A Nomad’s Past … Page 2

25 Jan

Picking up from where I left off yesterday …

I had been recruited to move to Denver and join the staff of Adventure Unlimited as their Business Manager. A/U is an international youth group with chapters around the globe. They also had a ranch nestled at the base of the Collegiate range of the Rocky Mountains. The name of the range was derived from the three main mountains that looked down over the ranch – Mount Harvard, Mount Princeton and Mount Yale (whoever named them wasn’t much into football I suppose … otherwise one of them might have been named “Mount LSU!”) We offered a variety of camping, riding and mountaineering programs during the summer which brought in kids from elementary school through high school. And for a couple of weeks in December, they’d host families who were coming in to ski.

I left for Denver. Wendy stayed behind in Dallas. It was March and she still had a couple of months to go before the semester ended. (In retrospect, our short marriage would have been even shorter if we hadn’t spent a lot of time apart. When we were together, things weren’t so great. But I digress …). I found an apartment, moved our stuff in and immediately went on the road. Actually I hit the airports, flying in to different chapters to help them set up their books and the like. For a while, I was traveling a couple of weeks a month and I hated it. Going from airport to hotel to restaurant to conference room to airport wasn’t anywhere near as much fun as flying along the highway seeing the sights!

mount princeton

Mount Princeton, as viewed from Highway 285

What I did like was the drive from Denver to the ranches. During the summer months, I’d usually drive down 3 times a month to check in on how things were going in the office. It’s probably the best commute I’ve ever had – three hours of solitude, driving on Highway 285 through the forest that, at a bend in the road, would suddenly break out into a high altitude plain that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was magnificent! I got into a habit of listening to Bach on the Subaru’s cassette player. My favorite piece was his Toccata and Fugue in D Minor because it seemed to match the majesty of the scenery. I used to imagine him gaining inspiration as he walked through the German forests, then returning to write this particular piece. That was an easy mental image to conjure as I drove through the Rockies!

I worked at A/U for just under two years. First off, I’ve never liked “routine”. I had spent most of the first year working on project-related things, and that kept me going. I secured their first sales and property tax exemptions as a not-for-profit organization. I set up a relatively detailed budget format for them to use in the annual plan. I created a system for forecasting the camp enrollment (which, considering it was “pre-PC”, was pretty damned accurate!). But after that stuff was done, I realized I really wasn’t cut out to simply sit in an office and manage the accounting. The second thing was money. To this day, not-for-profits are notorious for their inability to offer salaries that are competitive with the private sector I simply couldn’t afford to continue going on the salary I was making.

By this time, Wendy had finished school and did not want to stay in Denver. Her mother had moved to San Francisco. After visiting her for a week, we decided to move there. Once again, we separated – in May 1979, she went to stay with her mom and look for a job while I stayed behind in Denver to give notice and wait for her to let me know she had found a job. I didn’t join her until October.

We wound up in San Jose, about an hour south of San Francisco. I took a job as a staff accountant at Western Microwave. Western was a small, publicly-held defense electronics company. Wendy was working nearby, in the public relations department of National Semiconductor By this time, I had discarded my “hippie”-ness. Actually, I had just discarded the first two letters. I had switched from “hippie” to “yuppie”!

silicon valley

Silicon Valley – to borrow from Shawn Mullins, “Seems like everyone’s got a (business) plan, kind of like Nashville, with a tan”

Wendy and I divorced soon after. In retrospect, we were young and stupid, and only one of us was “in love”. But I know I presented a lot of difficulty for her. I had a public persona of this outgoing, jovial, all-American guy. But in private, I was very withdrawn, moody and brooding. My “black” periods began before she and I had met. I would go through long periods of deep depression, questioning where I / we were going, and simply not adding a lot of happiness to our lives. And here’s where I break the promise I mentioned yesterday about not delving too far into the reason for my “complex PTSD” diagnosis years later: I had suffered tremendous physical abuse growing up. For about 10-11 years, I was the stereotypical “abused kid”. For six or seven of those years, I was beaten three or four times a week. With fists, belts, broomhandles, hoses … whatever was handy. Was stabbed once. Cigarette and scalding water torture. I wish I could say that I’ve overcome its impact on my psyche, but I’d be lying. It’s become an underlying theme of my life and the reason I’ve gone through multiple periods of therapy that each lasted years. Anyhow, enough of that!

I wasn’t out on the road that much during these years. During and after the divorce, I put all my energy into work. My driving was limited to day trips to Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Almost immediately after the divorce, I started dating a gal that worked for me, Kacy. We kept it quiet for a few months until we decided to get married. I just didn’t like the idea of being alone, I guess.

