Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I guess I've always been a Black Sheep...

Ever since I was a young boy I've always been a bit different. I never excelled at sports. I played Little League baseball, but I wasn't really any good at it, to the dismay of my father. I'd rather read books and play army in the back yard than play sports. To this day I'll rarely watch sports on TV unless it's a playoff game and a team from Philadelphia is playing. I'd much rather watch a documentary on the History Channel or Discovery.

I wasn't popular in school until I began to use humor, and even after I was voted Class Clown, I was still kind of an outcast. The popular kids thought I was weird, the jocks beat me up, and even the "weird" kids thought I was a bit off... I kept clowning around, not really doing well, just coasting along on a joke and a laugh.

By myself.

At around 13 I discovered girls, but they hadn't discovered me. I was just a goofball in the back of the class making fart noises with my armpit.

Oh yeah, I was suave...

I guess I used the humor to get people to like me... If I saw them laugh I was doing good, not realizing at the time they were really laughing at me, not with me. So in ignorance of the disdain my peers felt about me, I coasted along in school... I still find humor a great relief and still love to laugh. But not the way I used to.

The army, years in law enforcement and life in general over the years has sucked off almost all of the humor I have left, leaving me a drunken bitter cynic and the only vestige of that humor anymore is the black gallows humor and sarcasm here in this little corner of the googlenet/interweb. I laugh at myself now, because if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you really laugh at?

So for years I floated along in life... Trying to please other people. My parents, siblings, my lovers, then my wife... My bosses, my friends... Doing what others thought would be best for me, never once considering what I really wanted. To do that would be the ultimate blasphemy. I was raised Irish Catholic, so guilt was a big motivator in everything I did.

From the time I was born until the time I separated from my ex, save for when I enlisted in the Army, I had done what other people thought I should do. The job I had, the clothes I wore, where I lived, everything was decided by someone else. My divorce was the defining moment in my life.

Do not get me wrong. I was by no means a pussy. I didn't take shit off of anyone. Not then and definitely not now. But it was the people who were close to me I'd be afraid to disappoint so instead of creating a confrontation, I just went along with their advice whether in was solicited or not. Looking back it seems that everyone else was thinking of their image, not how I felt... "Oh, if you do that, what will people say?"

I'd always enjoyed writing short stories... But was told by people close to me "I'd never make any money doing it, so I'd just was well stay working where I was..." I always wanted to work on the railroad, maybe a engineer someday... "But you'd always be away from home! You've got a good job now, just stay where you're at!"

So I did.

And it sucked.

And I began to loathe myself.

I moved to Arizona in 1998 because my wife wanted to. I didn't really want to go but told myself a hundred little lies to convince myself it was the right thing to do. I was leaving my family, and really good, close personal friends it had taken years to make. I was alone out there, and the friends I did make I found out after my separation where just fair~weather ones, who left me high and dry when I needed them the most.

Like I said before, my divorce was the most painful thing that had ever happened to me, next to the days my parents died.

It was the lowest time in my life. When I reached out for help... All I got was patronizing and thinly veiled "I-told-you-so's". Everything I'd done in my life up to that point according to some, had been "Stupid" and if I had just listened to them, I'd have been in better shape. Instead of the 38 year old man I was, they spoke to me like I was an errant 13 year old juvenile delinquent and it infuriated me.

Well, I didn't listen to them. Not that time. One day while wallowing in self pity I read a want-ad in the local paper for a job on the railroad. I called the number listed, and even though I was in my late 30's with no railroad experience at all, the interviewer decided to hire me... For the next six months I travelled around the country working on a huge machine doing track work. It's not what I really wanted to do, but it was a foot in the door.

But to some that was stupid too. Bouncing across the country like that.

At the end of the six months I had returned to Arizona with a little more steel in my spine but the town I lived in was a virtual prison to me. My ex was still there and all our friends became her friends so I was again alone. I had spend a good chunk of time that summer in West Virgina and really liked it there so one day, after a particularly bad row with the ex, I decided to head back to West Virgina, no thought except to get the hell away from Arizona before I did something I'd really regret.

I had saved a little money and one day I just packed what I could cram into my car and headed east, no real plan in my head. When I crossed the state line into New Mexico on I-40 it was like a one-ton weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had no real plan, but I knew there were railroad jobs in WV, and I was going to get one, come hell or high water.

I rolled into West Virgina five days later with no job, no place to live and $39 in my pocket. I was homeless. For two weeks I lived in my car, bathing at a gas station restroom but I did find a job working security. A week after I landed that job I found a little apartment and set up home... And that's when I started this blog. I've always been a survivor. Ranger School taught me to never, ever give up.

It's not what I wanted, but I knew I was going to get it. I'd found a conductor school in Huntington and took the entrance exam. I'd scored high and the school wanted me in the very next class! After the 10 week school, I was guaranteed a job on CSX Railroad's New River Subdivision... Another step closer to reaching my goal.

But I got another kick in the nuts.

The school cost $5,500 and I was turned down for a student loan because my credit had been destroyed in my divorce. They still wanted me in the class, could I get a co-signer?

So with hat in hand, for the first time since I split with my ex, I called family for help. Somehow I knew what the answer would be, no... But I didn't need to hear about the upcoming vacation to Italy in the very next breath.

