And the road goes on forever...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Chapter Ends

I like this picture for what it represents—a tree leaning out over a cliff, trying to grow one direction yet obviously pushed so often and so long by gale force winds it can only grow limbs in the opposite direction to the blast. I figured it must be some type of metaphor for our lives.

Hope is a hard thing to hang on to at times. It’s become very sad, this ending to our dream of a vacation/retirement nest at the coast. The perfect juxtaposition to our Yuma lot; it would have afforded a comfortable temperature migration yearly--on into our sunset years. Little did we know when we purchased this park model that in just a couple short years we would have trouble affording even this tiny trailer.

Everyone knows the country is in terrible shape economically, but not everyone knows the terrible disconnect I see going on between those who have jobs and those who don’t. I’ll tell you a little of what it feels like and a little of what it has done—just in hopes that if you’re one of the lucky ones you stop occasionally to be thankful. For those contemporaries who retired in time and missed this bullet or those who never lost their job, there may have been some belt-tightening or a sense that they should cut down on spending. But their financial pathways were already set on a course that in all likelihood probably hasn’t changed that much. It becomes very easy for them to think “well, why don’t those people just get out and get a job?” Whoa there: it isn’t that easy any more.

In life, it’s all about timing. Marc and I didn’t always make the smartest career moves and do admit to stopping and smelling the roses on more occasions than we probably should have. To us, that was called “living our lives” instead of “slaving away our lives”. Given the nature of both of our businesses, real estate and construction, there was never the opportunity to work for just one employer with a fat benefits package; in fact hardly any of them even offered a 401 plan. It is the nature of construction particularly that companies run out of projects and it becomes impossible for them to keep on personnel that have no work to do. We had frequent periods of unemployment. Add in a couple of extreme stock market meltdowns and our retirement savings is permanently crippled. We had no intentions to retire, really. It just wasn’t a financial possibility for us to ever consider so we didn’t.

We stand on the edge of a precipice the likes of which we’ve had no prior experience with. Never before have we not been able to get some response from our employment attempts. Anyone with a steady job cannot know the depth of the trauma of going without work for such an extended time and the harm it does to permanently change people. The destructive force of having no one consider you worthy of hiring extends far beyond the financial ramification of earning no income and doesn’t take long to eat into your psyche, soul, sense of self, and your outlook on life. In our case, it’s taken a heavy toll financially—to the point where there is a very real possibility we will never recover. Well, let’s face it—there will be no true recovery back to square one for there will never be time to replace the retirement dollars we are now burning through to live on. Even if dollars can eventually be put back into an IRA account, we don’t have long enough to live for them to ever mature and grow to their previous amount (which was pitiful to begin with).

This experience has aged us tremendously. It is ruining our health; we are now neglectful of conditions and needed tests because we have no health insurance. It has sapped our confidence, our lightness of step, and something as basic as our joy in living and finding good in each day. Many days are not good—they reek of worry, tempest and tempers, and the very worst, indecision. What if we do this? What if we go there? Should we go there? Alas, we tried and it all cost money. But we will try again—our journey to Yuma isn’t one we would have chosen, but one totally of necessity, where we can cut expenses to the very barest of bones because we own our land outright and the cost of living there is about the lowest we can imagine anywhere. But Yuma’s unemployment rate also hovers at 29%.

It’s probably a good thing we don’t know what lies in store for our future. It’s hard to imagine at our ages a good ending to this story but we keep striving for a better one. We will miss the ocean, we will miss this state we have called home for over twenty years, and we will miss our family, who are mostly all here. We’re on our way very soon; turning that page onto a new chapter. Anyone out there write books? Please give us a happy ending, will you?