June brought more adjustments, like getting used to Casey’s new schedule and how to adapt. She started working more weekends, which was eating through our restaurant budget quicker than usual.
We eat with the Deaf church more often so as to conserve money. She eats, and I drink coffee and maybe pick through her leftovers. Amused, I thought in my best narrator voice, In the Gatlin tribe, the women eat first while the men wait. Though one Sunday, I was worried less about food and pondering moral compasses after our class at church.
After listening to the lesson about moral compasses, I started to think of my own compass and where it was pointed. I visualized the virtues as true north, along with a compass that helped it click. I was often saying I wanted to be a good person, having come to the realization that I had been a narcissist. Though not on a criminal level or being a terrible person, I still wasn’t a good person.
The fact I used that term directed my attention to an internal issue I had to deal with. Self-loathing.
A psychological method the Stoics use that has proven useful with other issues was fatalism. Not in the sense of “there’s no point to anything,” but a targeted fatalistic attitude when it comes to the past and this very instant.
In this context, it is dealing with the past. The fact is that it’s set in stone, and there is nothing anyone can do to go back and change it. I had some serious character flaws, and my question was, did I still have them?
Not to that degree, because I did the only thing we can do with the past—learn from it so we don’t repeat it. The past is best used as a lesson, not as a punishment. Taking the consequences of our actions and learning from them. Sum it up with simply, “Yeah, I did that (or that happened), so let’s not do it again.”
Dwelling on it is like depriving a plant of sunlight; growth is stunted or withers. Instead, reach for the light.
Sometimes that will require replanting elsewhere. Around this time, my wife started working more overtime, which was padding out the savings set aside for the move nicely. I thought it would be a good idea to begin thinning out our possessions and prepare to start packing out nonessentials.
The weekends alone, though, were starting to wear on me. I missed that quality time with my wife. Whenever we got a chance, we made the most of it.
The stress levels were rising again all around and in everyone. To counteract it, I decided to use Stoicism’s Interpersonal Fatalism and Trichotomy of Control. I couldn’t control or change people, but I could control my response to it all.
The discussion of what to do on July 21 came up again, making me sad. I didn’t plan on being there. Thinking about it, I remembered the day’s terror, sadness, and death. I thought I had healed enough that it wouldn’t rip me open, but I wasn’t planning on picking off the scab myself.
Instead, I focused on our vacation, an actual few days where I had next to no responsibilities. My mother-in-law mentioned going to Niagara Falls while we were there. When I heard that, I couldn’t help but remember the scene from the Superman II where he saves the boy that falls over the side. I was anxious about having all the logistics I had control over properly planned.
The day arrived, and one of Casey’s friends dropped us off at the airport, followed by a smooth check-in by security, unlike what I had been hearing on the news. The fun part was people asking about our shirts that our friend Ralski designed. On the front, it said, “Explore your MHNMN.” They couldn’t decipher it.
Sound it out and it’s “Imagination.”
We ate and boarded the plane, my first-time flyer nerves setting in. I began the four-count breathing. It helped that I didn’t psyche myself out like I do on rollercoasters. Using the Trichotomy of Control principle, I knew I had two choices: don’t be a wuss or get off the plane. Once we were airborne, I was happy just to stare out the window.
Like most vacations, I became very introspective, examining myself as I moved through the world. A few times during it, I thought about the calmness in the face of things that terrified me before. Plane crashes, crazy drivers, being hit by a train while crossing the track, driving into a lake; a lot of it crossed my mind while ripping through a field while riding in a Kawasaki Razr. My adrenaline barely trickled at all, and I don’t think it was caused by burnout either.
Is it a result of having dealt with the past year?
Is it the experience of facing actual danger and dealing with primal fear?
Is it the application of Trichotomy of Control, where I know where I’m powerless so I don’t “what if” myself into a panic?
I kind of think it may be all of the above. My scales adjusted to the point that it takes a lot to move the needle. Things were falling into the categories of a problem; if it’s something I cannot handle, then it is what it is. It’s the response I can control.
Casey’s stepdad drove from Ohio to the American/Canadian line in New York State. The time I spent talking, reading, looking out the window, and occasionally listening to a podcast was relaxing; however, when we arrived, the switch flipped. I was still protective of any group I was in. We took a look at the falls with plans for a closer look the next day, along with a lot of people-watching that sent thoughts through my head that we’ll get to in a minute.
After looking through an outdoor shop, we ate before heading to the hotel we reserved. The ladies wanted to go to the casino, my father-in-law was tired, and I was tired of people. That pesky introvert problem again. With the casino right around the corner, I was willing to let them go alone. Except I can’t do that, so after telling myself to “suck it up, buttercup,” I went with them.
Her mom gave us $20 a piece, and we both tripled it. As soon as I saw I had more credits than I started with, I was done.
We left before dusk settled too much, and I walked ahead. Where my best friend has the tendency to hang back to make sure everyone is there, I look forward. From a strategy point of view, it’s the first line of defense. See something I don’t like, and we hustle back to where we came from. Honestly, from a personal point of view, I’m impatient, and it’s more about the destination rather than the journey for me.
