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When the storms come

I was living my halcyon days when I was teaching. It would end. Storms would come.

A feeling haunted me that this perfect period and the creativity I enjoyed could not continue. While I relished the time and energy, I’m always waiting for the bomb to go off, the earth to tremble, the sky to break.

“You’re just a born worrier,” a friend told me. “Nothing untoward is going to happen.”

“You’re wrong,” I said. “I’m not that lucky.”

And I was right.

Work has always been something I tolerated. Being a journalist at a small and influential newspaper was the only one in which I was settled and happy. It changed all the time. It demanded my mental faculties and challenged me all the time. It influenced my perspective on the world. Every story was a masterclass in a new subject.

And it was writing, writing, writing.

As a kid, I dreamed of being a writer. Later, I came to after years of dissipation and dissolution. My ambitions turned to making a living as a writer. When I landed the newspaper job, I thought, “This is it. I made it.”

But that only lasted a couple of years. Things change and I should have known. When the owner sold the paper to a corporation and the corporate guys began dictating what we should print, my dream job ended and I moved on.

Work is always something I’ve tolerated. While I work hard and know hard work, I knew that money was just a necessary evil, something that keeps the wolves at bay. I’ve had a job since I was 13. Even when I was living the drunk’s life, I worked. When the newspaper job ended, I put my head to it and worked a job I came to hate with people I did not like.

But being the earnest person I am, I kept at it and moved on when I could. I made a living for a while as a handyman, hauling trash, painting houses, building stone walls. Then, I started Ph.D. studies and stayed alive with Virginia’s help. She worked a high-paying job and I could pursue what I wanted. I earned that Ph.D. and took to construction to pay bills. When the jobs dried up, I turned to teaching.

Teaching didn’t pay the bills. Again, I was dependent on Virginia and stayed that way for a long time. My wages equaled less than half of hers but she put up with me. I was doing what I wanted. I taught part-time, wrote, and spent time with a growing boy. When the boy grew into a man, I had time to write and wrote and published two books.

All that ended abruptly last November. It was devastating for Virginia. But the day after we received news she had lost her career, I received a job offer from the USPS—the only employer that gave me the time of day after over a year of job searching.

I knew was in for it.

“Why would you want to be a letter carrier?” the woman interviewing me asked. I didn’t tell her that carrying the mail was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want a job. All I wanted to do was write.

“You’ll be working 50 to 60 hours a week, six days a week,” the woman said. “Every Sunday and holiday. Are you sure you’re up for this?”

What was I supposed to say? I wanted to tell her that, no, I’m not up for it. But I knew I had to keep the lights on and working for $17.29 an hour was my best bet at the moment.

“Sure,” I said.

“What attracts you to being in the mail carrying business?” she asked.

“Well, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a mailman.” It wasn’t a lie. But that desire evaporated when I was just six. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t tell the woman that.

Instead, I bent to it, as I’m known to. It’s been a transformative journey. Carrying the mail has taken me to the limits of my physical abilities, more even than being an ironworker. I’ve lost 55 pounds since January 1, most of that by the end of March. Working six and seven straight days of 12- and 13-hour days has even challenged my will to keep on. Mercurial management and unjust treatment tested my ability to keep a good face on things. More than once, I’ve wanted to lash out. But maturity and resolve saved me from losing my job for mouthing off.

Not that the management conditions and job rigors have not brought me to the edge. I have found myself short with people at the Post Office from time to time. But Enrique, a kind and gentle soul, told me a couple of weeks ago that I inspired him.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“I’ve never seen anyone put up with the kinds of stuff we have to as assistants and not crack.”

“Make a note of that,” I said. “I may not be as strong as you think.”

“But, Pat,” he said, “you’re my rock. You don’t crack.”

I hope I don’t disappoint him before this Post Office journey is done for me. Who knows, I might stick with it long enough to convert to career status and get my own route, a five-day, 40-hour week with full medical, dental, and mental and a pension to boot.

But probably that’s not what’s going to happen. I keep looking for a job, one that will put me at home at a decent hour every night. The only thing I want is to write, to keep writing books. My time is short. I have, on the outside, 20 good years left if I don’t hang myself, eat myself to death, or die of cancer from all this tobacco I stick in my lip. I have to make the best of it.

I have a nascent, interesting idea for a new book. I can’t wait to start. The Post Office will be a part of the story. In fact, I wouldn’t have come up with the idea had I not worked for the Post Office.

So, I owe it a lot, even if it doesn’t make me happy, even if it’s not my passion, even if it sinks me under masses of bureaucratic nonsense.

And, one thing: Storms did come. They rage about me even as I write this. But it never ends. I’ve lived an interesting life so far. I can’t imagine it won’t have more surprises for me.

I may even be able to write that book.

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