Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Serving Achiever

I was born in Virginia. This consists of a very small part of my early days when I lived in the northeast. My father was a dedicated military man, proud to serve his country, and at this time a married man who also carried the burden of supporting two sisters of mine. My mom was born in Guyana, most notable for the Jim Jones tragedy. (where he convinced scores of people to drink this "holy" juice which poisoned and killed them all). She made her way to America and met my father in Kansas. My father was a prolific athlete in multiple sports at Wichita State University. He was invited to camp by the Green Bay Packers, but was eventually cut.

Next, he joined the military and married my mom. He worked at the pentagon for a while, but not too long after my birth we got orders for Germany and off we went. My memories of Germany are scant. I was still very young and remember the snow and the fun of just being a little kid. We had next to nothing in terms of money or possessions, but we were loved and my mom knew how to make a mountain's worth of food out of a molehill of money. They saved, saved and saved some more. My dad got a promotion and we eventually landed back in America.

Around pre-K, I remember seeing pictures around the house of a beautiful little girl with red hair. I began to ask questions. Her name was Sandra. She was my third sister, but had died of a brain tumor when she was 3. I remember distinctly when I asked about her that my mom would tear up a bit and tell me that she loved to sing in church and she was a darn good singer. I remember thinking wow, that had to be really tough on the family. I wondered why it wasn't talked about more often. As an adult, I realize that was the right thing to do. A child doesn't need the extra burden of mourning the death of a loved one.

By kindergarten, my father had already put in over 20 years in the military and began to think of what he wanted to do afterwards. He retired after 23 years as a Lt. Col and went to back to college to get a degree in physical education.

My memories of elementary school consisted of playing lots of sports, both at home and any chance I could get at school. I quickly noticed I had a knack for almost every sport I took up. I soon gained the reputation of an all around athlete.

By middle school my father had scored at job at the middle school where I also went. Our standard of living continued to rise as we moved up two houses by this time. Right around seventh grade we moved out to a neighborhood that was later commonly referred to as snob hill. Honestly, there weren't a lot of snobs there, but we did live on a hill. Fortunately for me, I was able to continue going to the same school because my father taught there. My dad always played a big part in my life. He was a great role model. I would never hear him cuss. He didn't talk ill of other people. Moreover, we were always in church on Sunday, unless someone was deathly sick. My parents were both active in church as well. They were also very frugal, so we didn't do the extras like go out to eat as a family, go to the movies, or even wear shirts that had men on a horse with a polo stick. That said, I always felt loved and have a lot of fond memories of spending time with my family around the dinner table, in front of the television, and playing outside. I never knew that I was missing anything.

Middle school was an interesting time as I commuted everyday to school with my father. I remember thinking, I gotta balance this having fun thing with having to worry about a teacher going to my father and "narking" on me. Heck, I never did anything that bad, but I pushed a few buttons, talked way too much in class and generally pushed the envelope without going overboard.

I also played on my father's basketball team and football team when I was in the seventh grade. I realized at an early age that I was extremely competitive. I always wanted to be the best. On the basketball team, I wasn't. A guy named Eric was. Still, I was a starter and I remember reveling in the fact that occasionally Eric and I would get away with dribbling behind our backs and my father didn't yell at us for hot-doggin! I think the reason he didn't was that we always did it successfully and rarely.

Football was a whole other story. I don't know if it was because I grew up with 2 sisters or what. All I knew was I really didn't want to get nailed by some dude who was twice as big as me. Violence in any form was never my thing. As someone most famously said, "I'm a lover, not a fighter." Somehow, my father persuaded me to play football in both the seventh and eighth grade. I was a quarterback and my friend Doug and I alternated possessions. It didn't take long for me to figure out that I was not cut out for this game. I did alright, but I didn't like it. Basketball I enjoyed, but I knew once I hit high school I probably would end up letting that go as well.

Sometime in the sixth grade, I discovered tennis. I took a liking to it quickly. It seemed I got better each day I played, so I joined the team. I practiced a lot on my own: before school, at lunch, even after school. I soon realized nobody in the school could beat me and being competitive, I loved that. I started playing tournaments outside of school and was winning those as well.

