.Why did we move here to North Carolina? Lots of reasons actually, not the least of which was a desire to escape the snow and cold of upstate New York. The house we had in Laurens, New York, was the proverbial Money Pit... the boiler was a nightmare as some church friends know after spending a late, cold, snowy evening cleaning it and repairing it (and getting covered head-to-toe in black soot). The thing was ancient and at least once or twice per season something would go wrong with it. When it was running, it wasn't very efficient... it cost us nearly $1100 every 6 weeks or so for the fuel oil to heat the home (to a paltry 65 degrees) each of the last two seasons we lived there.
Christine was working an incredibly stressful job at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York. Essentially she was the go-between... between the doctors and other medical providers, and the outsource medical transcription company for whom I was employed. Yes, that led to some interesting late-night conversations. She was "technically" my boss.
But the Bassett people treated Christine horribly. Not her immediate supervisor or her coworker, but those who were further up the food chain. She would take furious phone calls from angry doctors who would unload all of their angry diatribes on her. She would deal with the politicians and the people who were only really concerned about their own career advancement. She worked many... countless days... without taking a lunch or breaks, and would sometimes stay late off-the-clock to get work done. This was a routine 5 days a week, every week, 52 weeks a year. Because health care doesn't take holidays. She NEVER took sick days. I can't remember the exact number, but she and an enormous amount of sick leave built up when she left Bassett. I think they only let her cash out so many hours, but I believe it was maxed. She grew angry. Every day I would pick her up from work and would be ready for her to unload the day's stress.
We had joined a gym, HealthLinks at FoxCare, in Oneonta, NY. We went every afternoon/evening, and she'd take out that frustration at the gym.
Fast-forward to the late winter of 2004-2005. We had a heavy snowfall, probably a foot-and-a-half or so, followed by a bitterly cold Arctic outbreak. Temperatures were well below zero, and a transformer blew just down the street, knocking out power to the village. In fact, power was out in many areas across the county due to the biting winds and frigid temps. The power was out at our house for about 9 hours, and it was 37 degrees in the house when the heat came back on. The baseboard hot-water pipes were, however, frozen throughout the house. Most thawed without issue, but one set of pipes in our mud room / back entrance burst, flooding the room and into our kitchen. That was the point where she said that she was sick of living here, sick of the house, sick of her work, and of everything, and she wanted to move someplace warm.
I grew up spending each of my summer vacations in Whiteville, NC, and then eventually Lumberton, NC. I had always had a desire to go back there "some day" but it was one of those desires that kind of got shut in a storage locker and shoved away in a remote back corner of my mind, likely never to be bothered with again. Like when you stuff things out of site when company comes over, and then you forget about the stuff. Anyway, I said, "I know the place." So we got the ball rolling in putting our house up for sale. We had some unfinished home improvement "projects" going, and we were able to get most of them done.
We listed the house that spring, honestly thinking it would take years to sell the place, given the shape it was in. (Back story-- it was an 1880 Italianate Victorian house that had sat empty for a number of years prior to our buying it. We bought the place for pennies on the dollar, literally, and probably put an additional $15K to $20K into the place... and just barely scratched the surface. But it was located directly next-door to the school, across the street from a daycare provider, next to a pizza shop, right in the middle of town, so it was a good fit. And truthfully, despite the aggravation, the house was fun. It was two stories, with full attic and full basement. There was a cupula on top, and at Christmastime it looked like a great big wedding cake with the three tiers of icicle lights. NYSEG was ecstatic when I paid the electric bill.)
In the meantime I started to do some homework on looking at property in NC. I found several listings that caught my interest in the Laurinburg, NC, which is west of I-95 in Scotland County. But until I knew what kind of money I could get, it was mere window-shopping. I did some more work and ... eventually was able to get a preapproval through a mortgage company.
When I showed Christine the property listings I was viewing, she was like, whatever, just as long as it's not like "this" (where we were living currently). At the same time, through a series of good fortune, the realtor showed our house to a couple, and they simply loved it. Turns out, this was the manager of a Lowe's home improvement store! And the wife collected sewing machines, and was simply delighted with the place.
They put an offer to us... I believe it was late October of 2005. The problem with saying yes, is they wanted a short closing. They wanted to close before the end of the year. Which meant we needed to get our butts to NC and find a place to live!
So Christine told her boss she was taking the first two weeks in November off since she had a ton of vacation time to use anyway, and we loaded up the car and headed to NC. We looked at the homes in Laurinburg, and there were a couple that fit the preapproval terms and were really seemingly good fits for us.
Back at the hotel one evening, though, I said I wanted to go to Whiteville, since we were so close. I hadn't been there in over 20 years, and I wanted to see where my great-grandmother had lived and where I spent many summer vacations as a child. She's like, sure, and lets check out some of the properties there too.
