On the eve of our country’s, our world’s, possible economic collapse, I must share a moment in time when Jon and I lost everything — or so I thought.
I was seventeen when I met Jon in math class at Utah Valley Community College, now known as Utah Valley University. He was the cute boy in the back who mostly slept on his desk. Being the extremely studious person that I was (not!), this was very attractive to me, and I couldn’t help but watch out of the corner of my eye as he passed me each morning to take his place. It only took a week or two until he woke up and approached me.
“Hey, do you wanna go waterskiing?”
And that was it. This handsome guy was asking me to join him on my most favorite activity in the world, and I was over the moon! I said, “Sure, what’s your name?” and the rest is history.
Dating, marriage, babies, and Jon changes
We dated for about two and a half years and then married. During this time, I helped him build a landscaping company that he had started when he was eight years old. I shoveled dirt to get ready for the retaining walls he built for home show houses. I planted flowers and organized receipts. We played a lot!
Work hard, play hard, was definitely our motto, and we made memories we will never forget! Jon made way too much money for a kid his age to not waste at least some of it, and eventually, we bought a new boat, jet skis, four-wheelers, and he even surprised me with a new jeep. The business was thriving, and we added a new tractor and other tools needed to expand our landscaping/retaining wall business.
We were married in March of 1996. It started out with a bang! We went to court to work out visitation schedules for my bonus daughter, Sydney. Jon got surgery on his back to deaden the nerves from an old football injury. Jon and I had a few clients take advantage of our small business and refuse to pay for the part of the blocks we had cut off to fit the design of their retaining wall.
We limped along until August when we had our first baby together, and then it all came tumbling down. Sometimes Jon would be gone for a few days at a time. He sunk our landscaping tractor in a reservoir on an old farm in Scipio, Utah, and he got lost while hunting in the Wasatch mountains on several occasions. He simply was not himself, and I wondered how I would ever survive being married to someone like this. I held my fresh, chubby-cheeked new baby close in my bed and sang to her “You are my sunshine” over and over again.
And then one day, after about a month of insanity, I looked across our tiny, square house and saw Jon taking the last pill in his medicine bottle.
“Jon,” I asked, “is that the right medication?”
He replied that it was what the doctor had prescribed and he had been taking it for a month. I immediately knew something was wrong, and I asked him to call the pharmacy.
Sure enough, they ordered him to visit the pharmacy and bring them the drug, telling him he was in “great danger”! After inspecting the medicine, they figured out that he had been given the opposite medicine he was supposed to have received and in triple the dose. It was no wonder our lives had turned upside-down, and I had been married to someone I didn’t recognize.
The doctor ordered Jon to stay at home and wean down off of the intruder drug. Almost immediately, bill collectors showed up at our house.
Hiding in my own home
We owed $400,000 to the suppliers for our company, and we were a sole-proprietorship. On a typical day, there were two to four people on my front porch, just waiting for me to answer the door. They would call over and over, and bang on my door. I could hear them talking and see them through the blinds. I even remember several days they would sit and have a bagged lunch on my front lawn as they made friends one with another.
I had a brand new baby. Jon was in bed recovering from his ordeal. I was hiding in my own home. I was only twenty years old, and I had no idea how to deal with this kind of pressure. I remember crossing the Provo River in our backyard to get milk from the 7-11 because I couldn’t face the bill collectors. Twenty-four years later, I still struggle to answer the front door or my phone, and my older kids are used to hiding when someone knocks.
Eighteen months after Jon stopped taking the intruder drug,, I had our second baby girl, and ten days later, the state of Utah asked me to be kinship care for my niece. So if you’re attempting to count along, that is four girls in two years, and I was twenty-two. We had lost all of our business, we were in court to sue the original prescribing pharmacy (ultimately getting enough to pay Jon’s parents back after four years), still in court for visitation with Sydney, in bankruptcy court (although we ended up paying our debts at a negotiated price), and in court to get my niece’s stepfather in prison for child abuse.
We were barely surviving, and we needed help with food and support for the basic necessities to survive. Jon’s parents gave us free rent and let us eat from their food storage. We didn’t have any income, and we were living on the deer meat our friends’ brought us, and a lot of potatoes. Potatoes and ketchup, potatoes and ranch dressing, spaghetti with deer meat, tacos with deer meat — you get my point. Because I was young and clueless, I figured my parents wouldn’t want to worry about me, so I didn’t tell them the situation we were in.