In fact, one day in my dad's P.E. class I broke my left wrist sliding into 1st base. Off to the Darnell E.R. I went. Soon after, the district tennis tournament was to occur. I wanted to play and I managed to win which caused me to have my picture taken and get a featured article on the front page of the local sports page. I'll never forget the title: "Broken Wrist No Bother For Hanson."

By high school, I decided no more of this other stuff, I'm stickin' with tennis. My freshman year, I joined the tennis team, made varsity and beat everyone on the team. At that time, I think my parents startin' thinking we need to see how far this boy can go.

I began to learn about how you go about getting what they call "qualified" and then after that achieving a state ranking. I began to travel the state playing tournaments that typically started on Friday and would last until Sunday. This meant I would get to be "sick" on Friday and head out of town with one of my folks. The further out of my home town you drove, the stiffer the competition got. I quickly got qualified and by the end of my Freshman year I was ranked #21 in the state in the 14 and under category. Next, I hooked up with a fellow "touring" tennis player named John and we became doubles partners and good friends. He was physically more talented than I was, but I was better mentally and strategically. We became a tough team to beat and were at one point ranked #5 in the state in doubles.

The pinnacle of my tennis career was actually my sophomore year. I lived, ate and breathed tennis. I even came home from school and then went up to a tennis club about 3 blocks from my house to play with another upstart tennis player, Jim. He would later become ranked in the top ten in the age category below me and we had some EPIC battles on the courts near our homes. He really helped me improve my game. This was the year I was on fire. I won the district tournament, regionals (surprisingly) and made it to the state tournament in Austin. I couldn't have been more proud. There were ONLY 8 of us left in the entire state of Texas. I was set to play my state quarterfinal in Austin on a Friday. Much to my surprise, many a friend skipped school that day and watched me battle it out with the #2 ranked player in the state, Steve. Unfortunately, after giving him all he wanted and taking him to a third and final set, I lost. Still, a sophomore and in the last 8 in the state? I was thrilled.

This is where my story begins to change and mostly not for the better. My junior year my priorities changed. I had my 1st girlfriend and I began to party with the rest of the tennis team. Drinking on the weekend became common, if not automatic. Most Friday and Saturday nights I would head out with friends on and off the tennis team and we were off to catch a buzz. We had a lot of good times, but also made a lot of bad decisions that could have resulted in me, or my friends getting in trouble. We beat the odds as even though I got into some minor trouble, my friends and I escaped any major tragedies.........That is, if you don't include my tennis game.

As the partying ramped up, my tennis levelled off and then headed downward by my senior year. I pursued a tennis scholarship at the University of Texas, but it was only a cursory effort. The coach didn't like my serve and rightfully so. It was the weakest part of my game. What he didn't know was that I was a winner and I made up for that deficiency with my strengths. I was put off by his lack of a scholarship offer and ended up quitting competitive tennis and focusing on school in college.

I became quickly uncomfortable at college as I felt like a small fish in a very large pond. There were thousands of people there and I wasn't very outgoing. I wasn't one to make friends with strangers, it almost had to happen by accident. I was unhappy there and decided to join a fraternity my sophomore year. That helped my social life tremendously as I met a lot of people and did a lot of partying. I felt like I was part of something and really enjoyed the camaraderie. While I partied hard, I went to class and produced the grades.

One of my biggest mistakes in life occurred during my senior year when I was pulled over doing 45 in a 35 at 2am. Yep, you guessed it. I was arrested and taken to jail for DWI. Wisely, I didn't take the breathalyzer and ultimately, I pled down to a class b misdemeanor of reckless conduct. Now one would think this would teach a young man a valuable lesson, but not me. It wasn't long before I was right back at it drinking and driving again. It was insanity. I could have and probably should have been pulled over so many times. Anyway, I had majored in Business, got my degree and had no idea what to do with it. Nor did I know what the implications of my misdemeanor would be.

