The spring of 2011 was the time in America when too many families had to make hard choices. It wasn't anything new to my little family. We were used to being poor. What little advances we'd made during the boom times here in Oklahoma, where oil money dives a large sector of the economy, we cherished. I was able to pay cash for 2 new pairs of glasses for my wife for the first time in the 13 years we'd been married. We'd been able to buy a used car that wasn't already falling apart (the first one we'd ever had that was less than 10 years old), and a brand new digital camera for my autistic son.
And then the hard times came.
When the slowdown hit Oklahoma City, it hit us hard. I was solidly within the service sector as a small home improvement contractor. We were exposed. $10,000 of business debt proved to be too big of a stone to bear when the phone simply stopped ringing.
To be fair, I had helped things along. When work had been heavy, I had raised my prices to stay in line with tool, material, and utility expenses, then raised them again to keep abreast of the market after establishing a name. I made mistakes. I was tired. 80 hours per week establishing a business had taken its toll on my health. When my first heart attack came at the age of 34, I didn't have to think twice about it. I slowed down.
And then everything changed. A closing rate of 1 in 3 became 1 in 9, and then the phone calls simply stopped. It didn't take me long to figure out which way the wind was blowing. I went out a got a job. Not a real job, where they take out taxes, and offer insurance, or even a 401k. When you've worked for yourself and have been a success at it, no one wants to hire you. Client access in a service economy is a business' most vital resource: to be protected at all costs, and defended against any possible poachers.
When I went back to work, it was for one third of my previous self-employed salary, but I was still, at least legally, self-employed. To get a job, I had to give up the idea of actually having a real job. We worked ten hours a day. We did whatever paid, and I was glad of the opportunity, but it wasn't enough. The bills were still coming in, and one tool after another, one piece of the life that I had worked hard for got sold. Then another. Then another.
My sweat kept food on the table. That was enough. Then my wife was hospitalized. And then the table was gone too. And the house, along with everything in it. We hadn't elected to buy into a house during the loan craze. We rented. It offered us flexibility, and maybe a little too much. A $460 yard sale and, at 37 years old, we moved back in with my parents. My wife was released from the hospital, and we continued to piece together some sort of life from the ashes.
You've heard it all before, I know. The same story happened around the country in 2009-2011, and it's still happening. There are few opportunities and fewer real jobs. The labor markets are only starting to pick up again. But what makes this story different is the tactic that my creditors saved for people just like me.
I recently applied for a small all-bills-paid apartment. Family is family, but house-guests, like fish, start to smell after 3 days, much less 8 months. Money isn't a problem. We saved, we worked, I went back to school. We can afford a roach-infested hive, but at least it's right across the street from a very nice park and a calming, if dirty, stream. The problem is that TransUnion thinks I'm dead. My creditors recorded my demise in October, 2011. Capital one sent my wife a pre-loaded visa for $50, "Sorry for your loss, now about the money your late husband owed..."
We still haven't filed for bankruptcy. We were trying to do the right thing, be the right kind of people. Unfortunately, they don't care. They, the banksters, would rather see me dead so that they can harass my disabled wife and autistic son. How kind of them.
It's nice to know that banks can be so sympathetic.
Whenever I hear someone defend the business practice of a credit check of all applicants, I have to laugh. But it's not a hearty laugh, or even one that lifts me up a little bit. It's one that reminds me that this is the afterlife. This is the place between life and heaven or hell. I am now a non-person, undead, non-alive. No history, no future.
Strange that I'm still paying taxes. I thought that was the deal when you died. I guess government only works for the living. That's not quite right. If government had worked for me when I was 'alive,' I would still be alive.