One day you're coasting through life. You have a steady job with a strong income, a comfortable home, friends and opportunities at every turn. You have nothing to complain about, and yet you do because dissatisfaction and unrest in life is part of the human experience, right?
Then comes the sucker punch.
You're called into a "staff" meeting, only to find you're the only staff member attending. It will be the last meeting you attend. They hand you your walking papers and escort you out the door. You can schedule a time to come back and pack your things.
Four years of faithful service and they're afraid you'll spend the last few minutes on the job sabotaging the Internet they've already locked you out of? The cell phone they've already taken back? Oh, wait! It's probably that file drawer they're concerned about. You know, the one that holds the Thin Mints you bought from your manager's daughter.
It's okay. It’s not the first time, and you take it in stride. Your resume is solid and you have a lot to offer. You'll rebound and find another job in no time. So you go and visit your mother. She's just had knee surgery and you're supposed to change her bandage, so you'll just "wow" her with the story of your dramatic morning and get her mind off her physical therapy. But something doesn't look right about the wound, and she tells you she fell that morning. The next thing you know, you're sitting with her at the hospital as they prepare to remove the prosthetic and discuss MRSA treatments. It's going to be a long process.
No problem. This is your mother, your best friend. She needs you, and you actually have the freedom to help her through the ordeal. Blessings come in puzzling packages. Three surgeries, a pain coma, six infections, a kyphoplasty, multiple bouts of colitis and a collapsed lung later, you have to call an end to the 13-month nightmare.
Goodbyes are hard: returning to life after caregiving, overwhelming. You take some time to mourn. It seems right, and no one blames you for not rushing into the job search. You've got time to heal. After that horrific ordeal, you deserve it. But then it's full speed ahead. Your job search is intense. You are relentless. Every day you hit the pavement, search the web and network. You take a few classes to stay in the game. You even gain a new certification and explore new fields of possibilities. And you write. That's how you process. That's how you maintain your sanity.
Nothing happens. It's as if you're invisible. Dead ends at every turn. You contact recruiters, revamp your resume, apply for minimum wage jobs. Apparently companies feel more secure hiring the inexperienced over the long-term unemployed, the college kids over the professionals, friends over skill. You look into the affordable housing programs that could assist you during this time. You want to keep your home. Not because you're so emotionally attached you can't part with it, but because it's actually the cheaper option. Move costs, deposits and transfers. The upfront money to move is more overwhelming than making that monthly mortgage payment.
But the lender won't discuss a loan modification with you unless you are three months late on your mortgage. "Too bad you're not married," they say. "Having a spouse and children would help your cause." Gee, thanks. You'll go right out and marry someone and pop out a couple of kids. The months go by. You're late on a mortgage payment. Then you miss one. Ouch. You manage to get a short-term project. You're back on track. The project ends. You miss another payment. The anxiety begins.
You manage to get a part time job at the non-profit where you volunteer, but it doesn't even provide enough income to make your mortgage payment, much less pay your bills. But it's something, and something is better than nothing. Surely it will help your cause to at least be working.
You write a couple of grants for a Food Bank. Now you have groceries for a few months. Who says bartering is out of fashion? Maybe you could get some chickens and a goat to go with that garden you planted. You sell artwork and miscellaneous services. Now you have electricity. Do-it-yourself has become a way of life. It saved your car, and the plumbing, and the framing behind the sheetrock.
The mortgage company starts returning your payments under the guise of it being an "incomplete" payment. When you point out the payments are the standard contracted amount, they tell you the "standard amount" is no longer a complete payment. You must pay everything in arrears—the missed payments, finance charges and fees—for it to be considered complete. Suddenly you're three payments behind. They have to talk to you about a loan modification now. Isn't that what they said? Isn't that what all the ads are about? Assisting people who have fallen on difficult times?
They reject your request. You don't make enough money for a loan modification. If you made enough money, would you need a loan modification? And if you're making payments—the payments being rejected—doesn't it prove you’d be capable of making the lesser payment from a loan modification? You’ve downsized your life, taken on a roommate, found creative ways to make money and you are making the payments! It doesn't matter. The mortgage company will not accept them. The checks are returned, one after the other.
Your life has become a juggling act. Who will get paid this month? How can you stretch that dollar? Where can you make some extra money? Do an odd job here, an odd job there, visit the utilities company, get on the phone with this bill collector, complete paperwork for hardship consideration with another. You manage to fit in networking events, and the interviews you manage to schedule. You squeeze in a trip to help your sister who has fallen ill; you can't lose her too.
Your days are full of survival techniques and your nights are filled with online job searches and emailing strategies. Your social life is online. These friends have become your support group, counselors and medical advisors. At least you can afford them. The people in your life don't understand why you don't spend time with them, why you can't find a job. They say you must not be trying, or you're doing something wrong. They place demands on you to be the person you once were, to stop being so self-absorbed. The shaming is too draining. You simply don't have the capacity to meet their needs. You need to keep your strength for the juggling act, so you shut them out.
You're alone. Tired. Broken. By the time you receive the pre-foreclosure letter, you are almost numb... almost. This is how it happens. This is how the smart, educated, highly-skilled and experienced suddenly find themselves on the path of homelessness.