry-erase board, with a new purple Expo marker taped to the board.

Thursday, May 16th.  My co-worker's first real full day back in six and a half months.

Thursday, May 16th.  The day my boss, and said co-worker, were given sixty days notice.

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I got the call about 10:45am.  "Steve, this is (our CFO).  Can you come up to eight and talk for a minute?"  Gulp.  I've had this conversation before, about 8:30am on Saint Patrick's Day, 2006.  Let's just say, it did not end well.

So, I walk towards the elevator bays, and I see my boss walking back, in a state of shock.  So I'm guessing his meeting didn't go well with our CFO.

I walk in, and am told the shocking news: I'm the one who survived from accounting.  Truth be told?  I wasn't surprised people were let go.  I just figured it would be me.  It's why I was looking throughout the winter and spring, culminating with the single most disappointing interview of my life, as my dream of leaving all the bullsh*t, all the pure, unasked for, undeserved f*cking bullsh*t of the last (at that point) twelve months behind, and heading back to the Metroplex, blew up on me.

Just raise two middle fingers to every damned cause of my issues, yell "(blank) off!", and storm out the door.  Would have been damned sweet.

But if that had happened?  If I'd gotten my way?  Then the opening to this post, doesn't happen ...

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The last two months, have been pretty damned strenuous.  I haven't had a PTO day since March (for the interview), that I didn't wind up working somewhere remotely.  I literally have to use 28 PTO days between now and December, or lose them.  There are only 118 working days left in the year.  Even if I took every remaining Monday off?

I'd lose four days.

The last two months, in addition to all my regular "not moving out of here" duties, in addition to having to write procedures for the tasks I have that are (thankfully) leaving, and in addition to having to be trained by my boss and my co-worker on things they did that are staying ... I've had to watch two people who took a chance on a guy seven years ago last week, and hired me at "company I work for", go through undeserved garbage every day, nonstop.  In the end, it was the three of us that in many ways started this.

I'd have never in a thousand years believed, I'd be the last one of the three of us, left standing.

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If he happens upon this, so be it, but the "head" of the transition team?  Is a complete ass.  Cracking inappropriate downsizing jokes while the downsized employees are in the room?  Of course!  Yelling at downsized co-workers for trying to explain why something in a procedure matters (since my two fellow co-workers are as good as they come, and not only went out of their way to make this as pleasant and painless as possible, to avoid hurt feelings for them, but even more importantly, avoid hurting anyone who wasn't at fault for things simply happening that were going to happen.  (Pause) ... (Sigh) ... why bother to state the obvious dichotomy to two people who also had the same option presented to them, yet refused to take that road.)

Oh, and the capper?  After month end blew up both months the "newbies" tried to run it (it blew up so bad in early July, I was working poolside on the 3rd ... and the 4th ... and the 6th.  And in the office on the 5th), and the transition team realized they'd poop canned at least one person too many, they allegedly (and it's still my favorite word in the English language -- allegedly.  You can say any damned thing you want to, as long as "allegedly" is attached at the end, and it ain't libel!) -- they allegedly, on Friday, asked one of my co-workers to stay on.

What I wouldn't have given, to have listened in to that conversation.

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My life has been nothing but one gigantic worthless mistake these last eighteen months.  One gigantic disaster, after catastrophe, after CYA moment, after screw-up, after "turn tail and run from him, he's toxic" dump of an existence.  I literally cannot point to a single thing that has gone right in the last eighteen months, save for my new team in my bowling league.  And even that was a complete fluke how it came about, because it shouldn't have happened.

And then came the worst day of them all -- yesterday.  My friends and my co-workers, and not just friends, co-workers -- they're the two people who gave me a second chance I probably didn't deserve in this business.  They saw past the idiotic decision I made to leave reinsurance at my former job for compliance ... and instead, see who I was pre-compliance, and realize "hey, everyone makes mistakes; you can't judge someone solely on the here and now, you have to look at the whole body of work."

