Derek Westerly (Part 1)

I’ve never been one to care about mundane tasks. I always just hired someone for that. Cleaning my house? Hire a maid. Mowing the lawn? The neighbor’s kid could use an extra $20. I bought two cars in one year just because I wanted to. I was living my best life. But then my job went under. It all happened so quick; one minute we were on top of the world, the next we were bankrupt. 

I suppose I can blame it on the fact that we were a group of stupid 20-somethings who hadn’t run a business before, but no one could be prepared for what we went through. Everything was going so well, then there was the fire. Our whole building went up in flames in the night. Luckily, no one was hurt, but we never recovered. We got insurance money, and we thought for a while it was a blessing in disguise because we found this greatnew building in what seemed like a perfect location. There wasn’t a store like it for miles, and we quickly found out there was a reason for that: no one wanted it.

I try not to dwell on the past, but if I had been there the night of the fire… if I made sure the stove was off… if I moved the paper towels a foot to the left….There had to have been a reason for it. I’ve been racking my brain for a reason but come up empty every time. It’s taking a toll on my mental health. 

I’ve been applying for jobs elsewhere, but no one wants to hire some washed up, used-to-be rich kid whose whole business went under because of a bad location. My wife is still with me, bless her. I can tell it’s getting to her, too. She’s been picking up extra shifts at the hospital. I’m always home alone with the dogs, at least they’re happy. 

My wife tells me to look on the bright side, she’s always so positive. I love her for it, but honey, what could possibly come from this? It’s almost been two months and I haven’t had a single paycheck. I’m done with dead-end jobs, too, I need at least management. I can’t afford to live off minimum wage. The weather is starting to get better. The sun stays out later and it’s been warm enough for just a light jacket. That helps, at least a little. I’ve been taking the two pups for walks daily. Some days, if I’m feeling extra down, we’ll go for two. Or one long one. 

I’ve gotten friendly with the neighbors. We started just waving at each other when I passed them on my walks, but lately I’ve been stopping to chat. Last week, I had a cup of coffee with this nice elderly lady who lives at the end of the street. She has a tiny Chihuahua. He sat on my lap while we chatted. My two chunky, yellow Labrador Retrievers were unsettled at first, but they were given treats and they were satisfied.

She was very sweet. Her name is Nancy and her husband died a year ago, leaving her with a fortune, but she chose to live comfortably in the house they spent most of their lives in. She gave a lot of money away to charities and local businesses, but also invested a lot for herself. I asked her for advice. It wasn’t like me to talk to strangers so openly, but I hadn’t talked to another person besides my wife in two months and I was missing having friendships. All my coworkers from my old job moved back home with their parents, so I was left with nearly no one. Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife more than anything, I just was used to having platonic friends, too. 

Nancy told me to apply to every job I find, even if it’s less than what I want. She pointed out that I could probably move up in the career, I was a CEO after all. A CEO that failed, but a CEO nonetheless. Whenever I began talking down on myself, she stopped me. She made me say one good thing about what happened. 

At first, the only positive thing I could say was that the fire was warm. It melted the snow around us. I chuckled sourly. The insurance money was more than enough. If we did our research…. It was a learning experience. Her words, not mine. I agreed resentfully. There’s nowhere to go but up. That one I came up with. She smiled warmly, offering me another cup of coffee. I declined politely, I had to finish up this walk. We parted ways and I’ve stopped to chat with her for a few minutes every day since. Never that in depth, just her asking how the job hunt has gone and our dogs investigating each other. 

I did apply to a few places. Nothing major, just two sales jobs and a manager at the local coffee shop. The last thing I wanted was to work at a coffee shop in any sense, but I thought about what Nancy had said. It was better than no paycheck. 

One of the sales jobs called me in for an interview tomorrow morning. I planned on calling the coffee shop tomorrow after the interview. I didn’t want the coffee shop job, but I’d rather a manager than a sales person. 

I practiced the interview with my dogs. I smiled politely and shook their paws, chuckling slightly at the absurdity of it. I introduced myself and professionally went over my resumé. They tried to lick my face. 

“Sir, this is extremely unprofessional.” I laughed, patting their heads. I guess I could find joy in the little things, so I wasn’t totally hopeless. And now I have potential jobs in the works, even if the crushing weight of my past still hung over me. 

Nancy asked me last week if I wanted to start again with the business, but in a better location. I told her no, and I had thought about it a lot. It was in the past now, and even if I wanted to, all my partners moved away, I’d need a whole new crew. Not to mention, I lost all my money when we went under, I’d have to take out a loan and my credit has been decreasing rapidly. 

As depressed as I was, I’d never been one to dwell for too long. I pick myself back up after a grieving period and I get myself back out there. Yeah, I was bummed about the company dying, but it could’ve happened to anyone. We were young, just out of college, what else could you expect?

Maybe someday I’ll start a new business. I’ll figure out what the town is in need of and I’ll make some new friends who want to be involved, we’ll save up some money, and we’ll start over. This time, we’ll be thorough. We won’t be hasty for the sake of opening sooner. We had the money to hold us over a few months, we could’ve spent more time planning…. I digress. 

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