top of page

Stories of Blood & Ink: Chapter 1, Part 2

(This is a continuation of last week's post. If you would like to catch up, SOBI: Chapter 1, Part 1 is available under the "Blog" tab at

(This excerpt is redacted, as an effort to retain anonymity for the storyteller. In some cases, contextual words are added in the place of redactions to retain context. All redacted and changed sections are clearly marked)

"Things got worse. Six months after my parent's divorce was finalized, my mother was tossed into the greatest fight of all..."

…the one for her life. At a very young age in her mid 40's, my mother collapsed of a severely debilitating stroke, where she lost almost all mobility on the left side of her body. Strokes of this magnitude are like a lightning strike to the middle of someone’s life, and things are changed forever. My mother is a living lesson of the dangers that stress can have on a person. The ensuing months after an extended stay in the hospital showed me just how fleeting life can be, how things can change in an instant, but most importantly how tough and resilient my mother is. She fought through every step and made the absolute most out of a horrible situation.

All the while, as this intense time was unfolding, my siblings had their own lives that they were leading. Both had received scholarships to play sports at their respective colleges and had left home to pursue their dreams. I felt alone and somewhat abandoned, but I know it’s not their fault. They helped with what they could, but the limitations that they faced trying to get home were immense. What could have been a good reliable outlet just wasn’t there anymore. I admired both of my them greatly, and still do. I don’t blame them for leaving. They had to go on their own paths. Besides, the age difference between them and I made us a lot less relatable. I don’t think they fully understood the situation I was in, much like I didn’t understand the situation that they faced either. I didn’t fully understand everything that was going on and information was very hard to come by. I was shielded from as much as my parents could feasibly protect me from, but the cost of this was me being left in the dark. I can at least find some comfort that they tried to help.

I must preface the next few paragraphs: I am only speaking from my perspective from a young age. There was a myriad of dynamics at play during this time, and a ton of heartache. At 14 I became an adult on several fronts. Much was expected of me very suddenly. I don’t bemoan this, but I know that I did not handle it very gracefully at the time, either. The anger built. In a lot of ways, I felt as if I became my own parent, which is a hard statement to make, but I've got to be honest. I will always be grateful and have much adoration for how hard my mother tried despite the circumstances. She clung to us having a normal life with all the strength that she could muster. She fought her way back to partial mobility and she never quit. But, the limitations being what they were gave me a great responsibility at a young age.

When you contrast this with my father, who I can now admit got most of my blame for my mother’s health condition, there is an apples and oranges situation. Dad did not take his state in life very well. He drank pretty heavily at this point, and most of all he would not come home until the wee hours of the morning…every single night. There was also the qualm of the way custody had been set up. I would alternate from parent to parent daily. On Monday, for instance, if I had been at my mother’s house I would be at my dad’s place on Tuesday and so on. The lack of stability also weighed heavily on me. Not only this and the dynamic with my mother, but one of the greatest wounds of my life was when I was convinced that my father wanted nothing to do with me. He chose his “drinking buddies” over me time and time again. This period of my life is where I learned how to really be alone. There were some positives…I learned to cook, I did laundry, and I learned to keep a reasonably clean home. But those nights alone wore me down. I became numb to it, and most of the time my hardened heart had grown to prefer isolation.

With numbness comes a certain level of fear. You begin to wonder if you have the ability to feel anything at all. I’ve never really been a big drinker. There were a couple times where I would sneak a beer or two when I was alone at my dad’s house, but it wasn’t a real vice. I’ve never tried drugs or anything of the sort. I didn’t need to. No, my escape was pain. I’ve never cut myself intentionally, thankfully, but my punishment of choice was blunt force. I would quite literally beat myself up. My fists and blunt force objects, for months on end, would be my source of feeling anything. Pain was my escape and my convincer that I was still alive.

But, like most things, that became insufficient and even that was overtaken by the disease of numbness. I lost the desire to keep moving forward and was ready to give it up. In the summer I would work for my dad, but even that was isolating. The large farm had a lot of hillsides that a tractor could not safely get to, which forced us to rely on strictly manpower to maintain the grass and overgrowth. I would start on one side of the property, usually just outside my bedroom in the walkout basement of the house and begin cutting weeds and grass with the Stihl weed trimmers that dad always kept on hand. There were a few other jobs that I would do around the farm, and sometimes the work would need me to leave the farm and assist somewhere outside the homestead, but most of my work was here… alone.

I did sometimes enjoy the monotony of the backbreaking task. The repetitive nature of cutting grass created a space that would allow me to do a lot of thinking. I would go on autopilot and escape into my own thoughts. I would think about my understanding of life and circumstance, I would wrestle with the idea of religion and God, and I would try to come up with a plan on how I would proceed into the future. I had high hopes of escape, but no idea how it would happen. I just needed to finish high school and I would never come back.

