Like many people in the years between 2009 to 2011, I lost everything. This is difficult for me to talk about and all of the people I work with now have no idea I’ve gone through this. If someone asked me about it, I would be forthright. I think the reason I keep it to myself is that there is shame associated with your life collapsing and it’s not a pleasant time to remember. Simply writing about it now causes me to feel a lot of anxiety. I don’t think you can appreciate where you are unless you tell the story of where you’ve been and how you got here.
Post-divorce, I threw myself into an opportunity as an independent contractor working for a company doing outside sales for a program that targeted employees of large companies. My primary contacts were the people who were the decision makers of Accounting or Human Resources. I did very well. I was able to buy a house and on occasion have income that I couldn’t believe I had earned. When the company went out of business after a slow crawl to death at the end of 2009, I was unable to find a new job.
It was a desperate time in the national economy and I was one of the many who were out there losing our lives, in shock for how difficult it was to even get an interview, and trying to figure out how to survive. Eventually, I had to take a job waitressing in a Mexican restaurant where everyone was Mexican except for me and I don’t speak Spanish, however, I was desperate and grateful for the $60-$100 a night I would make in tips. I could barely pay the utility bill, could not afford a cell phone or internet and usually couldn’t make a car payment and definitely could not make a mortgage payment. There was one 45 day period of time where my electricity was shut off in March and April about five years ago and the ambient temperature in my house was in the low 40’s. Thank God, I had a wood burning fireplace and moved the sofa in front of it so that I could burn wood and stay warm at night. Eventually I found a very bad sales job with a low salary, but that got me working again in a ‘real job,’ which eventually led to a better-very-bad-sales job with a bit higher salary and onward until I got to where I am now; can barely pay my bills but the income is steady and the company is excellent.
As you would expect, not making a mortgage payment for three years would lead to a foreclosure which led to a bankruptcy and soon I had to find a new place to live. The timing was working out; my three kids were all going to be in college so I only had to worry about finding a place for my thirteen year old, extremely large, one hundred pound Golden Retriever, Chance, and myself. I’d saved enough money for the three month rent I would need due to my now wrecked credit rating and took a day off in May of 2014 to go look for an apartment.
I live in a sketchy region for rentals on the Indiana side of Chicago where there are Norman Rockwell neighborhoods and contrasting neighborhoods and whole towns know for gangs, thugs, trash, danger, murder, assaults and high rental rates. In the neighborhoods I would have loved to reside, the rental rates were twice as much as I could afford. In the price range I could afford, I was afraid I could die.
I did a lot of research, took many scouting drives and finally came up with a list of about a half dozen apartment complexes that seemed okay and advertised would accept a dog. I had no idea that meant a very small dog. That day I set out to make a fresh start I was repeatedly told there is no way they would allow a one hundred pound dog in the place, even if he was a quiet old man who never barked. Defeated, I stopped to get an oil change and regroup. I would have preferred to rent a house but the rental rate on homes was way out of my stratosphere. Now I knew that was my only option. I had been looking at Zillow and Trulia every day for months. I bought a cup of coffee and I sat down with my lap top while the guys worked on my car and pulled the sites up again with a different perspective; anything affordable that would take a big dog.
And then there was a miracle. So much of a miracle it seems like Divine Intervention. A very small cottage in a community that my entire adult life I had wanted to live in had opened up overnight. It was incredibly small – 800 square feet, but a block from the beach and completely in my price range. I was practically sweating as I hurried out of the Jiffy Lube and drove up to Beverly Shores. As soon as I saw it I knew it was perfect. It needed a lot of TLC on the outside, but the inside was adorable. Within a week I had signed the lease.
To put this in perspective for you, Beverly Shores is a very old beach community about 60 miles from down town Chicago. It is home to the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore and borders the Dunes State Park. For twenty five years I have been driving out here to go walk on the beach or run or hike. I have dreamed of living out here but was short a million dollars to buy any of the real estate. Primarily, Beverly Shores is the weekend beach community for Chicago people who can afford a second home at the beach. Only 160 residents live here all year round. It is right on the South Shore Train Line so it’s an excellent and short commute to Chicago. I don’t work in Chicago but it’s still handy to have it available.
When I moved into the cottage on June 1st last summer I felt like I had moved into a dream. My entire lifestyle changed. I would get up by 4:30 and take my Retriever down to the beach to fetch tennis balls and swim as I walked barefoot up the sand and watched the sun come up over the eastern horizon in bold orange and golden yellows. The sand is white, the shore is topped by tall pines, and across the water is the clear horizon of the city of Chicago. At the end of the day I would come home and sometimes pour a beer in a plastic cup, put on shorts and a t-shirt and flip flops and take Chance back down to swim and run and explore. As I walked barefoot up the sand I would say to myself, “How is this even possible? How could I possibly live here?”
