What To Do When Your Life Explodes

The contractors replacing our roof

“I received a call from the bank today,” my husband, Wayne, said a few weeks ago as he stood in front of our supply closet. The top of his head shined from the light above our kitchen island, and the gray wisps that lightly dusted the edges of his beard glimmered as he turned to me. “They didn’t approve our loan.”

I reeled, dropping the spoon into the rice I’d been stirring on the stove. “What?” The wooden spoon clattered against the pot as my voice quaked and my heart stammered. “They just approved us last week. How can they change their minds?”

Wayne sighed. “They decided that they wanted to assess the value of the house and when they compared it with the amount of equity that we own . . .”

Oh shit. My chest tightened, and I blocked out the rest of Wayne’s confusing explanation from my mind. His words: The bank didn’t approve our loan thrusting into me like a lance. I pushed the completed rice off the burner. Eating dinner no longer seemed appetizing to me. “How can they do that?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “But I’m pissed.” He closed the door. He’d just finished cleaning another round of vomit downstairs. It seems as if our 17 year-old cat, Tabitha, is nearing the end of her life, and we’ve been cleaning up after her daily. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for when that day will arrive.

“I complained to them though,” Wayne said, his voice shoving me back into the ring of reality, where that lance still jabbed me with our loan problems. “If they’d said that the approval was pending, I wouldn’t have spent the money we received on the sale of the CRV on some bills.” He stalked over to the sink to wash his hands. “I would’ve saved that money.”

I took a deep breath as I grabbed a wipe and walked across our squeaking floor. At the peninsula in our kitchen, I leaned over the white laminate counter, and wiped the crumbs left over from my son, Colton’s dinner.

Just focus on cleaning, not money. We’ll figure it out. We always do. Above me, a large jagged slash fused with cracked and peeling paint scarred our popcorn ceiling. Two years ago I’d walked into our kitchen late one night, the drip, drip, drip of water causing me to pause as I discovered a small puddle that had formed on my laptop. I’d been so lucky. I’d caught the leak before the water had a chance to completely damage my computer and all my writing.

We had a similar mark on our living room ceiling. A dark, brown stain marred the space above our front door. The spot “looked like the shape of a king who sat in his throne,” according to Colton.

In the bathroom another gash ran across the middle of the ceiling.

The same water damage marked several other parts of the ceiling in our house, the remnants a constant reminder that our room needed to be replaced.

Last year luck had been granted to us again. It had been a mild winter with few snowstorms. Only one new leak had formed on the ceiling.

Luck eventually runs out though.

I’d heard from several people who listen to the weather gurus who insisted that “they’re predicting a bad winter this season.”

Could we risk doing nothing and hope that the roof doesn’t suffer a catastrophic failure?

I closed my eyes as the dream I’d had last year surged into my mind. I shivered. I remember the feel of the bitter, cold water gushing down from our ceiling, drenching Wayne, Colton and I as we stood in our house. Then, I recalled hearing a rushing sound ring in my ears as the pieces of the roof collapsed around us, destroying all of our belongings.

I didn’t think we could risk it.

We needed that loan.

“What are we going to do?” I asked Wayne.

“I don’t know, but we can’t even afford a tarp to put up there to cover it.” He stopped in the middle of the kitchen and turned to me. “I’m also afraid we’re going to go bankrupt,” he said, shaking his head. “Every pay period we’re like $500 short. You really should get a job. Even $200 extra a week can help us.”

I stopped cleaning.

I’d been flooded with questions from family members and friends since Colton started kindergarten.

So what are you going to do now?

When are you going to get a job?

I have a job, I wanted to say. Their reactions made me feel as if I hadn’t been working for the past six years, raising my son. I had a job, I just didn’t get paid. But each time I’d smiled, telling them, I’m working on my writing career. Each time my heart thumped with fear at the announcement. And each time I’d received frowns and responses like, Oh you’re going to do that. But each time those reactions rolled through my mind and propelled me forward.

Those reactions reminded me daily to work harder on my writing.

