About Me

I have something to say... But a blog let's me spew until I figure out what it is.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chapter 2: Unshakable

"Dad?"
His phone was breaking up and I couldn't get a clear signal. The weight of what I had to tell him was making me impatient, so the next thing that came out of my mouth was a very aggravated: "Dad, call me back from a place where you have a signal and can talk. It's important," then I hung up the phone and waited - the anger brewing.
Within a few minutes, Dad returned my call - his voice was light and cheerful as it usually is when I call him at an unusual time of day.
"Hey!" he said happily, "what's up?"
There was no turning back. This was it.
"Dad, are you someplace quiet with a signal?"
"Yes..."
"Is someone with you?"
"Yes, do you want me to be alone?"
"No!" I replied almost urgently, "No, I want you with someone."
There was an awkward pause while I tried to take a breath and tell him about George. There was no good way to say it. I was just going to have to say it...
"Dad, George is dead."
"What?"
"Big Guy is dead," I repeated.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean he is dead. He isn't living. He isn't with us anymore," I spurted. Somehow, I felt that if I told him every variation of what I was trying to tell him that there would be a) no room for confusion b) no room for error and c) nothing more to say and could hang up more quickly.
Dad's immediate reaction was anger: "What do you mean he's dead? How do you know that? Who told you that?"
"Dad, a detective from Raleigh Durham called Kristen saying that they found a deceased male in their apartment - no one was staying with them. George didn't come to work today so someone got worried and went to check on him. When they got there, there was a male in the apartment".
"So we don't know if its him, then," he replied. Clearly, dad believed that the possibility of a random homeless man wandering into their apartment and suddenly dying was just as plausible to him as it was for me. "Who told you this?" he shouted at me, "What's the phone number. I want the number... now."
I knew that if dad made a call to the detective I had been speaking with it would add more chaos to an already chaotic situation. Kristen and I had both been speaking with the detective on a regular basis and I didn't want any more people adding to the mix.
"Dad, I have spoken to her twice already. It's not going to change. She was able to confirm that George's Civic is in his parking lot, but she can't confirm his identity yet - we need to be realistic. Big Guy's car is there, he is nowhere to be found - and there is a deceased male in his bedroom."
"I gotta go," he said before the line went dead.
The house was once again silent.
Olivia's gentle breathing and occasional nuk suckling sounded over the baby monitor - the only reminder that while life was tail spinning for me, it was marching on as a usual for everyone else.
"Well, that sucked". I said trying to break the awkward quiet.
I evaluated my options for telling my mother the news but nothing seemed to be a reasonable option. In fact, it was a near impossibility. She had moved to North Jersey a few months earlier for a job and was living alone in a small apartment. A few minutes after I had told my father the news, his brother and good childhood friend mobilized and were headed to Pennsylvania to be with him - whereas my mom had no family or friends in the state to whom she could turn. For me to tell her that her only son - the apple of her eye and the person with whom she most identified - was dead - over the phone - was simply not going to happen. Dad was going to have to be the one to tell her as he was going to be the only person who could understand the pain and agony that she was going encounter instantly. The situation could, simply, not have sucked more.
Around 10:30pm (or so), I booked an early morning flight to Raleigh Durham before heading to bed and attempted to sleep.
But, as I drifted into sleep the first of many harsh realizations sprang to mind: "I am an only child."