"The whole body of work".  It's the catch phrase whoever the committee chairman happens to be hauls out every Selection Sunday.  (And starting next year, every Selection ... whenever, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee announces its four participants.  Although as one of the few -- if not the only -- person who loves the BCS system, I'm kinda sad to see it go.)

I wish that a lot of people who have judged me on these last eighteen months, or the few preceding them, had instead looked at the whole body of work, and realized that a team can literally drop 7 of 11, finishing 9th in its conference, and then have to somehow win 11 straight to both qualify for the NCAA tournament, but win the damned thing, CAN pull it off.  (Your 2011 UConn Huskies everyone!!!)

Steve and Carol gave me a chance I probably didn't deserve.  It led to at least one former co-worker of mine at Transamerica getting a job he never would have had, as a result.  It directly led to me still having my job at this point, as our current department heads are basically "getting the gang back together again".

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HR made them come in for an hour on Monday.  Why this couldn't have ended on Friday, I don't know.  There wasn't one credible, legitimate reason to make them suffer like that yesterday.  Or to make those of us who care about them, have to see them suffer like that for one more day.

I wish them nothing but the best.  If they ever need anything?  I've got their backs, and they know it.  True friends don't run away when the down times come for you.

They double down on their support -- for you.

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The hug with Carol was the hardest part.  My route in each morning, requires me to catch the 28, then transfer to the 175.  The 28 southbound is always late.  4 days out of 5, I just skip the middle man and walk to the 175 pickup 20 minutes away.  But if it's pouring down rain, snowing, or hot as hell itself?  Who wants to endure that before getting to work?  So I'll chance the 28 pickup.

The 28 has missed the connection at least 20 times this last year.  At least.  And the 175 that leaves at 6:55 is the last line into JoCo until 3 in the afternoon.  It's all or nothing.  And it's (and believe me, I've paid it) a solid $25 cab ride, plus tip, to get to College and Metcalf from my part of town.

Pretty much every time I'd miss the connection, I'd give her a call.

She picked me up every time.

And took me home.

That's how amazing of a friend, she's been to me.

I guess now, I'm reduced to sharing a cab with the crazy b*tch who works at the Salvation Army on 115th (and she is loony with a capital L, O, O, N, and Y ... and no, I ain't referring to former Chiefs PR Guru Josh Looney) ... or ... uuh ... well ... uuh ...

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After the hug, and Steve's kind, amazing words as he shook my hand, the new reality set in.

Accounting equals ... me.

If you own stock in "company Stevo works for"?  Be scared.  Be very, very scared.

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Speaking of "be scared" -- please, spare me.  I am the first one to admit, I am on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown.  I've been dealing with crap from work, crap from friends, crap from family, and crap from my general crappy existence, without a break in the downward cycle, for eighteen straight months.  No breaks.  It just keeps getting worse.

I can legitimately argue that every day since February 11th 2012 (when my car crapped out), to yesterday?  Has been worse than the day before.

I've always kind of been "out there", and I've always had issues with depression ... but never like this.  I do not remember the last time I slept past 3:30am on a workday evening, I'm so stressed over what has to be done, what has to get accomplished, what is now squarely on my shoulders.

And readers?  The next time I go to bed before 10:15pm on a weeknight, is the first in a long time.  I literally cannot sleep, I'm so stressed out over sh*t.

Is my drinking worse than it's ever been?  That's debatable.  It was pretty damned bad as my gambling addiction reached its zenith ten years ago ... but I'd say yes, it's worse.  And I mean good grief, when I'm saying "hey, I really need to scale back here", and it's ME we're talking about?  That ain't good.

The depression?  Was so bad last Wednesday that I asked for a "work from home" day.  I literally left my bed twice -- once to grab my phone to make the request (which was granted), once to grab my laptop.  It was 92 degrees last Wednesday.  I laid under an electric blanket, with a comforter, and never produced a drop of sweat.

Those of you who know me well, know that it could be negative 26 and snowing, and I'd sweat through everything I had on, when I'm in a normal state of mind.

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Which I was not Monday.

After my co-workers left, I finally reached my breaking point.