When I put a pen to paper or my fingers to a keyboard, I tell myself: I can do this. And even though it’s hard, even though I fail sometimes, no one can take away that feeling from me. That feeling of knowing that day will eventually come where my dreams and my reality will synchronize and I will create strings of words that sing a resonating tune that people will want to hear.

Someday, somehow, I know that I will connect with people and build my community.

It will happen and I can’t wait to prove those naysayers wrong.

That moment in the kitchen was the first time, in the six years since I became a stay-at-home mom that Wayne had directly asked me to apply to a job working for someone else. He knew I wanted to pursue my writing dreams, and he’d always supported that goal.

It was at that moment that I knew we were in trouble with our finances. Now it seemed that my writing dream was more distant than ever. It will be difficult working for someone else again, I thought. With that thought though, guilt twisted my stomach.

It wasn’t like I didn’t want to support my family. I don’t enjoy watching the stress and the consequences of dwindling finances unfold onto our family, I just wanted to find a way to work on my terms. For once. I wanted to write. I wanted to make a difference performing a job I was meant to do.

I realized then though that in order to make it work right now, I’d have to apply for a part time job.

In the following days a rapid succession of events followed.

“We can’t get the roof fixed and we can’t afford a tarp to put up there either,” I said to my mother over the phone. The admission painfully twisted that lance further into me, and this time it pierced my heart.

Nine-thousand dollars was a lot of money to ask for, even if it was my parents.

“Let me speak to your father,” she said.

Then, a few days after that Wayne told me: “Your parents are going to loan us the money.”

Awesome. We promised them that we’d pay it back in monthly installments. And, the best part: We would enter the coming winter without worrying that our roof would literally collapse on us.

Problem number one solved.

The roof contractors arrived a day later. They shrouded our white ranch completely with a black tarp to catch the falling shingles and debris they were removing from the roof. The bang, bang, bang echoed throughout the rooms and shook our home, distracting me, pulling me from my writing, from my concentration. I looked out my office window to find that the light of the sun had been blocked by the darkness of the tarp.

Later, after all the trucks, the equipment and the debris had been cleared, Wayne and I went outside to take a look at our shiny, new roof. Ahh. No more damaged shingles. No more leaks. We were good, I thought. Everything turned out fine. We survived.

Two days after we had the roof replaced, I turned on the faucet to wash my hands. Thump, thump, thump. The faucet jolted, then hissed. A few drops of water trickled out.

Then nothing.

No water came out.

No, no, no. Ah, hello no.

This couldn’t be happening.

I closed my eyes and blew out a frustrated breath. Not now. We’ve experienced this problem before.

Our water was out. The well was dry.

Ah, crap.

We’d gone from one type of water problem to another. First we had too much coming in – causing damage – and now we didn’t have enough of it to drink, or to cook, or to wash our hands, or even to flush our damn toilets – causing no damage, just damn frustration.

When we moved to this house five years ago, we didn’t realize that the rocks in the “granite state” of New Hampshire sometimes had the potential to make it difficult for the wells to replenish water from the underground aquifer. We had to be careful with our usage or we could run out. The driest season is from June through November. Typically when it was completely dry, it took 24 hours for our well to replenish and fill with water again. But during a nationwide drought?

Yeah. It makes it worse.

No showers, no laundry, and no washing of dishes for the next few days.

The last time we ran out, our pump continued to run, trying to process water that wasn’t there. Eventually the pump burned itself out. A thousand dollars later, we installed a new, bigger pump that the employees at the well company insisted would continue to work – even if the water ran out. Yeah, we’ll see about that. We crossed our fingers that weekend, hoping that this pump would turn back on because we didn’t have that kind of money to replace it again.

That Sunday while I was at a Halloween party carving and painting pumpkins with Colton, I called Wayne at home. He’d had to work earlier and I knew that when he returned home he was going to try to turn the pump back on.

“Hey, how’s the pump?” I asked.

“It didn’t turn back on,” he said.

Great. Did our fears become reality and that damn pump broke again?

Warning, warning. I could almost see the flashing red light flickering in my mind. Time to initiate Plan B.

That night, I applied to Barnes and Noble online. I can still write, I thought as I clicked through the application and uploaded my resume. I winced though. I didn’t even have any references anymore.