My dad kept a chrome-plated 9mm pistol above his TV stand. We had never talked about it, but I knew that it was there. It became all that I would think about in my times alone. I would bring it down, clean it, cycle a few rounds through it by pulling the slide back and racking rounds into the chamber…I knew every square millimeter of this weapon. I viewed it as a parachute: a break glass in case of emergency item, just in case I became convinced that I could no longer find the motivation to go on. It eventually became darker. I would hold the end of the barrel of this pistol to the right temple of my head. Most of the time I would keep the safety on, but on those nights where I needed to feel something more, I would take it off just to see if I was brave enough. There, unfortunately, were two different times where I came very close, finger on the trigger, when I would get it halfway to firing before I stopped. I was ready to go but something always seemed to stop me at the last minute.

When I came of age, dad provided me with a brand-new single-cab Chevy. This was always how he showed that he cared… things. Mom would usually equate it to him trying to buy my affection, and perhaps she was right. When we first moved, fresh off the divorce process starting, dad and I moved to a townhome that he had built near the golf course in our town...a rental property that just happened to be vacant. It was a nice place, and I was thankful for the roof over my head. To soften the blow of the new living arrangements, dad took me to the local music shop to buy me a new guitar. It was on this instrument that I would learn my new outlet. I got progressively better at it and would use it to escape the circumstances into the deep recesses of my mind. But to my father, this was his due diligence to me, and it allowed him to continue the pattern of behavior where he wouldn’t come home and let me fend for myself. I would have burnt that guitar in an instant for a better relationship with my father.

This period lasted about 3 years. It’s shaky in my recollection, but I remember the day everything changed. My junior year of high school, I finally relented and obliged to the constant invitations that I was getting to a church youth group. I had been there for a fun night once but never really committed to anything other than that. This youth program had a growing attendance and was gaining some steam, but to be honest I just didn’t want to go home. There were times of lucidity where a clear head would recognize that I was not okay, and I thought that attending this meeting couldn’t hurt. I have very little doubt that if I had gone home that night, I would have placed myself into a bad position where I might have killed myself. This thought did scare me at times. Instead, I went to this meeting to see what this stuff was about. I had some friends there, so I knew that I could be somewhat comfortable.

This meeting happened to be at the local high school I was attending. The (pastor) was the Spanish teacher there, and he wanted to utilize some of the media setup in his classroom to be part of his lesson. To be honest I don’t remember anything about the lesson that night, but I will never forget the video. In this video, a group of teens were performing a choreographed act to the tune of the song “Everything” by the band Lifehouse. It was going viral, as they say, around this time. In the skit the teens portrayed a young woman going through various trails that teens seem to encounter like drinking, body image issues, cutting, envy, and eventually suicide. It was really a dramatic scene and acted out very well. Throughout these scenes a man dressed to portray Christ is attempting to get the attention of the protagonist, but the people who represent these trials were getting in between Him and her one-by-one. The climax of the skit was when the protagonist, on her knees, holds a gun to her own head. All at once she throws it away and runs toward Christ. All the things that had gotten between them prevented this to the point that they began beating her down on the ground.

This is where I was: the demons were beating me down. All my life in that moment seemed to be playing out before my eyes. God showed me memories of those perilous moments, but from a third-person perspective. It was like a movie of my own life that I was watching. The memories were different from my recollection, though. He showed Himself being right there every step of the way. He brought me to the times where I hid myself in my room when my parents fought, afraid to come out and do something that would provoke the fighting further. He showed me crying in my brother’s truck after we had rushed to my mom’s aid when she had her stroke. I sat, alone, in the truck next to the flashing red and white lights of the ambulance. I wasn’t alone…He was there beside me. He revealed to me His hand over mine when I held that cold steel to my head…He was what stopped it. In one moment, the entire perspective of how I viewed my life changed, and I wanted more.

The video finished. The (pastor) flipped on the lights to illuminate a silent room. The emotion of the video that we just witnessed still echoed through the room. He polls the class for thoughts on what we had just watched. There were a few that spoke up, giving their perspective and feedback of the film. I couldn’t speak if I wanted to, which I didn’t, but the flow of tears from my eyes told (the pastor) everything that he needed to know in that moment. Perhaps God was tugging on his heart to speak with me, just in the same way that He was tugging at mine to stay. When he dismissed the meeting, he asked me to stick around for a bit to talk. I don’t recall much from the conversation other than me telling him that it was me in the video. It was a perfect visual representation of how I felt in that moment and how I had been feeling most of my life. I was getting beaten down. I was being attacked and I needed something or someone to step in and hold the burden on their backs for a minute so I could catch my breath. Of course, I couldn’t tell him everything. I was years away from ever talking about my home life with anyone. He opens his Bible and takes me through some selections in the book of Romans, showing me all that God has to offer through Christ and the promises He has given us. I confessed to him and to God how lost I truly was and asked Jesus into my heart that night. I stopped on my way home to tell my grandmother about this encounter, at (the pastor)'s urging, and I can still remember the hug that my she gave me when I told her.

