My Testimony: Chained (Part 5)
Updated: Jan 5, 2021
(click here to read the previous post)
I began to looking for instructor positions at other flight schools but I found nothing in the Hawaiian islands. So I scoured the mainland for open positions - there were hundreds of flight schools, but only one agreed to hire me, and was located more than 4000 miles away… in Indiana.
I left Hawaii in February of 2006 and secured a vehicle and an apartment, and began receiving things Anne was sending from Hawaii. We were apart for about a month while she sold our remaining vehicles and shipped things to me. In early March, she joined me in Indiana.
It was difficult for her to find a permanent job in the area. There were a few temp jobs, and money was tight for a while. She finally found a position at a local veterinarian’s office, which helped our financial situation, but not enough - our debt became worse and worse. Our minimal living expenses were more than the money we both earned. The amount the flight school was paying me for working 6-7 days a week was far too low to survive. I tried to find a part time job waiting tables at night, but no one would hire me.
Anne’s job at the vet office was perfect for her because she loved animals, and adopting a wonderful 7-year old English Pointer named Maggie. She had been diagnosed with an expensive-to-treat disease, so her owners left her with the vet’s office and the doctor was considering keeping her as his personal running buddy. Anne and I offered to take her in, and the doctor had already figured out how to minimize the cost of her medications, so he gave us the best deal possible to keep Maggie in good condition. Adopting a dog was probably not the wisest of ideas, considering how our finances were bleeding, and now we also needed to pay for her medication; as time passed, Maggie actually improved and she needed less and less medication, always at huge discounts. God continued to provide for that dog for the 5 years we owned her. She died of cancer in 2011.
My youngest brother had gotten a job in Las Vegas flying daily tours to the Grand Canyon. I had finally gained just enough flight experience to qualify for flying positions in larger aircraft (flight instruction jobs require the lowest amount of experience in the smallest of aircraft). The company he worked for had an opening and he arranged an interview for me.
I arrived early for the interview and was very impressed with the airport environment. I loved to fly, and I was absolutely nuts about everything related to aviation. The Chief Pilot attended my interview, which went very smoothly. The interview ended with the Chief Pilot saying, “Here’s a piece of paper - write down your resignation and we’ll use the fax machine in my office to send it to your current employer. You're hired. You start in two weeks.”
I stayed at my brother’s place that night. He was engaged to Anne’s sister, who had moved in with him (my mother had come along to chaperone and keep them from sleeping together before the wedding planned for 10 days later). I was only there for 24 hours, but my brother and Anne’s sister fought like cats and dogs. It got so bad that he got mad and stormed out of the apartment and didn’t come back for hours; when he eventually did come back, he wouldn’t look at or talk to his fiancée.
I asked my mother if they often fought like this, and she told me they’d fought more and more every day for the past year. After the fight I witnessed, he refused to talk to her and his tantrum carried over to the next day when I left for the airport to go home.
My mother said that the two of them had insisted that God told them to marry each other. I said that was a load of crap, and that anyone could see that they needed more time to deal with their issues before they committed to marriage.
This wasn’t the first time I had told Anne’s sister to walk away from my brother, and I said it again to her that day. It broke my heart that this girl was putting herself back in the same situations she had originally tried to walk away from.
I returned to Anne in Indiana and we prepared to move to Las Vegas instead of our original plan to visit for a week to attend the wedding. They got married as planned, and it almost seemed like a shotgun wedding compared to Anne’s and mine. My parents spent thousands of dollars to host the grand affair of a wedding much larger than Anne and I wanted, but they refused to spend much on my youngest brother’s wedding to Anne’s sister. A honeymoon to Cancún was planned, but a hurricane was headed straight for the area and this ensured they never went.
My father wouldn’t agree to spending loads of money on a wedding for my youngest brother, but he later agreed to help buy my brother’s dream car, a 2006 Subaru WRX STI. The car was wicked awesome, but also stupid fast; this later led to so many speeding tickets that he almost lost his license.
Anne and I agreed to share the 2-bedroom apartment with our siblings, who were still constantly fighting.
