The return to work

The return to work

As I mentioned last night, I had a lot of obsessions about work. I managed to fall asleep somewhere between 12:30 or 1:00 AM. Like I had said before, I developed this habit (good or bad who knows) of staying up very late. It was my escape from the every day pressures of all the emotions I faced. As I watched Netflix I dreaded each minute as they passed completely nervous about what my return to work would bring. But, I got lucky and into my dreams I went. I woke up for the first time at around 4:00 AM or so and still was able to get back to sleep. I woke up again at 6:00 AM. I thought for sure with my alarm going off at 7:00 AM, I would stay awake anxious about the fact I had to wake up. With some luck left over, I slept more until finally waking up just a few minutes before 7:00.

I got up and got ready like normal. I only needed about 20 or 25 minutes to get ready. I showered, shaved and got dressed. At least it was casual Friday so I didn’t have to worry about dress clothes. This was even more important because since we lost Ava I had not washed or ironed a single shirt or pair of dress pants. When last night came around, I still didn’t want to. I washed two non-iron shirts (excellent inventions) and already had jeans clean. All was well in that small part of my world. You grow to appreciate those things.

For that 25 or so minutes, if I wasn’t thinking about work and what to expect, I was thinking about Leah. I was so worried about what would happen for both of us. Sometimes the proximity of one another, especially when times are tough, means more that just the words that you hear someone say. For three straight weeks, we were no more than a foot or two apart when we were really struggling, or closer. I don’t know how many miles away I would be from her today, but I knew it might as well have been the other side of the world. I was worried that she would be distraught and inconsolable just desperately wishing for Ava’s presence. I knew that if that were to happen, a phone call would be all I could offer. That was a very helpless feeling to have and it was a feeling that I was all too familiar with as of late.

Right before it was time to leave, I kissed Leah and told her I loved her and she softly said she loved me too. She made sure that her phone was with her in bed in case I needed her. I hoped that I wouldn’t. Knowing myself well enough, if I was going to call her because I needed her, it was going to be because I had broken down to the point that I couldn’t be around anyone, or I couldn’t just get out of the car and walk the 50 yards it would take to enter the building. I was hoping with everything I had I could at least make it that far. I had to work. I had no choice. I really didn’t, unless I didn’t want to get paid which was not an option.

I grabbed my bag which had everything I needed for work but most importantly it had a 4×6 photo frame. Inside of it was one of my favorite photos of Ava and I. Nestled on my forearms she rested, with only my arms and the top of her head visible. Just over the view of the top of her head you can see her perfect little nose which she inherited from her mother. And I could not forget her hair. She was going to have a full head of beautiful brown hair.

I had to make one stop for gas and a couple of energy drinks. I may talk about this more in-depth but for now, these are my addiction that I know I have to kick. I stood in line to pay for my drinks and prepay my gas. Speedway is always extremely busy during morning rush hour. Even without the circumstances I was facing from the recent past and the very near future, that place can really get you going at rush hour. It is a test of patience, a virtue lost by many people– myself included. However, although the temptation to be annoyed was there I told myself there were more pressing issues to be worried about.

I got on the highway which was the final stretch of my commute to work. Once on the highway it is only about a ten-minute drive to my exit. Once off the exit work is only a minute or two away. I looked into the sky on the way and saw all the clouds. It was overcast and definitely looked like it could rain at any point. As I climbed over a long, large hill on the highway a hole appeared in the clouds with the bright sun shining through. It was only brief, but enough to shed some much-needed light into my soul. Oh, how I was dreading this. Before long, there I was in the parking lot at 8:00 AM. I would be a couple of minutes “late” but that didn’t really matter. Once parked, I took out my phone as I wanted to send Leah a text message. This for the most part was pretty typical even before all this happened.

I opened my messages and realized that I had not sent her a text message in a very long time. I found her in my list of messages. The context of the last text message is really not important. The time however was. The last message sent was at 4:02 PM on Friday, July 8. She had sent me a text saying she almost ran over our dog with the car. I just thought to myself how much neither one of us had any idea what was to happen in about an hour from that text message. I remember I left work that day shortly after that text message. I was traveling down memory lane very quickly, which was not a good place for me to be given where I was. I reverted back to my original intention of sending Leah a message. It was short but to the point. I told her that I wanted to text her before I went in, not knowing what it would be like once inside. I told her I loved her with all my heart and I wished her sweet dreams. You would think I was preparing for open-heart surgery or something. It was just a walk into work. After everything that happened, it seemed so impossible. But I did it anyway.

I scanned my badge and entered the building through one door. Another scan through another door and in my wing I was. I already felt like I could lose it just because my emotions were so scattered. The first person I saw was the director of HR who I had been in contact with once or twice during my time away from work. He was at least aware of what had happened even if it was only the basics. When I approached him he extended his hand as did I. As we shook hands he said a few things, all kind. The most important aspect of that conversation was his facial expression and the tone of his voice. I could tell he really was sincerely sorry for what had happened and that he really did care. All I needed was one person to do that for me and he was the first person to do so.

