The Creation of Life Indiscreet
As I sit here in this drab-weathered Sunday, I reflect. Reflecting on the past few years of where I was, where I had been, where I am now, and most importantly, where I am going.
Unless you have been living under a rock or just oblivious to the happenings in the world since the beginning of 2020, you were most likely affected by the pandemic and its byproducts of mayhem. Whether it was financial or your physical, AND mental health, it wreaked havoc on society. It also brought about some long overdue advances in technology and the way we do business. However, this is not what this about.
Going back to 2018, I was working in an executive position for a decent size family-owned company in my region of the United States. We had a total of about 600 employees. This was my retirement career. Having just turned 40, I had drained what savings and investments I had to relocate my family and built our dream home a year prior. Having a handsome six-figure income, it would allow me to rebuild. We drove the newest vehicles, had cutting edge technology surrounding us, travelled, and for the most part, our perception was that we were happy. Well, we thought we were.
Then at the end of 2018, the week of Thanksgiving, my career came to a screeching halt. It was as if a train was going full speed and just stopped in its tracks. My position put me over several employees and directors, I found myself entangled in a mess with one troublesome employee I thought I had handled. Several counseling sessions, written disciplinary actions, and continued issues ongoing, I was terminating a female employee. Or so I thought…
Two days in November 2018, I will remember and carry with me for the rest of my life. The employee I refer to had not shown up for work again, had not texted or called. Her department manager contacted me, and I gave the go-ahead to terminate. Enough was enough. Then a text came through to my cell. It was her and she had the flu. I had stated she needed to communicate this with her direct supervisor and needed to go get tested and provide the documentation to HR. Thought this was simple enough and communicated this to her supervisor. She played the sick card every Monday and Friday as is, it was getting old.
A few hours later, I was approached by an employee in her department that had stopped me and asked to show me something. The employee that approached me was one of our best. She felt she needed to share something she saw on Facebook that alarmed her. She showed me the post that the woman who called out posted. It was a flu test, with certain private information blurred out. Ok? Positive. Yikes! She then showed me a simple Google image search of the posted image and showed me the EXACT image that was posted. Unblurred. Looking at each, they were the same. The employee forgot to mark out the date code on the bottom of the screen shot, which showed the test was administered in 2012. She had taken an image of a positive flu test and posted on Facebook for others to see. Basically, manipulating a story. Enough was enough, and this was par for the course with this employee.
Contacting her supervisor, I told him to complete the termination paperwork. Shared what I had seen, and to hear him say, “that is not the first time she has done that”, made me shake my head in disbelief. How long were we going to allow this behavior? Going about my daily routine, I let that issue go to the back of my mind. A few random texts throughout the day from the woman that called out sick, in which I did not reply. Which probably incited what happened next.
Always one of the first to the office, I settled into my office and began reviewing reports, forecasts, and catching up on emails. The president of the company texted me asking if I was in my office. I confirmed I was, as this was not unusual, as we had a good relationship and would chat about all things business and even personal things.
As he walked into my office, I noticed he had with him the head of HR and a few other directors. Great, another impromptu meeting. As they settled into the chairs surrounding my desk, I noticed a very troubled look on all their faces. This concerned me. Making small talk and humor, I noticed responses and usual smiles were absent. That is when I heard the words, ones, I had never heard directed towards me in my career. This coming out of the mouth of the president of the company.
“As of today, you no longer work for the company.”
Initially, I smirked and looked around at the other faces. All of whom were looking in other direction. Having a history of playing innocent pranks on one another at times, I thought something comedic would follow. It did not. I had actually been terminated. The usual questions came from my mouth, ones that are looking for reasons as I was a very prominent and well-respected team member. No answers, just them gathering a few boxes and helping pack my belongings.
This is how my 2018 ended. A few weeks after that day, I had found out the female employee had taken guidance from her mother on how to not get fired. It included filing sexual harassment claims on me and reporting false inappropriate behavior. Unfortunate thing is, when that got out to the employees, as she bragged about doing it, they lost about 30% of their staff. Yes, people resigned. It did make me feel good people respected me that much to know it was nonsense and to leave the company if they are going to condone those type of serious but false accusations, but I was at this point, unemployable.
