"But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart."
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. - An address delivered for Memorial Day, May 30, 1884, at Keene, NH, before John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic.
I come from a pretty average middle class family, born to New Englanders who moved to Alabama for work. Although I was born and raised in Alabama, I always felt like a New Englander, and actually many people tended to treat me like one too. I never picked up much of a Southern accent, and I care more for the Red Sox than I ever did for the Braves, or NASCAR, or even the Alabama/Auburn rivalry. I love New England, and many of the fondest memories of my childhood come from the time spent on my grandparents' farm in Southeast Massachusetts. So I was glad to return here some three years ago, although I was totally heartbroken to not get here in time to save the family farm after my grandmother died. That's another story.
I also come from a long line of volunteer citizen soldiers. My dad and my younger brother both served, as did some of my cousins, my grandfather, a great many of my great uncles, and other relatives going all the way back to World War One and the Civil War. I had a great uncle at Pearl Harbor. Virtually every able bodied male in my family on both sides fought in World War Two. I had an ancestor who went through the entire Civil War with a Massachusetts regiment, even reenlisting at age 37. We have all been citizen soldiers, with the possible exception of my dad, who did 4 years on active duty and then another 24 in the Army Reserve. I did well in school, achieving high scores on all sorts of various tests, including an almost perfect score on the ASVAB. So I had all sorts of people trying to recruit me. The nuclear program from the Navy tried hard to get me to join. But I wanted to go in the Army, like my dad, so I went to talk to an Army recruiter. The recruiter told me I could literally do whatever I wanted. So I told him I wanted to be an infantryman. He thought maybe I misunderstood, but I made it clear that I wanted to be in the field and not behind a desk. I said "If I am going to be in the Army, I am going to be in the Army" and so off I went to Fort Benning, Georgia for basic and AIT.
I volunteered a lot. I wanted to be a go-getter and I did not have a problem helping out other people. It became obvious that I was perhaps a little atypical, as I did not smoke or dip, I loathed the idea of getting tattoos, and I was more inclined to spend an afternoon with a stack of books at the library than a stack of ones at one of the strip clubs on Victory Drive. But I was funny, I could recite entire movies from memory, and I could mimic all sorts of people, from movie stars and politicians to officers in our battalion, which made for LOTS of fun when we had Dining In. But that is a whole other story too.
So I generally got along with everyone. I made friends from ALL over, literally. My time in the Army allowed me to meet guys from every state in the Union, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Saipan, the Virgin Islands, and at least twenty or twenty five different countries. Some of these guys had escaped bad home lives, or from small towns where there just weren't a lot of options. But it broadened my perspective. I befriended guys from the inner city, who introduced me to all kinds of music and lingo and food that I had never experienced. It made me a better person.
When I got out of the service, I still had an active security clearance, so I went in for an interview with a defense contractor. Thanks to a friend who recommended me, and the suit I had managed to scrape up the money to buy (my first suit I ever owned) I got the job. I ended up working in that industry for almost ten years. I managed to find a job with another company that allowed me to be move back to New England. I was so excited to come back to my beloved Massachusetts, with my extended family, little Portuguese neighborhood shops and restaurants, endless bookstores, Narragansett beer, and of course, the Sox. I had met a wonderful woman before I moved up here, and it turned out to be fate that she just happened to live in Massachusetts, so we became engaged. My life was the best it had ever been. Then I got laid off in the summer of 2009.
Suddenly, everything changed. Our income plummeted. I managed to get health insurance through my fiancee, but surprisingly that turned into a major problem. You see, we registered as domestic partners since we live together (we live in the People's Republic of Cambridge, where you can do that) and we wanted to have some legal rights before we got married. But her employer insisted on fighting the idea of me getting on her health care plan. We couldn't understand it. We never thought that her progressive non-profit employer would make things so hard for us. We worried that we may have to find a legal recourse, but eventually we managed to demonstrate that they had a legal obligation to allow me to get on her health care. That was our first major bureaucratic obstacle to overcome, but hardly the last, not by a long shot.
Then my fiancee got laid off from her full-time job in September 2010. Again, we were shocked to see our income plummet yet again, to less than half of what it had been just 14 months before. I cashed out my 401 (k) to pay bills. We sank almost $6,000 into repairs on my old truck until we realized we needed a new car that got better mileage. So we took the money we had set aside for our honeymoon and used it to make a down payment on a new car. I applied myself towards getting IT certifications and intensified my job hunting efforts, until I was finally able to land a job at a local university doing IT work. Things had finally started to get a little better.
But it was too good to be true. After my 90 day probationary period ended, I was let go. My boss said I "wasn't a good fit." I guess I had to agree, as he had once lectured me because I had admitted I made a mistake. Let me repeat that. My boss flipped out, called me into his office, and proceeded to give me a spirited lecture for half an hour because I had admitted I made a mistake. I am the new guy, just learning to do things, so of course mistakes will be made, and I have always owned up to my mistakes. But this guy thought it was "unprofessional" for me to do so. So once again, I found myself unemployed and looking for work.
Now we had not one but TWO COBRA payments to make. Together they amounted to over $1100 a month. It was like paying two rents. Our savings and what was left of the 401(k) money began to disappear faster. Massachusetts has a program to reimburse people for some of the COBRA payment. It's called MSP, and we both applied as soon as we could. It took a while to get approval for both of us, and finally we got some of the money back, which gave us just a little breathing room. But not that much. I still have not gotten any checks myself.
I think one of the things that has struck me about the process of being unemployed is how much paperwork is involved. If you have never been unemployed, you probably have no idea. Honestly. I have all sorts of stuff that has to be filed and recorded, and copies made of various forms so they can be mailed off or faxed and then inevitably something comes back and you have to send it off again. It would be bad enough under any circumstances, but since I am fairly poor at negotiating bureaucracies, and absolutely loathe having to deal with them at all, it has been a particularly difficult and even painful experience for me. And between dealing with ordinary household tasks, looking for work, and being a part-time volunteer cop, I did not have a lot of time to spend arguing with bureaucrats. Frankly, I still don't. But I am trying to negotiate the various messes that have come my way. Unfortunately the last few years have built up a backlog of various bureaucratic messes to deal with, and so that pile just gets higher and higher. But like a road march that you think is over, and then suddenly you find yourself forced to keep going without knowing when or where it will end, you just shrug, adjust your ruckstraps a little and keep going.