The church youth group became my identity for the next couple years. I obsessed over it and was at that building every chance I could find. I could not get enough of it. I had previously dabbled in music the few years before this with the guitar that my dad had purchased for me, and the following Sunday, I somehow found myself on the pulpit with a guitar in my hands. I had been a Christian for 3 ½ days and I had already found a way to serve. It filled a sense of belonging that I longed for. I also played with (the pastor) every Wednesday night, leading worship at youth services. This went on for months, and it’s the origin of (band).

(Band) is a band name that the (pastor) and I came up with from an excerpt from the bible. (the previous sentence was heavily changed for reasons of protecting privacy) This was created when he and I aspired to start playing music outside of the church walls and youth building. I’ve never been much of a singer, so he usually took the vocal role, while we both played the guitar. The kinship that I had with him as well as the leadership he gave drastically altered the trajectory of my life…for the better.

(The pastor) was my best friend, though he probably didn’t realize it. He and his wife (pastor's wife) were who I relied on for most of my support and advice. I tried not to come on too strong with what was going on at home, only giving little bits at a time. I never told them everything. I never told anyone everything.

God has a funny way of bringing people together. In the early days of (band), (drummer) came along to fill the role of drummer. Then came (singer) and (keyboardist), our other singer and keyboardist. Then came (bassist) and (guitarist) and the band was complete. Each individual member of the band had their own unique characteristics, and really the dynamic should not have worked. The youth pastor grew up in a different era and had different tastes in music than pretty much all of us. He was a worshipper through and through, and grew up predominantly listening to the pop music of the 90’s and early 2000’s. His music tastes were a lot different than most of us in the band. He also brought a certain level of maturity that all of us needed to be around, and he was always so skilled in communicating and leveling with us. He’s a very gifted speaker and prayerful thinker, which is why it wasn’t a surprise to me when he became the head pastor of a church. (Drummer) was as goofy as I was. He had such a good sense of humor and was firmly grounded in his faith. He was so enthusiastic about music and constantly pushed all of us to another level. (Singer) and (keyboardist) (keyboardist) were in my high school class. They were and are absolute sweethearts and kept the band in line when we would inevitably get off track during practice sessions or took things a little too far with our jokes. (Bassist) is still to this day one of the most brilliant people that I have ever met when it comes to music theory. He was the guy that we would go to when we wanted to understand a musical concept that none of us were privy to. He also wasn’t afraid to speak what was on his mind and brought a lot of genuine honesty and frankness that I truly appreciated. (Guitarist) was an incredible guitarist. I found myself humbled every time he picked up a guitar and could play licks that I could never even dream of playing.

With the members of the band also came their families. I formed relationships with all of them. the pastor and his wife were my advisors on most things. Often, I would find myself at their house as late as possible just to talk. These conversations would feed my soul and be an escape. I always admired (the drummer's) parents (drummer's mom) and (drummer's dad). (Drummer's dad) was a solid guy, and we shared a lot of the same musical interests in classic rock. He also had a gift in audio setups and mechanics, which helped us understand the concepts of our setups with the band. He never hesitated to help any time that we had a question or needed some help. (Drummer's mom) was the ultimate supporter and our number one cheerleader. Her positivity kept us going through some very challenging and disappointing times as a band. I don’t believe that I have ever met more selfless people than (drummer's mom) and (drummer's dad). This might have seemed like a big deal to him at the time, but there was one instance where I was frantically trying to get my mom’s lawnmower fixed so I could keep her yard maintained. We had almost no money at the time to get it functioning, and (drummer's dad) happened to hear about these mechanical troubles and told me to bring it over. When I got it to his garage, he got everything put together in a way that it would function, which saved us money that we didn’t really have. I genuinely felt how much he enjoyed helping us and I don’t think that he ever knew how much it really meant to us. He wouldn’t take anything for the work, despite me pridefully trying to avoid taking a handout. I still look back on that memory fondly.