My career is a kind of common one, but also in a circle that communication is wide open amongst peers at different companies. It did not take long before I realized this as other companies would not return calls or emails. One of my former assistants texted me and stated the female employee’s mom had been watching the news closely on the whole #metoo movement unfolding and building steam. This is where she realized she could save her daughters job. The employee, laughingly, told others everything of how her mother helped her. Even down to looking up programs to fabricate text messages that looked legit and from me.
For the record, it infuriated me that these situations really happen to women in the workplace, and here I am dealing, dealing with someone fabricating something from real issues.
To say this did not consume me, would be an outright lie. Having been sober for just over a year at this time and had not had a drink. Alcoholism had started destroying my finances and almost ruined my marriage. Luckily, my wife supported me through an alcohol program in early 2017, and knew I wanted to live healthier and without the crutch of booze. Two weeks in a treatment center was hell, but worth the time invested. During the time after my termination, I slowly slipped back into old ways.
Then 2019 rolled into full blast. Having exhausted all finances to pay bills in my lifestyle, I was quickly going under. Consulted with a law firm to eventually sue the company that terminated me for wrongful termination. Sank time, money, and all emotional energy into clearing my name. Being well known in my business, people knew I was not one to sexually harass, tease, or even insult. Yet, a stigma was formed, and I could not acquire immediate gainful employment. My mortgage was falling behind, vehicle lease payments defaulting, credit cards beyond their limits, and having to borrow money from friends to put food on the table and keep the utilities paid. Unemployment barely helped in my case.
At this point, I knew I had to give up.
What had I done?
How could I have prevented it?
Can I overcome this?
Why did I allow this to happen, and my wife and kid have to suffer through it?
On top of all of what was going on, I lost my best friend.
I rescued Jack when he was a puppy. Answered an ad in 2005 to go look at a Jack Russell Terrier puppy. When I arrived, I found myself amidst a puppy mill operation. Looking around, all I saw was filth, starving dogs, and even a few deceased dogs in kennels. This triggered every anger button in my being. Yet, I kept my cool. They had one puppy left, which was not a Jack Russell Terrier. It was a terrier/schnauzer mix of some sort. A scraggly, small, starving, flee-ridden baby. Picking him up, I headed back to the truck. I put him in the passenger seat. The husband came out to the truck stating I had not paid his wife yet, so he was needing the $200. When I looked up after hearing this from the cab of my truck, I noticed he had a shotgun in his hand. I grinned, which surprised him. I then pulled out my .45 handgun and tucked it in my pants very calmy, so he could see I was serious as well. I then told him I was taking the puppy and if he wanted to try and stop me, that his wife and daughter would miss him. He looked shocked, said a few choice words and I went on my way. Long story short here, I notified a slew of people which got several law enforcement agencies and no-kill shelters/rescues involved. I purchased 40 large bags of food and sent the local vet out there as well the next day. They are no longer in business, but I did the best I could for the rest of those babies. Hopefully, they all found homes. I ended up donating a lot of money, food, and leads to shelters and rescues that helped.
Jack Knackers was my little buddy. I initially got him to have a companion for my other terrier, Roxy. Jack came across his name naturally. After I nursed his scrawny ass back to health, he turned into the Tasmanian devil. Therefore, I usually called him jackass. Jack for short. Knackers came later as after puppyhood, he became a very calm, loving, docile, gentleman. Just rang right. Jack Knackers or Knick Knack. When Jack was 5 years old, he suffered an episode where he lost function of his back legs. After nearly $10,000 worth of specialist visits over a three-day period, it was deemed fibrocartilaginous embolism, FCE for short. No known cure or prevention. Head of the Dallas Veterinary Clinic stated that he could regain most function back but might not as well. He was not positive, just knew it wasn’t anything to do with this back or herniated discs. Either way, he needed therapy. Which Jack got. At home and by specialists, for pretty much the remainder of his life. He regained about 80% function and had what I describe as a pimp limp. Crazy part was the first emergency doctor recommended putting him down. I sent her pics and updates for the next five years. Just to remind her what perseverance it.
It was a spring night in 2019 and I was stressed. I took the last $20 I had and went to the dollar general and bought all I could to feed my family for a few nights. I got home, and as usual, Jack met me at the door. He followed me out to the truck as I grabbed the last bag. Always on my ass following me around. Later that night, as my wife and I were going to bed, I looked at Jack in his bed and asked my wife if she had given him a haircut. She laughed and said she had not. She even looked and said he looked younger. We laughed, as Jack was our good old boy. He raised our two cats and even our German Shepherd. The dog loved all animals, creatures, and humans. He was getting old and gray and having issues with the FCE aftereffects. He had just turned 14.
