Best of 2009: Click Your Heels

This is the first in a series of best-of re-posts from 2009. I will be posting them sporadically between new posts for the next three weeks. This post was originally posted March 5th, 2009.

When I first met Hal five years ago, he had nothing. He had lost everything in the dot com crash, including his high-rise Apartment in South Beach, his luxury car, his once successful dot com business, his pride. He pawned everything he owned in Miami, sold his Audi and flew West, pockets empty, ego shattered, heart hopeful. He was going to start over. He was going to look ahead, wipe the slate clean, start new.

When we first met, Hal was living on Ramen noodles and American Sprits, sleeping in a kitchen pantry converted into a bedroom the size of a mattress where not even a bedside lamp could fit inside.

"It used to be the snake's room," he said to me. "Before I moved in."

The night we first had sex, we fell asleep with our feet out the little pantry window, and slept that way an entire summer, soles freckled with spider bites and on our first date he took me to he 99 Cent Store, bought me a kid's Kung Fu DVD and a bottle of Captain Morgan. (Whoever says money can't but love is a liar. $1.98 later, I was done for.)

I bring up this story because I've been collecting your portraits for the last three weeks and have been blown away by their honesty, bravery and hope. Because although I cannot personally relate to losing everything (I will be the first to admit that I am absolutely spoiled and incredibly blessed in my life and I'm so beyond grateful for every second of happiness I have acquired), my husband can.

Since the beginning of the recession when news started breaking of extreme home loss, job loss, everywhere you look loss, Hal has been reading the news with his head in his hands.

"It's the worst feeling," he says. "There were days when I thought I wanted to die, that I would never be able to rebuild and succeed again."

But he did. He rebuilt a career for himself in television. Working as a Production Assistant throughout my pregnancy with Archer. Graduating to Production Coordinator, Associate Producer and then Producer/Story Producer in a mere four years. He rebuilt his credit, his happiness, created for himself a new, improved life, born and nurtured in the ruins of his previous one; a home.

"It took losing it all to really find myself," he tells me and I listen. I tell his story to friends and strangers staring out the peepholes of their locked doors, waiting for the Repo man.

Sometimes one must rebuild in order to move forward. Trouble is, it can be difficult to focus on such distant flecks of light when surrounded by so much darkness. Is it Pollyanna of me to believe that years from now, we just might be grateful? Perhaps so but what is the alternative? I've always believed Camus to be truthful when he claimed to find invincible summers inside of himself.

Three weeks ago I posted the submitted portrait
of a Bronx-based nurse who couldn't find a job. Last week, from the same woman, the following email came:
I submitted an entry for your blog, Portraits of an Economy... I just wanted to share some good news with you. I found a job!!! I'm so excited. I start Monday. I know we don't know each other, but I thought it would be nice to share my news with you. Hopefully things start turning around for everyone else in this country who was in my situation really soon...
Things are going to be okay.

Rainbows are signs.

From the sounds of your stories, many of you are on the move. And a great many more are preparing to uproot. To leave old homes, new homes, your homes. There are many of you holding fast to secrets, mourning jobs lost, family members lost, peace of mind gone and with it your pride. Selling luxury cars, pawning watches, moving back in with parents, sleeping on friend's couches, feeling overwhelmed. But you're also strong and optimistic and hopeful and grateful. You hold on. You rebound.

I'm not an economist or a scholar or even a college graduate. I know nothing of economic turn-arounds. I cannot punch numbers. I do not understand the stock market to save my life. But I do know, based on life experience that the areas burned by wild fires are always the greenest come Springtime, that there is an invincible summer in all of us, even as so many weather meters tip the scales at 20 below.

Your American Dream will not be lost with your house because "America" and "Dreams" were never built on the promise of home-ownership, but the challenge that was and is man's ability to turn a kitchen pantry into a bedroom into the humble beginnings of a new life. To start over again, and again, and sometimes even again. And to persevere. One pair of ruby slippers at a time.