I couldn’t sleep that night. A headache started to form as questions tore through my mind.

How much was this going to cost?

How are we going to pay for it?

We didn’t have any money left until that Wednesday when Wayne was paid again. If something was wrong with our pump system, it looked like we were going to have to live with no water for a while.

That Monday morning Wayne called the well and pump company and they arrived a few hours later.

I sat in front of my computer, and once again I’d been distracted from my writing. This time it was voices and the shuffling of employees going in and out of our bulkhead downstairs as they inspected our well outside and the control box for the pump inside.

For the next two hours, instead of writing, I applied for transcription work. I’d read that it was a way to make extra cash online. I found out only 15 minutes after I’d applied that I’d failed the test.

Perfect. Two hours wasted. That flashing red light again blinded me from thinking about anything else. Plan C, Plan C, Plan C seared across my vision.

I huffed and headed downstairs where the employees were discussing the problem with Wayne. We discovered that the pump didn’t go back on because there was still no water in the well. Wow. We really were in a bad drought. I’d never seen the well empty for four days straight.

We were going to have to wait and see if the water replenished on its own. Or, our other option would be to call a pool company to deliver water for us.

We’d decided to go with option number two. We’d had water delivered to us before.

We tried a new company that was $100 cheaper, and they were available to deliver us water – but not until that Thursday.

Grr. We would have to go almost a week without water.

Later that day I went to the grocery store. I filled up the shopping cart with 27 gallons of water. I snapped a picture of the cart and texted it to Wayne. “I look like a Doomsday Prepper,” I wrote.

The next day while I was making chicken soup and recovering from $800 gum surgery, my cell rang.

“I’m sorry to call on Colton’s birthday, but I’d like to discuss with you his behavior at school,” his kindergarten teacher said.

Uh-oh. No parent wants to receive one of these calls. What had he done?

The problems the teacher mentioned were typical for a child in his first year at school, but with my mouth pounding, I still felt like throwing a tantrum like my son. “Why does all this crap have to happen at the same time?” I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs while flailing my fists in the air. I can only handle one problem at a time.

That Thursday the pool company finally delivered our water. Three hours late. But then something miraculous happened: the water pump turned back on.

Late that afternoon, Colton came home from school. I opened his backpack and on top of his folder was a yellow sticky note from Colton’s teacher.

“Much better day,” it said with a smiley face at the bottom.

Yes, it was a much better day. We were good. Everything turned out fine. We survived. Again.

Those few weeks were also a pivotal moment for me in my writing career.

I’d smiled the day I’d read that sticky note and that caused me to pause. A few months ago, I would’ve let the stress affect my writing. I can’t write with all this crazy stuff going on, I would’ve said.

Now? Throughout all of the recent events I thought: I can’t wait to write it all down.

That one, small note had a big impact on me.

That sticky note served as a springboard for the positive energy that followed. And I realized the crap that’s happened in my life is trivial, but it serves as fuel for my creativity and authenticity, which leads to developing a better writing voice.

So, what should a writer do when their life explodes?

Write. Just write.

Yes, it was a much better day.

 

Why I Wasn’t Prepared To Begin My Writing Career

I’d prepared all summer long for that date.

It was a date where my five-year-old son, Colton, would make an important transition in his life.

On that Wednesday morning, my husband, Wayne, Colton and I headed outside our white ranch home. I looked up. A thick, fluffy blanket of clouds had filled the skyline, completely blocking out the sunshine, but not the warmth. It was 7:30 a.m. and only sixty degrees, yet the humidity still squeezed tight against my skin. Like plastic wrap, the sticky weather clung to me, and I couldn’t breathe.

Don’t show any emotion, I thought as I leaned down to straighten out the collar of Colton’s blue T-shirt. This was supposed to be an exciting day for him. If I cried, Colton was sure to get upset as well. I pulled back, and studied my son. His dark eyes looked like coffee beans as they brewed with excitement one moment, and then stirred with a mix of doubt the next.

