And Now, For Some Clarity.

Having been on the trail lately for a job which will keep me a little closer to home, I am often asked in interviews, “OK, so…what’s your story?”  I usually explain, “Well, When I got out of high school in 2000, I went to Kansas State at Salina to learn to fly, got my Private Pilot’s License, then switched majors and moved home to go after my mechanic ratings”–at which point, I usually hear, Why?

I have several answers that I give for conversations’ sake, but the honest answer is simple:  I have no idea.  I’ve thought about the why for ten years now, and I still cannot put my finger on it.

Me and Bryan, ca. 2004-05

I guess the simple answer is that I wasn’t sure how to be a man yet, at that point.  I had all this freedom, no one to answer to, and despite being there for school, no clear goal.

When I watched the rest of my family drive off down the road that first day after they moved me down, I remember feeling a little trepidation, a little sadness, and a level of excitement and adventure I have only felt a few times in my life (one of them was my first solo).  When I met my roommate Bryan–who could have been my twin brother–I knew we would get along well, and there wasn’t a moment to waste.  We were both very outgoing–the ones with our dorm door open on move-in day, getting to know the other residents as they passed by.  We found collective ways to get involved–with student government, with our baby at the time, Phi Delta Theta, and secondarily, with our classes.

We did all the fun and dopey things you do when you are newly placed into the microcosm of a satellite college campus in the country.  We went “Puddle Jumping,” whereby you run out and jump into the biggest puddle of water you can find after a good rain, even though it was 37 degrees outside.   We piled into the back of a guy’s truck and literally chased thunderstorms, trying to get a glimpse of a real tornado after the sirens went off in town.  TOP GUN was almost never turned off the lobby TV, if it was on when you got there.  (Neither was it changed from CNN for five days after September 11 happened.)  We grinned knowingly at the Wal-Mart checkout lady as we innocently picked up some supplies from the automotive section–an oil funnel, some plastic tubing, and a shutoff valve.  I picked up smoking at eighteen, and we would spend hours–hours–at Russel’s (the restaurant/truck stop right off of I-135 on Salina’s north side) smoking, drinking coffee, and hammering out the issues at hand, whatever they were.  Many times, we’d have as many as twenty people there, and we’d end up staying through the shift change.  (It was really ignorant to do that, but I didn’t know it back then because I hadn’t had a server job yet.  We tipped as well as we could.)  We invented The Cigarette Olympics, whereby two people at ends of a long table would toss a cigarette at each other, and the goal was to catch it in your mouth.  We spent long hours talking each other through life’s biggest plans (Bryan’s island–“Hinnland”), and grandest failures (Bryan and Delton were instrumental in getting me through them at the time, as was my old friend Kevin).  Those people are still my dearest friends, even though life took us on different paths to different states.

Since KSU-Salina was an old Air Force base, whenever something big was happening, we’d filter out to the runway to see it.  My fondest memories are standing next to the runway (though it was fenced off) and watching the Navy slam their planes into the numbers in preparation for actual carrier landings, or standing literally under a B-2 Spirit at about four hundred feet as it slowly lumbered into the air on takeoff, bound for wherever in the broad daylight.  There was an old Lockheed Constellation who was a resident there–named “Connie”–and her four huge engines never left the ground in both of the years I was there.  If you Google Salina, KS and zoom in on the airport in Earth view, she’s still there on the north end of the ramp, as a matter of fact.  (You’ll also see a bunch of buildings to the right of the North/South runway; that’s the Kansas-State at Salina campus.)

"Connie" the Constellation

I had such a great time there, so why’d I move back?

Well, for one, I was slacking in school, and hadn’t yet developed a work ethic related to studying properly.  By the end of my time there, my grades had gone down hill, I was broke (aren’t we all at that age?), and I had begun to really miss the friends I left behind, and the house I grew up in.  I returned home confused, aimless, despondent, and (by my own standards) a complete failure.  It hadn’t helped much that my own Mom, to combat her feelings of embarrassment among our extended family and friends, griped that she’d “sent me down there to learn to drink and smoke.”  The worst part was that she was right, and I knew as much as anyone else did.  I was as lazy in grade school as I was in college, and I’d given up trying to impress my parents long before, but that first night I slept in my own (old) bed was a new low for me.

What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I was trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to be.  Did I want to be like my Dad?  What felt normal?  What felt right?  What do I stand for?  What’s this politics stuff all about?  How do I feel about one night stands?  How do I feel about people who continually threaten to commit suicide when it’s so obviously for the attention?  How do I feel about a friend getting an abortion?  How do I feel about driving drunk, or being around those who do?  How do I feel about drugs?  How do I feel about a friend being a closet alcoholic?  I had a relatively uneventful teen-hood, and all of a sudden, I had an adult lifetime’s worth of situations before me that I was completely unprepared for.  

I didn’t know until after I’d already made the decision that I’d done the right or wrong thing.  Once, I went by a girl’s house whom I’d met at a movie theater while waiting in line.  I found out after I got there–and after she’d changed into the stereotypical “something more comfortable”–that she was engaged (the electric guitar gave her away).  I knew I had a decision to make, and twelve years later, I still feel good that I left.  Twelve years later, I see how stupid it was to have blown a portion of the rent money on beer, and to waste the chance of a lifetime–an essentially all-you-can-fly school program–in the endless pursuit of instant gratification.  I now see how sleeping in front of a toilet because of alcohol was not a bragging right.  How not remembering the night before isn’t funny, nor is puking in someone’s car.  How making nearly zero progress in two years was not helping.  How publicly embarrassing an ex-girlfriend to people she didn’t know was still hurtful, even from three states away. How being friends with everybody wasn’t paying my bills.  How taking your family for granted was foolish.

I finally kicked smoking for good about six years ago, and I haven’t shotgunned a beer since I lived in Salina.  Now, I tip for a server’s time, not for the $1.65 cup of coffee I drank six cups from.  I came out of A&P school with a 3.47 GPA in 2004, and have finally picked up the drive and motivation to develop myself into anything I want, knowing full well that it will take work.  I’ve tried a couple of times over the years to apologize to that ex-girlfriend for what I did, but I’d be surprised if she’s genuinely forgiven me for it.  In her shoes, I probably wouldn’t.  She’s part of the reason I try so hard to treat my wife well, though, I can tell you that.  My sister has made me an Uncle twice now, and I make it a point to call her, my brother, and my Mom at least twice a month–even if it’s just for a couple of minutes catching up.

So, why did I leave Salina, KS instead of getting my act together and finishing what I started?  Heh…your guess is as good as mine.  I guess it’s possible that without failure, there can be no success…but I’m sure it’s something far simpler than that.

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  1. May 18th, 2012
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