Monday, January 26, 2009

Foreclosure - Part 1

I'm more than a little wary of blogs. They seem to range from self-indulgent (do I really need to know every single detail about your colonoscopy?) to long forgotten. I actually once saw a blog created in celebration of a child's birth. It was so long since the creator had written in it that her next entry was about the child leaving for college. I was absolutely determined not to go on and on about my personal stuff unless it helped one of the newly poor in some way. Well since I am now officially one of those screw ups (just ask anyone-they'll tell you) who brought this on myself I was served with foreclosure papers today.

My entire professional life has been spent helping people like the person I've become again. Because of starting out in my twenties needing to find those little things like food and shelter for my children. Working nights and going to college days I spent years moving from being the person in need to the person who helped the people in need. One of the proudest days of my life was when I gave the commencement address to the community college that helped me change my life. It was astonishing. In my mind my goal has always been clear - to inform the people who have the right to know where the help is, where the money is, what the people who are supposed to help them really do. In short, no secrets. For over 20 years my motto has been "No secrets." If I didn't know how something worked I dug deep until I did. I was privileged to work with the "good" politicians (and that's not an oxymoron) who felt as I did. I lived in the world of political appointments and that was OK with me. I knew the rules. When the appointment ends you pack up your bank boxes and head for home. You make other plans. I knew I was no Condoleeza Rice. Although I had a great of grants knowledge and even a few Washington connections no one was pounding on my door to get it. Still I knew when my appointment by the Governor ended I'd need an exit strategy - something to do that used 25+ years of grants knowledge. So I created my own business. I was even fortunate enough to get a U.S. Small Business Administration loan. Life was good. Two years later I had discovered one of the most important rules of running a business...just because you know how to do something doesn't mean you'll know how to run a business. I thought I could fix things by working harder, by working 16-18 hour days. I didn't realize how important marketing would be particularly I didn't know a damn thing about marketing. I also didn't know it takes anywhere from 2 to 5 years to really get a business going. I worked harder. I KNEW I could make the business work if only I could figure out how to work 24 hours a day 7 days a week. My body refused to agree.

September 2007 I had a stroke. I was lucky. With alot of physical therapy I was finally able to walk with out a brace. Since the stroke was in the occipital region of my brain my vision has been wonky and still is. I couldn't remember the words to describe things and that was frustrating as hell. The business was leaking away from me. Who wants to pay $125 an hour for a consultant that can scarcely remember their clients name? I climbed back. Six months later I was walking without the brace and remembering the name of the kitchen table which was table by the way. I picked up 5 new clients in the first quarter of 2008 alone. I knew it was going to be my year. Finally, revenue in the black, the ability to pay back bills and keep the lights on. I could start answering the telephone again without fear it was a bill collector. Wahoo!

I woke up in the intensive care unit of the local hospital two weeks later. My tiredness was actually complete respiratory failure. I had a tube down my throat for almost a week. I guess it got so bad they asked my husband that question you see on tv all the time - "What do you want us to do?" which is medical-speak for should we let her die. My husband was smart enough to know I'd come back and haunt his ass forever. Between the hospital and the rehab center (It's amazing how fast you lose the ability to walk when you're in bed for a few weeks) by the time I got home my "this is my year" was over. In grant world deadlines rule so my clients had to find other consultants to help them find and write grants. They just couldn't wait for me.

The business was over. Unfortunately this also meant the end of any kind of income. I was in big trouble. I had to choose between paying the mortgage and finding food, paying the mortgage and paying the electric bill, paying the mortgage and getting fuel oil. We didn't qualify for ANYTHING! We exceeded the income means test for every kind of aid. It got so bad that at one point we had to borrow $20 from our neighbor. We started going to the food bank but since I'd previously worked for the soup kitchen I just couldn't bring myself to go there to eat. I was so ashamed of having gone from overseeing non-profit organizations to needing their help once again. This was not where I expected to be at 55. I wouldn't leave the house because I didn't want anyone to talk to me. The clothes that had once shown me to be a fashion plate were long gone and the elastic in my underwear was broken. I was wearing what my mother said I shouldn't get caught going to the emergency room in. I called a few friends and colleagues for money. If you're in my situation I strongly advise you not to do it. When they turn you do (and they will) you'll want to grab the nearest sharp implement and slit your wrists. You'll hope you never run into these people again. When my husband is faced with a crisis he stops eating. I take the opposite approach and gained another 20lbs.

After five months of trying to hold it all together I finally received my first pension check and was approved for disability. Money was finally going to return to my life. Unfortunately it was five months too late. I was served with a foreclosure notice yesterday. Part 2 of this blog will tell you how it turns out