The former does sound better even though it’s only half true.
Calling it a night, we turned in. A big day and a trip back to Ohio was in the cards for the next day. Niagara Falls.
The next morning found us on the observation tower, where I was thinking I never imagined I would sit on the Canadian border. We did a boat tour that gave us great opportunities for a close look at the falls. As it was, the picture I got while waiting to board the boat is still my computer’s wallpaper. From there, it was back to Ohio and a less exciting but much more thoughtful following day.
Casey went with her mom to work and to sneak in some shopping. Her stepdad left for a couple of hours to finish up some things. I was left to the comfort of my routine. He arrived back at the house about the time I was putting together a promotional picture for the company. We went for a buggy ride through the hills on his Razr, speaking of life, death, and dealing with it. We both use the fatalism tool, accepting that death will come, considering it’s a miracle he’s even alive after the motorcycle accident. It’s more about things being a problem to be solved instead of to fear.
The vacation was over too soon, but we had fun. The flight back had some problems, and a storm over Chicago kept us grounded in Ohio after stalling out over the city. We eventually flew west of Chicago and swung back around, but by then, we’d missed our connecting flight. It was the second flight we’d missed, and now we were sitting in the crowded terminal waiting for the flight crew to arrive to take us home.
I listened to a bunch of angry people at the gate, including one who became irate when he missed his flight to Canada. He was on the phone and missed the boarding call. I made sure we didn’t miss our call.
We finally boarded and sat on the tarmac behind a row of planes waiting to take off. Another angry individual behind me said he was never flying this airline again. I looked out the window at the other airlines’ planes sitting still, and probably someone on every one of them was thinking the same thing.
We finally took off, the plane rising through the dark clouds. I watched expectantly for lightning or something. It was all new to me. When we flew out of the storm, the rising black clouds looked like a tower, and the few clouds on the left made for an incredible view. On the way, I looked down at a river while listening to a podcast. I didn’t even want to read; I just looked and thought about our trip and the experience I had gained.
While at the Falls, I had been in a melting pot of cultures. Among the crowds, I saw Hindus, Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, Buddhist monks, and noted a few that stood out from the blanket of humanity.
One person had a quiet intensity in the way he carried himself. Not tense but relaxed, coiled power. His hat marked him as a Vietnam veteran. Another was a sketchy individual moving with a noticeable hitch like he wasn’t at home in his body. If I had been a lion, I would’ve been looking at a sick buffalo, if you wanted a predator’s perspective.
Then there was the heavyset man who gave me a dirty look for some reason. Here it was, days later, flying home while I stared at the ground six and a half miles below me. Everything looked so small.
It gave me a sense of perspective, looking at the earth and being unable to see interpersonal differences, property lines, or borders. It was all tiny and fleeting in comparison to the soil it sat on. When I saw the different cultures, I was noting our similarities with each other—the gawking expressions, stress lines creasing the faces of others, and some worried about where to go while trying to stay together. Just like every human, by focusing on the common ground, the differences become exciting stories for the most part.
We arrived home, and it wasn’t long until my sister called to inform me that my newborn niece was in the hospital. She had a fever that refused to come down. On top of that, her brother was sick as well.
They ran tests and decided to spinal tap her. My sister got sick too, and my mom decided to leave my stepfather. So at least something good happened.
At WJ, we finalized the quotes for the next release, the team working much smoother now. At church, the bulletin had an opening for security in the kid’s building, but with my DHS case pending, I couldn’t watch over the kids.
Generally, the list (the child maltreatment registry) doesn’t bother me as much as it does my wife. What bothers me is seeing my criminal charge on the receipt every month when I pay on my fine. That day it did bother me. Afterward, we returned to the hospital to check on my niece.
We were invited to go with the Deaf church to a baseball game on July 4. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I agreed when Casey looked at me with questions in her eyes. It was a new experience, and Casey wanted to go. The next two days would be introvert nirvana for me.
We were still downsizing to prepare for the move, cleaning out all the clothes I didn’t wear anymore. That included a third of my WJ shirts that I planned to give to my youngest brother. Everything else, I would donate or throw away, including the shirt I wore to my godson’s memorial. I didn’t want to look at it anymore. The plan was to tell everyone about the move after we saved half the money for it.
One day, while writing about the arrest, I was curious and looked at the old news story. I realized I hadn’t looked like the picture they used since then. Is that due to a deep scar in my psyche from that day, I wondered. Then another picture triggered a flashback, which led to a conversation with Casey about how we were processing it all.
Tensions bubbled over again. Somewhat helpless, I rallied a couple of Casey’s friends to comfort her. I also noted to myself that we might need professional help still.
I wanted to lash out in retaliation, but it never solved anything before. The only way to break the cycle was to remove ourselves from it. It was wearing on me as well; I was ready to move as soon as possible.
Casey reached the point where she had enough and stood up stronger than ever. Our environment had become like binding chains, emotional cycles, and bad memories.