I walked out of the building a little after 10am.  I walked 112th Street up and down, up and down, from Black and Veatch, to Metcalf, then back again, getting angrier, talking out my frustrations.

Not a drop of sweat.

And I even put a little towel in my pocket, to dry off if I needed to.

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I talked to my mom Sunday night.  If there's one positive about these last eighteen months (and there are a couple ... albeit you gotta look for them), it's that she and I have reconnected in a way we haven't felt about each other, since I was in college, and we used to close the weekend down on Sunday night over a couple bottles of wine, some BLT sandwiches, and some strawberry shortcake out on the back deck.

To be quite frank, my lack of legitimate religious belief is the source of our tensions.  My mom is a devoutly religious person.  But out of respect for me, she'll sometimes push the "now, how about going to a service on Sunday" question my way ... and then let it go, once I shoot it down.

I spent Sunday doing what I do best: enjoying some vodka tonics in the pool, while watching Kasey Kahne continue to destroy his Chase chances by letting every driver right behind him win a race.  (You gotta win Indy dude.  You GOT to.)  Donnie dropped me off at home around 5ish after one helluva fun day, and one helluva good dinner.  My mom called me right at 7pm, which annoyed me at first, because that's when "Big Brother" begins ... but something (I'm guessing golf) ran over on CBS, so everything was 25 minutes behind schedule.

She didn't have much to say.  Which is a rarity for her -- I get my gift of "rambling on pointlessly for far too long" from her.  But she did say this:

"I know you are going to laugh at me, or make fun of me, but I don't care.  And I know you won't do this, but I feel like you need to hear this."

My (internal) response: "oh, this outta be something."

"I didn't look; I just feel like you are supposed to read this.  Psalm 56:9.  See if I heard right.  Love ya son.  Hang in there!  Your dad and I are always here for you, whenever you need us."

Hmmm.

Circle me intrigued, Bert.

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"The very day I call for help, the tide of battle turns.  My enemies flee.  This one thing I know -- God is for me." -- Psalm 56:9.

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Needless to say, after my last eighteen months -- to say nothing of the eighteen before it -- I had my doubts.

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But I wrote it down, and stuck it in my pocket.  And I know, I know -- I am NOT a devoutly religious person.  I am not someone who is going to suddenly start, like, acting like those IHOP folks who move into communes and give all their money to the church, and spend 21 hours a day doing whatever the hell weird sh*t they do out there.  (For one thing, I have no money to give them (rimshot!).)

But I admire people who are, believe it or not.  And I know this -- if my mommy tells me to read something, I'm taking it under strong advisement.

So I took a chance on that rant / walk yesterday.

"God, I know I deserve nothing, and quite frankly, I doubt you care.  But please -- this has to stop.  I cannot take anything else.  I'm literally as broken as I've ever been.  I need the hurt to stop.  I need people hurting me, turning on me, and hurting because of me, to stop.  I need one absolute good.  Just one.  I need just one -- just one -- reason to keep on fighting in this life."

"Just one.  However small, whatever it may be -- just one."

Cue the walk to Panera, after that simple "yeah, right" prayer of "faith".

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I suppose, in a sick way, God acted even before that.

I have a buddy of mine, who I am not particularly close with ... but who I immensely respect.  He's gone through a really rough patch these last couple years as well.  With the roughest coming two Saturdays ago, as he and his wife lost their son two hours after his birth.

I cannot imagine the devastation, the heartache, the pain he and his family must be going through.  He's the second friend of mine from high school, to lose a child before the age of one.

Luke reached out to me on Facebook last week after seeing my comments about how I hate the downsizing going on, out of concern I'd lost my job, and "if I can do anything for you, let me know.  Let's meet up and talk sometime.  You can buy a round!"

In his grief?  He reached out to me, in my pain ... that honestly?  Didn't truly directly affect me at all.  Nothing like his.

I wish I had his character.

I wish I believed in God, like he does.

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"STEVE!!!"

After hearing my name a second time, I pulled the earphones out, and turned around.

