Shortly after showing my art at the Del Mar Fair and going to the Picasso exhibition I started seriously searching for another job and applied for a position as a plumber trainee with a plumbing and drain cleaning company in San Diego called Drain Patrol.
Drain Patrol promised to pay me a base salary, bonuses, and offered the opportunity for me to learn a trade that was in high demand. Best of all, I would be working normal, 9 to 5 hours every day and I could have my evenings free to work on my art and pursue a social life.
The decision to leave PEC and to start working at Drain Patrol wasn’t a hard one to make because I knew that after working at PEC for almost two years I would never be able to move beyond the mundane work, low pay and little opportunity for advancement that the company offered.
Even though I was burnt out, working for PEC I would miss the people I worked with every night and the friendships I had made with Dave and Gill. I felt that my time working there had been well spent and that I would use what I had learned from them to move my life and artistic goals and aspirations to the next level.
After sad good byes to Dave, Gill, Mike, Orion and the other friends I had made I started my job at Drain Patrol and was excited and energized to begin building a better life for myself.
Gill and Dave approved of my decision to get into plumbing and were unanimous when they said, “Shit flows downhill and the world will always need someone to clean it up.”
My choice to quit my job at PEC and start working for Drain Patrol didn’t pay off. I quickly regretted my decision to go into plumbing when instead of training me to be a plumber, the company sent me on every dirty, smelly, slimy job in the city doing grunt work totally unrelated to plumbing.
“I thought you were going to train me to be a plumber?” I asked my boss one day.
“Your job is better than a plumber, you’re a ‘drain cleaning technician’,” My boss said with a laugh.
“But that wasn’t in the job description when you hired me,” I said.
“Why don’t you want to be a drain cleaner? It’s the best job in the world! Hasn’t anyone told you about the perks yet?” He asked.
“What perks?” I asked.
“Eighty percent of my calls are from ‘desperate housewives’ in San Diego who want a lot more than their drains unclogged, if you know what I mean.” My boss said and then stood up and demonstrated his humping action to the applause of everyone in his office.
I never saw the ‘perks’ of the job that my boss described, because all I was ever sent on were the hard, nasty jobs like cleaning out septic tanks or main lines in commercial buildings. And so as I spent my 23rd birthday knee deep in shit, cleaning another blocked mainline, I realized that it was time for me to move on and look for another job once again.
In my personal relationships, life was changing for my loved ones and I had to deal with the pain of loss.
My beloved grandpa Raglin’s health started going downhill quickly after his 80th birthday due to the affects of Alzheimer’s and heart problems.
That damn disease robbed him of his mind, his personality, freedom and the things that he loved like his classic 1960’s Buick, home in Chula Vista and freedom for he and my grandmother to live their own lives.
Shortly after grandpa and grandma’s 60th wedding anniversary, grandpa’s heart began to fail and with his heart failing, Alzheimer’s took the remaining pieces of his mind so that all that was left was a shell of a man who resembled my grandpa but on the inside he was already gone.
The doctor’s and his care provider told us to prepare for the end because his health was failing fast and we should say our goodbyes.
I felt so helpless during those days not being able to do anything to help this man who I loved so much.
During his final days we were basically on call 24-7 waiting to get the call for us to come after we learned that Grandpa had passed away.
Those final days were amazing because the family pulled together one last time for Grandpa and all of my relatives were in town to say goodbye to him before he passed.
I wanted to be there for my family as much as possible and didn’t want to miss any moments with my Grandpa before he passed away.
I tired to keep a positive attitude at work and with my painting but my mind was always focused on what was going on in my family.
The call finally came, on a warm Saturday evening in September 1998, after a perfect day of working outside in my parent’s garden and on my artwork, my Dad came downstairs to my room to tell me the news I didn’t want to hear, my Grandpa had passed away.
I was crushed with this loss. It was something that I had anticipated and was expecting since his health started going downhill, and even though I was expecting it, I wasn’t ready for it.
My dad and I got in the family car and drove to my aunt’s house where my Grandparents has been living since selling their house and car after Alzheimer’s stole their ability to take care of themselves.
