A little over one year ago, I sat in this very same spot after a day of work as I participated in my afternoon social media check-in. On a Tuesday afternoon, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, in the blink of an eye I went from mild amusement at the updates of family and friends to feeling as though I had just been dropped onto a roller coaster that had the potential to turn my family's life upside down.
The headlines read "Governor Quinn to close several state facilities, including prisons in Tamms, Dwight, and a youth center in Joliet, in an effort to save the state millions". Word spread fast and in the time it took me to walk to the back of the house to ask The General about this turn of events he was already receiving text messages from other concerned parties. He read the article posted online and calmly reassured me that Quinn was just proposing these closures, that nothing was definite.
A day later he came home with a little more information. Quinn had delivered his budget address and in that speech made it very clear that these closures were not just proposals. They were orders and facilities were to begin moving forward with closure procedures. The wheels had been set into motion.
On Thursday, he walked into my classroom to pick up the girls and simply stated, "Shit got real today".
There are three people in this world who know me inside and out, who can read my emotions and thoughts before I've even opened my mouth to express them - my mom, my dad, and my husband. They know what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling by a look or a gesture. Even when I think I'm disguising my fears, frustrations, anger, stress, or sadness they are often silently processing what I'm feeling and what they can do to make it better. On that Thursday afternoon, immediately after he delivered that memorable line, The General looked into my eyes and with a smile gave me one simple instruction: Stop freaking out. We are going to be fine.
I'll admit that I did anything BUT stop freaking out. That next week or so I silently (and sometimes not so silently) panicked at what this could mean. Is he going to have a job? Will we have to move? If we move will we be able to sell our house? How are we going to tell our girls that we're taking them out of the only home, school, and community they have ever known? Will I be able to find a job somewhere else? How far are we going to be from our family? These questions seemed to be on a constant reel playing in my head. The General and I didn't talk much about the "what ifs" - I knew he was stressed enough going through those same questions himself as well as with everyone at work; he didn't need to come home and hear the same thing from me.
I don't really remember when it was that I sort of gave it up to a higher power. At some point, although my concern for what might happen never fully diminished, I let it go. Despite attending hearings, and writing letters, and taking phone calls from local legislators I knew there was little I could do to stop this from happening. I needed to live and let go, take any hits that came our way and roll with the punches.
That attitude would have never been possible to achieve or maintain without The General and his tireless efforts and unwavering "glass half full" outlook on this life event.
During the last year he has left after an eight hour work day to canvass unfamiliar neighborhoods on foot, handing out informational fliers that he created in an effort to drum up support to keep his facility open. He has written letters, attended hearings, and sent numerous emails and several phone calls to not only our local legislators but also those who served on the committee that would hand down a recommendation on the proposed closures. He's attended informational pickets outside his facility, proudly displayed signs in our own yard and delivered signs to others who have offered to show their support. The General has used personal days to make the IYC-Joliet presence known in both Springfield and Chicago. He has stood at our capital waiting to talk to any senator or representative that would listen to and argue for keeping his workplace, and the other facilities which were also in the line of fire, open. He has rubbed shoulders with some of the big wigs in our state government, pleading his case to the governor himself in a stroke of luck and good timing. In this closure process, his facility has often been the one that no one had ever heard of, the forgotten little brother among the high profile big name institutions. The General made it his personal mission to make sure everyone knew who they are and what they do and why it was so important that the legacy of Little Joliet continue.
The General has stood in his garage as he fielded more panicked phone calls and text messages from co-workers than I would have ever dreamed possible at the start of this journey. He has been a voice of reassurance, squashing rumors and providing silver linings even after delivery of the most discouraging news. He has lifted up others when they needed it and been someone who others knew they could turn to and lean on when they were feeling discouraged. "Tell me something good" was a phrase one co-worker would tell him; without fail, The General always had something to share that would pick that person back up.
On Friday, The General walked away from IYC-Joliet for the last time. Today, just as the sun was preparing to break the horizon, he drove toward his new facility in Sheridan ready to start a new era in his professional career. I have never been prouder of this man more than I have in the last year. I can only try to imagine how he has felt over the past twelve months. I know it has been difficult for him and a front cart rider on this roller coaster of emotions. Despite his own fears and frustrations though he never failed to make me feel secure and safe in whatever the end of this journey might hold. As always he held good to his promise he gave me a year ago: we are going to be fine.
Dave, I am so excited for you to start this new adventure, this next leg which I think will most certainly be a blessing in disguise. I don't think there are words to convey just how thankful I am for you; I am beyond grateful for the amazing life you have provided for us. I was going to share my thoughts with you in a personal letter, but then I decided that I want others to know how incredibly thankful I am for what you have done for our family and so many others during this fight. Those who know you tag you as funny and entertaining, but I hope through this process they now also understand what I have always known about you - that you are fiercely loyal, highly dedicated and determined to causes that are important to you, and unwavering in trying to make others see what you believe to be true. This journey has had its share of highs and lows, but you walk away from it a stronger man, an even better version of yourself, than when it started. You are my shoulder to lean on, my foundation for everything that's important in life, my pillar of strength and for that and countless reasons more I love you so very much.
To all of you, our family and friends: thank you for the love and support you have shown us. Your prayers, messages of concern, and encouraging words have meant so much to both of us. From displaying signs to promising to do whatever was possible to make sure we didn't end up living six hours away you have all uplifted us again and again. We are constantly encouraged by your love and friendship. Here's to new beginnings!