Anne and I decided to get another dog that would keep Maggie company when we worked long hours, and we drove 400 miles north to Utah to buy a Vizsla (Hungarian Pointer). We named him Gunner. He was an awesome running, hiking, and biking partner who went with me everywhere.
The apartment got even tighter for all of us after we brought home a second dog, so we all went in search of a larger home. We found a 3-bedroom townhome with a two car garage, and it was great to have more space for the 4 of us (plus 2 dogs).
Flying tours was loads of fun, and I couldn’t believe I got to fly $2,000,000 helicopters. I loved conversing with people who were coming to get a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon.
After some time my brother and sister-in-law still weren’t getting along any better, and my brother started to slip on details at work, especially while flying tours. One day another pilot we worked with had overlooked a critical latch on the aircraft and an inspection panel cover flopped open in flight, hitting the main rotor system, causing more than $50,000 in damage to the aircraft. The pilot was suspended for his irresponsibility.
I noticed my brother’s continued lack of attention to detail, even after management warned all the pilots that the next mistake would end in termination. I was concerned that he might make a similar mistake, and I encouraged him to keep paying attention to details. He flipped me the bird.
Two weeks later, my brother failed to secure the same latches and his cowling hit the main rotor upon take off, causing the exact same incident that happened to the first pilot, weeks before. My brother was fired 24 hours later. Weeks later, he found employment back in Hawaii and he and his wife began preparations to return to the islands. They moved away within a month, leaving Anne and I to pay the rent at the new place. I had also gotten sucked into buying a truck I couldn’t afford, a sweet 2002 Ford F-250 diesel truck. So Anne and I were back in a financial struggle again.
I was flying a tour one day, descending into the Grand Canyon as I had done hundreds of times, and I had a massive scare - one of my passengers leaned on his door latch and the door popped open, causing the wind to rush in and rip the rear door clean off the aircraft. After making an emergency landing at the local airport, I assessed the damage - an intake duct on the outside of the aircraft had miraculously caught the door and prevented it from destroying the tail rotor. If the tail rotor had been hit, the entire aircraft would have nosedived into the canyon, crashing and killing all aboard - and I wouldn’t be alive to write this story. The investigation into the cause of the accident cleared me of any wrongdoing.
In my career as a pilot, I was often the target of bizarre and undeserved attacks, attempts to discredit me or cause me to get fired, sometimes by people I didn’t even know. I did my work to the best of my ability - I made it a habit to conduct self-checks on a regular basis to make sure that I was doing my job as well as I possibly could.
After 15 months of flying tours, I decided to apply for an EMS (Emergency Medical Services) pilot position. I was quickly hired for a job in Iowa, and Anne and I packed up and moved 1,600 miles away.
Six months after we moved to Iowa, we were excited to find out that our first child was on the way! We couldn’t wait to tell everyone, but when we informed my parents over a video chat, my mother began to cry - not tears of joy, it was tears of disgust… Her response was, “How could you do this to me?!” And she walked away from the call.
We were taken aback by what she said. I asked my father what she meant, and said she was disappointed because she expected us to move back to be near her when we began having children. She wasn’t disappointed, she was livid. We were heartbroken that she had made this about herself, not about the blessing God was granting us. Again, she had made her own needs more important than anyone else’s.
Surprisingly, my father was very excited for us and assured me that said he would still be there for us and our child, even if my mother wanted to be petty about it.
My mother stuffed her pride enough to insist that she was going to come stay with us for our baby’s birth and first few weeks. She was set to arrive a few days before Anne’s due date so that she could be with us before Anne went into labor.
Ten days before the baby’s due date, a huge storm hit our area and Anne went into labor, giving birth to Noah about 6 hours later. My mother again made it about herself, and was devastated that she couldn't be in the room for Noah’s birth. She didn’t arrive until after Anne and Noah had already returned home. My mother was unaware that I wouldn’t have allowed her in the delivery room even if she had arrived sooner. Again, I chose my wife over my mother. How rude of me.