I knew Colton wasn’t sure about starting this new stage of his life. Maybe he needed some more assurance, some comfort. Even though I’d brushed it earlier, I smoothed and parted pieces of his wavy, dark hair, which still shined despite the lack of sunlight.

I wanted him to look his best that day, even with the emotions tumbling inside of me.

“I hope you have a wonderful day sweetheart,” I said, and kissed him on the cheek as I turned to Wayne. “Why don’t you stand over there with Colton.” I pointed toward the edge of our brick path, overgrowing with weeds, next to the driveway. Then I handed him a yellow poster board. “Since this probably won’t stand on its own, can you hold this up for the pictures?”

Wayne nodded, his lips curving in a smile with ease, and his dark eyes glowed with a knowing glance as he curled both his hands around the edges of the cardboard. Yeah, yeah, I’d wanted to tell him. I knew what he was been thinking as I took a few steps back.

Wayne had been telling me for days: Colton will be fine. You worry too much.

I held up my phone, reading through the view screen the words written on the poster to make sure they wouldn’t appear blurry in the photograph:

Colton’s first day of kindergarten. 8/31/16.

His favorite things: Pizza, Cars, Ninjago.

Height: 44” Weight: 44lbs.

“Smile,” I said, trying to remind myself that Wayne was right. Still, even though I’d prepared all summer long for this moment, and I’d been excited for Colton as he entered this new stage in life, questions still swirled in my mind.

Will he able to pick out his own food in the cafeteria?

Will he be able to go to the bathroom when he needs to?

Will he handle the noise on the bus okay?

Will he go straight to his classroom when he exits the bus at school?

Should I follow the bus so I can see him arrive at school for the first time?

Should I take a photo of him in front of the school? Will the teachers let me?

I took a deep breath of the humid air as Wayne and Colton stood there smiling, patiently while I documented this day and clicked away with my camera.

Then we switched, and Wayne snapped pictures as I stood with Colton. Too bad we couldn’t take one of all three of us, I thought.

As we finished, my eyes flicked to Colton’s new black Ninjago backpack standing beside us on the driveway.

Uh oh. Crap, I thought, realizing that we hadn’t taken any photographs with Colton and his new backpack on. No, no. That wouldn’t work.

“We need to take them all over,” I announced to Wayne.

“What?” Wayne asked, his voice intensifying as I lifted my phone again. Married to me for 14 years, he’d been familiar with my persistence when it came to photographing each important moment that occurred in our lives.

But that didn’t mean he liked it.

For years Wayne had been telling me to “enjoy” the moment, instead of photographing it all the time. And, well, there’s a tiny part of me that agreed with him – BC (Before Colton).

Now?

No. I’d refused to change my photographing habits. I’d spent way too many hours poring over images on my hard drive for use in photo books, only to discover that we hadn’t taken the “right” pictures suitable for framing for us or for the Grandparents, etc. He’s not smiling in any of these, I’d argue, especially when he was a toddler. Or, I found myself saying: These are too blurry, when Colton had been jumping up and down as I’d been taking the photos. When his cousins were born, it was worse. Now all three aren’t smiling.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I suck at taking photographs, but either way I’d been adamant that it wasn’t going to happen to me anymore.

Back at the house, Wayne waved his hand, hoping I’d back down. “Nah. It’s fine Hon,” he said.

I shook my head. Don’t let it go. “No it isn’t.” I picked up Colton’s backpack. “It’s not a first day of school photo without this.”

He sighed, walking back to the open garage.

“We’ll never be able to re-do them after today,” I reminded him. “We have to take them over again.”

“Fine,” he said, shaking his head. “You can re-take yours, I’m not going to re-do mine.”

Ugh. I huffed, but it was too early in the morning to try to change his mind. Ask any mother of a child on his first day of school. They needed a backpack in the photograph.

Despite his frustration with me, Wayne re-took my photographs with Colton. He knew I wanted everything to go well on that day for our son.

When we finally finished, we put the phones away, and we waited. We were ready.

This day was an important one for me as well.

It was the date where I wanted to make a transition, a day where I wanted to add another title to my name.

Then the sound of an engine echoing in the distance interrupted my own thoughts about my future.

