Isla Mujeres

Before the hammer could drop at TAD in May of 2013, Megan felt optimistic enough about our future prospects to plan a vacation that would take a large chunk of our savings to pull off in the style to which we had become accustomed. She secured a passport not long after we got together and had yet to get a stamp, so wherever we went would be a foreign destination. We started looking at South America almost immediately since Europe was deemed outside the budget. South America, as it turned out, was outside the budget as well, so we settled on Mexico instead since we both loved the food and the people.

It was our Mexican Honeymoon, seven years after getting married in the remnants of Hurricane Ernesto. Fitting bookends given the tempestuous times we shared in between and ahead.

We picked the Cancun area since it offered cheap flights and lots of options for getting our vacation on. I’m not sure how we ended up in an adults only resort on Isla Mujeres just off the coast, but we couldn’t have been happier to avoid the thousands of drunk Millennials out for drunken revelry across the water in Cancun. The dogs were happy for six days in Old Towne Pet Resort as they were guaranteed three walks a day and were lucky to get one a day at home given our respective schedules.

The trip down couldn’t have gone smoother and before we knew it we were standing outside the airport at Cancun looking for the shuttle that would take us to the boat out to the resort we had booked. Shading our eyes from the bright noon sun, the first hint that we were on vacation was the beer and shot carts lining the sidewalk leading to the cabs and shuttles. I politely declined the offers of transportation as I looked for the driver who would be waiting. He was holding a sign with “Miller” on one side and the other couple getting a lift on the other. He put our bags in the shuttle and said it would be just another twenty minutes or so before the rest of our group arrived. With some time to kill, I grabbed an ice-cold Corona from a vendor and smoked a cigarette while we waited.

Soon enough, we were loaded into the white van with a couple in their fifties. We would learn on the boat ride that they were from Megan’s hometown of Minneapolis and this would be the third time they stayed at the Villa Rolandi Thalasso resort that was our mutual destination. It was nice to get direct confirmation of a random choice based on Internet reviews and zero knowledge of Isla Mujeres beyond the consistent comments of its isolation from the craziness across the water. It took a truly dedicated tourist to take the ferry to the island, so the pace was much more languid and peaceful. We didn’t realize how far away the resort was from town, though, so we were constantly taking one of the ubiquitous red taxis that speed like bullets around the tight curves and narrow roads between the more desolate areas south of town.

 Our two-tiered room was decorated in seaside chic with a Mexican flair to the wood and tile accents. The first level was where the bathroom and the bed looked out on floor to ceiling windows with a view of our terrace, the infinity pool beyond that and the beautiful Caribbean water as a backdrop framing it all in a surreal palette of greens and blues. Two tiled steps down at the foot of the bed led to a small living room with a couch, coffee table and a television. Since it only played Mexican programming, the tube was only useful as white noise to help Megan fall asleep in a similar fashion as when at home. We didn’t mind since we weren’t there to watch television. It didn’t even bother us that the only place we could pick up spotty wireless connections was outside the sliding glass doors beyond the living room, though I was thankful for the lull in projects as I ramped up two new ones and delivered two more.

The small glass-topped table and white rattan chairs would be loaded with breakfast each morning, included as part of the daily room rate. We also relied on the concierge during the planning stages and his counsel helped make the most of our five days in paradise. More than worth the fat tip we dropped on him when we checked out, tanned and rested and ready for whatever would come next back in Washington DC. His English was perfect as he had immigrated to Texas as a teen and had moved back to work at resorts like Villa Rolandi. I found it both amusing and ironic that he left America to pursue better opportunities (and a much better quality of life) in the land of his birth.

Megan and I hoped to do the same since our many short vacations over the years provided the only glimpse of the married couple we might have been had the circumstances of our lives turned out differently. We had a ton in common when it came to architecture and food and politics and religion and television shows but communicated across a deep chasm of mistaken impressions and misunderstood intentions. I think what it came down to was terribly divergent ideas of what a “perfect life” looked like and how to get there. I had been writing for decades and wanted to make a living being me someday. She always listened when I discussed my dreams and ambitions, but deep down there was a disconnect between what she wanted her life to be when all was said and done and what being married to an artist and entrepreneur really entailed.