The first time I asked for help
Out of desperation, I looked in the yellow pages in the phone book (remember those?) and found a number for “Ask a Nurse.” They directed me to the City to go through the very confusing and frustrating experience of trying to get assistance.
I was given food stamps and WIC checks to get the necessities such as milk, cheese, and bread. This was a huge blessing, but I also learned quickly how these blessings came with a lot of backlash at the grocery store. I’m not sure if the people behind me in line meant for me to hear their comments or not, but it didn’t matter. I heard them. They said, “Holy crap, do we really have to wait behind her while they enter in all of those food stamps?” They said, “What is she doing? Why is she taking so long?”. I was humiliated.
I knew that Jon and I had worked really hard to provide for ourselves and to build our business. We were not looking for a free handout! Jon had worked the hours of a middle-aged man since he was a young boy! And now, all of a sudden, I was trying to defend our “poorness” and prove to the government that the tractor, trucks and landscaping equipment, all wrecked and sitting in our backyard, was useless.
“Can’t you sell it to get some money for food?” asked the lady behind the desk in the big building.
“No”, I explained, over and over again. “We are in a lawsuit and we have to keep that stuff as proof of our experience.”
“Well then, we just can’t help you.”
I silently vowed to help people in the community navigate the “system” if I ever had the chance. I would help teach them how to find resilience and self-efficacy to get the necessities they needed to survive.
Peach tree hope
The peach tree in our back yard became my most valuable, nutritious possession. My toes tingled as I bit into the juicy goodness. I ate as many big, round peaches as humanly possible because I was sick of old food storage and potatoes. I froze the peaches, put them in my food storage cereal, and cut them up for my oblivious children. They never assumed that we were struggling, because kids don’t care about the same things that parents care about. We enjoyed many adventures feeding the ducks at the park with the old bread we could get for free from Macey’s grocery store, and we sang and danced, colored and dug holes in dirt.
Eventually, Jon and I dug our way out of this situation, because of the many angels that came along the way and supported us. Our friend, Ross, dragged Jon out of bed and talked him into helping build his gym, Paradise Health Club. It helped Jon to get moving again and gave him something to look forward to. The kids kept me going in a way that only a parent could understand. When I wanted to give up, I was distracted by my children needing to be fed, bathed, played with, and consoled. I began taking our niece, Shauntyl, to counseling once or twice a week to help her get through the unfathomable trauma she had experienced.
We worked our way through having to lay off our friends, and we visited a counselor to help us navigate the trauma we were experiencing. After the end of our first appointment, and hearing all we had gone through in the first few years of our marriage, the man said, “Um… I’m not sure what to say. Any one of those experiences cause divorce all of the time, and if you are still together after all of that, I think you are just fine. Here are some exercises you can do to work on your communication.” Because we didn’t have the money to go to the counselor in the first place, we took his hesitant advice and went home.
We survived, and we grew
Jon and I worked hard after losing everything. It was awful. It tore at our souls. We had many sleepless nights. It made us want to stay in bed and GIVE UP! It made us feel worthless and like failures. It affected the relationships in our family, we lost friends, and we barely held on to each other. We had to sell anything of value, and there were times when I didn’t know if I’d wake up to find Jon dead. I wish this were an exaggeration, but “they” — the banks, our acquaintances, our debtors —took everything. Everything.
But at the end of this traumatic time, we looked around to see who our friends really were. And from there, we survived. Our family grew. We thrived to build a network of businesses that employ around 2,500 people. We both dedicate a lot of our lives to supporting other families.
All they can take is everything. And that is okay.
And now, on the eve of possible economic collapse, I must say this YES, they might take every(thing) — but that is all “they” can do. You might lose your job, your home and your food, but they can’t take away your LOVE, and they can’t take your FAMILY — unless YOU let them.
Jon and I are at risk of losing our business like everyone else right now if people keep shutting down their buildings, but we are doing everything we can to fight! We will give our blood, sweat, and tears to keep our teams safe.
Everyday, I repeat to myself and remind Jon, “all they can take is everything”, and it brings me PEACE, because the most important parts of our life are not THINGS, and if we CHOOSE, nobody can take away what is most important. Our people are the most important. Will our relationships be strained? ABSOLUTELY, but this does NOT have to be the end of our story. YOU write your next CHAPTER. You.