There was also a time where (drummer's mom) really saved our bacon. My dad and I were working a job one summer that needed all our time. The pay schedule of this job resulted in a long period of time between the start of the work and the first time the contractor gets paid, but that’s state work for you. Anyway, as embarrassing as it was, we had no money to eat or put gas in the truck such to get to work. I was taking part-time classes at the time and was relying on student aid refunds to get us through. When that dried up, I went to (drummer's mom). She gladly gave me the money that we needed to survive. I never really let on to the extremity of the situation, but she was the reason we were able to eat that week. Dollar menu cheeseburgers were our source of nutrition in those days.

I recently read (drummer's mom) memoir, which is what inspired me to finally write down my own thoughts and experiences. It is a beautifully written piece that details the inner workings of her thoughts and processes, wrestling with God in the aftermath of losing her beloved husband. Long after I left home for good her husband had gotten sick and, after a difficult and drawn-out battle, eventually succumbed to his condition. He is with God now and in the ultimate place of peace, and I’m just sorry that I couldn’t be there to return their kindness.

There were other family dynamics in the band, too, that I greatly admired and envied. They all seemed to have it figured out, which gave me an example of what a family is supposed to be. I had never felt more supported and welcomed in my life. Everything was great. We played as much as possible through my senior year. The only thing that I felt was missing was my family. They didn’t understand what this band meant to me. How could they? I had never revealed the depth of my problems to anyone, let alone my own parents. They had their own battles, and I could not bring myself to make things worse for them. That along with my thinking it would make things worse for me kept me silent. There are two specific times that I remember my parents coming to see me play. One was at a roadside barbecue stand, where we played to an audience of, well, just them. The other was at the (concert), a small concert and speaking series that we were a part of. The latter created a further divide between the band and my family.

At one (concert) event, after (the band) played its set, I was tasked with presenting a plaque to (the pastor) who was also the founder of the event. With this presentation I said a few words about (the pastor) and what he had meant to me, the band, and our community. To me there was nothing to it other than recognizing the hard work that we all saw him doing behind the scenes. The board of (redacted), as well as the band, thought that it would be a good boost for him to get some recognition for his efforts. This is not how my parents took it, however. I later found out that my parents were “mortified,” “humiliated,” and “had never been so embarrassed” and they told me as much. I didn’t understand. They, laughably, seemed to think that they should be honored for what their contributions had been, or at least they were jealous of the honor that he was getting. Maybe it was a feeling that I was spending too much time with the band. The truth was, in my opinion, that they felt they were being replaced. They didn’t realize that, in a lot of ways, that ship had already sailed. My anger still grew, despite the circumstances.

I always seemed to latch onto things that got me some recognition; things that made people proud of me. In college this was no different. Most of my life I was convinced that football would be my only way through college. It certainly wasn’t going to be my academics. I was naturally a large kid with a bit of athletic prowess, which gave me a bit of an edge when it came to football. Much of my self-esteem was tied up in the game. After my senior year of high school, I was blessed to obtain an athletic scholarship to play football at a small college a couple hours away from my hometown. This led to me being away from the band for an extended period. Our music endeavors as a complete band were put on hold, not to mention that both girls were in their freshmen year of their own college as well. As it turns out, football did not pay my bills like I thought it would. Halfway through the season I sustained an extensive injury to my lower back, essentially ending my college athletic career. Ultimately this led me to the operating table for major back surgery.

My academic prowess during my first year of college had hit a brick wall, as well. The habits and lack of care that I exhibited in high school had carried over into my college career. The collegiate lifestyle has a way of acting as a magnifying glass to these sorts of problems. My main issue was going to class. The newfound freedom that I found myself party to only proved that I was not ready for it. My late nights grew, mostly alone, and my sleep had carried over into the daytime. Class and homework were an afterthought.

The recovery from this surgery was long and grueling. For six months I barely left the house other than a trip to town here and there. The pain was excruciating and at 19 I had to use a walker or a cane most of the time. Again, I found myself alone for long periods of time. This timeframe is when I felt like a true failure. I had put all my chips on the table with athletics paving the way to success, and I lost big. My scholarship was very much altered to reflect the lack of value that I could add to the team. My academic failures did little to help me. At $22,000 per year in tuition with little to no funding I really had no choice but to remain at home. The solitude, if you would call it that, provided an avenue for my long-embattled depression to return in a big way. Spending most of my time on the couch from a lack of ability to do most physical things, I resorted to video games to pass the time. Sleep was hard to come by. If I laid in bed for too long my back would lock up and I would wake up in the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. The helplessness of this newfound situation I found myself in deepened the sadness and the anger. I was mentally circling the drain.

What once was a well laid-out plan had been permanently destroyed. After months and months of this I had to do something to break the cycle that I was in. From there I did the only thing that I could think of: I enrolled into the local community college near my hometown. I had to come up with a new plan and change the trajectory of my life. Not that I really had a plan when I enrolled…I didn’t. But the feeling of productivity at least gave me some hope that I was headed in the right direction. The expectation placed upon me gave me the impression that college was the only option I had. If I did not finish college I would fail at life. I never declared a major. I only focused on the basics in my course load to buy myself some time to figure it out.

