Happy in the Eye of the Hurricane

GH and I relocated here to Mapdot, USA because his family was here.  We thought that with two small children it would be better for us and better for our kids if we were near family.

People don’t move here for career advancement. They live here because this is where they are from.  Or to flee where they are from. Or perhaps it is because they want frequent visitation with a loved one who has a life sentence and is penned up in one of the many prisons in the region.  For me having to live here without family, close friends, and a meaningful and rewarding job, reasonable access to a mall with escalators, and access to a major international airport is like being in prison.

The nearest city is two and half hours away. The City is not exactly what I have in mind when I say City – sure there is a collection of home team sports, universities, some arts and theater. The opportunities for fine dining are few, but they exist. When I think of City, I think of abundance. Bright lights. 24 hour diners. I think of the neon lights of Time Square. The City is not THE CITY.  And I am a CITY gal. I like funky boutiques and ethnic foods from locales that require knowledge of world geography to understand its origin. I like theater and dance. Outside music performed on street corners or subways. I like public transportation that has multiple lines and transfer stations. I like hearing foreign languages spoken and a diversity of fashion. I want THE CITY that never sleeps. Before marrying GH and being transported to Mapdot, I had the best of both worlds. I grew up in the suburban, countryside with easy access to Gotham.

But here in Mapdot, my desires have been ratcheted back a few notches and I have grown to appreciate the tranquility. Growing the business, maintaining a corporate job and raising two small children distracted and exhausted me so that there was not an ounce of energy to even entertain the notion of building my own social network or even miss what I didn’t have. Owning a business that is a tourist attraction and getting away from it just doesn’t happen. Five hours of  round trip car travel to experience fine dining and Midwestern diversity was difficult to justify.  Thankfully a network of his family provided entertainment when I wasn’t working.

The sole reason for being here was for family and to run a business that GH and I started.  My contribution to the business for first part of us owning it was to provide an income to support our family and the business and ensure we had healthcare (which came in handy when GH had a heart attack and needed triple bypass surgery as well as a pacemaker; hiding secrets can be stressful!).

Each corporate job I had was for a company that required some travel, mostly to its corporate location or to trade shows. I had a reputation for being a stellar employee and one who had earned the reputation for getting a job done. However, as our business began to grow and it became more successful, it began to get the best hours of the day and the most mind share. My performance was suffering in the virtual cubicle and that with a bad economy made me a candidate for getting laid off.  It makes perfect sense and I hold no ill will toward my former employer; in fact, I am surprised I was able to even perform at a marginal level at anything.

After being laid off, I was unemployed for over two years. I searched for a job with varying degrees of success but identified with my role in our business and dedicated myself to growing our sales and increasing revenues so that I did not need a job to supplement the business. All parents want their kids to grow up and be self supporting and a productive member of society. Our business was like our third child and it was so close to being self supportive. When I dedicated myself to it, I saw it mature and finally got to a point where it was a responsible grown up and supporting itself and a small staff.  I was quite proud of the work I had done and felt like I was contributing. My role in our family and business had been redefined; I was comfortable with it and content.

GH was less than enthusiastic about my involvement. He resented that I was ‘around all the time.’ Since the business was doing well, he was nagging that I “get a job and get off the farm.”  I didn’t think of myself as a dutiful wife, but I did see the value in getting off the farm and earning more and getting benefits again. So, half heartedly I continued to knock on doors and I had several interviews. Most of my connections knew from my corporate days were aware that I owned a business and were reluctant to take a risk with me working remotely. Additionally, the cost of travel was becoming an issue. Unemployment was high and there were many other local resources available to fill the openings that I was applying to.

Locally, I discovered that it was difficult for me to obtain a job with my skills. The kind of work I do isn’t done here and the kind of work that is done here, I am either under or over qualified for. The main industries here are Healthcare, the University, Hospitality, and the Prisons. There is also the lucrative, albeit illegal and dangerous meth industry. After submitting many applications and interviewing, I found a job at the university. The salary for that job was not what I was used to making and there was not a career trajectory for high performers. At a state job, I learned that pay is not tied to performance. If I busted my ass and was a rock star performer, I would get the same percentage of increase that I would get for just showing up and not screwing up. All and all, I was grateful for the job.

GH and others told me, “It’s a good job for the area.” People who knew me knew that it was a consolation. I wanted more in a job. I wanted a good job for me.  I identify greatly with my professional success and felt like even though the job at the university was good job, it would not be a job that I would have chosen given other alternatives.  But after over two years of looking, I had no other alternatives and felt lucky to have found any job. I no longer wondered what the term ‘underemployed’ meant.  My role had always been to have a challenging, high income job. This  job was not particularly challenging nor high paying. Its redemption was that I got to meet interesting people and provide health care benefits to my family.  From that perspective, it made me feel useful again.  Most importantly, I met some amazing members of the community and developed a sense of camaraderie and admiration for those who were in that office.  GH was happy because his escapades could now resume without the high risk of getting caught and he could be confident his healthcare coverage and supplemental income would resume.

When GH found he could be covered on a State plan and didn’t need me for healthcare benefits, my role in his life was diminished. Because the business was successful and no longer in need of a supplemental income, I was made irrelevant. The reality of my financial future terrified me. My prospects for long-term and lucrative employment in and around Mapdot are slim. I realized I was spiriling towards a midlife crisis and trying to figure out who I am and what my worth is in this family. I needed more.

I called a former colleague who knew me well and knew my situation. He had just started a company and could not offer me a paying job but I could help him out. I was ecstatic! I ran to GH and said, “Steve started a company, and because I have experience in the industry, he asked me to help him grow the business!!” His reaction was somewhere between interested and annoyed. Then I went on to tell him that there would be no pay, no benefits, and that I could work part time in between my university job hours.  GH didn’t get it. He didn’t care that I found something that made me happy.

After having been emotionally beaten, my ego and self-esteem were knocked down. But at the last second, I scrambled and was back on my feet., I was finally finding peace and balance with my role in my family, my role as provider of healthcare benefits, my professional circles were expanding again and I was finally looking up.

I recognized this familiar feeling. I was happy.  I was content and at peace.  In retrospect, it I was in they eye of the hurricane that would up end my whole life.

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