***
About 3 hours into sleep, I woke up and started making my way out the door. Somehow I miscalculated my time and only left an hour and a half to do a trip that regularly takes 2 hours between drive-time, parking, shuttling, and security.
I finally got into the airport and ran to the desk where I needed to check-in for my flight. Unfortunately, my flight was scheduled to leave in 20 minutes and I still had to get upstairs, take the tram to the terminal and wait in line at security before proceeding to my gate.
The woman at the front desk said impatiently: "Ma'am... its 20 minutes before your flight. This flight is closed."
"Yes, I know. I'm running late. What does that mean?"
"It means the flight is closed. You aren't going to make it."
I had a connecting flight in Atlanta and now I couldn't seem to make it out of Tampa!
"Ma'am, my brother committed suicide yesterday. I HAVE to get to Raleigh Durham."
The woman looked horrified and broken-hearted at the same time. She quickly printed my tickets and gave me directions to get to the gate as quickly as possible. I bound up the steps of the escalator so fast that I lost a shoe.
When I got in the airport, I was stuck in a security line that was held up by a little old man and his walking cane. For some reason, no one could figure out what to do with the cane and so there was a huge lot of us that were held up. I stood in line, pacing, frantic that I might miss my flight. The more I thought about missing the flight, the more I realized why I was in the airport.
Shifting my weight from left to right repeatedly, my eyes were welling with tears and my chest grew tight.
A pilot who had been standing in front of me noticed that I was getting more upset at the delay. When the old man finally cleared the metal detector, the pilot looked to my sympathetically and said "You can go... please." I hugged him with my eyes, still tear-filled, and bolted through the security screening as quickly as possible.
By only the miracle of God, I caught the flight and off I went to North Carolina.