I got here because of my dog Chance and he passed away suddenly and quickly of a heart attack on October 15th. We both had the best summer of our lives. I am happy for him that our final summer brought him daily runs on the beach and swimming every day. I am happy for me that he brought me here because I would not have looked if I hadn’t been thinking of him.
I am in graduate school, the final steps, and the funny thing is that being in graduate school has caused me to be a much more prolific and disciplined writer. Previously I would write in absolute fits and starts; frantically for seven days and then nothing for two months. Being in graduate school with a six to eight page paper due every Sunday by midnight turned a key and built habits for me that I hope I can maintain when I am done next May. It does not matter if you don’t know what you are going to write about or how to say it when you have to turn something in by midnight. Somehow, some way, you figure out how to get it done. Deadlines are important. Most of us independent writers don’t have deadlines. Building habits for writing is difficult when you juggle a lot of balls; family, work, commuting, and everything else in between. And I do commute. I drive 70 miles one way for the privilege of living on the beach. Now that gas prices are at $2.20 a gallon, it almost seems reasonable. It’s a huge amount of drive time. The best case scenario on that drive is about an hour and twenty minutes; throw in some bad weather or an accident and I can be in the car over two hours one way.
I know; most people who know I do this think I am out of my mind. Except for this; imagine driving five minutes from the office to a high rise apartment that overlooked malls and buildings and nothing interesting or driving an hour and a half, the final twenty minutes on a winding road through pine trees and deer and beauty to arrive in the forest, at the beach, directly across from down town Chicago and I think it is a no-brainer. As soon as I am slipping off my flip flops on the beach and walking up the sand barefoot I think to myself again, and again, how could you not want to be doing this?
And so all things have combined like water running down a funnel to bring me to this unbelievable place in my life where I have a lot of solitude and nature and reflection and time to write.
I’ve always been writing, as most writers say, since my earliest days. I wrote like a deranged woman while I went through my divorce, through the dark days of the financial collapse, now…starting since I was young enough I told stories with pictures.
My grandparents had a roll-top desk where they kept a seemingly endless supply of little blank white two by three inch note pads. When I spent two weeks with them every summer I would open the desk top and feel like I hit the lottery. Blank, white pads ready for me to fill up with my stories. I have never stopped. I’m old enough that much of what I have written is in the form of notebooks or typed manuscripts. The joy of moving is that I consolidated all of those things; scraps of paper, half-finished manuscripts, and dozens of notebooks and journals into three, huge, plastic crates. When I take out those crates and start to look at those things I realize I have a huge treasure trove of material and ideas. I feel like an artist must feel when they walk into their studio with multiple easels holding half-completed canvases and tubes of paint and brushes and space to let go and start working.
There is divinity and serendipity in life and no matter what happens to you the most important thing to remember is that life is fluid. It can feel as though we are braced in between boulders trying desperately to grasp the slick granite stones against the on rush of tons of pounds of water or it can feel like we are riding that water down the river, gliding on top of it, slipping between the obstacles until we reach that lazy pool at the bottom where everything stops and is easy.
Sometimes all you can do is to hold on. You hold on for dear life and you pray that you will make it one more day, and then one more day after that until a day comes that you don’t live in fear anymore. And then again, like my grandparents who lived through the Great Depression, I am not certain I will ever shake the fear of losing everything and will take anything for granted. It is so interesting how these experiences change us forever. No matter how much I have or how much I succeed I will never forget living without electricity for 45 days and worrying that I would freeze to death at night if the fire went out. My children and my dog had to move in with my ex-husband full time. It was the most humiliating and depressing time of my life. There were nights I wished that I would fall asleep and not wake up. After you go through something like that and end up here, and you wake up and make your cup of coffee and step out on the porch to look at the pine trees and listen to the waves hit the beach your perspective changes. Every single morning I start my day with gratitude. I know – it’s an overused expression these days. But for me it is real. I am grateful to be here, to have my family, my children, my friends, my talents, my job, and money to pay my utility bills. I dream of other things; of traveling a lot, of great philanthropic projects, but I will never fail to be grateful for the immediate luxury of waking up in my own life, where I am, and what life has taught me.
I go to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing on the shores of Lake Michigan and the South Shore Line running through Beverly Shores. I go to sleep with the sounds of owls and raccoons and the wind blowing through the pine trees. I go to sleep with the sound of my own heart beating steadily under the covers in a warm cottage and I am grateful. I will always be grateful for those things that so many of us take for granted