This is where a major turning point in my life happened. In the down time between my classes I frequently found myself in (drummer) mom's office. This is where the borrowed money came from. She held a position in the business unit of the college, and I always enjoyed talking to her. There I would get a lot of advice, but I think most importantly I had someone there who I knew would listen to my problems without judgement. I never shared everything in that timeframe…I didn’t trust anyone with my past. But I did share a lot. Her absolute positivity and faith in me kept me going for a quite a while. I know that my constant presence and neediness was a burden on the people surrounding the band. I seemed to always find my way to someone’s home or office for a chat. But it was these moments that I longed for to feel some normalcy. I will always hold my conversations with her very near and dear to my heart, and although it may have seemed inconsequential to her at the time, I hope that she and many other people know that they saved my life. These conversations had a greater effect on me than anything and they will always mean the world to me.

After I came home from college and recovered from back surgery I found my way back to youth group meetings, this time as a helper. The band reconnected a bit during this time, although (singer) and (keyboardist) still had to be absent for their sophomore year of college. I found myself growing in the Lord again but was never able to completely shed the burden of my anger. The chasm between me and my family was still palpable, and that relationship seemed to be on autopilot.

While driving down the road one day I was having a conversation with my friend (redacted) who sat in the passenger seat of my truck. We were getting in-depth with all things spiritual, when all the sudden I felt a definitive tug at my heart that I needed to do this for the rest of my life. At least that is what I thought in the moment. During this timeframe, I had formed a good relationship with another friend, (redacted), who had such a strong Godly demeanor about himself. I felt that I was called to a town 2 hours away from my home, where I would learn from and grow along side him. He had a myriad of speaking engagements at the time, and I felt that I could learn a lot from him in how to approach this endeavor.

I had found something that would fill the void in my heart. I felt as if I had found that unique thing I could be known for that would make me special… not that I actively thought like this in the moment. This thought exercise and realization comes in retrospect. But in the interest of calling a spade a spade my desire came from fulfilling personal desires, not God’s. I know that I was supposed to go to (redacted). I know that I was meant to serve. I know that my calling was to help people in some way. But, like has been the case too many times in my life, I got way ahead of myself.

My time in (redacted) was disastrous at first. I found out that I had not grown up as much as I once thought. Having packed up every one of my belongings into my truck and leaving home with a small amount of money, I had taken a giant leap of faith. God provided what I needed to survive, but He also provided some very tough lessons along with it. When I got there I hadn’t even thought about where I was going to stay, let alone how I was going to survive. It was the first full day of the (redacted), a Christian concert and speaking venue that used to bring in thousands of people to the small town of (redacted) for one weekend every year. This is where I connected with (redacted). I explained to him what I was doing there and (after a lot of scrambling and phone calls) we made the connection as to where I was going to stay. This is where I met my friend (roommate). (Roommate) was a bachelor that had an apartment just on the outskirts of town and happened to be looking for a roommate to help make ends meet. It was a perfect fit.

I immediately enrolled into (redacted) University to pursue a degree in Christian ministry. I had finally formulated a new plan. I was going to learn from (redacted) how to engage with people while working on this degree. When I graduated, I would head straight across the street an attend (redacted) Seminary to complete my training. I had stars in my eyes and a dream in my heart. But that’s all it was…a dream, not a calling. The further into this endeavor I went the more reality started to sink in. I had to make ends meet. I was fortunate enough to find a job working at night for a private property management company, where I would take a street sweeper truck on a nightly route and clean various locations. This would take all night. When I would get off that shift, I then had the task of going to class throughout the day. This worked for a few weeks, but fatigue inevitably started to sink in. Bad habits would return, and I would fall asleep from exhaustion in between classes, during classes, or as I was in between work and my class day. I ultimately failed out of (redacted) in my second semester there from an abysmal attendance record. The anger built, even still.

During this period is also when we lost my grandfather. He was also a very influential person in my life. His presence was more hands-off. He was the person that was always an example of stability and consistency for me to watch. His late years were great for my mother, as well. They were garden buddies, always growing a huge crop every summer. This is one of my mother’s fondest memories when she thinks back on her life. He lived right across the road from her and would be there every day that he could to not only grow immaculate vegetables but to grow a very tight relationship with his daughter. I’m forever grateful that God made that work and provided her with the opportunity to form such a close bond with her dad.