Jose.

Wait.  What?!?!?!

What are the f*cking odds, I mean, what are the f*cking odds, that on a random Monday, in the middle of July, the worst day of my professional existence, the hardest day on the job I've ever had, that a buddy of mine who has had my back through thick and thin, that I'm not especially close with, but had just seen a couple weeks ago at the pool ... (and had to endure the raiders debacle last year with ... and the year before ... and ... hell, you get the point: they've won six straight at Arrowhead) ... and whose really good friends are coming in town next weekend for a weekend at the pool ... I mean, do I have to say it again?

(fidelity ad guy voice) why not?

What are the f*cking odds, that a random copier at FedEx Kinkos, at College and Metcalf, breaks down at 10:40ish in the morning, and he pulls in right as I'm arriving, and he turns around and looks right, instead of straight ahead, entering the job he had to work?

What are the f*cking odds?

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Three things immediately happened, upon turning around, and seeing a friend, not even ten minutes after I reached my lowest point in eleven years (and those of you who know me best, know I consider asking God to ask someone He has no reason whatsoever to give a sh*t about, as a low, low, low, low moment.  I cannot stress this enough: I hate -- and I mean HATE -- people who demand things out of others, they refuse to give of themselves.  Hence my current feud with a few friends.  Wait.  I promised I'd stop.  Moving on.)

1. I smiled -- not just smiled, I laughed.  I do not remember the last time I smiled, laughed, or felt jovial, for anything other than a "remember when ..." or a "Donny Airport Check-in Story*", over these last eighteen months.

2. Something random happened to me -- out of nowhere, completely unanticipated, unexpected, utterly stunning -- that wasn't 100% an absolute evil, at least in my eyes.  For the first time in nearly 540 days, life seemed worth living.  And

3. From the moment I shook Jose's hand, and headed off to grab lunch, while he headed off to the "Krisis at Kinkos" (sk: yeah -- HORRIBLE pun title.  Pardon me, Mr. Barkley?  (chuck barkley voice) TURRIBLE!)?

For the first time in eleven months, right to the godd*mned day my anger, hatred, rage, and disgust truly, truly started, nearly six months after all this (seventh day adventist voice) "fertilizer" started ... I wasn't angry anymore.  I wasn't p*ssed off anymore.  I didn't feel hatred anymore.  I felt ... ok.  I felt ... normal.

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(*: his check-in stories, are legends at the pool.  And for damned good reason.  To say nothing of him seeing my buddy Damien for the first time.  There's hilarity ... and then there's hilarity.)

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Gotta admit, that's the best "You Pick Two" I've had in awhile.  The smokehouse turkey panini, a hearty cup of chicken noodle soup, some kind of crap-tacular apple, and the real reason I showed up at Panera, that purple iced tea they have that I'd probably at least give up one of my kidneys for.  (I mean, really, like my kidneys -- let alone liver -- is gonna survive the "abuse years" of the 1990s ... 2000s ... 2010s ... oh who am I kidding, 2020s ...)

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Please -- don't read into this some kind of religious revelation.  I'm still skeptical ... but for the first time in eleven years, I'm willing to listen.

My life cannot keep going on like this.  For starters, my Tuesday counselor session bills are not cheap.  (Judge if you want -- but even Tony Soprano, paid for mental therapy.)  But they help.  Even if, truth be told, I can't afford them.  ("Company I work for"'s EAP program is sh*ttier than a port-a-potty in the Indy infield come lap 165 of the 500.  And sadly ... anyone who has ever spent a 500 in the infield, is nodding "yup" at that comment.)

I cannot do anti-depressants.  I was put on Zoloft three summers ago.  I was so f*cked up eight ways from Sunday, I had a dear friend literally say, "come talk with me, now", and her first question was "what the f*ck are you on?  You are not all here anymore!"

Well, she was wrong about one thing.

I am still here.

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And to the two of you who expressed concern that my recent setbacks have led to recontemplate something I would never, uuh, recontemplate ... I haven't.

