Ten years (part 1)

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It’s amazing how much changes in 10 years. And how odd that the two most stressful years of my life are separated by almost exactly 10 years. Am I a completely different person from who I was back then? Certainly. Am I a better person? I have no idea.

This really starts in 1996 when I gave up a job as an Administrative Assistant – a steady, somewhat high-income (I actually made more than most entry-level jobs in my own field), full-time job with benefits to follow my then-boyfriend to another city where he had gotten a job. Yes, my job wasn’t exactly in my field (I’d gone to school for urban planning and planning jobs were extremely hard to come by without a Master’s Degree at the time) or terribly challenging, (ok downright boring at times) but I liked the company and the people. And the chance was there to advance, even if in a field other than the one I’d gone to school for. I lived in Kalamazoo, where I’d lived for 6 years (in college and afterward) and really knew and liked the area. I had close friends there. But the lure of something new, in a new city, with someone I (thought I) loved, was too much to pass up. I moved to Midland with Shawn. I did find a new job – although making less than my previous job, it was at least a step closer to being in my field. I was a Planning Assistant for the transit authority in a nearby city. Not exactly City Planning, but planning nonetheless. And I liked this job too. I learned a lot about computer networking and programming and took classes at the local community college. I learned a very rudimentary GIS (I know – more about that at some point!) system for creating and maintaining bus routes. I made a couple of friends. But, I didn’t really like the area – I was homesick for the west side of Michigan. And the relationship with Shawn was rocky. Was this the best choice I could have made? Who knows – although I sometimes wonder where I’d be right now if I had stayed in Kalamazoo. Maybe somewhere better than I am now, but maybe worse too. And I wouldn’t have my kids – at least not the same ones I have now. And I can’t imagine not having Abby, Hannah or Becca.

1997 was a year of changes. First, Shawn got a better job in the Detroit area. After giving up one job I liked to follow him, I wasn’t willing to do so again, especially when the relationship wasn’t always great. We were engaged, but wedding plans had been put on hold a couple of times. So we compromised and moved to Davison, an area halfway between my job and his. This added a 45-minute commute (along with associated gas costs) to my life. I knew nobody in Davison and liked the area even less than I had Midland. At least once a month I drove the 3 hours to visit friends back near Kalamazoo.

Memorial Day weekend, 1997. Ten years ago (plus a few weeks). My two closest friends, Mary and Kristi, and I had gotten together at Mary’s house along with their husbands and Shawn. The guys were doing something upstairs – I can’t remember what. Us girls were in the basement playing a game. And plotting. After seeing how Shawn treated me (he was never violent with me, but he had a horrible temper which he took out on inanimate objects – he once punched a hole in our bedroom door during an argument – and he did talk down to me a lot. I have no doubt things would’ve escalated in time, which is what had my friends concerned), Mary and Kristi basically told me that I needed to leave him and they would do everything they could to help. Instead of feeling anger or irritation at their butting into my life, I just felt an incredible sense of relief. I wasn’t happy, but didn’t really know how to change things. Just that offer of help was enough to motivate me to make the changes that I knew (down deep inside) that I needed to make. This is one decision I really don’t regret at all.

Within a week, plans were made. I’d lined up an apartment in the city where I worked, and started sneaking boxes home and hiding them in the basement of our townhouse. By whatever chance or God’s grace, I had never signed the lease papers – I hadn’t been available when Shawn signed everything and after 5 months hadn’t made it in there to do so myself (I think I somehow knew I wasn’t going to be there long). So I had no obligation toward the lease. We had a joint checking account but after the bills for that month were paid, not much was left. So I simply took my latest check and opened an account for myself and took my name off of the joint account. Why all of this stealth and worry? I truly believed that once Shawn found out I was leaving, he would take out his anger and frustration – not necessarily on me, but on my stuff. So I was convinced that I had to move everything out before he found out. And that’s exactly what happened. Mary and her husband Dave came up the weekend after Memorial Day – the next Monday actually, so that Shawn would be gone at work (45 minutes away) all day. I’d rented a truck and we packed and loaded as quickly as the three of us could. I left Shawn with most of the furniture and pretty much just took what I’d brought into the relationship or had myself bought since. We packed things in garbage bags and whatever else we could find (I have hundreds of books, which were the hardest to deal with). And when we were ready to head out, I called Shawn at work and told him that I was moving out – had already moved out. He was upset and angry but I still don’t know if he would’ve reacted as badly as I thought if I’d told him beforehand.

It was a hard decision, really. I wrote a long letter to Shawn’s mom, explaining why I felt I had to leave and in the way that I did. I hoped that it would be a ‘wake up’ call to him that he had some changes that he needed to make in his life and that he really needed help to make them. I didn’t talk to him for a while after that but within a couple of months we were back in touch – as ‘friends’ only. Not really even friends – just friendly acquaintances really. And within a year after that we’d pretty much lost touch completely, which was ok. I haven’t talked to him in years now. I know he is doing well and living in Kalamazoo (of all places!) and I do wish him well.

1997 was a year of 5’s . Five months living with Shawn in Davison. Five months living by myself on the east side of the state. I looked at all kinds of options – graduate schools, other jobs in the state and elsewhere. I spent money and increased my credit card debt significantly since I really didn’t make enough money to cover all of my bills.

In October, I got a call out of the blue from Muskegon about a job that I’d applied for months previously and hadn’t gotten. They had another opening and wanted to interview me again. This time I got the job. Back on the west side of the state where I’d been happiest. Closer to my friends and my beloved Lake Michigan (I had missed the beaches and sunsets!). A new beginning, really. So in November, I packed yet again and moved for the 3rd time that year (boy was my credit card suffering!). Mary and Dave helped me yet again – something I’ve always been grateful for. This change put me on the path that led me ultimately to Ron, marriage and my girls. Ten years ago.