All those hurts and regrets were pushed aside for five days while we enjoyed the food, margaritas, sun and water. It was an activity-filled funfest that started off with a long walk from the resort to the southern tip of the island to let Megan try out snorkeling before our guided trip in a few days. She had spent precious little time on the water and was excited to put the deficiency behind her. The sidewalk stayed solid for most of the two mile trek to the small inlet where we would test out our skills at a ramshackle establishment that looked like it had been there forever. We paid our pesos for a locker, snorkel, mask and fins before moving past the check-in desk to the “resort” on the other side. It appeared to be mostly populated by local families, but a couple other Anglo couples dotted the landscape with pasty skin and boisterous conversations, so we didn’t feel completely out of place.

Though the gear we rented wasn’t the best and the rocky inlet was rough and tumble, we had a blast getting Megan used to the water for the first time as an adult. There were a couple of tense moments where she drifted too close to the cliffs lining the snorkel area, but she was able to push away with her fins and get herself free from the back tow. An ear-to-ear grin signaled her triumph as we made our way to the shallower shelf were swimmers entered and exited the snorkeling area.

We had just enough pesos left for two margaritas at the small cantina overlooking the water. It was a beautiful view both inside and out as my gorgeous wife laughed at something or other I had said and offered a smart retort. We bantered in sync for a few more minutes and then hit the road for the longish walk back to the resort to get ready for dinner. We would be heading south in the morning to visit the Mayan ruins at Talum, but we didn’t get much sleep on vacations normally. By the time we got back to the room after a harrowing cab ride from the center of town, there was just enough time for a nightcap at the small bar near the terrace overlooking the quiet pool before we needed to crash. A couple of guests were swimming but the bar was empty except for a bartender and a television playing a Rod Stewart concert video.

A margarita for Megan and a whiskey neat for me was a perfect way to cap a perfect day. The baby-making afterwards wasn’t too shabby, either.

We had been trying to get pregnant for the second time in our marriage. It had been about six months and Megan wasn’t optimistic for our chances. I wasn’t sure a kid was in the cards for us either but for very different reasons than my wife. She saw it as some sort of personal problem on her part. I saw it as fate intervening in case we couldn’t figure out a way to stay together. Despite our many differences on some fairly basic visions of where our lives were heading, we did love each other deeply and fiercely, so perhaps that would be enough to get us through the continuing storms and into the presumably smooth sailing on the other side.

TAD was still a meat grinder when I got back to work, and I dove in with renewed gusto. Hoping to keep doing well delivering my projects for the clients I had come to know and like as well as inspire change in the office by doing things in a manner I knew would be successful. I shared an office with Dan the sales guy by then and the tension was palpable. As I tried to negotiate the delicate dance of client desires versus scope of work versus budget available, Dan would pop off from the cheap seats that I should be doing my job this way or that way instead.

As if the way they were doing things before I got there was so much more effective at delivering profitable projects.

It wasn’t and continued to not be until the day Brad took exception to me handling the first round of designs for a client as an excuse to cut me loose. I had come to know more visceral details by visiting the housing subdivision in person for the kick-off meeting and getting a good feel for the brand. The client was also the owner of a web design firm himself, so he was motivated to move through the process as quickly as possible and we still didn’t have a designer. As good as Brad could be when he was on, he was still the owner of the company and design tasks would stack up at his desk if he didn’t feel like working on it.

Wasted time kills margin on fixed-price web projects.

I was asked to resign after I had sent Brad an email with the first design mock-up and a request for him to create something different to give the client two choices in the first round. The client generally liked what I had done, but he wanted to see something thematically in the opposite direction. I took time to carefully craft the request and certainly didn’t expect him to come tearing in our office shouting, “I’m the fucking creative director! You’re a project manager. You don’t do design for clients. Especially shit designs like those.”

The last was said over his shoulder as he stomped back to his office and slammed the door behind himself. Dan had the good sense to hunch further into his keyboard and continue pretending music played on his headphones. A few minutes later, Brad stuck his outside his door and asked me to come to his office in a tone of voice that made what happened next very evident. I knew it was coming for quite some time, though I hadn’t expected such a dramatic and public flogging for doing my job too well. He started off by saying it was clear that things weren’t working out and we should part amicably sooner rather than later. I could say whatever I wanted to say and he would back it up, but Friday would be my last day and I would spend the rest of the week transitioning my clients to the junior project manager who had recently started.

I wasn’t nearly as calm, cool and collected as I would have liked in hindsight, but when he said things weren’t working out, I responded that I could understand why things weren’t working for me, but I was very curious as to why he would come to that conclusion since every project on my plate was kicking ass and taking names. In fact, mine were the only clients turning a profit and I said so. He responded that I had fucked up our biggest client when they requested that he fire me. I reminded him that the project was three-quarters done with a forty percent margin when I gave it to him. Whatever happened after that was on him alone.