After my interaction with him I walked past a few other people who did not say anything other than the normal morning salutation you would say to anyone. I reciprocated but I doubt mine were as cheery. If anyone was cheery with me I was leaving. This didn’t bother me. I sat down in my cube. Before I sat down I found myself wondering what would be there when I returned. I pictured a ton of flowers scattered all over my desk, maybe a card, who knows. Don’t ask me why but those were my thoughts. My cube ended up being EXACTLY as I left it, frozen in time, a piece of history representing what was and would probably never be. My boss sits directly across from me in an office. I remember him saying hello and saying he was glad to have me back. This was also okay, as I was not really wanting to say a whole lot.

I walked out of the wing where my cube was located to grab something to drink. I was avoiding the process of getting my desk in order. An area of my cubicle wall had become an area of a few pinned up ultrasound photos of Ava. I didn’t want to take them down because a part of me felt like I was disrespecting her or hiding her, but the result of that could have been someone at some point asking me about them, not realizing what had happened. I didn’t want that conversation any more than the person that could have walked into it. I carefully took them down and placed them into an envelope and then into my bag for safe keeping. I pulled the photo of Ava out of my bag. Next to my mouse pad near my right-side monitor I placed my picture of Ava. I figured I would look at it a hundred times a day that way.

What I find amazing about pictures is the mood they evoke which to me is part do with color and part to do with where you are when you look at it. This photo of Ava on my desk for this particular instance was like looking into a dream. I looked into the black and white photo and just seeing her laying across my arms with my arms and her finely focused in the shot with my shirt a blur in the background… what a miracle. Because I was at work, it almost felt like looking at a dream that wasn’t mine or a memory of some distant past. But that thought quickly translated into the cold, hard truth that captured in that photo was my life and my history. It still didn’t change any feelings about how proud I was to have that photo there. It it a beautiful photo and anyone can ask me about it. I will tell them she is my daughter and I was so grateful to be holding her. Hopefully I can get that out without crying.

Only two other interactions took place at work. One with one of boss’s peers who was very nice and the other with one of my peers. Both of these were not upsetting. So, the people interaction part of the entire day, well half-day that is, was fine. It certainly was not worse than what I expected. Where my anxiety was correct from the night prior was how hard it would be to concentrate on what is “important.”

Let me be clear. I like what I do. I respect my employer and quite honestly I am very proud of where I work. On the off-chance anyone from work reads this, please understand my disclaimer: On this day, I found it extremely difficult to care about financial analysis only a short while after I had just lost my precious Ava. It took a lot of patience to get through the day. I had over 300 emails to look through. When the email came with a request, it seemed overwhelming and I would become easily frustrated. I had to tell myself that this is important because it is my career and without my career I can’t take care of myself or Leah, financially or otherwise. It also meant that I would also be letting Ava down. Quitting before I even tried was not an option. I dug in, and managed to make it through. Having Ava’s photo right at my fingertips definitely helped.

Leah was also very supportive. She sent me this when she woke up around 9:00 AM which was only an hour into my day: “I hope you are doing okay. You are so strong and I am so proud of you. I know Ava loves her daddy so much and is proud of you too. Call me if you need anything. I love you.” What a wife I have. That’s why I married her. She and I have been through hell and that was before Ava. Someday I will talk about that. But let us just say that I am so incredibly grateful for her. She stuck by me through a very dark period of my life and managed to help me find the light. And here she was again. Leah, Ava would be so, so proud of you. I know she already is.

As the day was ending I packed up my stuff and on my way out I went. I saw the HR director one more time. He checked in again and said if he was ever annoying, to let him know. He just wanted to make sure I was getting what I needed. He clearly found the right line of work because he certainly cared about me when it was not his job to do so as a director of HR. As a man, it is hard to admit that when someone cares about you, it means the world to you, especially when it’s another man who also happens to be a father. If there were one piece of advice I could give any other man in my situation it would be to accept the love and support from everyone, and don’t just accept it, receive it. Take it in and talk back if you can. I told him I was very thankful for his help.

The work day was finally over. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good. It was okay. That’s good enough for me. I left today with hope, that it is possible to make it through the process of returning to work, the part of “normal” I just want to reject. Most importantly, the people didn’t make it hard on me. It didn’t matter what someone said as long as it didn’t offend me which didn’t happen. My co-workers were there, going about their day and it was okay that I was there. That’s what mattered. No one made it tough on me. So to my employer, I thank you for being the group of people you are. You have been patient, understanding and generous. I am proud to have built my career as far as I have with you.

And to Ava, it does not matter how many hours I work or what my career becomes. You are my precious little girl and I will love you always, deeply with every bit of intent that I have. I will never forget you. Thank you for being there with me at work today. I sure needed you. I hope your day at work went okay too. I don’t know what you do yet, but I bet it’s important and I can’t wait for you to tell me about it. I love you. -Dad


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