Thursday, July 28, 2011

One year later: Surviving a crisis and finding peace

The following was written on July 23, 2011 somewhere in southern California.

I’m lying in bed. My youngest is next to me, lying on her stomach and hogging the pillows as she watches “Good Luck Charlie” on the Disney Channel. My oldest is in the bed next to us texting, facebooking, googling and listening to music simultaneously on one device.

We’re staying at a really, really nice hotel on the beach thanks to a very, dear friend and guardian angel.

From our room, we can see the Pacific Ocean. We can smell the salty air. We see people walking, jogging and biking along the beach. The palm trees are swaying.

I’m soaking up every moment. If only time could stand still…

I feel grateful, thankful and blessed.

A year ago, we were in crisis mode. I packed up the kids and our bare necessities and left my tumultuous marriage. I had $50 in my new checking account (the minimum needed to keep it open). A year later, I saved enough money to take my kids on vacation.

Back then, the words “fear,” “anxiety” and “struggle” consumed my life.

Today the words “peace,” “content” and “happy” fill my world.

Am I bragging? Maybe a little bit. But I'm damn proud of myself and my kids for surviving the separation, trauma egg therapy and the death of a family member(R.I.P. Kanishiwa!) 

I love my life!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Financially in the dark and in denial

He was sitting across the table from me at a restaurant inside the five-star hotel where he was staying.

“Order anything you want. It’s on me and you need to eat,” he said with a touch of pity in his voice. I could tell that he could tell that I’d been crying. My swollen, red eyes were a dead giveaway.

I kept it simple and ordered the two-egg breakfast with a slice of bacon and toast.

“What are my options?” I asked him, after getting past the introductions and some small talk. I finally picked at my eggs and tasted them for the first time since they arrived via our waiter 10 minutes prior.

He looked at the vanilla folder – my file – and slid it to the side, almost discarding it. He then folded his hands over his plate with his elbows on the table and then looked down for a few seconds.  

“You have no options,” he said, slowly shaking his head, again with a touch of pity. “Your only choice is bankruptcy.”

He suddenly looked more like a financial Grim Reaper than someone who was trying to help a friend of a friend. But the truth is he was a guardian angel. I would meet more of his kind over the next year.

The few bites I’d had of my breakfast were quickly making their way back up. I wasn’t sure if this choking feeling was from the remaining pieces of my broken heart trying to come up through my throat or the scrambled eggs. I felt faint, but I somehow managed to stay conscious and keep the eggs down. My heart was already in shambles.

I agreed to meet him at the urging of a friend who said his friend, an L.A.-based bankruptcy attorney, would review my case for free. He promised complete confidentiality, as if anyone in L.A. cared about my financial fiasco. 

He did more than review my case. He uncovered more accounts, more debt. I was in worse shape than I previously thought. He uncovered more secrets, financial secrets my husband was keeping from me.

No, he wasn’t hiding millions in an offshore account. He was spending every dollar I made, maxing out every credit card (some I knew of, some I didn’t) and using an offshore account for online gambling. It had less than $20 in it.

To his credit, the attorney kept it real. He didn’t bullshit me. He laid it all on the table, literally. He told me to write down three important things that I needed to take action on immediately:
- Get your hands on as much paperwork as you can on the mortgages
- Get as many bank statements as you can find
- Get copies of your tax returns

He gave me his cell phone number and e-mail address. He gave the name of another bankruptcy attorney – someone in my area – who he’d already contacted and who had agreed to handle my case.

Sadly, the above mentioned items were things my husband had stopped allowing me to have in my possession. I was not allowed to get the mail, let alone open it. I hadn’t seen a bank statement in years and I had no idea where he kept the mortgage papers or tax returns.

Following through on the attorney’s instructions would turn into a covert operation.

I felt like a stranger in my own home as I rummaged through his drawers, duffle bags and closet, carefully putting things back in their place as to not arouse any suspicion. He placed certain things in a certain way on top of the papers he was hiding. If something was out of place, he would know I had been there.

There was the paper weight facing east in the second drawer. There was a baseball cap tilted slightly to the side in the closet.

What made the operation even harder is that he rarely ever left the house and I was hardly ever home. He supposedly worked from home and I was actually working. 

I was in the dark when it came to our finances, but I was also in denial. I had put every ounce of my financial trust in my husband’s hands. 

Ironically, my decision to end my marriage had very little to do with our financials. It was at the bottom of the laundry list of reasons as to why I was divorcing him. 

What I already knew in my gut, suddenly became crystal clear as I stared down at my scrambled eggs. I had to move out of the house (with the kids and soon!) and I had to make this financial mess a top priority. We were not only on the brink of losing one house, but two.