The bus was coming.

This is it.

“Okay Buddy,” said Wayne. “Let’s walk down to the edge of the driveway.”

We headed to the street as the bus came to a halt in front of us. The Stop sign popped out, the two red lights began blinking, and the driver pushed open his window. “Colton right?”

I nodded, smiled, and waved. I leaned down, and gave Colton a hug and a kiss. “Have a super day at school sweetheart. I love you.” And then I placed my hand up in the air for a “high five.”

Colton returned the “high five,” waved, and then walked around the safety crossing arm in front of the bus.

And then, that was it. The bus pulled away to take him to his first day of school. He smiled, and waved and blew kisses to us from the window. We continued waving too until the bus drove down the road and we couldn’t see each other anymore.

Colton was going to be fine. He didn’t need his mother that day. He was prepared.

He was ready. No tears from him, no worries. No problem. He was ready to do this. He was fine.

I was not prepared. As the bus pulled away, I heard a sound. It was a sob. And it was coming from me.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that flooded out of me. My only child was beginning a new stage in his life, and he didn’t need me to worry about him. He was fine. I was not.

I wasn’t prepared for what was next.

I walked back into the house, and made the beds and my breakfast. Then, the wheels squeaked from my chair as I sat down at my desk in my computer room.

I’d planned all summer long for this moment too. I’d wanted to treat this new stage like I would if I’d been working for someone else. I’d arrive here at the same time every day, only leaving for short breaks and lunch, until my son arrived home from school.

On that date, next to the title of “mother” I wanted to add the title of “author.” As Colton began a new stage of his life, I wanted to begin a new stage to mine.

Except I stared at my Facebook page, and I read some posts about the craft, but I couldn’t write.

I couldn’t frickin’ write.

Oh crap. I don’t think I can do this, I thought.

For six years I’d been home with my son Colton. For six years I’ve held the title of “mother,” but at that moment, I didn’t feel like I knew how to be anyone else.

I’d thought I’d be happy to see this day arrive.

I’d thought I’d be happy for the six hours to devout to my writing time.

I’d thought I’d be happy to have more time to myself again.

To find myself again.

Hell. Did I have an identity other than mother?

Instead, for the first two weeks of my new life, I sat in front of my computer wondering what my son was doing at that moment, not once thinking about what I was doing.

My son had a vehicle to carry him forward to the next stage of his life. Where was my vehicle?

Then finally, BAM!

One day, I forced myself to hack through that thick self-sabotaging haze and opened up the Word document that I’d started over a month before, then abandoned. It was a piece I’d been trying to write for a workshop. A piece that required me to create a blog post that invited readers into my world, my community, and my message.

When I first started writing that blog post, I’d been thinking about the novel I wrote, and abandoned (I know, I know, this is a terrible habit, something that I have to stop doing now!). I was thinking about the fictional world I created four years ago on paper, just like world I was supposed to be creating online. I was thinking about my main characters as if they’d been real, flesh-and-blood people, with real problems and issues to solve.

And the hero of my work-in-progress, Derek Walker, decided to step in and have a word with me about my tendency to desert my stories.

I read what I’d written, and I did something I hadn’t done for a while.

I smiled.

I laughed.

So, using the energy from that moment, I edited what I’d already written, and then continued writing.

When I finished, I sat back in my chair. Wow, I thought. This feeling is amazing.

I frickin’ finally followed through, and completed a story, something I hadn’t done in a while.

And I realized that in this moment, I had fun writing again. I’d created a place on the Internet. A place for me, and for other writers like me, to get inspiration and discover their creativity. A place full of positive energy for those struggling like myself.

I’d found my writing voice again.

And it felt damn good.

When you’re struggling, I want you to put everything aside, and just have fun for a little while. You’ll be surprised at the writing that emerges from your imagination.

I’m now prepared for the future, for my writing future. I’m now prepared to grab on to my new title, and make it a reality.

And I can’t wait to get started.

And in case you’re wondering, Colton’s teacher said, “he’s doing awesome.”

He was ready to attend school full-time. It was his mother who wasn’t quite ready yet.

But now I am.