***
After about an hour in the air, I arrived in Atlanta and headed to my connecting gate. At the time, Kristen has been living and working in Atlanta so we happened to catch the same flight from Atlanta to North Carolina.
She looked tired - like something was propelling her forward. After a weak "hello" to one another, we headed to the smoking lounge to kill the hour-long layover and make some phone calls.
It was in this smoke-filled room that I realized that no one in George's life knew that he was gone. For some reason, I couldn't shake the idea that George had died in his apartment on, presumably, late Saturday/early Sunday morning and there was an entire world that didn't even know that he was gone. His closest childhood friends (the ones that I was familiar with) Ethan, Alan, Dave, Chris - "the gang" woke up on a regular Tuesday morning and started their days like any other. I was about to call them and tell them that one of their closest friends had died.
I did the best that I could given that I had no phone numbers. Fortunately, most of his friend's numbers were listed in Facebook and, nervously, I began making these difficult phone calls.
They say that God only gives you what you can handle - I believe that God knew that I couldn't handle hearing the live reaction of George's closest friends. Every number I called went to voicemail - and so it was on voicemail/text message, that I told some of George's dearest friends that they would never hear from him again.
I can still remember how awkward it was for me to call these people. They were the people who loved and cared about my brother like their own family - some of them I had known for years as we all attended the same school. Some I barely knew. The reality is, you aren't usually close with your siblings friends. What little you know of them is that they would attend band rehearsals in your basement and invite your brother to their house for birthdays. Beyond that - they were people who were not a true part of your life... but a real, personal, part of siblings life.
We boarded the flight to NC, trying to find our way through the subjects that were "safe" to discuss and what was too uncomfortable. Ultimately, we came up with a "safe word" that we could use so that at any time if either of us was too uncomfortable with the conversation, we could use the word and it would stop the conversation immediately (we could revisit it later).
From the time I had learned about my brother's death, I was not entirely convinced that he had committed suicide. It seemed easier to process the idea that he accidentally overdosed or that he mixed something he shouldn't have. No matter how I split it, I knew that he was depressed and unhappy - I believed he was likely self-medicating but it just didn't seem to work in my head that he had intentionally killed himself. After all - there was no note.
But there was.
At some point during the flight, Kristen shared with me that he had left a note. It was short and un-involved from the sound of it, but it was there all the same - and from that moment, the idea that George had done something stupid morphed into the reality that brother elected to stop living.
When we arrived at RDU airport, I called my father. It was his intent to arrive at mom's house by about 730am to tell her about George, so it was our plan for me to call as I deplaned in North Carolina.
To add insult to injury, mom and I had been fighting, rather intensely, for a few months leading up to the weekend preceding my brother's death. She had been living with me prior to her move to New Jersey and it hadn't ended well. After she moved out, we still were not in a great place in terms of our relationship and so, on the morning of the day that I would ultimately learn that my brother had died, I sent my mother an email telling her that I didn't want to have a relationship with her anymore. Looking back on this, it's hard to believe that I wrote her an email of that weight innocently tied up in our bad relationship - not knowing that George was already gone.
When mom answered the phone, her voice was weak and breaking. Within minutes, the conversation took an ugly, angry turn - so I tried to end the conversation as quickly as I could. It was obvious that mom was angry - that she believed that George was not at fault for his suicide, but I was not in a place or position where I was prepared to start passing judgement. After all, George made his own decision. He couldn't help who he fell in love with. He couldn't help who he chose to pine after. He chose to move in with her. He chose to stay with her even with the relationship was nearly impossible. He chose to marry her. Before anyone thinks that what I am saying now is said with any malice, I should point out that I fully supported my brother's choice to marry this particular person. She and I were very close when we were growing up and I believed that love that they shared was intense and unique. I don't believe she ever thought that it would "come to this". I don't believe that she ever believed that George was this sick. I don't believe that she was invested enough in the relationship, however, to see how sick he was. She is not the first wife to miss the signs - and she will not be the last. I guess that because she knew George since he was 12(?), I expected her to have more insight into who he was and how he processed things... but just because I expect something does not make it so.
On this day, just minutes after finding out about the death of her son, mom was not so prepared to give anyone the benefit of the doubt and finger pointing began. It was uncomfortable as I stood there listening to mom say angry, ugly things about Kristen who was sitting right beside me. I did everything I could to alter the direction of the conversation, but there were few alternatives.
"How can you sit next to her, Jenn? How can you sit in the same room with her when she is the reason he did this?"
I was at a loss for words. How do you respond to that? You are, first and foremost, the daughter and sister... you are second, someone's best friend and you are, least of all (at that moment) wanting desperately not to sit in judgement of other people.
Kristen had friends in Raleigh with whom we were invited to stay - their names were Trisha and Erik. I didn't know much about them, but I recall George mentioning Erik and speaking of him with fondness and appreciation.
We arrived in the late morning - Trisha and Erik met us on the porch and opened their arms widely as Kristen approached the porch. Their beautiful house was tucked back on a piece of property at the end of a short road that dead ended. The property on which their house sat was beautiful and, for the first time, I could see why George and Kristen loved living in North Carolina. The air was clean, the weather was crisp and unopressive even in early September and, on this particular piece of property, it was peaceful and quiet.
Despite their incredible warmth and overwhelmingly sincere welcome, it was hard for me to comfortable with Trisha and Erik. For my part, there was a mental block against being vulnerable with them. Afterall, these were two people who knew Kristen and George as a couple. They knew them well, hung out with them regularly, and had been invested in them as friends. It was hard for me to let go of the idea that they had never met me, but that they were meeting me on the worst day of my life - and it was nearly impossible for me to feel that it was appropriate to mourn this key loss in my life while living under the roof of someone who had never met me but was coping with their own loss. Still, I was thankful that Kristen had these incredibly warm, unassuming, non judgemental people that should could depend on. She was estranged from her own family and in this very difficult time, it was going to be extremely important to her that she have friends that she could depend on.
The chaos of the day moved along. I spoke with each of George's friends - each more heartbroken and in more disbelief than the last. I spoke with my parents as frequently as possible.
Around midday, I had an opportunity to speak with the detective at length. She was a woman who seemed to understand depression and suicide and she spoke with me candidly about her experience with this topic while remaining compassionate.
It was my intent to head to North Carolina to meet up with mom and dad and to handle the details associated with the disposal of my brother's body so that my parent's didn't have to. What I didn't know when I got on the plane in Tampa, was that mom and dad would never make it North Carolina - that there would be no disposal to arrange, and no affairs to close out. What I didn't know was that the details surrounding my brother's sudden suicide would be, for lack of a better word, unshakable.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chapter 1: Breathe

I scooped Olivia up and plopped her, protesting, into her car seat. Let the car routine begin: Click the carseat buckles, smile at Olivia, kiss her on the forehead, give her her Piggy, give her her nuk, tell her I love her, and shut the rear passanger door.

I was in a great mood. The day had gone smoothly, the air was warm but not oppressive as it had been over the past few weeks. I turned the engine over, put the car in reverse and pulled out of the driveway slowly - smiling at Olivia as I looked out the back window.

