Charlie Klosner, 28, kills time wandering up and down the radio dial of his tow truck. Working two shifts alone in a New York truck cab gives him plenty of time to think. Too much time. Of all places, his wanderings stop at one of New York's few country stations. His hip-hop-listening friends tease him, but the lyrics are about family and fit his mood when he misses his kids. He's not sure if he listens to country music when he's feeling down or if he feels down when he listens to country music.
In October, he moved his family to Florida. His 19-month-old daughter, Jocelyn, was born without a tibia in her leg. After months of battles with doctors and Medicaid, the family moved from New York to his mother's home in Spring Hill so Jocelyn could be close to Shriners Hospital. The care she gets there is free and world class. She's getting a prosthetic leg and the rehab she needs to learn to walk.
Thing is, he's not worried about Jocelyn. His daughter is beautiful and happy. It's 7-year-old Sebastian who's hurting the worst. His grades are down, he's acting out, he's being tutored after school, he mopes. While his sister deals effortlessly with her missing leg, he struggles with how much he misses his dad.
"My oldest is begging me to come home. He's at an age where he really needs me around," Charlie says. "I turned around and my kids are 7 and 5. I'm missing more than I'm seeing. It's to be able to give them everything they want ... Well, that's never going to happen, but to provide for them. There's a lot more to go, but I've missed a good part of my kids' lives making ends meet and paying the bills. That's what my dad did and what I'm trying not to do."
From October to January he tried without luck to get work in Spring Hill. He explored working in Tampa, but more than a quarter of his paycheck would go toward gas to make the commute. He could make $13 an hour at his old job in New York; they need people to work overtime, and he wouldn't have to drive to work. Now he balances the extra money with the difficulty, and consequences, of being so far away.
He flew to Tampa recently to interview for a garbage collector's job with Waste Management in Spring Hill. After meeting his wife and daughter at Shriners in Tampa, they headed up to surprise the boys at school. Sebastian exploded into Charlie's arms. The 5-year-old, Damien, gave him a hug and a kiss.
"Can we play Xbox?" he asks. Damien has adjusted to his dad's absences. Sebastian won't let go of his neck. When he does, he's glued to Dad's hip.
His few days at home fly by, and Charlie's back in his truck. The best and worst country song, the one that makes his eyes water, is Rodney Atkins' Watching You:
He said I've been watching
you dad, ain't that cool
I'm your buckaroo, I wanna
be like you
And eat all my food and
grow as tall as you are
We got cowboy boots and
Yeah we're just alike,
hey ain't we dad
I wanna do everything
So I've been watching you
Between towing cars, Charlie keeps checking in with Waste Management in Spring Hill. He gets a three-day trial working on the back of a truck. As long as he is a good worker and gets along with everyone, he's hired. Most important, he's coming home.
John Pendygraft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8050.