Dramatic and life-altering events take place in our lives, and people around us go on with their routines like nothing had happened. Neighbors came back from work, kids were playing outside while we were gasping for air, desperately trying to find a solution out of our dilemma.
Our story is just one of many. We are not special, yet we felt singled out. Why was this happening to us?
August, 2009: My husband had just had been informed that his largest client, who had kept him and his employees busy for years, had closed the doors after their largest customer didn’t pay the last invoices. It’s like a small snowball in the alps starts rolling downhill from the top. What at first seems insignificant, becomes bigger and bigger, and when it finally hits you, it’s not a small ball anymore but an avalanche. It knocks you off your feet, it seems to swallow you completely, it buries you under its weight.
My husband’s company, his pride and joy for 10 years, went belly up with one call- we just didn’t know it yet. He and his employees had just come back a few days earlier after they had finished a big project. Four weeks out of town at a military base. He had been so proud of the job, had shown me the blueprints numerous times. He had talked about it for days and weeks before it started. Now the dream project had turned into a nightmare. We had bills to pay, most importantly, around ten employees and their families depended on our checks, just like we depended on the check for the completed work.
We had to make a decision. Either we would tell our employees we couldn’t pay them for the last three weeks of work, and keep the money in our account for us and our bills, or we would pay our employees, which would empty our account and the savings.
We played all the scenarios in our head, and in the end, it was a no-brainer. Paying the employees was not just the right thing to do, it was also the logical thing to do. Surely, soon would be busy again, and without employees, we didn’t even stand a chance. After all, it was only the two of us and four dogs. Our employees on the other hand had kids and families who depended on them. And so we wrote and signed the checks, and paid all the invoices that were due for the business. We even paid the rent for the warehouse space, so were ready for all future projects.
We really believed this was just a temporary setback. Somehow, we would find a way to keep ourselves afloat. I had just quit my job as a translator a year before and now worked part-time for my husband, who kept me busy with payroll, taxes, invoices, and all the other things that were needed in his small company. My husband had become my boss, which amused me endlessly. “I always wanted to sleep with the boss,” I joked at get-togethers. I had started my furniture restoration business in our garage, but when the recession started and the economy went down, people were busy surviving. My service was not needed at that time. There was no money coming in from my side either.
We were confident and started calling all the businesses my husband and his crew had worked for in the past. Surely there was work -somewhere. When one is willing, there is always work. We were willing to outbid everybody, were willing to take a small loss -if necessary. Anything! Everything! There had to be a way out.
We found projects and won the bids, but all of them were months away -too long for us. We survived another three months, then one afternoon we sat in the living room surrounded by all the past due bills. We had already sold the stamp collection. A stamp dealer had taken advantage of me. I must have shown my desperation because he only paid me 1K for a collection that was worth five times the amount. I had taken the offer. We needed the gas money to be able to look for work, we needed dog food and groceries.
We were three months behind with our mortgage payments and car payments. Things got real, very fast. I tried to land a job as a translator or interpreter and had no luck. Nobody was hiring. The recession was in full swing and we were right in the middle of it.
Why us? We always came back to the same question? We didn’t deserve that. I suppose nobody ever does. It just doesn’t help. If you didn’t do anything wrong, why does it feel like you did?
There was no work available in our area. My husband couldn’t file for unemployment and I didn’t, because the thought never crossed my mind. I had never relied on government help in my life, why would I now?
That afternoon we finally faced reality. We would lose the house, and we had nowhere to go. There was no money left to empty out our home or store our furniture either.
We looked at our dogs, “our babies” and made a promise to each other. We would do what we could to keep them. After all, we were family. Three big rescue dogs and an ankle biter, who was from a litter of puppies my best friend’s dogs had given birth to.
I called her that afternoon, asked her if we could park “the ankle biter” who we loved dearly at her house for a few months. A few hours later she came by with a few bottles of wine, we sat down and talked.
She had problems herself. While still employed at an oil company, she had put all her savings and part of her retirement money into her dream. She had invested 40K in a building with a dream kitchen on her property, at the worst time ever. She wanted to open a sausage kitchen, producing homemade Cajun-style sausages, and smoked meats she had grown up with.
The kitchen full of equipment was empty. The freezers were full of meat. One of her neighbors, a young man who had sounded so promising, the cook she thought would be able to make all her dreams come true, didn’t know what he was doing.
At the end of the day, we had come up with a plan. My husband and I would separate temporarily. Our dogs and I would move in with my friend, and my husband would leave and look for work out of state, living with his brother in the meantime.
There was no work available where we lived, surely it would be different in a bigger city, in a different state.
And so he left two days later, a truck full of tools and “stuff”. A flat-screen TV, clothes, comforter, and pillows and everything else he would need to start all over new. In just a few weeks I would follow with the dogs and we would start a new life…somewhere.
So we thought…