Out of the corner of my eye, the slow, flashing light on my cell phone beckoned. My heart pitter-pattered when I saw that the call I had missed was from one of my best friends. We had gone months without getting an opportunity to speak to one another and had just spoken the previous week. I was hopeful that this was the beginning of a trend - a trend of regularly calling each other, checking on each other, and enjoying each other's presence in the other's lives. After 19 years of friendship and 14 years of hoping, she had married my baby brother. What more could a girl possibly want? When your best friend marries your brother, you gain a sister rather than a sister-in-law.

"Hey," she answered the phone warily.
"Hey!" I exlaimed. My mood was bright and soaring. Perhaps she needed a little dose of what I had to brighten her day.
"Have you talked to your brother?"
I hesitated. I had talked to him on Friday - three days earlier. Our conversation had been stilted and uncomfortable. He was unhappy. He was uncertain. He was buying a house. He was working very hard. He was lonely. He wanted her to stop working a job out of town. He was feeling insecure. He made me promise not to tell anyone - anyone - what we had talked about.
"Yes, I talked to him on Friday night a little bit."
"Did he say anything?"
This was a trick. She was fishing for something.
"Well, we talked a little bit about the wedding next week. My trip to North Carolina. What he was going to wear to Kelly's wedding. It wasn't long."
That was all true. I was heading to North Carolina in just over a week. My plan was to fly into RDU and stay with George the first night before we collectively caravaned over to New Bern for my cousins wedding and enjoyed a five-day, much needed, mini-vacation.
"Are you driving?" She asked quickly.
"Yea! I just picked up Olivia - we are heading home".
"Oh", she said dissapointedly. "Call me when you get home, okay?"
I tried to elicit conversation - my ride home was 25 minutes and the drive home was really the most ideal time for me to talk rather the chaos of getting home and trying to talk over dinner preperations, the dogs barking and Olivia squeeling as she devoured her meal.
"Just call me when you get home. It's not safe to drive and talk on the phone."
"Its a slow backroad.. it's not a big deal and it's legal in Florida."
"No. Call me as soon as you get home. I'll talk to you then."
About 6 minutes into my road, I got a sinking feeling but went on to convince myself that she nust need to share some recent relationship-y update.
When I got home, I hurried inside, put Olivia in her high-chair and immediately returned her call.
"What did your brother say the last time you talk to him?"
I repeated my original answer, adding a little more detail and finished with "WHY, what's up?"
"I got a call today from a detective in Durham..."
"Okay."
"They found deceased male in my apartment."
"Okay," I replied cluelessly.
"We had no friends staying with us."
"Okay?" Where was she going with this? Somehow in my brain, she was about to tell me that some homeless man wandered into her apartment, died and, oh - by the way - your brother wasn't at the apartment so do you know where he is?... For some reason, this fantastic and completely unrealistic possibility was so much more plausible than what was about to happen.
"Jenn. Listen to me. They found a deceased male in my apartment today. There was no friends staying with us. Your brother didn't show up to work today, someone got worried and came looking for him. They got maintenance to go into the apartment and when maintenance entered the apartment, they found a deceased male in the bedroom."
Somehow, the homeless man wandering into their somehow vacant apartment was still plausible.
Vacantly and devoid of any emotion, I slowly said, "Are you telling me what I think your telling me?"
The pause between my question and her response seemed to last five minutes.
"Yes."
I froze. I was breathing normally. I wasn't crying. I felt nothing. I sat on the floor. I started to shake... but somehow, there was a still a homeless man dead in their apartment and George had picked up and left without telling any of us where he was going.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
The investigators on the scene were not yet able to enter the apartment and confirm identity - there was a bunch of legal red tape to get through before they would be allowed to go into the apartment and start processing the apartment. She couldn't confirm if George's black honda civic was in their parking lot. She couldn't confirm the last time that anyone spoke to George. Every possibility was a more realistic possiblity than what she was asking me to accept.
When I finally got a hold of the investigator the first question I immediately asked if there was a black Honda Civic in the parking lot in front of the apartment.
There was.
I asked if it was my brother - she couldn't tell me.
"But ma'am - he is six foot three and has JET black hair. You would KNOW if it was him, instantly!"
She couldn't tell me.
"But ma'am... I have to tell my parents".
Oh, God.
Me.
I am going to be the one to tell my own parents that their son is no longer living.
The investigator advised that I wait until they could verify identity but could not give me any idea on whether they would get into the apartment in 5 minute or 5 hours. There was no way that I was going to wait when, in my heart, I already knew the answer.
At 7:40pm on September 13, 2010, I called my father and gave him the most devistating news a child will ever have to give their parent.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Prologue/Disclaimer

I have been "teasing" for a few months that I will be writing a series of blog entries leading up to my brother's one year anniversary.

