I think that you might be proud of me today, and that is something that for a while I thought I might never be able to say.
When it came to hiring new workers, in addition to the usual standards, I had three guidelines. I didn’t hire my friends’ family members, I didn’t hire anyone who didn’t have their own transportation, and while I would be friendly, I didn’t develop friendships with my employees. I broke the first guideline when I hired you, the second when I picked you up for your first day at work, and the third was, if not broken, seriously bent by the time I drove you home, that first day.
I started looking forward to our time together, driving to and from work. For the first few weeks, the job sites were far enough away that we got to spend quite a bit of time together. You were smart and intelligent and didn’t like to engage in small talk. Our conversations covered almost any subject imaginable and nothing was taboo. I was sorry when you got your transportation situation taken care of and our truck conversations came to an end.
You had recently graduated with a degree in microbiology and were looking for a job in that field. I have to admit, that while I wished you success, I was selfishly happy that you didn’t find one. The longer it took you to find a job in your chosen field, the longer you would be hanging around, and I was quite OK with that.
After I got that phone call, late that Friday night, I drove by your place, thinking that I would stop by. When I got there, all the houselights were on. The driveway was full of vehicles. Your friends and family were gathering to support each other. I didn’t stop. No way could I imagine that I might be welcome there. I went back to my place, and I got drunk.
You know that I blamed myself for your accident. If I hadn’t hired you, you wouldn’t have been working for me. If I hadn’t taken that out-of-town job, you wouldn’t have been there that weekend. If I had insisted that you come back on that Friday instead of making arrangements so you could spend a couple of extra days there, you would have been back in town that evening. If I had just followed my up-‘til-then unbroken guidelines none of this would have happened. If only…
I think that you might be proud of me today, and that isn’t something I would have said, not so long ago.
I didn’t do too well, after your accident. I still had that out-of-town project to complete. I still had all my other work. I had to hire someone else. I had to carry on, but I chose not to. I let things go and started to drink. A lot. Not to numb the pain but to exacerbate it. I wanted to feel angry, resentful, bitter, guilty – anything but normal. And the alcohol worked. Things got worse and I left the town where I had lived for almost 50 years, and I moved to Winnipeg. Actually, I didn’t move to Winnipeg. I ran away from my hometown. I ran away from my responsibilities. I thought maybe a new city, a new job, and a new start would work, and for a while, it did. But then I had to face that first anniversary on my own. And I was out of town. Actually, I was out of the province and out of the country.
I think that you would be proud of me today.
I spent the evening before and then that whole day drinking. It turns out that when I was self-employed, I could get away with that kind of behaviour. But now I was an employee and it turned out that this was frowned upon. When I showed up at our US shop the next day, I found myself terminated. Going through Customs back in Winnipeg was interesting. I didn’t have any of my luggage, no carry-on bag, and no laptop computer. I had only the clothes I was wearing. Oh, and a 60-ounce bottle of duty-free vodka.
It took a long time, Josh. Years of sitting alone, feeling sorry for myself, and pouring alcohol into the wound from which I was constantly ripping off the scab. But then, one day, I realized that I wanted to live again. What I was doing was going to kill me and it wasn’t going to change anything in the past. So, I put the bottle down. I chose to quit drinking and get on with life. I let the wound heal. There is an ache where there used to be raw pain. As I write this, I am looking at a date on the calendar. Not with anticipation but not with dread, either. I have memories and I am glad to have called you my friend.
You would be proud of me today, and you know what? I am too.