The day that my life changed forever started like any other day. Most nights I commuted almost an hour to the core of the Denver metro area, where I worked as a Patrol Deputy. With about fifteen minutes left in my commute a lightning bolt of emotion struck me. It wasn’t anxiety, not anger or fear, but a crystal clear realization that I no longer wanted to do what I was doing anymore. To further explain the situation perhaps I should provide a little bit about what happened prior to that April night.
I’m originally from a small town in southwestern Michigan, a town who had seemingly left its greatest accomplishments in the past and was losing a battle to stave off eventual desolation. An environment like that is a perfect breeding ground for young men to either bury themselves in self destruction, or immediate evacuation. I chose the latter and enlisted in the Army. I see now that it is natural and steeped in tradition for young men to have a set of ‘warrior years’. A time where they step out of the protection of their tribe and carve something out for themselves. The military took me places far away. I experienced the cold of Korea and the blistering heat of Iraq. I left the Army and was grateful to do so. Many soldiers are not as lucky as me, to leave the service more or less intact, let alone with a beautiful wife and daughter.
Denver seemed like a natural place to start my new life. It’s economy was strong and everyone seemed to be making a good living. It didn’t seem to be tainted by the rusting defunct factories and impending layoffs prevalent in my hometown in Michigan. People often wear their town on their faces. Most people I met in Denver seemed to be happy, good looking and hopeful. Like many new families my wife and I started out in an apartment. After bouncing around to a couple of jobs I decided to pursue my second goal in life and become a cop. I put myself through the police academy and I was hired by a large metro agency and began working in the jail. After paying some dues and jumping through some hoops I finally worked my way into patrol.
With my career in full swing and a growing family we needed to move out of our small two bedroom apartment. Even though I made a decent wage and worked a hell of a lot of overtime, we always struggled financially. Always making enough to scrape by but never enough to put money away. It was a combination of poor decisions and debts that many young people chain themselves with. At the time modest homes in the Denver metro area were in the 225k range. Lenders were more than happy to give us the money but I knew that we never would be able to make the payments on such a big loan.
We lived in Colorado but strangely enough we chose Michigan as the place to vacation. My wife Cheryl and I came to really enjoy these trips. It was a reprieve from the traffic and general hustle and bustle of the city. I also also enjoyed the escape from my job; obviously law enforcement is a stressful field. Cheryl and I started entertaining the idea of moving to Michigan. But ultimately my career and the presence of my wife’s family in Colorado won out and we decided to stay put. It had taken me two years to get where I was at the Sheriff’s office and I wasn’t ready to let that go.
Instead we moved to a little town outside of the metro area where I was able to find a home that was affordable and we settled in. I was stuck in the belief that the ‘American Dream’ was a home in a subdivision and commuting to work, paying my taxes, voting, and paying bills. The funny thing I found about dreams is that they can rapidly become nightmares.
Cheryl and I slowly became interested in homesteading. It started with the gateway homesteading skill of canning. The next thing you know we had chickens and we poured over homesteading and gardening books. Cheryl desperately tried to transform plots in our backyard into productive sources of sustenance. Most efforts fell flat due to the poor soil and Colorado’s austere climate. Every year on our annual vacations we stared in envy at the green fields of Michigan, wishing we had the same soil and the seemingly endless supply of water.
As the years wore on so wore the glamour of Colorado. I had come to resent the keeping up with the Jones’ lifestyle, where someone’s worth is measured in their home’s square footage or the car they keep in the driveway. It’s the land of home owners associations, and soulless subdivisions bought up by people without the means to afford them. In some ways I guess I started my path of disconnection. I saw what modern society had for me and I didn’t like it. All it promised me was that I would spend the majority of my life trying to impress people who didn’t matter.
Don’t get me wrong, I have many found memories of Colorado. I simply grew out of what it had to offer me and my family. What I realized that night in April, was that waiting until I was 65 years old to live the life I wanted wasn’t acceptable. I abandoned my life in Colorado and so far I have no regrets. Sometimes I miss police work, but I understand that some sacrifices were necessary. Today I’m living the life I want on my own terms and providing my family with all of the things they need. I found a niche professionally where my background helps and I still get to play. My advice to anyone considering leaving the rat race behind is to stop talking, stop banging your head on the wall and start riding the tiger.