Well, the time has come.

The thought is that I will write one entry a week regarding the days surrounding my brother's death.

It is important that anyone who reads these entries keep in mind two things:
1) As with every other entry I have ever written, I will not pull punches. Some things I write may be difficult to read for any number of reasons... I would encourage you to close my blog and come back when a new post is up or when the series is over.
2) Everything that I say is either my opinion or my perspective. Anything on my blog is not meant to upset anyone - it is simply a subjective perspective on something very personal to me.

The purpose of these entries?

Simply put, there were SO MANY people who loved and cared about my brother and I think they have a right to know as much as possible about his death. Beyond that, there is nothing I hope to gain from putting all these stories "down on paper" other than to get them out of my head.

It is my hope to remove some of the mystery surrounding George's sudden death and nothing more.

With love,
Jenn

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!

So there I stood at the crossroads; challenged to make the biggest decision I think I have ever had to make. My options? Continue working for a tyranical jewish lesbian from Washington, D.C. (Absolutly NO offense meant to my jewish, lesbian, or DC friends - of which there are plenty) or quit my job with no backup plan and very little money in the bank.

In July, I accepted a position for a company that was looking for an Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the CEO. From the first interview, I had concerns that perhaps this wasn't the right position for me and, more specifically, that this wasn't the right environment for me. Something just seemed "off" and I couldn't put my finger on it.

Through three interviews I pushed my concerns down into my belly and remained optimistic. Afterall, the position was exactly in the salary range I was looking for and positions within my range are harder and harder to come by (not to mention, this market is an absolute wreck.) I hadn't been looking for a job for long at all - but given that only maybe 60 jobs are listed per week in my field and of that, only about 10 are looking for someone with my experience and of THAT only 1 or 2 are willing to pay my salary range - finding a job is nothing short of scary and stressful.

Before I knew it, the company was offering me the job - lowballing me, of course, but we were able to negotiate to a salary I was comfortable with - at least it would cover the commuting costs as the position was an hour away from home. The hours were 9 to 6pm which meant I had to leave at 730 to ensure I wasn't going to be late in the morning and I would not be getting home till about 730pm or later depending on whether I was kept late at work or if there was traffic on the highway.

But from the very first day, I suspected that I had made a terrible mistake.

Fast forward a few weeks and it was growing increasinly obvious that this was not a good fit for me. I was being micromanaged in a way that I have NEVER been micromanaged before. I was expected to document every minute of every day and to record a synopsis of move I made to complete a task - and while it made sense as we were in a billable-hour-type of industry, even those activities which were not client-applicable were to be recorded in the same way.

Then, of course, there was the fact that I was hired to do the job of three people: managing all AP/AR for a $1M+ company, all vendor payables, disputes (at least 6 a month) and any other finance related issues as well as all of the Human Resources, training protocols, etc and all things related to office supply management plus acting as the Executive Assistant.

Now, I am a high volume producer and I count myself among the few that can handle multiple roles fairly easily, but being slowed down by the incredible amount of documentation that was required made me doubt my abilities more than just a little bit.

My training was meant to last "three weeks" - at the conclusion of which (I found out at the end of my fifth week) there was a test that you must complete and pass on the history of the company, its sales strategy, its products, etc. In the first three weeks of working there, I had left "on time" exactly twice. I was kept each night until 6:30 or 7:00pm

At the risk of making this a very long story - I will cut to the chase and say: It wasn't for me, it started leaning into verbal abuse, and I was becoming more convinced that I needed to get out. The problem? How do you search for another job when you are working 10 hours per day and have no time off to interview?