That column hit so many of you in ways, I never imagined possible.

If anything?  You readers' reactions to my open honesty ... is why I'm still here.

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I'm almost done venting.  I tried to keep this as neutral as possible ... but I'm sure I failed.  So let me say four things in closing:

1. Until you're as down as I've been, you will never grasp, nor understand, how much a simple "hey, how are you?  Was thinking about you, hope you're good" text or email means.

I have six people friends who, over the last year, have reached out to me in their own way, to let me know, either daily, or weekly, or seemingly whenever I need to know it, that I matter.  That they care about me, no matter what our issues are.

To "The Voice of Reason", you have no idea how much your "start off the morning with the funniest story on Drudge, link on Twitter, or outrageous PFT link" emails mean.  Every day, you check in, to make sure I'm still here.  Don't think for a second, I don't notice that.

To my brother, ditto.

To Russ and Mona, you have no idea how much the weekly "hey just seeing how you're doing ... you know the pool's open this weekend ... you need a ride let us know ... no, don't bring anything other than you -- you're what matters to us!" phone call means.  Usually on Thursdays ... this week it was tonight.

Again: "what are the f*cking odds" ...

To "Joe Knows": proof there is a God.

And to Debbie: further proof there is a God.

2. Your true, core friends have your back, no matter what ... even if you never see the support coming.

May 16th, the day my department downsized.  I left my meeting with our CFO, and (go figure) headed out to vent the well-paved, well-manicured sidewalks of 112th Street.  Another 90 minutes wasted ... without getting wasted.

I headed back in around 1pm-ish ... and I had a Route 44 strawberry limeaid sitting on my desk.  And within 15 seconds, I had the following people come up to commiserate the decisions of that day: DeNeece, Joe, Heather, Bettie, Reggie, Susie, and Ute ...

and Penny.

#teammatesforlive?  Hell (blanking) yes we are.

3. Sometimes, people lose their sense of direction.  Don't judge them at their lowest point -- judge them on their body of work.

Wait, I'm typing this on my deck while sweating out whatever I'm drinking on a relatively warm KC July evening.  (The answer, for the record, is "Barefoot Moscato".  Damn it's addicting.)  So my "body" is probably needing some "work" right now.

But not physically.  Definitely mentally.  And definitely personally.

Simply put: I have not been the person I used to be.  Not even close.  I have a lot of work to do, to regain the trust of (at least) three people who have meant the world to me, that I have done wrong by over the last eighteen months.  I recognize it.

But most of all ...

4. (leroy jethro gibbs voice) Rule 51: Sometimes?  You're wrong.

I have hurt three people I (and they) have referred to as "The Family" over the last eighteen months with my trials, tribulations, and failures.  I have hurt the ones I love, the ones you love, and all our common friends.  Through my own arrogance and selfishness, I have forced people to pick sides.

And I could not have been more wrong.

Could my life be better at this point?  Cue the "no sh*t, Sherlock!" voice.

Could I have made better decisions, better choices, better ... anything and everything?  Yes.

And I have hurt countless others with my wrong decisions, idiotic decisions, and refusal to let on how rough things have been at the Casa de Stevo.

I won't ask you to forgive me for my failings.  If I can't forgive myself, it's beyond hypocritical, to ask you to forgive me.

I simply ask for a second chance.  My last eighteen months, (mostly) detailed above?  Noone reading this, would want to endure.

I have.

I believe my mom called me for a reason.  I believe that specific verse of Scripture was picked for me, for a reason.

Because despite every flaw, failure, and inability to do right I have within me?

Someone cares enough, to fight for me.

I am so humbled that apparently, even if in my mind only, that the person my dad would note "is the one still throwing punches after you're passed out on the barroom floor?"

Is someone I didn't even know, nor ever suspected, gave a sh*t about me.

That's what today meant for me: a friend I met 11 years ago at a random tailgate at Arrowhead ... took the time to let me know I mattered.  Selfish?  Sure.  Pointless?  Possibly.

Unforgettable?  Hell (blanking) no ...

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