We arrived to find a small group of family members and friends, all who had loved my grandpa dearly, sitting around my aunt’s living room, sharing tears and laughter as they remembered him.
My aunts hugged my dad and I before they ushered us into my grandpa’s bedroom where he lied on the bed looking peaceful, like he was only taking a nap.
It was the first time I experienced death up close and personal like this.
It was surreal, almost like a dream that I was observing but not part of. I had lost my other Grandpa when I was only 10 years old and didn’t have a chance to get to know him as a man. But with my Grandpa Raglin, I had grown up and had the privilege of getting to know this man and sharing many of my birthdays, family dinners and holidays with him.
It was hard being in there with him after he died. It wasn’t the same, the body was still warm, but my grandpa’s spirit was gone.
I cried with everyone else in the bedroom, hugged him one last time, and joined the group out in the living room.
There were people there that I hadn’t seen in years, like my Uncle Gary, from Michigan, a big burly man who loved to give bear hugs and tell dirty jokes.
“Hey Kiddo how are ya?” Uncle Gary asked as he gave me a bear hug and asked me if I had heard the joke about the two gay rabbits.
“Gary! Save the jokes for another time, okay? Mom is talking with the pastor about the funeral arrangements for Dad.”
My Aunt Susie said, smiling while trying to keep a stern look on her face.
“I guess I will have to tell you that one later okay? I better go sit down before I fall over. My old bones are killing me!” Uncle Gary jovially said.
After that, Uncle Gary went and stood with my other aunts and uncles in the doorway of my grandpa’s bedroom as they shared memories and argued about if a person should be cremated like my grandpa wanted or as they put it, “get stuck in the ground.”
Uncle Bob, Aunt Ramona, my Dad and I all stood in Grandpas bedroom or out in the hall voicing our opinions.
“I don’t care what anyone thinks. I just don’t think Dad should be cremated! It goes against what the bible says and it’s just not natural,” Aunt Ramona claimed.
Aunt Ramona is the organizer, businessperson, and the trooper in our family who took care of my grandpa and grandma during their final years after they couldn’t take care of themselves.
“Ramona, I think we should grant Dad his wish and let him rest in peace. I don’t think its right to change the last request of a dying man and mess up what he wanted,” Uncle Bob said.
I couldn’t help but smile at their argument. I knew Grandpa was probably shaking his head in good humor at their conversation, knowing that life would eventually go on as normal after we mourned his passing.
At his memorial, I really learned what type of man he was and what he meant to everyone in his life that he touched.
Grandpa Raglin was a simple, yet intense, man who touched many lives in different ways.
He was the type of guy you could count on for his helping hand, therapeutic ear, advice-giving ways or something as simple as sitting with you on your front porch to enjoy a glass of lemonade after a hot day.
Just knowing that he was there when needed was always a comfort. He was like the team player you could always count on to help win the game.
Even when he was in his early 80’s and in declining health, he still helped friends and family in any way possible.
I could see from the overwhelming display of emotion at his memorial service that he would be deeply missed.
I also learned that day what it really means to be a hero. A hero is not someone who is a celebrity or sports star; a hero is an average person who produces noteworthy results everyday in little ways that add up over time.
What this hero does may never be felt directly during their life because in most cases they will operate behind the scenes in a silent way but when that person is gone the void they leave behind can be felt in a very big way every day.
That was my Grandpa, to me, he was a real hero.
While my family life was changing I kept looking for the right job but couldn’t find anything that satisfied me or had any promise of long-term success.
I felt lost, it was like I kept hitting brick walls and couldn’t seem to find the right path.
In my sisters life, her marriage to my “good friend” Joe quickly fell apart. After they were married, Joe’s personality changed over night and the man that we knew and loved disappeared, and was replaced with a selfish, arrogant bastard who treated my sister like garbage on the sidewalk.
Their marriage fell apart when Joe agreed to participate in an art show in San Diego that was supposed to be the major vehicle to re-launch his career.
Once Joe agreed to participate in the art show he devoted all of his time, money and energy to the show while ignoring his new wife, not even trying to play the loving, caring husband. He looked to Becky more as a helpful assistant than his wife.