So there I was on a Tuesday morning, drowning in expectations, exhausted from being required to stay at work till 10 o'clock the night before, and getting more and more frustrated at my bosses' insistance on sending me IM messages laced with curt judgement and apparent perception that I was incompetant - a feeling I have never ever had in any job.

The IM was blinging repeatedly - she was demanding a response "now" and my lunch had just arrived (did I mention I rarely left my desk to eat lunch).

It was now or never. What are you going to do, Jenn? Are you going to continue to find away to slough off the abuse and make it work because the money is pretty darn good? Are you going to miss Olivia and miss the opportunity to see her growing and changing? Are you going to continue not to have a hot dinner because you are getting home an hour and half after the rest of your family?

I cleared my desk of other items, slowly ate my newly arrived yellow chicken curry from the Thai place down the street (the company had bought lunch for us today), and proceeded to eat... slowly... IM blinging in the background.

When I finished, I slowly cleaned up my food, returned to my office, methodically placed the few personal effects I had brought to the office into a plastic garbage bag .... and walked out.

I have never ever done it in my life and I will never do it again - I felt terrible - but I knew that I was not in a place to be able to have a rational conversation with this woman in which I would not ultimately wind up in tears (aka, I could not have left with my dignity in tact) and anything I put in writing could somehow be used against me (She was in the middle of 5 seperate lawsuits). No thank you.

****

About 2 hours later (at about the same time they realized that I wasn't coming back, I found out from a co-worker later), it finally hit me that I was jobless with no plan and very little money. This was the most brilliant AND the most stupid thing I have ever done.

The next morning, I woke up and proceeded to spend 14 hours looking for work. I registered with almost every staffing agency in Tampa. I applied for every job that "looked good". I got on LinkedIn, signed up for as many job sites as I could find - all of this was orchestrated by an excel document I had created just for this occasion.

I figured out what my absolute drop-dead salary requirements were (it wasn't pretty).

By Friday, I was getting discouraged. I had 1 call about my resume and 1 meeting with a staffing agency - and rather than acknowledging that even having those two things was a lot more than some people are getting right now, I was letting the negativity seep into my head.

So I quit looking for the day. Let's start fresh again on Monday.

And, so, when Monday came, I had a renewed determination. "This will be the week that I get a REAL interview".

I began aggressively calling each of the staffing agencies I had registered with. You WILL talk to me... because once I have you on the phone, you are going to hear something that is "different" than every other candidate and you are going to like me... a lot. That will make you wonder what my resume looks like, and when you pull that out, you are going to be impressed and want to market me - because if I can get hired, you are probably looking at a pretty decent commission. Just sayin'".

And sure enough, that's exactly what happened. In fact, the position I wound up with was actually pitched to me two seperate staffing agencies - each of whom had a different contact within the organization... that should give you an idea of 1) how small the market it and 2) how well suited I must be for this position.

In the end, all of it "had to happen" for me to learn anything. I had to leave my job at the guide dog school and take the not-so-great job to realize how much I liked my former boss. I had to leave to learn what tyranny really was. I had to leave so that I would quit my job and make msyelf available to look for work full time - to call every staffing agency and to be available to interview at a moment's notice. It would have been (nearly) impossible for me to have gotten the job I just got if I was working full time because securing my network required a great deal of time and attention.

Push/shove... life is too short to HATE what you do - and while what I did may seem reckless to some, in the end I felt that I had to be bold to move forward - I had to bet big to win big. We spend more of our life with our co-workers than we do with husbands/wives or children. We aren't suppose to live work, but work to live. If we hate our job, if we hate the people we work with, if we aren't challenge by what we are doing and don't believe in what we do for a living... it will infect your life and the dynamic you have with your loved ones. Why live that way? When we can do something we love or something that we find interesting or be VERY good at something!!??

I won't say that I am "lucky" - though there was some luck involved in small parts - but I worked VERY hard at finding another job. I believed that I left a full time job as Office Manager and accepted a new position - as full time Jennifer Boyle Marketer... My new job responsibilities included aggressively marketing myself to anyone who would listen... even if that meant finding out where people ate lunch in downtown Tampa and walking up to complete strangers in a full business suit, handing out copies of my resume.

