Monday, April 6, 2009

An Overwhelming Load - Leif - Sun City Center, Florida - May 13, 2007 - Age 32

Leif's adult life was strewn with disappointments and stresses, beginning with the financial problems he had in college, the health problems and misery he experienced because of them in the army, the loss of his marriage, and the resulting depression. There was a brief respite and happiness during the time following his college graduation in May 2003 when he was working and met J. and was in love. Then he plunged into the depths of depression again when she left him in March 2004. He continued to work in Manhattan, Kansas but was dying on the vine and wanted so badly to move away to Florida.

We moved him there in March 2005. He found a job with Amscot which he thought would lead to a good career with a good salary. He was doing well and had become an assistant manager until a jealous colleague made problems for him and his hopes ended. He went to work for Alltel, which gave him a bit of longevity because Alltel purchased Western Wireless where he had worked in Kansas. It was call center work again, which he was good at but it wasn't good for him because it tied him to a cubicle on the phone for eight hours a day. He gained weight from being sedentary. His shifts were often afternoon and evening shifts which meant it was late when he got off work and not a good time to get any exercise. Then he would stay up even later gaming.

Later, Alltel changed their pay policies so that his pay fell by 19% and he looked for another job. He found one in the same complex working at the Humana call center as a customer service representative for Medicare clients. He learned a lot about the American health system and it incensed him. He became truly angry at the lack of care for people without insurance and the denial of services to some that did, the cost shares and deductibles that made it hard for even those with health insurance to afford care. He was an advocate for a national health insurance system.

Meanwhile, life in Florida was not what he had dreamed of. In addition to the everyday need to work and take care of the mundane business of life which makes life even in a place like Florida pretty much like elsewhere, his asthma continued to cause him problems, and love continued to elude him.

Sometime in 2005, he had the minor accident with his prized new Suzuki and scraped it all up. (He replaced all parts to pristine new condition.)

December 23, 2005, Leif called me (I was still in Kansas) to tell me he had been in a car accident in Tampa. His black Dodge Stratus Coupe had been totaled. Luckily, he was not seriously injured, but the accident did damage his neck and he had to use a traction device. It caused him pain from then on.

In July 2006, his apartment in Tampa was broken into, the locked door to his bedroom kicked in, and most of his valuables were stolen, including cell phones, computer, and guns. He and Donna lived on the first floor and the thieves had come into the place through a sliding glass patio door in broad daylight in the afternoon. Supposedly no one saw them. The place was a wreck. Donna was scared out of her wits, with strangers out there who could get in at will having guns they could easily use on them.

The apartment complex didn't fix the broken lock on the patio door or provide any security, nor did they repair the broken bedroom door and left exposed nails sticking out of the door frame, for 90 days. At that point, Leif had enough and decided to take his insurance money and break his lease, thinking he could do so because the premises were literally not safely inhabitable. If I had been in his shoes, I would have been both frightened and extremely upset. The apartment management continued to hound him for the next year and half, claiming he had no deposit (we had proof he did), that he had caused damage he didn't cause (he had proof in the form of photos he took when he moved in of the damage they said he caused).

Leif moved to a different apartment complex to a nicer apartment but even there, he was not immune to thieves. On May 4, 2007, at 12:36 PM, Leif Garretson sent this text message to me, "When it rains, it pours. Motorcycle got stolen last night." That was the end of the speedy yellow Suzuki.

Then in July 2007, he broke up with Donna and had the more serious motorcycle accident with the Honda cycle, and the collarbone surgery.

He went back to school (continuing to work full time) in the fall of 2007 at USF in Tampa, which wasn't far from his apartment. He wanted to major in philosophy, and wanted to use the rest of his GI Bill benefits, partly for the education and partly to help out his finances. He enjoyed being on campus again but it was hard to juggle the classes with his work schedule, especially when the work schedule would change abruptly. By November, he was becoming very lonely and depressed, without purpose, as he wrote in the email to me that I posted yesterday.

At work, he had been interviewed for promotions several times. Each time he would get his hopes up that he would get a supervisory position, and each time he was not selected. He had a lot of good ideas and leadership ability and wanted a chance to put those skills to use, but each time his hopes were dashed and he remained tethered to the phone in a cubicle.

I had been trying to get Leif to look for a different kind of job but because he lacked focus and didn't know what he wanted to to with his life (other than things that were out of his reach like being a race car driver or pilot), and because he was depressed, he didn't have the drive or ambition to work on seeking other jobs. He did finally apply for a call center position with USAA, a company he would very much have liked to work for, and was interviewed. However, when the told him the salary range, he told them he'd have to have the top of the range because otherwise it would be a lower salary than he was getting at Humana. He was not offered the job, and that was another disappointment.

Then, in February 2008, after he had already paid the tuition and could no longer get it back, USF pulled his GI Bill stipend and he fell into a financial hole he couldn't fill. He never told us about the condition of his finances, just that he was "broke," but Leif was ALWAYS "broke" so we didn't know it was really far worse. We had helped him out several times before and would have done it again, even though he owed us a lot of money he couldn't pay back, but I don't think his pride would let him tell us or ask for money, since he had insisted all fall that he was doing fine. I had worried about the way he was spending money and he said he had sold some belongings and was using insurance money for other purchases. Little did we know what was really happening.

Then in March 2008, a month before he died, he tried to get personal loans to cover his debts, and couldn't get them. He tried to get his credit limit on his credit cards raised and couldn't. He had run out of financial options. The only ones he had left were to declare bankruptcy or to come to us or a friend for money, and I don't think he was willing to do either.

Leif was a proud man, a man who believed he should show no weakness, a man who always put forth an image of a guy with the cool car and the cool bike and the cool gadgets. I don't think he wanted to give up that image.

So he came to April 2008, when he was again in love, with D., but didn't know how he was going to pay his phone bills, his credit cards, his car and insurance payments, his rent, his internet service, or how he would pay for gas to go see her. He was going to work to support his debts and his car and his apartment, without even money for good food. He must have felt it was not worth going on.

Leif had pulled his life out of a tailspin before, not once, but several times, and he believed he was strong and could handle anything. On July 5, 2006, the day of the apartment robbery, he sent this text message to me:

July 5, 2006 at 11:29 p.m. Leif Garretson wrote, "I am OK. You know me. I am the rock. Also the good thing about my life of having once been so dark as to make me want to end it, in overcoming it means there is nothing I can't handle. After that everything else is just a new adventure or challenge. I am so much stronger now. This did not even raise my pulse. Just a speed bump. The car is still running great. I see it almost as a good thing, it will allow me to move out of here."

It was that email and that he told me that he hadn't killed himself at Fort Drum because he knew what it would do to me that gave me hope that he would pull out of his depression, because he had before, because he was "the rock." I hoped he was. I wanted to believe that, even as I worried that he was more vulnerable than he admitted.

That was the way he portrayed himself. Strong. Could handle anything. Maybe at that moment he could. When did he pass that point?

This photo was taken May 13, 2007, Mothers Day, the last time I saw him on a Mother's Day, at our home.

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