77: Nowhere to Go But Up

77: Nowhere to Go But Up

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Nowhere to Go But Up

If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.

~Mary Pickford

As my car sputtered to a stop in front of my mother’s house, I took a deep breath, reclined the seat, and slowly exhaled. I closed my eyes, in part because pure exhaustion had taken over, and in equal part because I wanted to stem the flow of tears.

How had I arrived here? Three weeks earlier, I owned a successful restaurant, lived in a beautiful home on a tree-lined street, drove a brand-new car, and had plenty of money in my pocket. Now it was all gone. The business was shattered, the bank account emptied, the vehicle repossessed, and the house gone when it became abundantly clear that making the next payment was a laughable prospect.

At twenty-five years old, I found myself sitting in front of my mother’s home, slouched down in a rusting 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit, jobless, homeless, penniless, and seemingly out of options.

Too ashamed to walk up the steps, I sat alone with my thoughts. “Why me?” I asked no one. “What did I do to deserve this? I worked hard, I treated people well, and yet, through a series of cruel twists, everything I thought was mine was gone in a flash.”

In the weeks to come, I found myself dodging creditors, preparing to file for bankruptcy, and struggling to land menial kitchen jobs. After a few days in my old bedroom, a friend took me in, and I spent countless nights tossing and turning on a mattress lying on the floor of a spare bedroom, wondering how one person could be hit with such bad luck. That had to be what it was, right? Just a messy series of events, all linked to the worst luck a man could imagine?

But luck had nothing to do with the sad state my life was in. The failed business, the broken lease, repossessed car and empty bank account could all be traced back to my own unspeakably poor choices.

Coming to the realization that I alone was responsible for my life wasn’t easy — or quick. It took most of a summer spent living off of others before I fully embraced the tired cliché that I really did have no one to blame but myself. It seemed as though at every fork in the road of my life, I had gone the wrong way. Those wrong turns had left me penniless, depressed, alone, and with no real end in sight to my misery. But eventually, driven more by desperation than inspiration, I decided it was time to stop waiting for my life to change and go change it myself.

It began with getting my own place again. It was small and slightly depressing, but it met two key criteria — it came furnished and I could pay by the week. It was a small first step, but one that I knew was crucial if I was indeed going to rebuild my life. With two jobs and my Rabbit still holding on, despite the fact that if you lifted the floor mat on the passenger side you could see clear through to the ground, I was surviving, which, sadly, was more than I could have said for myself three months earlier.

My bank account was still embarrassingly empty, but at least it wasn’t overdrawn. I was sleeping in my own bed (albeit under a blanket left by the previous renter) and I slowly began to see the tiniest glint of light at the end of the tunnel.

With a few dollars in my pocket and a place to call my own, I embarked on what for a poor, nearly destitute guy was the scariest of all propositions — I asked a girl out on a date. That may not sound like much, but the date had to be within walking distance, given that if she sat in my car, her feet would go through to the ground. Then too, it had to be an inexpensive date, as I was broke.

That date — a walk to the library and drinks and Scrabble at a local coffee shop — was, I say with absolute certainty, the turning point in my comeback. For all of the questionable choices I had made, this was the defining moment. As we sat and talked, I laid my entire gruesome existence on the table. I held nothing back. I was as me as I could be, and at the end of the day a funny thing happened; she asked for a second date.

That girl from the library and I just celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. The rusted-out Rabbit is gone, replaced by an SUV with two car seats in the back for our beautiful, healthy, amazing children. A house in the suburbs, complete with a bed covered in my own blankets, has replaced the rent-by-the-week apartment. The late nights working as a fry cook are no more, as I earn my living as a marketing director and an author. The bank account that once began with a red number is now supplemented with a retirement account and enough cash to enjoy a dinner out with my family, a vacation in Myrtle Beach, and most importantly, peace of mind.

As I look around at all that I have in my life, two things keep me grounded and working harder than ever. First, I never forget the pain I felt that day, parked in front of my mother’s house, when my life had, by any reasonable person’s assessment, hit rock bottom. And second, I remind myself that as hard as I have worked to rebuild my life, I truly believe that the best is yet to come.

~Matt Chandler

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