After our son was born, he had a lot of trouble getting the hang of breastfeeding, and my mother continued to talk about her own birth experiences as if they were the standard (technologically outdated by at least three decades) and kept telling my wife she was doing everything wrong. This caused more and more division in our marriage.
My position as an EMS pilot was my first job ever that required me to work overnight, and at a fairly busy base. I was also stressed learning to deal with my own trauma as I became privy to a world I had never seen before. As a new EMS pilot, I saw many things I never wished to see. EMS teams regularly see suicides, murders, horrific traffic accidents, and victims of drunk drivers, just to name a few.
Anne and I were only 4 years into our marriage and were learning to adjust to a new baby and new stresses at my job; when my mother got involved, many of my previous issues surfaced again. Instead of directing my frustration at the person truly triggering my irritations, I took it out on my wife.
We bought a house in Iowa and wanted to start putting down roots - this upset my mother because it meant we were not returning to Hawaii soon, if ever. She came to live with us for months at a time, which further deteriorated my parents’ relationship. This also caused more tension on Anne and I because my mother and father each tried to get us on their side, pitting us against the other. Meanwhile, I juggled trauma at my job, a new baby, and dealing with my parents who were acting like children.
I began updating some of the interior of our newly-purchased house. This was a fun project, but it added even more stress to my life. Anne had a tough time handling my mother’s intrusive attitude, and she began to mentally check out - she began to leave our son alone in his crib more often than necessary. At 9 months old, Noah eventually learned to climb out of his crib to find one of us. We became conscious of the safety risk we had created, and we transitioned Noah to a toddler bed at 10 months old.
The fighting between Anne and I became more and more frequent and increased in intensity. This was one of many moments in our marriage journey that divorce and/or separation were discussed.
Not long before we moved away, we got involved in a local church where we met a man whom God used greatly in my life. He was in the right place at the right time, and he pushed me to stop listening to my family and to break away from them and draw near to God. This man was able to mentor me through my struggles because he had experienced his own struggles at a similar age. He had an enormous amount of wisdom to offer, which I began applying in my life. When my mother saw me growing closer to God, she realized I didn’t need her as much as she wanted me to. So she began fabricating opportunities for us to need her.
Reading what I’ve written, I feel so stupid for having never actually walked away from my parents and their entanglements. Honestly, at the time I was unable to truly see the damage they were causing. Looking back, there were countless times I was blind to the truth, mostly because I had been so conditioned to follow and obey, even when I inwardly objected.
The best picture I can use to explain this is an elephant chained to a stake: when a baby elephant is born, the elephant trainer chains its front legs to a heavy stake in the ground much too strong for the baby elephant to pull up. The baby learns quickly that the stake is impossible to escape, no matter how long and hard it tries. It eventually resigns itself to the truth that it cannot escape and stops trying to fight it. As the animal grows larger and stronger, it never further considers attempting to evade its bondage and remains tied to the same sized stake and chain as it began in its infancy.
Thus, a 12,000-lb creature can be conditioned not to challenge a 1-inch rope tied to a steel peg driven 6 inches into the ground.
The same was true for me, I just didn’t realize it. I felt trapped beyond escape.
I decided to start traveling to other EMS bases on my off-weeks, filling as needed at bases who were short a pilot. I often worked 3 weeks straight - 1st week at my home base, the 2nd week out of state, and the 3rd week at home base again. I regularly filled in for an EMS base in Miami, Florida. The overtime pay was wonderful, but the real reason I did it was to escape from my mother. This further pushed a wedge between me and my wife and son - I faced deep depression during this time, and suicide came back to my mind.
I felt that I had nobody to talk to about my struggles because I thought nobody could relate. I allowed myself to begin confiding in a female coworker, which could have been very dangerous behavior, had it continued, but God stopped it quickly.
My mother was increasingly attacking our marriage and making my life miserable; maybe if my marriage no longer existed, the attacks would stop - but what I didn’t realize was that the battles would only subside as long as my mother got what she wanted.
As all this craziness was happening at home, the company who employed me announced that they would not renew their current contract for my base, and I scrambled to figure out where to go next…
…for the continuation of this story, click here.