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A secret no more

Here and there, now and then, I’ve been dropping frustrated tweets about a secret I wasn’t keen on keeping. It feels like it’s been months. I think it HAS been months. But starting today I don’t have to keep it secret anymore.

Cheryl got a BIG promotion a couple months ago, but couldn’t tell anyone. She’d been promoted to a pretty high position, but the telling was reserved for someone higher still: the Secretary of her department in State Government. That was when we began to plan our latest move: to Gainesville, FL – a college town in north Florida, and home to our alma mater: The University of Florida. I started working on a transfer within my department, which I got… with a start date a week and a half ago. That’s why you may have seen an increase in the number of pictures posted by me on Facebook. You see, I’m a wee bit excited.

So, that’s the big secret. Only half of it has been much of a secret, with all those pictures I’ve been posting. But to a couple humble civil servants, Cheryl’s promotion is a big deal, and thus a big secret to keep.

Yesterday, she finally got word the move was official. Cheryl is due to report to her new office in early July. It caps a series of moves, promotions, and relocations for Cheryl and our family, which started eighteen months ago when we left the only home our kids had known in Dunedin.

I’m extremely proud of her. She’ll be managing her agency’s operations in the six counties of Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit. She’s gone higher, faster, than I thought possible – rising to a position in state government where you don’t submit an application – you’re appointed. (Something not common in Florida.)

Around the time we left Gainesville after graduation – as chance would have it, for Orlando – the talk about returning one day started. I’m not going to say it was our “dream” to return. It wasn’t, exactly. We thought it would be a cool thing to do, but something which wouldn’t be realistic for many years – if ever.

Now we’re here. We’ve returned to a place with special meaning to us. It’s the place where our relationship really stared – and blossomed. It’s the only town I’ve lived in Florida with it’s own sense of place. We’re leaving the congestion of central Florida and the I–4 corridor behind, replacing it with a liberal college town, surrounded by miles of rural roads and great bicycling. Hell, there are even hills here. It’s the first time the altimeter on my bike has registered three digits. Yes, I have an altimeter on my bike. Laugh with my blessing.

Life is not perfect. It never is. We’ve left family and friends behind before, and we’re doing it again. We left almost everything we had behind when we left Dunedin, and it feels like we’re starting over from scratch in Gainesville. I’m pretty damn excited though. Many people fear change, and to be honest, change hasn’t always been my friend either. But this change feels different. This move feels like the moves of my youth… an adventure. People talk about their youth in the context of life’s prime. I don’t. I didn’t come to accept who I am until these last few years. I didn’t come to accept some parts of my past, or my health, until this year. I think our prime may be right now.

Now you know.

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The door

The front door is where it all began every day. Not to take anything away from my old job, but when I think of home, the day begins when I return from work. In recent years I never quite knew what I was getting into until I got there, stood in front of our door, and opened it.

Sometimes what lay within was drown out by sounds outdoors – the weather, the tree blowing in the wind, children playing across the street, a dog barking for its release from a leash and a good chase, or a car accelerating from a stop at the sign in front of our house. Other times it was clear – Adam and Beth playing a high impact game or waging high impact conflict. But don’t let me fool you. This kind of uncertainty added spice to life, not burden. The door was like a present waiting to be opened. Sometimes it was a pair of socks you’d just as soon exchange for cash. Other times it was a surprise you’d remember for the rest if your life.

It’s simple as doors go: white paint, wood sheathed in steel shaped to look like wood. But now it’s taken on a deeper meaning. It’s a symbol for moving, leaving… closing. It’s a gateway to the Kauffman world as it once existed, but no longer works. It’s a door that never truly opens.

I still have a key, a token which reminds me of a time when it did. But when I unlock it now and pass through I’m someplace else – someplace empty. Memories still live inside the door, but little else.

In the days (or weeks) to come, I hope to take you on a little tour and tell you about some of my memories from the other side of our door.


I looked up on my way out the door this afternoon. There’s an exit sign pointing to the parking lot as you leave my office.

“Tomorrow will be the last time I look up at that sign.” I thought to myself.

Tomorrow will be my last day at work in Clearwater. I’ve worked there since the fall of 1996. Seventeen years wouldn’t give a lot of folks pause, but if you were to look through my eyes it would seem like forever.

We didn’t have kids. We were a month or more from learning Cheryl was pregnant with our first. We lived in a small, two bedroom condo we rented from Cheryl’s parents. I still drove my first car purchased with my own money. The adventures of George Bush were safely contained in Texas, and he and his pal Karl had yet to be inflicted on an unsuspecting nation.

But the most startling thing of all: a Democrat was Governor of Florida – good ‘ole Walkin’ Lawton Chiles.

It’s not like I’m quitting my job though. I’ll still be working for the State of Florida on Friday, in the same capacity I’m doing so now. I’ll just be doing it from a drab, state owned building in Largo. We’ll be trading old-growth oaks, shade, and a view of Tampa Bay for pavement, concrete, and lots of pink stucco.

A Judge I worked with years ago used to ask me, “Do you have to pay the State to work here every day?” Despite the location on the water, the buildings themselves weren’t kept as well as others might, which made the lease affordable for a government agency – even in Florida. Still, I’ve always thought we had it made.

You can’t put a price on a little bit of peace amid the chaos our jobs can be.

Well, I suppose you can if you own the place.


Leaving my comfort zone?

I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple weeks. Cheryl and I have discussed this at length, but I’ve waited to put this up until after her big day. I didn’t want her dealing with this, any more than she already would have been, when she was already going to be stressed talking to the folks at the home office in Tallahassee.