The next morning, I got up. Did the usual. Stress out, send resumes, and follow-up with my lawyers. I noticed Jack was not around. I started looking for him and could not find him. I turned the house upside down for a few hours as this was out of character. I knew his health had gone downhill in the past year, but where the hell is he? It is not his time! I ended up searching the neighborhood and scouring everywhere, which is off, as Jack would never run off. Never had. I could walk around anywhere, and he would stay within a few feet of me. After searching from 8am that morning until nearly midnight, it dawned on me to check the cameras. Which I did. Nothing. Then I went back to the previous night to look at an alert on the security system. When I had come home from the store, he was out there. But…we saw him in the house before we went to bed? What is going on? Grief stricken and still sick with worry, I prayed. Asking for a sign or something to take me to my buddy or bring him to me. Eyes closed, full of tears, and head in my hands and voice or something in my head told me to go look by the pond. The pond is half a mile from the house, and Jack and I have only been out there once. Which was a few weeks back. I got up, grabbed my wife, and headed to the gate of the field that led to the pond. It was 2 AM in the morning, cold as hell.
When we pulled up to the gate, I looked at her, and told her to stay in the truck. Her eyes full of tears, she nodded yes. Hopping through the section in the gate that allows access, I walked with only a flashlight to the pond. When I arrived, under the huge, beautiful oak tree laid my buddy. Curled up, undisturbed, and looked like he was sleeping. He had passed. My little buddy knew it was time and headed here. I was mad, sad, and relieved. He saved me that trip to the vet which would have been scary for him and painful for me. He did what nature intended.
Here I was broke, unemployed, and now devasted without my friend of 14 years. At that point, I felt like lying there next to him and letting go. In that moment, I realized material wealth is nothing compared to the wealth of love people and animals bring into our lives. Picking him up, walking back to the truck, it was clear I had to find a different path. Jack was as tired as I was.
Heading to Disaster
We ended up having to sell the house in 2019. The home we dreamed of, fought for, and went through so much in a short of time in. The mortgage company had initiated foreclosure proceedings. My father, whom rarely did anything, stepped up and offered to help keep it out of foreclosure so we could sell it. He loaned me the money. Money, I had no idea how I was ever going to pay back. Money that leaves us estranged to this day.
The house sold quick. We received a cash offer within the first month it was on the market. I was relieved but hurt. Again, I knew I just had to let go and move on. Receiving a job offer from one the country’s largest companies in my field, I relocated my family back to our hometown to a home we could afford. Tired of moving, as we had moved half a dozen times in the last decade, my family was tired. Borrowing money from any friend that would lend it, we moved. My credit at this point was in the dumpster and my truck had just been repossessed. I still to this day do not know how we survived 2019. We moved in November of 2019 and hoped to start fresh.
The job I took was a travelling position. The money was a fraction of what I used to make, but I just needed to get an income coming in. I found myself at airports and hotels, and full force slipped back into drinking. Between the toxicity of the career and the anxiety of travelling, I relapsed completely. I found myself in a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama. Having just been kicked out of a bar past closing time, I couldn’t operate my phone very well at my intoxication level for an Uber or Lyft. I remember talking to some guys to give me a ride, then I vaguely remember being assaulted. They robbed me for the few hundred in cash I had in pocket, which was my food allowance and emergency stash. I typically saved it to help pay bills, but due to drinking, had not been working well.
My ribs and back felt like a train ran over me. I was now seriously broke, and my new boss was sending passive aggressive emails that alerted my phone from daylight all through the morning with micro-managing tasks. Having slept behind an air conditioning unit where they left me, I was broken. I looked at my career and realized this is what it is. When you are on the top, you don’t see this, because you have others doing it for you. I cannot be a part of this. All the malignant narcists that surround me. You are only a number and not a name to most companies. The company really does not care. Having fought for years to make it to the top to change all this, I had slipped years back into an entry level position. Would I ever be able to change culture int he workplace? Making my way back to the hotel, I realized it was January 2020. This had to be my year, but I had to start over. From scratch. Unbeknownst to me, that 2020 would assist in that.
