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" … progress can be beyond even the the most watchful beholder's eye."

Ten years ago on this date, The Muse and I declared personal and professional bankruptcy. Lehman Brothers beat us to it by two weeks, and we'd lost a whole lot less they they did when we finally admitted to ourselves and to the world that we'd lost everything. We had not speculated in junk derivative bonds. The economy dried up and our business evaporated. Two weeks before we filed, my father died after a long summer of declining health. Those final six weeks or so, I'd manned the overnight watch. Both The Muse and I were ragged by then, frantic, then accepting, then finally simply dazed. We thought we'd probably lose the house, though bankruptcy allowed us to retain ownership in that one asset if we could wrangle some way to retain it; but with no work, no income, no savings, and little hope, other than a hopeful candidate running to replace the disastrous president, we finally admitted that we'd gone bust.

This experience represented real progress, as unlikely as it seemed at the time.
The Muse rose to the challenge. I receded into a depression I'm still trying to shake. I wrote a series of op-ed pieces, The White Collar Recession, for the local paper, where I described this new experience. That series attracted a lot of interest and a few heart-felt notes from other similarly heart-broken entrepreneurs. The newspaper's readers voted that series the second most popular of the year. Neighbors offered food. We applied for assistance paying our utility bills. A district court judge dispassionately reviewed our financial history and, finding no fault, wished us better luck next time. My siblings and I set about relocating my mom to assisted living, and the first snow found me hand-trucking a lifetime's possessions out of my parents' home for storage in their garage for the planned mythical future garage sale which never happened. My sister finally just donated the lot to Goodwill after family had claimed their treasures.

By the new year, we figured that we could hold out for perhaps another month. The Muse, still employable, had been working her network and found the most unlikely opportunity, a job she might be squintingly qualified for with a strong recommendation from one of our former clients. She applied, then interviewed, then interviewed again before, that last week before we would have wound having to go homeless, was hired. We'd have to move to Washington, DC. We'd have to abandon The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, rent it out to friends who needed more space but would manage to sort of trash the place. We held one final celebration where people brought their own chairs because the movers had already cleaned out the space. I sold my car to a grand nephew for a quarter. We loaded what was left into The Muse's Honda Civic and headed in the opposite direction my ancestors had traveled along the Oregon Trail, with two disconcerted cats on board.

Those first few months in exile featured nearly daily dunning calls from a Saint Louis collection agency that hadn't gotten the memo. Our bankruptcy attorney finally invited them to a little party in a judge's chambers and the humiliating calls ceased. Fortunately, the too-big-to-fail bank holding our mortgage had turned into a too-huge-to-process operation, unable to either send notices or collect payments. They settled for simply continuing the payment stream as if those nine delinquent months never happened. We managed to find a landlord willing to put up with our recent insolvency, and we moved in, then moved on. The passage seemed every bit as excruciating as my ancestors' migration West, a hundred and fifty years before. We claimed to be in exile, working off time in a sort of penalty box, living in somewhat suspended animation, a cash-based operation in a credit-obsessed world.

We've survived a full decade so far, slowly making our way back to the promised land we'd so painfully abandoned to survive. We seem to be almost thriving now, still counting the days, weeks, months, and years until we might once again appear to be living some semblance of back to normal again. We figure we might regain our former baseline fifteen years after we were forced to set it aside. It never once left the place we hold for it inside ourselves. The Muse's son and family have been living in the Vatta, maintaining the place beautifully through our extended absence. The Grand Otter, in grade school when we left, turned twenty this year. The old hometown has gone upscale to the point where us natives hardly recognize it anymore. By the time we finally manage to regain that shore, we'll most certainly wonder where in the Hell we've landed. That's progress, too.

I figure that none of us have any option other than to move forward, even when forward looks more like sliding sideways or backwards on the great, grand Sorry® board of life. It's forward as far as we can see in every direction, like the South Dakota plainsland The Muse hails from. There, standing anywhere, the world seems to drop off, receding along every compass point. Up and down seem nearly mirror opposites, sky reflecting land and land seemingly infinitely reflecting sky. Here and there could be anywhere. Past and future cohabitate, distinguishable only by the different actors filling out the same old cast. When I was a kid, I was grateful that I had not experienced what my folks had gone through: financial depression, world war; ten thousand humiliations between birth and maturity. They carried their scars well, and they prospered. I suspect that they passed along some of their hard-won resilience. Lord knows their kids have needed it, though we never suspected that we even had it. This world is a messy place and progress can be beyond even the most watchful beholder's eye.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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