– – –

It’s easy to see life altering events after they’ve passed. Sometimes we think we can see them coming, but find that foresight isn’t a reliable predictor of a happiness. Such an event may loom in my near future. As if you couldn’t already guess.

Cheryl had a job interview today. It was out of town, in Tallahassee, FL.

How many of you think moving to a new city sounds exciting? There was a time when I did. What’s not to like? New opportunities. New places to see and explore. Expanding horizons a bit further than the daily commute. All of these sound good, so why does it seem I’m wired differently than folks who see these things with an optimist’s eye? I hate myself for being a killjoy.

Let’s start at home. This is home. With a couple interruptions, it has been since 1979. I’ve loved this place with equal measure hate, so it shouldn’t hold me as strong as it does. But home has the capacity to comfort you like no other place when life doesn’t treat you well. I can’t imagine slogging through leukemia, chronic pain and illness, my mother’s mental collapse and long hospitalization, a couple surgeries, and my ongoing struggles with depression – in these last six years – if they happened somewhere else.

So why would we be considering a move to Tallahassee? For those of you not up on your Florida geography, it’s about halfway across the state (lengthwise), yet is far enough to easily get you to another state most other places in this country (outside of Alaska, Texas, California, and Hawaii). Although Tallahassee leans progressive due to two universities and the state capital, it’s in a region (not always) affectionately known as Lower Alabama (the panhandle). Florida is unique in that you have to drive north to go “South,” with the rest of the state made up of first and second generation, midwestern or northeastern transplants.

The short answer: Cheryl works two jobs to cover my medical bills, private school for a child in the autism spectrum, and more private school for another child who we fear would suffer similar problems in our beleaguered public schools. Please note: we don’t blame the schools themselves. They’ve been under siege by a hostile, crazy-conservative state legislature hell bent on removing “public” from any discussion. She has an interview for a job which pays more money, where she wouldn’t have to work two jobs.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can rent it for a while.” I don’t know who said that, if it was a serious comment, or where I heard it, but I think I understand it. I don’t want Cheryl to feel she has to work two jobs, and this position with the central office in her department could solve this problem. Working night shifts in hospital security has taken a physical and emotional toll, and I feel responsible. Hurting someone you love, however indirectly, is a terrible feeling. So go ahead and add one more thing to my list of suffering a couple paragraphs back: self-pitying anchor.

No matter what I say going forward, no matter how much unsympathetic whining I do, I feel there’s no real choice. I can’t…. I won’t be responsible for my wife’s suffering.

The Problem: I don’t want to move. By this I don’t mean I’d prefer not to move. The idea fills me with anxiety on so many levels I could sit distracted for hours, thinking of nothing but worry. Still, I also can’t be the reason for Cheryl’s misery… resentment… fill in the blank with the help of your trusty thesaurus.

Anxiety’s Root: Well, there’s the obvious answer: brain chemistry/wiring. I can feel o.k. for months, working my way through pressures at work and home with aplomb. It’s almost like I’m a normal person. Then there’s a trigger. There’s no telling what it might be. I could be something as trivial as leaving my phone at home. Then I’m in free-fall and everything feels insurmountable. It can last hours or months, but for years it stayed away… until six years ago.

A few causes are easier to understand. They share elements experienced by many folks first or second hand. For example, I feel marginally employable due to health problems and my attendance record over the last six years. As someone who’s had a hand in hiring for the last fifteen, I know it’s an important consideration. Whether there’s a good reason for absenteeism or not, employers like to have employees who are capable AND who will be there regularly to show off their abilities. I feel lucky to be somewhere NOW, where I’m valued despite my history of health problems. Despite what you may think about working for the government, there’s no guarantee of a job for me in my department just because my wife gets a promotion and/or transfers. I have to be acceptable in the eyes of management where I’d be transferring. Over the last six years, I’m the potential candidate who’s used all of his own leave, used chunks of leave donated by others, and is on his third year under the protection of the Family Medical Leave Act. Tempting, aren’t I?

Plus I really like my job, right where I am. I’ve put the better part of twenty years towards learning most of the nuances of my job, and the somewhat unique version of it which exists in my office. To some this would mark the time to move on to other things. But to me, it creates another opportunity: to help not only our clients but my coworkers. People outside my team (sometimes calling long distance) trust me with an answer, and a sincere thank you often means more to me than money. Folks often complain recognition in government (at least in Florida) rarely involves financial reward, but I’m not one of those people.

Despite more recent health problems, I’ve put many years earning this respect, my friends, and a good reputation. I fear starting over someplace else and losing it all – the things I’ve come to like most about my job. I fear it will be many times harder the second time around – when the 1995 model Me is just words in a file, and the 2013 model is broken.

The circle is complete. None of this changes Cheryl’s problems. I haven’t lived them so I won’t do them the disservice of explaining them poorly, but I understand the toll they’ve taken all too well. The lack of time off, never stopping, and carrying more than her share is wearing her down. I read this post and my guilt leaves the linear track, exploding with exponents. I’m not just an anchor, resisting with equal and opposite force. Most of you remember high school physics, right? I fear I’m an anchor that can’t/won’t see past it’s own fear and pulls back harder.

I don’t think I’m deluding myself when I say I try. The privacy train left the station on this blog years ago, so it’s odd I can’t bring myself to name the ways now. Hell, what’s a little social stigma after this post? I’ll just say I’ve spoken to many people, in many disciplines, at times spending lots of money, over many years, to get a a grip on some of my problems. That should be enough to spark a bit of your imagination, eh?

God help me (yes, I’ve spoken to him too), I don’t want to be a terrible person.