By Furman Avery
If someone were to ask you what your purpose and passion were what would you say? If you had asked me that question about 25 years ago I would have told you straight up I had no passion and not much of a purpose. Then three dates happened to me, the first was September 21, 1997, the second was October 27, 2013, and the final date was Jan 15, 2019, there was a fourth date but I don’t remember the exact date I know it was in early March of 1996.
I will explain the meaning of each date as I go along. The March date is when I met the woman that would have a profound and lasting influence on me. I had put a personal ad on AOL(America Online) for all you youngsters. I was living in Chicago and Karen Ott replied to my ad. She was living in Milwaukee at the time and we started a long-distance relationship through email and cards. Soon enough we decide to meet in person, so she volunteered to drive down to Chicago to meet me. I must say here that at the time I was a bit narcissistic as I was an only child with no siblings, so I was a bit full of myself. Our first meeting went well enough, I tried to be charming and not bore her and must have succeeded since we kissed on that first date and made plans for me to come up to Milwaukee the next weekend.
Karen had two children from previous relationships at the time a son who was about 8 years old and a daughter of 17. Little did I know these two would steal my heart and never give it back. Karen and I swapped weekend in Chicago and Milwaukee until December of 1996 When I made the conscious choice to take a leap of faith and move to Milwaukee. At the time I was a Network Administrator for Ameritech, the local phone company in Chicago. Friends and family were very surprised that I was doing this because all my life I was not a chance taker and leaving friends and family was not something I was supposed to do. Karen had her kids so there wasn’t much chance of her moving to Chicago, besides she really didn’t like big cities, she said on several occasions that sometimes Milwaukee was too big for her, besides she was a manager at the Milwaukee Fair Housing Authority.
So, during December of 96 and Jan of 97, I went on job interviews. I was lucky enough to find a job with Firstar Bank which is now US Bank as a Network Administrator. So, in March of 1997 I said goodbye to family and friends and move to Milwaukee.
Now the first date on September 21, 1997, Karen and I were married. This was my second marriage, but her first. I must give you a bit more information about Karen, she came from a broken family and lived in foster care for a large part of her life and suffered from both mental and physical abuse. She lived with PTSD and OCD. At the time I knew little to nothing about mental health or abuse, that’s when being an only child raised its head with me. Not thinking outside of myself only really caring about me. As I said Karen worked for the fair housing authority in Milwaukee and I got my first taste of being an advocate. Later she went to work as the Assistant Executive Director at an organization called IndependenceFirst that was a resource for those with all disabilities. This is where my activism and advocacy began to take shape under my nose. Karen got me to volunteer for different things IndependenceFirst was doing. It was also around this time that my diagnosis of major depression and anxiety came about. This is where I learned that there shouldn’t be any stigma or shame associated with mental illness. I became more active in other organizations in Milwaukee and Madison that dealt with trying to remove the stigma that has long been associated with any disability. I think Karen was surprised that I was getting so involved. I first became a board member of an organization here in Madison called GEP or Grassroots Empowerment Project. I served on the board for over eight years, six as the board president. In 2011 I think I was beginning to find my purpose when I became a Certified Peer Specialist. Unfortunately, it appeared that I was a peer in name only as I couldn’t find a job. My time at US Bank had also come to an end so I was doing security work at the Caterpillar plant in South Milwaukee.
This is where the second date comes into play, October 27, 2013 was a Sunday and I will never forget the events of that day for as long as I live. I was working the second shift at the plant guard a gate to make sure no one stole any big Caterpillar equipment when I got a call from my daughter, Karen’s daughter. It wasn’t unusual for Christy to call me since Karen and I looked after her two boys Xavier 12 and Caleb 8 from time to time. When I picked up Christy was crying and sobbing I could almost not understand her. I asked what’s wrong are the boys okay? Her reply was “Mom is gone!” Confused I asked what do you mean gone where did she go at this time of night!” Over her cries, I heard “She’s dead!” Those words struck a knife in my heart that I feel to this day. All I could say was “No” over and over again. I told my supervisor that the was a problem at home with my wife and left. The drive from South Milwaukee to our place in Milwaukee was the longest drive ever in my life. I get home and the neighborhood is lit up with police cars, fire department trucks and an ambulance. I walk in the house and there is Karen laying on the sofa like she was sleep. Our son Deion was crying, Christy was crying, Caleb was nowhere to be seen and Xavier looked like his whole world had collapsed. Later I would learn that Xavier is the one that found her when he tried to say goodnight to her and she wasn’t responsive, he had waited ten to fifteen minutes before telling his mom about her. The next week and a half was a blur to me. I remember the funeral, but not much else. Needless to say, that Thanksgiving and Christmas had little meaning to us. To add to the misery Christy was to graduate from Averno College on Dec 21st which was also Karen’s birthday. From the loss of Karen, my passion was beginning to become clearer. In Feb of 2014, I found a job as a Peer Specialist with the Guesthouse of Milwaukee, during the interview I could feel Karen’s presence with me. So now the purpose was clear to me and written in stone in front of me to make Karen proud of what she had started in me to think outside of me and care for others that may not be as fortunate as me. To give back to the community to make it better. I will boldly admit that the man I am today is a direct result of knowing and loving Karen. Without her, I wouldn’t be writing this I wouldn’t even be in Wisconsin.
So now we come to the last date where it all comes together. January 15, 2019, I’m working at Chrysalis as an Employment Specialist It’s about 8:30 and I had just poured my first cup of coffee and was going to start doing some paperwork when I needed to go to the bathroom. So, I’m sitting there and I notice my heart is beating fast and loud I can almost hear it. I try to stand and get very lightheaded and almost passed out. I managed to make it out of the bathroom and was headed to my desk when the lights in me went out and I collapsed and fell into the door my supervisor scaring the living daylights out her. Quick thinking by my coworkers calling 911 and the fire house being only a few blocks away I was taken to the hospital. It was here that I learned that I had a PE or a Pulmonary Embolism. There was a huge blood clot between my heart and lungs and my heart rate was over 160 beats as my heart tried to pump the blood it wasn’t getting because of the clot. I was put on clot busting medication to get rid of the clot. Later doctors told me that the quick thing of coworkers saved my life, if I had been home alone I wouldn’t have though much to it and gotten up and continued doing what I was doing. Worse still if I had been driving I may have killed someone else along with my dying. I have to take blood thinning medication for the rest of my life, but that a small price to pay to be alive. During my stay in the hospital both my daughter Christy and my grandson Xavier talked to me about my mortality and how I needed to take better care of myself and that is when my passion came fully ablaze.
In short, my purpose is to be the best human I can and to always try to go out of my way to do things to help others, such as volunteering at my church’s food pantry and things to make Karen proud of me and my passion is to take better care of myself so that I can be around see any more grandkids and maybe even some great grandchildren.