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the event horizon of foreclosure
life happens
by robert a. melos
pop culture

I know I’m not the only person caught up in the swirling vortex of financial disaster, and I’m not the only person who was swept away by the undertow of the out of control mortgage market, and there will be potentially 2 million more families over the course of the next two years that will drown in the sea of financial ambiguity and government ambivalence with little or no hope on the horizon. As usual my first thought is to try to pass along my lessons to those who wish to learn from my mistakes, only what can be seen as my mistakes were morality choices that weren’t mistakes in my eyes but are considered weaknesses in the eyes of an unfeeling financial based culture.

I think I knew I was on the edge of the vortex in the summer of 2007 when I was faced with a decision to refinance my mortgage, yet again. I wasn’t much of a choice, more of the only path I had under the circumstances of my life at that moment. It isn’t that I’m making excuses for my decisions, but it should definitely be understood that my decisions were based entirely on outside influences in my life.

I could list the events that influenced my decisions; events that for me were much like fighting a losing battle, a battle I knew would be lost before I began. I guess in some ways that gives me something in common with George W. Bush. I hope he knew it was a losing proposition, because he would be a fool to have gone into it thinking he could win, but I digress.

This is really about what it’s like to live on the event horizon of a potential foreclosure.

The first thing you do when you realize you are in danger is try to figure out how to protect yourself. When your life is falling into a financial black hole you do the immediate math and figure out how much time you have before the money runs out and you’re homeless. Then you start hunkering down and putting together resumes highlighting your skills, making yourself look good, and employable, to potential employers.

While you’re doing this you continue living, going on as though nothing is wrong. You tell yourself you’ll pull out of the financial tailspin your life is going into, yet you feel the fear that slowly creeps into your mind and soul warning you that no matter what you do there is little to no hope of financial survival. Even if you have a job, obviously one that isn’t paying enough, you are starting to go through the motions. There are distractions. After the initial shock of realizing you are having trouble keeping up with your societal/financial obligations, the seeds of stress are planted.

The first time you receive a late notice you feel the cold in your gut, the racing of your pulse, and pounding of your heart. After that the daily trip to the mailbox becomes an exercise in self-inflicted emotional torture. You can’t admit to yourself that you’re a failure. You tell yourself you’re doing your best, but your best just doesn’t seem to be good enough. More and more pressure builds up. Then the phone calls start.

Yes, on a daily basis you get at least two calls per bill you owe. That’s two calls per day, per bill. For me there are between 11 and 14 calls per day, usually from someone who is working out of a call center in a third world country, who doesn’t have the same command of the English language as I, and usually from someone who listens patiently as I explain I don’t have the money to make the payments and will send them what I can when I can.

Now if I were dealing with regular loan sharks I’d be physically battered and bruised, and broken, but these are not thugs with whom I’m dealing, these are creditors. I agreed to pay them, and have accepted that obligation based on my income and my need for their services. However, in the long run the creditors are no better than the thugs of old mob movies. These creditors use emotional blackmail, and psychological torture to make each person doubt themselves and their abilities to provide for themselves.

Even with this happening in your life, you keep fighting, you keep putting up the struggle to maintain a semblance of what your life was like before things started to get tough. You tell yourself it isn’t real, it isn’t the end, and you can pull everything together. All you need is a break to tide you over and save you from the brink of disaster. The resumes continue to go out on a daily basis, searching Career Builder, Yahoo, Monster, and every other potential job search engine, as well as those you mail out and those you fill out in person at every local business.

You realize you can’t just rely on getting work in your own field. You open up to the possibility of outside influences guiding you to something more, or less, than that to which you aspire. There are so many possibilities, yet in the back of your mind, on a daily basis, you feel threatened and fearful. You know the battle is a losing one, yet another losing battle in your life, and you have to cope with it.

Life doesn’t just stop because you don’t have the money to pay your bills. You start to lose sleep, and get to the point of exhaustion rather quickly. You start to sleep in off hours, or even start to nap more, because you need more restful sleep than you’re getting. You lose weight, and find it hard to eat. Every waking moment is preoccupied with the thoughts of your failure or potential success, and yet the fear persists. Every time you look toward the future all you see is the failure of the past.