The art show was an unorganized, pathetic disaster and since it had no publicity, attracted little to no interest from the art community nationwide and the artists in the show sold little to none of their artwork. Joe’s financial commitment to the show ended up driving him into personal bankruptcy and one day he packed up all of his belongings from the apartment that he shared with Becky and walked out, leaving her broke, penniless, and pregnant with my nephew Caleb.
My parents stepped in and moved Becky back home and helped her during her pregnancy and my beloved nephew, Caleb was born nine months later.
While I was still struggling and searching for the right job, and dealing with the changing dynamic of my family life, I fell in love for the first time, and was sucked into my own real life soap opera.
Her name was Becky; she was an attractive twenty one year old woman with a mane of long, curly dark hair, gorgeous body and dynamic personality.
She was the daughter of the new pastor of our church and had recently moved from Virginia to California with her family to begin a new life
Becky’s family had 12 brothers and sisters ranging in age from age one to 21. All of them, including Becky, were home-schooled by their mother, Mary and were raised with very traditional values.
Part of me liked the traditional values, aspect of their family, maybe because I went to public schools my whole life, and had to deal with the ups and downs of the modern school system.
Having just moved to California, her family felt like fishes out of water, alone and homesick.
Since her parents saw that their daughter and I had immediately fallen for each other, they extended a permanent invitation for me to come to their home for dinner every night and spend as much time as I wanted, getting to know Becky under their watchful eyes.
Since her family came from a rural part of Virginia where they bred and raised goats they continued that traditional ways in California when they moved into their new home in the county of Lakeside.
Every time I went to her house there was never a shortage of things for us to do together and during our first weeks together she taught me more about her traditional way of life while I brought over board games and videos for our entertainment in the evenings.
My love for Becky grew quickly because of a shared physical attraction, that developed quickly and also our shared interests in religion, politics, family life and the future.
I also became the confident and friend to her father Fred, who came to me every night with questions about California because, being from Virginia, and the new pastor, his sensibilities were challenged daily as he had to deal with how different his new home was compared to where he came from.
Fred, to me, became a friend and spiritual leader and I quickly began to look up to during his first few weeks in town.
I felt very much at home with his family and for the first time in my life, I knew what it was to be part of a big family and I enjoyed every second of it.
The big negative during these times was that I turned my back on my hopes, artistic dreams, and my family while I was enraptured with the first love of my life.
Gratefully I discovered that everything I had heard about real love was true.
When you fall in love with the person with whom you’re meant to be, it’s like there’s only the two of you on the planet with nobody else around.
Unfortunately, this also means that everything else in your life goes to out the door because you’re consumed with that other person.
When Becky and I first met, our eyes locked and, that was it. I was hooked and I couldn’t get away.
Our love also had a “soul-mate” quality to it. There was something about her that drew me to her and put my heart at ease. It was almost like I had known her 100 years ago, lost her. And finally found her again.
Her father, even though he had 12 children abhorred the thought of us even kissing each other before marriage because he viewed intimate, unmarried physical contact as a sin.
We abided to her fathers wishes, for one day, because when two people are attracted to each other it’s only a matter of time before that attraction becomes physical. We discovered each others bodies and made love in secret, behind closed doors and in the shadows, away from the watchful eyes of her parents.
After a very short time, I knew that I loved her and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. And nothing was going to hinder that from happening. Even though I didn’t have a good job, little money in the bank and decent car to drive, I knew that I wanted her to be my wife and I was ready to make that happen.
I “popped the question” one night when, after another night of dinner, conversation and fun with Becky and her family, I took her outside after everyone else had gone to bed, and asked her to marry me.
After wiping away her tears, she said yes, and we passionately kissed before deciding how we were going to tell her parents the news. I chose to follow tradition and officially ask her father for his Becky’s hand in marriage.
If was around 10:30 p.m. on a cold Monday night in February 2000 when we went into her parent’s bedroom to tell them our big news and ask her father.
I told Fred how I felt about his daughter by expressing my love for her and asked him for her hand in marriage.
He smiled and embraced me like a son, and said of course. I could marry his daughter.
For the rest of the night we talked excitedly with her parents, about wedding ideas and the future, and even though it was a blissful moment I had no idea that I would have to put up the fight of my life to marry her……