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For a year that started out so inauspiciously and painfully, 1984 turned into a magical year.
I led this quiet, peaceful existence at my parents’ place, Monday through Friday, where I’d do a lot of reading and writing and helping Dad out around the house, when I wasn’t working at the machine shop on the swing shift. I no longer worried about getting out to AA meetings during the day. I had a home group in the city that I attended on Fridays and Sundays, and that was all about being there for the newcomers. My life of quiet desperation was over. Fear of getting loaded left me, and life took on a richness and a purpose.
Dad was retired, but had his own little antique furniture refinishing and repair business going in his workshop. He would occasionally ask for help with something he was working on, and I also helped him out in the yard. He was always puttering around out there, and that was where you found Dad in his element. Our relationship developed on a much deeper and more intimate level during those months than it ever had. Mom would usually be at work, running the state’s Ala-Call Hotline. Kathy would come pick me up after work early on Friday mornings, and I’d spend the weekends with her. We’d go to meetings in South Philly on Friday and Sunday nights, and would often have a lot of friends over to her place on Saturdays. There were always lots of people around us, but I never felt compelled to do or be anything other than just be myself. I was calmer and more comfortable with just being me than I’d ever been.
We took a week’s vacation together, driving and camping all over New York state and New England, shooting for, but never quite making it to, Nova Scotia. Kathy got a taste, on that trip, of how I liked to travel, and that would be the last trip we took that I “planned”. (My idea of planning was pack the car up and hit the road, and see where it takes you. She, on the other hand, eventually became a master vacation planner, so all future trips, we actually made it to where we set out for!) We had a beautiful moment on top of a mountain near the Delaware Water Gap on our first night of that trip, where we decided we’d spend the rest of our lives together. It wasn’t like this grand moment where I got down on one knee and all of that. We were just lieing in bed, in a kind stranger’s house who’d put us up for the night, and it was like we just acknowledged something that had become apparent. We belonged together. We both decided we would just let it happen.
We finished the trip up at the 5th East Coast Convention, which was held at Yale University that year. I can’t remember why we went to that – even though the South Philly group was technically an N.A. group, I didn’t consider it to be an N.A. group. It wasn’t like any N.A. group I knew, and I knew about most of them. At the convention, I just kept a very low profile, and pretty much just hung around Kathy, Breen and Sherri and a few other friends from the South Philly group that were there. That was when I found out that the girl I had spent a night with in North Jersey at Christmastime, right before my surrender experience on the train to Philly, still apparently had some hopes of getting together with me. She overheard Kathy telling Sherri in the ladies room at Yale that we’d decided to get married, and came out of her stall bawling her eyes out. Kathy couldn’t believe it! How random was that?
Upon my return to the routine I’d come to love, working during the week in New Jersey, and having the long weekends with Kathy in Philly, a freak accident led to a really idyllic summer. A co-worker and I were lifting a 20 foot long steel pipe with a “come-along” device, that hooked into an eye bolt on either end of the pipe, when the eye bolt on my end gave way, and the pipe fell right on my hand, breaking my right ring finger at the upper knuckle and nearly severing it off completely. I had to have surgery to repair the tendon and salvage the finger, but was subsequently out of work on workers compensation for the next 7 weeks while it healed.
I practically lived at Kathy’s place all summer, only periodically stopping back home to pick things up or to help Dad out with anything he needed help with. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do with my right hand out of commission. I just took it easy, and spent time just hanging out and getting to know some of my group members in South Philly, and working with newcomers. I’d been through the first 9 Steps, and was now just getting used to practicing Steps 10, 11, and 12 on a daily basis. It was just amazing to me how everyting in my life was just falling into place so easily, with seemingly very little effort on my part. It went against everything I’d ever learned or believed, yet it all felt right. I just took it easy, didn’t worry about how things were all going to turn out, and just kept doing whatever was right in front of me to do.
I got a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, inviting me to their office in Philadelphia to interview for a Supply Clerk/Typist position. I’d taken a test and completed an application months before, when I was first back in the area. I wouldn’t have gone for the interview if I was still working the night shifts, but being out on Workers’ Comp, I had nothing better to do, so went down for the interview. They wanted to hire me. I didn’t want to take the job, at first. I liked my Machine Shop job. I liked my whole set-up. But, Kathy and Dad both, independently, encouraged me to take the job. They both thought I had more of a future with it, than the Machine Shop job. I was to a point where, following the guidance of others that I knew and trusted seemed to be working out better than all of my own guidance that I’d been following for years and going around in circles, so I listened, and accepted the job.
I’ll never forget my conversation with the manager, Cliff Lacey, at the Machine Shop, when I told him I was leaving. He sneered at me and said, “You’re leaving this opportunity to apprentice to be a master machinist, for a government clerk job? That’ll never amount to anything – you’re a damned fool. But, it's your life - go ahead.”
28 ½ years later, 25 of which have been at management and eventually senior executive levels, all with the same agency (after having gone through 18 jobs in 4 years before that), I find myself glad that I listened to Kathy and Dad, not myself or Cliff Lacey.
One of the better decisions I’ve made in my life!