And through all of this you go on. One day fades into the next -- the daily fear-filled trips to the mailbox give way to the pleasure of a Sunday or a holiday when you don’t receive mail. With the phone calls, you live for the holidays because those are the only days you don’t receive calls, or you’ve turned off the ringer volume on your phone so you don’t hear the constant barrage of terrifying noise signifying your failures. You can’t shake the feeling that it’s all a conspiracy against you.

You begin to feel that the paranoia of the pressure you put upon yourself to succeed. After all, you know you aren’t a complete failure or a worthless individual, yet you can’t seem to find the job, or any job, that will pay you what you are worth or even what you need or a portion of what you need. Yet you go on doing the same things over and over in the same way, knowing it’s the definition of insanity, but you don’t know what else to do.

And through all of this, even in the moments when you feel you’ve lost all hope, there is that little glimmer of possibility, of something greater than yourself guiding you through, but you are so fearful you don’t want to call it hope or think of it as hope. You can’t allow yourself the luxury of hope to get you out of the financial maelstrom that is raging on your future because false hope would be just too cruel and leave you so emotionally devastated that no matter how much inspiration you see in the world around you, you realize for yourself false hope is worse than no hope at all.

And this becomes your daily life. You don’t know what to do, what direction to go through, and what will happen from moment to moment. You live in constant fear, and even when something does go right you can’t trust in it because you’ve lost all faith in the world.

This is what it’s like to live on the event horizon of a potential foreclosure. I know this isn’t my usual upbeat humorous laugh riot filled column. You see, even my sense of humor is effected by the emotional disaster looming in my future. I’ve looked for a way out, and search daily for ways to get out from under this mess. It isn’t much more than cold comfort to know I’m not the only one in this boat, but I would urge anyone who reads this, who identifies with what I’ve written to contact me. If nothing else we can form a sort of loose support group. We know we are not alone, but knowing it and actually experiencing the contact of others in similar situations may be all we have at any given moment.

I won’t say I can help, but I might get you through a bad moment.


Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.

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margot lester
12.31.08 @ 8:37a

First -- I hate you're facing this. Second -- this is a fine piece of writing. You have a solid opinion piece for BusinessWeek's MyTake or Newsweek's ....Periscope (or is that TIME?) or My Turn. Or, Hell, see if you can get the Wall St. Journal to pay you to blog about foreclosure. Just sayin', maybe you can get some cash for the carnage. Hang in, brother!

sandra thompson
1.1.09 @ 7:58a

I am very sorry you're having to go through this, and wish there were something I could do to help. I've been where you are a long, long time ago when I didn't have a worldwide economic depression/recession I could even partially blame. I had to face the fact that my own decisions were bad ones, and still retain some semblance of self-esteem. While it wasn't my fault that my employer went bankrupt and laid me off, shouldn't I have recognized the impending signs and abandoned the sinking ship before I was so tragically impacted? I don't think so. I didn't have access to the financial reports. I began seriously networking and answered a casual friend at a Mensa meeting's, "So how're you doin'?" honestly. The next thing I knew she'd employed me and I was able to stave off the worst and get back on my feet. I remember agonizing over whether I'd even go that meeting, and pushing myself to do so even though I was really down in the dumps and didn't want to socialize at all. So let's start there: I made a good decision to go to the meeting. I made a good decision to be honest about how I was doing. I made a good decision to open my resume to a casual friend. I made a good decision to take the job offered me even though I'd never done any accounting other than balance my own checkbook. Something ironic about all this is that a few years down the road her company went bankrupt, but being the accounting manager I knew what the balance sheet looked like because I prepared it, and made my plans to avoid that whole bad situation. You're right: life happens. BTW, my casual friend who had become my best friend was okay through all of it, and managed to do quite well even though her first company went bankrupt. Her second company is still going strong.

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