This was the first death in the family that I remember. I wasn’t around for either of my great-grandparents. They had all passed before I was born. He was the first grandparent that I had lost, and it had a monumental impact on me. One of the last cohesive things that he ever said to me before he passed, through labored breathing and agonizing pain: he looked me dead in the face and said “Son, always work hard. Anything in this life that you didn’t work for ain’t worth having.” He was right. I’m forever thankful to God that He gave me the chance to say goodbye to my grandfather.

Meanwhile, I blamed God for my circumstances. I mean, why would He want me to move all the way to this small town that is only known for two things: the (redacted) and (redacted) University. It made so much sense to me that I was supposed to be doing all of this. Everything fell right into place, but I fell flat on my face financially and spiritually. I fell away from the church and withdrew myself from pretty much everyone again. The level of disappointment that I felt was something that I was so accustomed to. It seemed natural. Somewhere along the way I unconsciously decided that I would step away from everything all together. I would live for me, since it seemed that I was the only person who would never let me down. At least if I did it would be my own fault.

I found a job working for FedEx ground running a delivery route in (redacted). My cousin was a contractor for this corporation and needed a driver. This was a substantial raise in pay, and it drastically improved my quality of life. This went on for several months where I focused primarily on work. Then came the thought of being on my own. I had finally saved enough money to where I could afford my own place. I wanted to leave (redacted) all together and get away from all the constant reminders of past failures, so I found a nice one-bedroom apartment in downtown (redacted) that was a stone’s throw away from work, and just as close to the local night scene and campus for the University of (redacted).

It was in this place where I found a girlfriend, a party scene, and an endless source of avenues to fill the void in my heart. I lived for me. My girlfriend at the time lived just off campus in her own apartment. I loved her family, and I loved her. The more things went along, the more of each of our own insecurities began to come to the surface. We eventually got to the point where we fought constantly. She had some mental health issues as well, and just like me she had never really faced them down. I later found out after the fact that she was supposed to be on a medication in the two years that we were together. She stopped taking it three months into the relationship and, in hindsight, it makes some sense as to why we had so many problems… not that I didn’t have my own baggage that I brought to this toxic relationship. We would basically take turns being upset with each other and withdrawing for weeks on end, until we would run into the perfect storm of emotional turmoil in which we would both be in our own valleys. These were the times that we would break up for a few weeks, only to inevitably end up right back together. This cycle happened three different times. The third time I found a moment of lucidity in which I figured out that it would be best for both of us if I would just leave…and I did.

Only after the relationship ended did I find out about the infidelity. When she would go home for the summer, she worked at a restaurant that she had a good working relationship with. I was none the wiser and despite the difficulty I had trusting people, I trusted her implicitly. I was crushed at not only the end of the relationship, but the definitive breach of trust. I mentally chocked this up to just another person that took advantage of me trusting them and vowed to not make that mistake again. I was in a bad mental place, and I knew that I needed to do something.

Home was not an option. I knew that if I went back to my hometown I would be stuck there for the rest of my life. There was too much familiarity there and I found that my only option for leaving would be to move back to (redacted)…back to (roommate's) house. He had found a new place while I had been in (redacted), and it had much more space. I slipped right back into the (redacted) life while still working at FedEx. It would be a few months before I started to get the itch that I wasn’t doing enough with my life to matter to people. I just wasn’t that impressive. I had always had a natural sense of helping people and this, along with my intense desire to make someone proud of me, led me to the concept of law enforcement. I have always had such a deep respect for cops, and I felt that being one would be a natural fit for me. Unfortunately, or maybe it was fortunate now that I think about it, the only move that I had to start this new adventure was as a corrections officer in (redacted). The jail was broadly known as an unofficial feeder program into the (redacted) Police Department, and this was exactly what I planned on doing.

This timeframe is where I met (redacted), the pretty girl that would eventually become my wife. We had a tight-knit friend group that we fondly called “the herd.” Among this mishmash of people was (redacted). She was naturally a friend first. I was the lowly dropout among a group of 5 friends who were students at (redacted). All our spare time was spent at our friend’s house where we would inevitably end up when we had nothing else going on. (redacted) and I immediately had a connection, but I always had to be restrained since she had a boyfriend back home in (redacted). This was a true exercise in self-control since I had developed such strong feelings for her. This festered under the surface until the day that I found out that she had ended that relationship. After a few minutes of talking where she was telling me about what had transpired, the dam of held back feelings gave way and I kissed her right on the mouth. I immediately asked her out on a date right then and there and she reluctantly agreed. We fell in love over the next few months, and I knew that she was going to be my wife. In the way she tells it when she looks back on those days, she called her mom after our very first date and told her that I was going to be “the one.”