Kacy stopped working about a year after we got married. I stayed on at Western for about eight years … got promoted and eventually became CFO.  But the routine was driving me crazy. I realized … too late … that I hated my chosen field of work. I was able to move out of the accounting responsibilities for a while, taking over operations for about 8 months. But they wound up firing the guy who replaced me and put me back in as CFO. (I wonder how many people work their entire lives in jobs they don’t really like.) It was during this time that I had my first experience “in therapy”. I was diagnosed as a “Type A” personality, driven by an innate belief that everything I did had to be perfect. My particular brand of “crazy” had taken me to the point of being unable to make decisions. I’d second-guess myself to the point where I was nearly frozen! Therapy helped enough for me to keep working, but the unhappiness never fully went away.  OCD stuff had developed … I’d shut off the light in my office, lock the door, and then have to unlock it to make sure I had turned off the lights.  And there were days I’d have to repeat that 2 or 3 times! Pretty crazy, right?  That insanity was offset by periods of brilliance.  My co-workers thought I was some sort of genius, coming to me with all sorts of problems expecting an answer. On the other side of the desk, I’d be praying they didn’t find out I was a fraud … at least that’s how I felt.  But I’d come up with an answer and it’d work.  They’d walk off thinking I could solve any problem and I’d wall myself up behind my office door, heaving a big sigh of relief that my true self hadn’t been discovered.

The biggest benefit to going through all of this was that I got three weeks of vacation. Kacy and I took a lot of road trips and these trips were about my only joy. In 1986, we toured the Pacific Northwest and visited Vancouver for Expo. It was a great trip, with one exception. While in Washington, I discovered Ranier cherries. After tasting them, I decided to bring about 20 pounds of them back home to San Jose to share with friends and family. It was a great idea … until they were confiscated when we went through an inspection station at the California border! I never hated a fruit fly until that moment!

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, south shore … a beautiful place in the summer

We also took frequent trips up to Lake Tahoe, where the family had a little cabin about 10 miles from the Nevada border. We’d celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas up there, but I enjoyed the summer months a lot more. The lake is simply gorgeous! Kacy would drive up with her parents during the day and I’d drive up by myself after work. I never told her, but I much preferred the trip by myself. There was just something about doing it alone that I liked. No conversations. No “how was your day?” Complete solitude! About the only time I had for “me” was in the car and I didn’t want to give that up. (That’s one of the reasons why I’ve rebelled at having a cell phone. I don’t want to be reached in the car. Just leave me alone! I know I’ll have to have one once I set out on my new lifestyle, but I have to tell you that it’s going to off while I’m in the car!)

In late 1986, I was recruited by another firm in the same industry. I still had the executive perks though – long vacations accompanied by high levels of anxiety, stress and the ensuing depression! The next summer, we did a trip to the Grand Canyon and toured southern Utah. And in 1988, I had one of the best road trips of my adult life – three weeks, doing a circuit from San Jose; to Dallas (to visit my parents); back up to Denver; through Utah and Nevada; a stop at the cabin in Tahoe; and then finally back to San Jose. Kacy was in charge of the camera. We did this little thing where we’d stop and take a photo of one of us in front of the “Welcome to [fill in name of state here]” signs as we’d go from state to state. She’d then put that photo in the album, followed by whatever photos had been taken while in that state. We made a pretty funny discovery after we got home and developed the pictures. The photo of the “Welcome to Oklahoma” sign was immediately followed by the “Welcome to Kansas” photo! I guess there just wasn’t anything all that interesting in Oklahoma! ;o)

The worst part of all these trips was coming home. Back to routine. Back to a job that I hated. Back to periods where I was unable to express any creativity (you’ll see more of that in the next episode). I know that a number of people experience a letdown after coming back from vacations. But my post-vacation blues were more like falling back into a crevasse!

By this time, the defense industry was going through major changes and the company I worked for, Time Microwave, wasn’t doing too well. And it had an even bigger impact on my stress levels and mood. I couldn’t sleep, had incredible anxiety and felt the weight of the world. I felt responsible for the lack of success we were facing (as if I could have stopped the Berlin wall from coming down, right?) The industry was consolidating and we began looking for a buyer. Along with two other guys, I tried to engineer a leveraged buyout of the company, thinking that the three of us would have a better chance of making the company work without the guy who was President and his Board of Directors. Simply put, we were unsuccessful, and I found myself without a job. That didn’t last long though – I had made a number of contacts while attempting the LBO and one of them asked me to look at his company and make some recommendations for improvement. I did just that and came back a couple of weeks later with my suggestions. He then asked me how long I felt it would take to implement them … and gave me a contract to do just that. I didn’t realize it, but this was the beginning of a relatively successful consulting career. In retrospect, I wish the success equated to happiness. But it didn’t.

I’ll stop here and continue tomorrow. I don’t know that this part of my story tracks back to a love of the road as clearly as yesterday’s journal. I think it has more to do with how I’ve been impacted by the “down” episodes that overtake me for long stretches. The anxiety. The depression. What I call “the blackness”.

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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Musings


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