This I Believe

Margaret - Mt. Airy, Maryland
Entered on May 28, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
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This I Believe

I worked for Enron. There, I said it.

Yes, I was in Enron’s Houston office. For less than eight months. It was great. Then it was awful. Then it was over and I, like so many others, was left stunned, disillusioned and unemployed.

I was fortunate. I had some money and limited responsibility. I had family back east and a brother with a vacant condo that, as he put it, “just needed a little work.”

I did the math. I could live in Houston unemployed for four months. There is no pride in not being able to pay your bills, so I packed up my pride and headed for that condo in Silver Spring, MD.

Now, I probably should have wondered what my brother meant by “a little work.” But I didn’t, so I was shocked when I walked into my new digs. The place – unoccupied for years — had become a squatter’s paradise for my brother’s old crap. It was decorated in early crack house. No running water in the kitchen. A huge hole in the bathroom ceiling.

I sat on a stripped down twin mattress, staring at a carpet with what looked like a blood stain. I thought, “Well, this is what my life amounts to: 35, single, childless, unemployed, living in a crack house.”

I had to find a job. I crafted resumes, sent e-mail, contacted leads. I met with anyone who would meet with me. Every morning, I worked on the search. But it wasn’t long before I had done all I could do that day. At that point, there was nothing left but waiting. The maddening wait for a response. Waiting. Waiting and searching my soul. Waiting and looking for wisdom from Oprah. Waiting and moments of despair.

So, I decided it was time to fix up the apartment.

I became a regular at Home Depot. I borrowed tools and recruited help. I switched from Oprah to home improvement TV. I tried things I had never done before, like plastering ceilings. I tried things I don’t ever want to try again, like stripping window casings. I hooked up the water. I tossed the rug. I painted the walls. I made curtains, moved my brother’s stuff out and mine in. The physical challenges of stripping paint, sanding plaster, fixing walls and plumbing became a rhythm for recovery.

The headlines still screamed about the Enron scandal. Whenever I ventured out, I still felt branded by the crooked E. But inside the condo, my setting – and my life – were looking less desperate. My outlook improved. I had made a difference, even if that difference extended only to the four walls around me.

I believe in the therapy of working with your own hands. I believe in the destruction, the dust, the cleansing, the color, and the light. I believe that, working with your hands, you’re in control. You can effect change. You can, even in the midst of great personal turmoil, restore the resolve and the calm.