One of the best things, if not the best thing that ever happened to me occurred in biology class my senior year. We had class in a huge auditorium and I randomly ended up sitting next to a nice young lady named Jane. We became friends and started studying together. Basically, I was a leach. I was terrible with science and at the time just had my eye on a B or a C with her help. She helped me through that class and consequently to graduate.

I grew to really like and eventually love her. She was beautiful both inside and out. I went back to my hometown and moved back in with mom and dad while I searched for a job. I continued a long distance relationship as Jane finished school and eventually met me in Phoenix where I landed my first professional job. I drifted from job to job as I really had no idea what I wanted to do. One positive was it got me away from the environments of the past. Therefore, I got away from the dangerous partying situations I had put myself in, in the past.

In 1997 I stumbled upon a job with the Meyers Organization. I thought if I got the job doing this in the afternoons and evenings, it would give me a chance to look for a "real" job during the daytime and would give me some pocket change.What it turned out to be was a 10 1/2 year stint. It was a good ride. I had no idea I could make good money doing this and actually support myself well. 1997 was a good year as Jane and I got married in May of that year and got a decent apartment on the northside of Phoenix. She began to do the job shuffle as well. Finally, she decided to pursue another career and she got her degree online while working a full time job.

Fast forward to September 2001. On the 6th day of that month, our child was born and our lives changed forever. Little did we know that soon after days our lives and the lives of the rest of all Americans would change again as well.

We had already purchased our first home in 1999 and as I began to soar at work and we saved money, we set our sights on our dream house in suburbanville. We scored it in July 2004. Beautiful lot with extensive landscaping, upgrades galore from hardwoods, to a covered front porch to Ralph Lauren paint, even an extremely vaulted sunlight in the kitchen, a large deck in the back and a swimming pool and spa to boot. Just the right size at 2385 sq ft for a family of 3 with room to grow a bit. We felt truly blessed, but at the same time I think we both felt like something was missing and that something was God. We made token efforts to go to church regularly, but probably averaged 1 out of 3 Sundays. Plus, we only did it so that we could check that imaginary box that says I went and did what I was supposed to do.

By this time, things are changing at work and not for the better. It's becoming more and more difficult to make money. I became disenchanted and therefore, bitter and cynical. This is where I make another big mistake when a buddy of mine convinces me to try a painkiller. I took it and not only did it make me feel better, it made work tolerable-almost fun. One thing led to another and I started taking them daily. It got me through the day of a job I began to hate, but I started to count on it or I didn't feel I could deal with work.

2005 was the year from hell. It all began in the early spring when I became completely unable to sleep. I'm talking zip, nada, nothing. I worked for 2-3 weeks like a zombie, but it became unbearable. My doctor couldn't figure out what was wrong with me and sleeping pills weren't working. I wasn't depressed, but was headed that way if I couldn't sleep anytime in the near future. After a month of no sleep, I called my parents and told them I can't sleep, therefore, I can't work, and consequently I can't support my family. Everything was headed downhill quick, fast and in a hurry. I headed to my folks home to see if we could solve this thing. They got me in to see a Psychiatrist who prescribed me some anti-depressants. I returned home to  suburbanville and after about a month, I began to get some sleep. Finally, I was diagnosed with "insert medical issue". This whole episode really made me appreciate life, my parents and my family in general. Everyone, had done their part to help me AND Jane get through this ordeal.

I went back to work, but still had trouble with the pills. I kept this secret to myself.  Jane never knew until I told her at a later date. She may have saved my life when (I think) through God she pushed for us to move to another area to be near my family. I agreed because I knew it would again change my environment and get me around people who always had my best interests at heart.

Eventually, we made the move. Since then there have been a few more ups and downs. I got hit with a bout of depression in the summer that ended after several visits to the Dr. and prescription meds. Thankfully, I had my family around for support and Jane and I have become very close to the Lord over the past couple years as we both attended religious retreats separately that moved us. Currently, we are quite happy with where we are. We have survived some storms on our own, but now know better in which direction to turn when things get overwhelming. We are all three blessed with good health, jobs for the adults, and a great set of family and friends.

know which direction to turn

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