Working in corrections is one of the most unique experiences that a person can have. You are in the most literal sense of the word trapped with the worst among us. Not to say that there aren’t good people who make mistakes that end them up behind bars, but for the most part you are around some extremely hardened criminals that make it their mission in life to make the life of the CO as hard as possible. When I finally finished training my work assignment was on the second shift. I would go into work at 4 in the afternoon and get off at midnight. More isolation. More opportunities for my mind to go into the depths. The spirit in a correctional facility is oppressive; you can feel the darkness as you walk in the door. There is a sense of lost hope that is tangible, and it didn’t help that you always had to be on guard for your own safety. The model of this facility was what is known as “direct supervision,” or in layman’s terms it just means that each unit has upwards of 80 inmates that 1 officer oversees. For the higher security units this number is reduced to 40 inmates. The conversations that I heard, the fights that I saw, the threats that I received, and the lack of humanity and empathy that I was subject to daily eventually wore me down. There is a reason that the life expectancy of the average corrections officer is significantly lower than that of the outside world. This was not a good place for someone like me to end up. I still get nervous when I cannot see people standing behind me.

Luckily, I had taken up some side jobs in construction to make ends meet while I worked as a CO. The company that I worked side jobs for had taken great interest in me and my skillset for full-time employment. It took some convincing, but I eventually took a job with them as a laborer. Another plan shattered. Another dream gone. But this was one of the best decisions that I could have made getting out of that facility. It would have killed me.

(Redacted) and I got married on (redacted) of that year, (redacted). We found a house for rent and lived just outside of (redacted) in our first home. Things were going really well. She was the one to get me back to the church. While we were still dating, she would be the person that would show up at my rented room and drag me out of bed by the ear to get ready to go. This was a non-negotiable for her, and I am glad that she felt that way. I hated it at the time, but I eventually grew to tolerate it. She has always been a good influence on me.

While (redacted) and I were still dating is when we lost both my grandmother (redacted) and my paternal grandfather, (redacted). Both were a bit easier to process, and I felt a little more seasoned with the grieving process. This allowed us to be perhaps a bit better at supporting the ones around us, and a bit better at dealing with the inevitable.

Our first year of marriage was hard…in all actuality I would say that our first 18 months of marriage were logistically hard. My construction job had very high travel demands. I made good money to support our household, but I would often be gone to another town hours away for weeks at a time. We once sat down and figured out that in our first year of marriage, we spent around 3 months physically together.

Tragedy. The only word that I can come up with for the next bit is just that: tragedy. My nephew (redacted) had a very difficult life from birth. He was born with two different rare, major diagnosis that were birth defects. My (sibling's) family was put into a meat grinder, and every available waking moment for them was spent on (redacted) and for his care. I loved (redacted), but I’ve got to admit that I feel so much shame for my lack of being around for their family. I was dealing with a depressive low at the time of his arrival and short life, and I’m ashamed to say that I never got to hold him. Not once. That’s my fault, and I carry the guilt for it. (Redacted), after an 18-month battle, succumbed to his illness and ultimately passed away. His loss was particularly hard for my (sibling's family), as one might imagine. Talking to them about everything was touchy and awkward, and often it becomes difficult to think of the right things to say. (redacted)'s legacy did have a lasting impact on me personally, though. Through his battle, the kid had one of the brightest smiles that one has ever seen. His resilience through all that he went through inspired me to toughen up and get myself straight. After we got home from (redacted)’s funeral was the first time that I’ve ever cried in front of my wife.

I went back to working on the road. This went on for a couple of years, but the traveling was getting old and on a particularly hard day I called (redacted) and told her that I was finally willing to relent and move to (redacted) with her. She was elated to be close to her family again. I held little resentment for it. I wanted my future kids to grow up around her family and I wanted to protect them from mine.

We found and bought our first house, which we still own, and began to lay down some roots in the community. I found a job working for a crane company that did daily crane rentals. I started at the bottom making very little money. We scrimped and scraped to save every penny and were able to make enough to keep our household afloat. I worked at this company for a year, working my way up the ranks to ultimately become a crane operator. Soon after I obtained my license to operate a crane, I began having problems with the owner of this company and his aversion from telling the truth. I found a huge opportunity as a crane operator in the operator’s union for the territory of (redacted).

This job was the opportunity of a lifetime. The money was more than I ever thought I would make. This came with its own set of challenges, though. The makeup of (redacted) is very segregated in the construction industry. (One) end of the state, where we live, is a rural area with lots of agriculture. Other than our local (redacted) there isn’t much going on. This would force me to travel to the (other) end of the state every day for work. At one time I was driving 2 hours one way, every day, to get to work and if I ran into overtime opportunities my days could even be as long as 18-20 hours. I put nearly 60,000 miles on my car in one year. After almost 5 years of this we decided that being at home would be more important for us as a family. I took a significant pay cut to accept a position at the local (redacted) where I now work. This was a bit of a hit to my ego since I had taken such pride in my ability to help my family prosper financially. I do thoroughly enjoy the commute though, or lack thereof. 4 minutes to work is a LOT better than 120.