Sputter. Cough. Nothing.

I finished by saying there was an app project I wanted to pursue full-time called Dogasaur that was just finishing a redesign I had been doing in my off hours. I appreciated his understanding that I would be leaving at the end of the week and would do my best to transition my clients before then. Fictional tale that made him the victim complete, I turned on my heel and walked back to my office to figure out how to take care of the five current development clients and dozen or so maintenance clients that were currently my responsibility.

Megan was not pleased to hear my relatively new job within walking distance of the house and a path to advancement of my tech career was officially over in three days. I can’t blame her for feeling that way, though I would have thought she could someday accept the fact that life is nothing if not constant and unrelenting change. How we respond to change determines whether we survive whatever comes next and take advantage of the many opportunities that can arise from emerging on an unexpected path when the chaos subsides. I consider optimism in the face of adversity to be my most valuable skill, but my wife was less sanguine regarding my potential karmic windfall. Megan only believed what she could be deposited in our bank account, and my entrepreneurial zeal was a consistent source of frustration and anxiety for her. Again, I would have thought the last eight years at my side would have provided proof that I landed on my feet ten times out of ten and always took care of business.

Fate started delivering almost immediately as a freelance web gig fell in my lap by way of Caleb Wilson’s extensive network as well as the potential gig at Georgetown University’s new Chinatown campus teaching a non-credit certificate course in Advanced Data Analytics and Reporting. It wasn’t my specialty, but I knew enough about the subject to secure the position and started preparing for my first class in November. This included learning a lot more about advanced data analytics and reporting. Like anything having to do with technology, the landscape changed so quickly that any knowledge more than a few years old was already hopelessly out of date.

Since Caleb already taught certificate courses as well as more traditional classes at the main campus overlooking the Potomac River, he gave me a crash course in developing a curriculum and gave me feedback on my materials as I created them over the coming months. The main problem I saw going in was the breadth of information available was almost impossible to cover in a single course. This was especially true for my students who ran the gamut from total novices looking for bare-bones basics to data analytics professionals wanting to learn the latest tools and techniques.

I was trying to find a more permanent position as well, never as easy as it might appear from the outside. My topsy-turvy ride since leaving the Navy appeared to be standard fare for the technical worker in Washington DC. There was always someone younger and hungrier and cheaper snapping at your heels, student loans burning a hole in their budgets and itching to climb the corporate ladder no matter how many Type-A asses they had to kiss along the way. Kissing ass didn’t come easy to me and was a skill I didn’t ever plan on learning. To make up for my lack of obsequiousness, I worked a ridiculous number of hours and tried to hit more homeruns than pop flies. I was mostly successful in those efforts, but it was clearly not enough to keep me advancing at the same speed that characterized my time in the military.

Fate kept tossing me into the cold on my own, so why try to fight it?

In September of 2013, I wrote the first sentence of what would turn into more than one hundred thousand words of harsh and unrelenting autobiography called Midnight Son.I was surprised to find how much editing was needed as the story was written down in one and two page chunks over the following months. I couldn’t possibly chronicle every bit of trouble or terror or tedium I got into over the years, so four-fifths of my story remains untold now that my past is catching up to my present over the span of eighteen months and almost five hundred pages of double-spaced, rapid-fire catharsis.

I would like to say that Megan greeted my new project with wholehearted enthusiasm, but the reception to my new master plan was lukewarm at best. To her this just another crazy scheme that would amount to nothing like so many of my other projects had before it. I often dreamed aloud of the many mountains I wanted to climb over the coming decades despite having never made basecamp, let alone the lofty peaks overhead. I must have appeared as a hopeless and helpless as Walter Middy, forever chasing the vivid stories supplied by my overactive imagination and delusions of grandeur.

I can’t really argue with that description from her point of view, though I prefer to think of my journey in a more optimistic light with the methods of my madness dragging me upward and onward rather than into the anxiety and self-doubt my wife seemed to prefer. Failure of any kind simply made me stronger and more certain of the Red Road that lay just beyond my reach. It wasn’t a matter of not having enough in common or not loving each other enough. We had all that in spades from the day we first met in front of the fountain in Dupont Circle one sunny afternoon in July. I was beginning to realize that perhaps we both wanted something completely different from our lives should we each achieve our respective goals and ambitions.