When I arrived at the room, I packed the few things I had strown out back into my carryon. I sat on the bed and emailed my resignation. I then contacted the airline and changed my flight plan. I flew back home. When I got home, my wife picked me up at the airport and I started crying. I told her everything. The drinking, what had happened, how I felt, and ALL this had to stop. She agreed.
We both were looking for work to where we could share the one vehicle we had left. It made our options very slim. I ended up taking a job working at a convenience store. She found a job greeting guests. We made just enough to pay our rent, a few utilities, and get the bare minimum groceries. Which still left us short. Still having to borrow from friends, not knowing when or how we would pay them back. I used some of the money to launch a consulting business. Having started to get companies coming aboard, I could see things were about to change.
Within a few months of working these new jobs to try and make ends meet and working on launching my consulting business, I was offered a position with a company making the money I used to make and even spectacular benefits. We were floored. This was a blessing! We can do this! We can make it! Then COVID hit full force and the pandemic ensued. They rescinded the offer due to not knowing the outcome of the department due to COVID. It was in supply chain logistics, which was hit hard. Again, a huge punch to take after everything else. Feeling I was really going to need some help with capital on getting my consulting business started, the emails from the companies started to trickle in. They were all cancelling their summer on-site consultations. I tried to save it with a virtual option, but they said that is too complicated. Here I am, nothing going for me, again. I am getting closer to letting go.
Close to Giving Up
During the middle of 2020, we scraped and scraped, never getting breathing room. Applying for benefits on the state and federal level for help but getting rejection after rejection. We sold pretty much anything and everything we had of value. Others were getting COVID relief unemployment and living off it and getting nearly $1000 per week, my wife and I were barely lucky to clear $600 together working full time. During this time, our son quit school and left. Embarrassed at our living arrangements and lack of food, we were failing. My immediate family had disassociated with me in 2019 due to my financial issues and not making attempts to pay back money from the home loan. My wife’s family has nothing to give. We are on our own.
August 2020 became the ultimate setback. They finally repossessed our only vehicle left. We were now afoot. For the next 8 months, we were walking. Asking co-workers for rides if weather was bad, otherwise, we walked. We both lost all ambition for life. We were living to just survive and had been for going on two years. Literally just a few years earlier, life was different. Now we are here, and we could care less about materials, it is more about necessity. We could not even provide the necessities. Opened payday loans to buy groceries and pay our phone bills. Loans we are still paying to this day.
Friends lost due to money owed. How can I repay them?
Fast forward to March 2021. We did our taxes and got our first break in nearly three years. We have paid in for years. Years. Now we are receiving enough money back to put a down payment down on vehicles. Which we used all of it for. We needed wheels to procure better employment. After we got the vehicles, my wife got a better job. I fell into an open position with a company I could only have dreamed of working for. Which, after being denied due to my credit initially, they hired me. I have been working with this company since June 2020. Between my wife and I, we make a fraction of what I used to make. We still struggle with groceries, fuel, and necessities.
Having come so far since 2020, we still owe friends and family more than $50,000. Which is more than we can ever imagine to be able to pay back. The predatory loans we had to get for necessities, haunt us monthly. They take up a huge portion of our income. Inflation is on skyward trend, and we are back to eating ramen. Thinking about buying a home eventually, but with home prices, it is a pipe dream. I lost my retirement, savings, and investments in a matter of months.
Where do you go from here?
These are the questions I ask myself daily. We have made it through the worse, I hope. We can keep going. Possibly someday soon we will not live in this fight or flight mindset and be able to relax when we are not working. The pandemic stunted our progress, as well as millions of others.
What we do have to be grateful for is that we made it through alive. So many times, my wife and I both were at the point of ending our lives. Over what? Money? Materials? Not anymore. Estranged from family and friends, my goal one day is to reimburse them for their graciousness. Also, never to be in that situation again. Live within our means, which lately is hard for anyone! I live everyday with the fact that I cannot:
- Pay astronomical interest rates and loads on everything due to bad credit.
- Phone rings non-stop from bill collectors
- Lost friends, family, and associates due to debt owed
How do we get beyond 2020 and the financial chaos it has caused, continuing to cause and will keep causing? It is not over, and bubbles are about to burst. This should be interesting, and hopefully, we can all make it out when it happens.