Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Trying To Breathe In the Swirling Heat of Life's Dust Storm

I was literally sitting at my desk, going through old papers, when I started hyperventaliting.

Deep breath in, out, close the eyes, focus, then ponder how in the world someone who once had stellar credit, money in the bank, a home, and a future, ended up with next to nothing, wanting, and grasping for straws.

Perhaps that is a bit dramatic, but not too far from accurate.

In an ever transparent way, the past thirteen years since leaving a well-paying corporate position have been less than ideal. It has been enough of a struggle to make me wonder if it was just me.

When I was lamenting and thinking it was just me, in a roundabout way, someone reminded me that it was not just me and it was by design.

Even Prince Georges County, Maryland, is seeing their generation prestige being swept away in the residue of the subprime mortgage crisis, the crashed economy, and the stifling racism that has strangled out many professionals who had more than a little bit of melanin in their skin.

What happened to me?

There was once that I traced it to when I remarried.

I had an excellent credit score, practically perfect, because I lived within my means, had money in the bank, paid my bills on time, didn't buy what I couldn't pay with cash, and just lived.

Then I got married.

That brings joys and some pain when that happens and you are older, merging households, and one has a bit more financial challenge than the other, a bit less stellar credit, and credit card bills that can paper a wall.

So you push through and devise a plan to fix it, whatever it is, and speak the name of the demon in the room.  Somebody has to be in charge of the mess.

Then I got a well-paying job, a house I could afford on one salary if I had to, and in the year, a new child that wasn't planned but well wanted and loved. All was well, pulling in over a six-figure income and still living like I made a third of that, we moved on with life. There weren't bills piling up, we didn't use credit cards to make purchases, we lived on what we had, we gave, and we kept going.

Then 911.

Then the demon boss straight from the pit of hell who was bent on destroying every MBA that crossed her path.  I ended up being in the whirlwind of that little tornado, as did a few other women in my department who found themselves on the other side of a pink slip without an opportunity.

Never been  unemployed and ever resilient, I started the calls.

The problem was it was 2003. And I was pregnant. And no one wanted to hire a thirty-something, sunkissed, MBA with a baby-on-the-way.

We were fine, so I thought.

Then the bottom dropped out and the mister lost his job.

Zero income, a home, another unplanned baby on the way, and enough degrees (and debt) to fill the rooms of that 3500 square foot home.

He found something at half his former salary, nothing was opening for me, seemed like everyone forgot that even in hard times, marketing, advertising, and communications is the last thing they should cut. Offers for commission sales jobs in a Mojave desert territory came in with promises of everyone needing Aflac or some multilevel marketing scheme.

I launched a boutique little firm focused on micropreneurs, juggled infants when I thought I was done with the babymaking, and we pushed through.

One of his trusted friends swindled $20,000 from us in a renovation that was to prepare our 3500 sq. ft. home for sale since he took a position on the other side of the state. We didn't think it made sense to keep two homes, so we figured that this one-owner home would sale.

It finally did, after even the realtor swindled us and shortsold the house for $100,000 less than what it was worth.

I stormed, screamed, prayed, how in the hell did this happen to me? To us? I am a good person, an honest and decent person. Never cheated anyone, rolled up my sleeves to help anyone who asked, and now was looking at my beloved home gone, being in a part of the state that was beyond cliquish, was backwards in everything from race relations, economic development, and women's rights.

Knocked on doors, all the while the second of those unexpected babies was in the throws of a rare illness that threatened to take away life before it started. Years rolled by with doctor's visits, hospitalizations, and more medicine and laundry than one can count.

When will they take their foot off my neck, I wondered?

Another decade turned, demands for sorority membership before one would give a job lead, or that if one was not in the exclusive moms' club, one was not worth of that corporate job lead, or if not in the right church, right part of town, right whatever.

Was this all a nightmare?

The years have turned into a decade and there are more like me than I want to know. One lives in an enormous house driving a luxury car and can't even buy bread. Another is charged up to the hilt with only enough sales to pay the minimum. Appearances matter.

Until the world turned upside down and the realization hit that something had to change. Not sure what that something is. Was it moving? Or demanding that no, not giving away my expertise for free? Was it applying for the lower paid jobs that won't even look at you, but you apply anyway? Was it telling the story that perhaps in the telling it would free someone else? Was it starting a gofundme like a lot of the young activists did for everything for rent to plane tickets to new computers and your a bit older self just could not bring yourself to beg folks for superficial things when you had an IRS bill staring you in the face.

What is it about the last fifteen years since 9-11 that makes so many people feel like life and possibility has been squeezed from them? That has their adult children living at home with them without the possibility of independence?

Did someone sell us all a bill of goods we will never be able to repay?

There aren't enough $5 jeans and reducing-reusing-recycling that will make this go away.

So what does one do?

The real estate commercials promise a flip opportunity in the suburb where a tiny bungalow is listed for $289,789 because the district is a destination. Someone is waiting to clean up while in the same suburb there are so many house rich and cash poor, eating up everything at the PTO meeting.

I began to observe and then wonder if what Will Smith once said is true, so many people are spending money they don't have to impress people that don't care.

That wasn't our case at all.

We just had the twin demons of bad events - job loss and health issues.

Can recovery be a consideration when even Elizabeth Warren's crusade for the rest of us seems like it won't reach your little part of America?

Sitting in my office, surrounded by more need than resources, I began to understand the desperation that is driving the mania around one hair-flyover candidate who promises this generation's version of a chicken in every pot, if just the right ones make America great again. They are scared. So they do what scared people do, lash out, except, not at the ones that put them in their predicament.

Me, never one to stop thinking of a way to fix it, started to ponder my intellectual capital and if spliting up the family would be the way to meet the rest of my life without a bill hanging over me.

Once I caught my breath, looked at the dates on some of the envelopes, realized that while we were swindled, the burden of the other house is lifted from the mister's shoulders. That I have been present in the life of the last two unexpected blessings, and that the right doors will open up.

In the meantime, anyone have a shoebox for all these envelopes and a mask for all this dust swirling around??

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