In the duration of my Operating Engineers career stint, I had joined the local fire department. This seemed to tap into the part of me that wanted to serve others. Beyond that it was something that I felt would make the people around of me proud. I think that it did, but like many other things that I have tried in my life I took it overboard. Volunteer fire and EMS is a taxing endeavor. Training demands, meetings, and emergency calls could be a full-time job. I would strive to be the best, most reliable member of the department… maybe that would make people think that I’m special. I worked very hard at both these vocations, although they were both on a volunteer basis. In training I received almost every award that could have been offered. I would eat, sleep, and breathe being a first responder and it eventually became an identity. After the graduation ceremony my father-in-law told me how proud he was. I’m lucky that this was over the phone because the tears flowed freely after he told me this. I just wanted somebody to be proud of me.

Being a first responder, you are the first line for people when they are in their worst moments. You not only see immense amounts of grief, but there is a certain level of gruesomeness and evil that you are thrown into. I saw more blood and death in those years than anyone should ever see, often by myself or with little backup. Small town volunteer EMS is a dying breed, and the shortage of able bodies grows larger and larger. The kids were always the worst. I didn’t realize the eroding effect that this was having on my mental health.

In the background of all of this was (my wife). We had our first child in this timeframe, which obviously creates a strain at home without a father that is heavily distracted. I love my family, but I must admit that I did not prioritize them the way that I should have. This went on for several years. I spent this time trying to fill a hole in myself that was impossible to mend. Something was missing and I needed to do all that I could to make myself feel better. I can now look back and realize how messed up my priorities were, but at the time I had no idea. I didn’t know who I was, and possibly still don’t know who I am.

In May of (redacted) I happened to be working at night when I got the call that stopped me in my tracks. My father had been working for my (sibling) at the time and on his way home, late at night, he stopped on the side of the road and had a massive heart attack that took his life. I went home from work that night (2 hours away), packed up my wife and kids, and drove the other 9 hours back to (redacted). The funeral was a unique experience to say the least. All the condolences, well wishes, and words of encouragement - while appreciated - didn’t really mean much to me. The truth is I didn’t feel much. The numb feeling came back. I knew that if I allowed myself to feel anything regarding my dad, I would have lost control. I held it together as best I could. I held it in, really. I never cried for my father, and still haven’t.

While I didn’t feel much sadness after the death of my father, I did feel an immense level of anger. There was a battle going on inside. I knew that the grief was in there somewhere, but anger and regret won out. There was so much left unsaid. There was a relationship with my father that, in the depths of my heart, I longed for most of my life. It was all gone now. Every opportunity that we had to patch things up was now a distant memory, never to return. I hadn’t spoken to my father for almost 6 months when he died.

The next year and a half would prove to be detrimental to me from a mental health standpoint. I was spiraling. All the efforts I was putting forth to fill whatever void I felt were doubled. While this happened, I inadvertently pushed away everyone that was close to me. I was an absentee father. By this time, we had our second child which added to the stress that (my wife) was feeling at home. I pushed and pushed to try to feel something, until I ultimately had the same feelings come back that I felt as a 15-year-old. The numbness had morphed into anger. I was angry at myself. I was hard on myself and my own worst critic. I held a very high standard for myself that I could not live up to. I was angry over everything that was taken away from me. I was angry that despite my efforts and successes, I couldn’t get to the point that I felt I was enough for the people around me. Nothing that I could do would make me feel any relief from these feelings.

All the while in through the firefighting, EMS, career, and other endeavors that I was replacing my family with, my wife had a resentment building up inside of her. I can’t really blame her. Being married to a first responder is difficult, but living with a first responder that had as many background issues in his head is nearly impossible. The effects after my dad’s death made this even worse. I became a bitter, cold person that would fight with my spouse at the drop of a hat. I had incredibly high standards for her to live up to and I offered up little to no grace. I also had high standards for myself, which I would never meet, and that ultimately spilled over into our marriage...



Stories of Blood & Ink is a project dedicated to helping veterans and first responders tell their stories and combat isolation in our community. If you have a story to tell, email to find out more. Stories can remain anonymous.

If you haven't yet, check out to sign up to be on our email list and never miss an installment of Stories of Blood & Ink. We have many other programs and projects to get involved with.

Do you like to write? We are always looking for volunteers for SOBI. We need writers, editors, and reviewers. If you would like to get involved, email to find out how.


bottom of page