And I would have done it, too... because you do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Homesick

Josh and I moved to Florida in the winter of 2006. The way which we happened upon the decision was one part erratic mixed with one part desperation and 2 parts optimism.

We were on our honeymoon - cruising for 7 days through the Western Carribean and happened upon the idea of moving out of New Jersey. See, we weren't surviving very well in New Jersey - we were in debt up to our eyeballs, we weren't making great money, we were still living with a roommate and didn't see any prospects on that changing any time soon... It just didn't feel like we were going to get to "live our lives" in New Jersey. It felt like we were always going to be college kids scraping along. No house. Definitely no family.

So - off we went with the idea in our heads that we would move to Tampa and live near my brother who was just finishing up his degree at an art school in the area. It seemed like the perfect plan - George would live with us for less than he was paying in his current apartment and Josh and I would cut our expenses in half by moving to Florida. All systems go!

Well, two weeks after I moved to Florida, George decided to chase the love of his life in North Carolina and I was left with an apartment full of stuff to clear out. I was so mad at the time, but now it makes me laugh.

Josh and I did surprisingly well in Florida - Josh got a great job for comparable money to what he was making in New Jersey - the bonus being that he was making the same money to work INDOORS rather than outside the way we planned. I was also making the same money as up north and quickly Josh and I were financially solvent and then some.

Fast forward a bit and we bought a house. We eradicated our debt. We had the most amazing, beautiful little girl.

But here we sit - with a house. Free of debt. With an amazing little girl. Missing our friends. Missing the seasons. Missing our families. Missing the City. Missing pretty much everything from pumped gas to potholes.

After almost 4 years in the house, it still doesn't feel like home.

You would think that living on the flatest piece of earth would be pretty neat - you can ride your bike for miles and never really get tired! The gas mileage is GREAT! ... there are also no hills to bounce sunlight off of - to hike on or just admire its beauty.

You would think that living in a state with 300 days of sunshine a year would be pretty sweet! ... but you forget how pretty the leaves are when they change in October - no matter how briefly. You forget how beautiful it can be to wake up to a blanket of snow and what its like to step outside and hear only that which managed to survive beyond the absorption of the snow around you.

You would think that you "could get used above 70 degree temperatures nearly the entire year" ... until you are trying to enjoy thanksgiving and just can't seem to get into the spirit because its 80 degrees outside - or when you are trying to sing Christmas carols in the car at the mall as you pass by green grass, leaved trees, and palm trees trying to be pretty; dressed up in Christmas lights. Let me tell you that it's just plain sad. And don't even get me started drinking hot cocoa - I haven't had a hot cocoa in 6 years because it's just too damn hot.

You would think that having some of the countries most beautiful beaches and ocean water that is over 80 degrees in the summer time would be pretty spectacular - well, it is.. I can't really argue you there. But the reality is I hate sand (so does Josh) and we only go about twice a year because it's SUCH a project.

There is no culture here.

There is no food here (unless you are into Cuban food - it's pretty high in cuban food culture).

And when push comes to shove I am, simply, homesick.

I want so badly to raise my daughter in New Jersey - among our friends and family who love her despite barely knowing her.

To see friends around the holidays but not at the expense of seeing my family.

To feel confident that Olivia is going to a good school.

To wear cozy sweaters for a few months out of the year.

To be blessed with the warmth of being home in 1200 sq/ft at the same PRICE as 2,700 sq/ft because at the end of the day home is what matters ... not the price per square foot (provided that you aren't going to put yourself back in debt to do it, of course.)

I don't know what the future holds, but I know that Jersey is a part of it. There are so many people who move here and extol it's virtues - who couldn't be paid to move back to the North... but for us... we would pay ANYTHING to move home... and that's how I know that this is not where we belong. Florida has given us so much... and we will forever be grateful for the opportunities it has extended to us... but in the long run - it's not home. It never will be.

Thus begins the era of Operation: Homecoming. Who knows how long it will take... but we will do it.