When we got to Whiteville, Christine said "this is the place." For some reason she knew this is where we would end up. In the end, we ended up with a little 1300-square-foot house about 6 miles north of town. Mind you, we were moving from a 3000-sq-ft house to 1300 sq ft. We had a lot of crap to get rid of, and had to do it in a hot hurry as the people really wanted to close on the loan.
When we got back to NY, I immediately arranged to get the largest dumpster I could find, and just started hauling stuff out. Very little care was given to what was being tossed; if it was in the attic or basement, it was history.
At the end of the day, shortly before Christmas 2005, thanks to the Madero family of Morris, NY, and several others, we had a U-Haul loaded up and ready to go. We signed the papers and were officially homeless. The Madero family graciously allowed us to crash in their basement for a few days before we headed to NC. We had to wait until after the first of the year to actually close on the new house because of the holidays. So we lived for several days in a Best Western in Lumberton, NC (as they allowed pets). The realtor did allow us to unload the truck before the closing, which was helpful, because we had to get the truck returned and Christine's dad (who drove the truck), needed to get back to NY.
January 2, 2006, we closed on the Peacock Road property and officially sealed the deal to living in North Carolina.
Now that the back-story is all done, here's where I'm going.
The best-laid plans often get thrown straight in the trash. When we moved here, the PLAN was for Christine to attend Southeastern Community College, between Whiteville and Chadbourn, to begin working toward a degree in Elementary Education. That is what she had always wanted to do. And it was something she was genuinely good at.
Well the first detour on that plan came in February 2006 when we found out we were expecting Nathan. We had tried for 5 years to have a child without success, and believed that the only way we would have a child would be through adoption. Anyway, we were overjoyed that we were having a child. Due to some health issues Christine had, her pregnancy was deemed to be high risk. This meant making weekly trips to Wilmington, NC, to New Hanover Regional Medical Center. This put her educational pursuit on hold, and I continued to work my medical transcription job. Unfortunately the weekly trips to Wilmington became twice-weekly trips to Wilmington, which put a big dent in my work hours and, subsequently, my income (I did medical transcription work from home, and was paid "piecework").
Nathan made his grand entrance to the world on October 24, 2006, at New Hanover. The greatest moment of our lives, bar none.
Fast-forward to June 2, 2010. The internet in my area was down so I was unable to work. Therefore Nathan and I went to Burger King for lunch, Christine didn't want to go, so she stayed at home. There were some thunderstorms around in the region, but nothing that I thought was particularly remarkable. Shortly after Nate and I got home, the dispatcher's voice came over the scanner saying "report of a tornado on the ground, Bill Hooks Road and Peacock Road." I didn't even put shoes on, but grabbed the camera and rushed out the door. I got the pic, chased the funnel, etc., etc. Everyone who knows me knows that part of the story.
It was me who ended up going back to school. The amount of work I was receiving from the medical transcription company dwindled and dwindled down to a drip-drip-drip, and the money I was making was virtually minimum wage. Knowing that I had to learn a new skill, I went back to school at Southeastern, and got my Associates Degree in Science. I continued on, of course, to Mississippi State, and yada, yada, yada.
Christine didn't return to school until 2013. She was a stay-at-home-mom, and honestly worked harder than I could have ever dreamed. And I maintain to this day Nathan is better off for her being there with him. Nathan is going into fifth grade but reads at a 7th or 8th grade level and is super-super intelligent. MOST CERTAINLY he did not get that from me.
Anyway.... Christine successfully completed a degree in General Education at Southeastern in 2015, graduated with honors (of course) with a 3.97 GPA. She started that fall at University of North Carolina Wilmington, in an on-line program to get her Bachelors degree. She carried an incredible course load, I think her first semester she carried 21 credit hours. She was fast-tracking through her coursework, staying up deep into the night working on homework. She did a shadowing at Whiteville Primary School for a semester, and was going foot-to-the-floorboard.
She was happy. She was doing her schoolwork, being Nathan's mom, going to the gym 5 days a week, losing weight. One of her favorite "hobbies" was going out to cut the lawn in 100-degree heat. She LOVED it.
She was enrolled in her second full year at UNCW when she had her heart attack. Everything was set for her to continue, and she was also on the list to begin student teaching, which she could do locally in Whiteville.
I'm ashamed for being so selfish. SHE was the one supposed to return to school. SHE was the one who should have been celebrating getting her degree. SHE was the one who selflessly put her own desires on the back-burner so I could go on and pursue my dreams. SHE was the one who met Nathan's needs while I continued employment and did my coursework. And I'm the worst person alive for doing it. It should have been the other way around. Now I'm the one "celebrating" the end of my education... and her dream died with her on August 16, 2016. And thinking about it turns my stomach.