I wasn't asking for money, just to co-sign the note.

So I didn't get the loan, didn't get into the school and vowed never to ask anyone in my family for help again.

I worked security for the next year, made some friends in WV and was coasting along. What I'd been good at before in my life, but this time my mindset was completely different. I wasn't going to settle for anything. I'd set my goal and I was going to prove all the naysayers wrong. I'd do it myself.

Like I said, I worked security for about a year when I found a job for a railroad way up in the northern part of the state. I moved there and worked the entire summer, making really, really good money, but as I found out after I got the job and was working, it was only a short term job and was going to get laid off the following October. So I scrambled to find another job...

And that's when I found this one I'm working at now. Again I picked up and moved, over 1,200 miles to Florida.

It took me a while, but I finally got to where I wanted to be.

I got here alone. No help what so ever.

Do I have any regrets? Yes. I've burned several bridges and lost a few friends along the way, but at some point in every one's life you've just got to do it... Take that one step...

So here I am... that goofy weird kid making fart noises in the back of the class. The class clown that was beat up by the jocks after school...

The Black Sheep of the family who no one ever calls anymore...

Became an Army Ranger, then a railroad locomotive engineer...

And along the way became a man.

A man I really like.

A man I wasn't, even five years ago. Those who know me before now wouldn't even recognize me as the same Tommy... Well, I look the same, a little grayer maybe and thicker around the middle, but I'm a completely different man.

But to some I'll always be that crazy weird kid. And to those who never had faith in me, they're not laughing now.

Now, after all those miserable years, I really have something to laugh about.

Copyright 2009 Thomas J Wolfenden


honkeie2 said...

dude i love how yuur writing flows. It has a nice rythm to it and its easy to read. You have a gift use it. I love to write but not very good at it.
Fuck the screw heads, i have always been the class clown and there is nothing better than fart jokes. And since I have little ones I can still get away with making them in public!
keep up the good fight and be proud you are an outcast, i know i am X-D

Ranger Tom said...

Honkeie: I still think farts are funny, even when my conductor rips one out in the cab of the locomotive... One so bad I puke in my mouth a little...

Yeah, farts are funny!

Thank you for liking my writing too... I'm a work in progress and try to do a little better each day.

And even now I'm a bit of an outcast... I like a different drummer!

Becky said...

Glad to know you! You have overcome a lot of adversity and proven your strength! I know my parents divorce just destroyed my mom, I just felt so bad for the pain she was going through at the time. She has been divorced ten years and still has a void in her heart thanks to my father.

This blog reminded me of the song, Move Along by the All American Rejects. Good song, "when everything is wrong, we move along." I admire you for the strength that you mustered up in yourself when I am sure it felt like all hope was lost!

Ranger Tom said...

Becky: I was a long, hard road. But I did it. Thing is, when everyone else around me lost faith in me, I never did.

I was told once that divorce is just as hard as losing a loved one through a death.

Having been through both, I'd have to agree.

And great song! I've heard it before... Excellent choice!


You're not weird at all. You're very special and should be very proud of yourself. You never let go of the dream. I am very impressed!

Merry Christmas, Tommy!!!!

Love, Ubermouth xoxoxox

Baht At said...

A damn fine tale of what the world could do with more of, people who are what they are and ignore any and all attempts to mould them into compliant brown-nosing servants of society.

The people who make society aren't, in general, those who follow the rules but those who dare be different.

I think your tale makes you worthy of honorary membership of the Perculiar of English Eccentrics . I'll email you the funny handshake and the secret words.

Just telling it like it is said...

Okay that was totally a pantie dropper story in my book! I understand you to the depths of my heart..adversity only makes us extremely better..Because I can feel that you are a good man...Ranger..pantie dropper!!

I understand everything you said including the dark humor that only people that do our type of jobs...

I left my boyfriend of 3.5 yrs a year ago and it was one of the hardest things I have done...but I am much better now...and he was from WV small world hu?
Hugs!! and thanks for sharing I think you are a marvelous writter
Never stop

cmk said...

Ah, family. Nothing more needs be said.

Ranger Tom said...

Uber: Thanks! And a Merry Christmas to you too! I only wish I'd have done it a lot sooner, but hindsight is always 20/20!

Baht At: Wow! I've never belonged to a Secret Society before! When's cocktail hour?

Just Telling it: Again, I'm stunned... I'm a pantie dropper? And you're so right about adversity... I was told a long time ago by one of my instructors in the Army... "What ever doesn't kill you makes you stronger..." And he was right. That and now I've got to get used to this new title of pantie-dropper... Life is looking up!

Cmk: Ain't that the truth!

Just telling it like it is said...

Ranger: The very fact that you were committed to such wondrous acts of selfless love...merits the pantie dropper title in my mind!

And to all thoughts that didn't believe in you...that was their problem not yours...We have but one life...and in that life we are left to do those things in which will make us great...You see you we doing great things and didn't even realize it!!
Merry Christmas

Ranger Tom said...

Just telling it: That's even more profound as I never really aspired to greatness...

Just telling it like it is said...

and that is the beauty of it...

Mushy said...

I be that dude in my family!