We’ve all heard “rags to riches” stories, but what about the other way around? FOF Norma Byrd, a successful California interior designer went from decorating multi-million dollar homes to sleeping on friends’ couches. It could have been any of us…
[Editor's note: The essay below, by FOF Norma Byrd, is part of a series of personal blogs from our readers. Have your own story to tell? Email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
When I’d see a homeless person with a hand-scrawled sign standing at an intersection, I wondered “How? Why?” If you were industrious and conscientious such a thing could never happen to you… right?
Wrong. Three years ago I learned the hard way that it could happen, because it happened to me.
I’m an interior designer and have made a modest living since 1986. I built strong relationships with my clients and even became the president of my local chapter of the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers).
But, in 2000, I embarked on a fast train to disaster. I sold my condo and bought a 1947 vintage house in a lovely San Diego, California neighborhood. I felt I should have a home reflecting my personal design tastes–a showcase of my work that would one day meet my needs for retirement.
My mortgage broker and friends asked if I would be able to handle the stiff payments needed to make my dream home a reality. I was sure that if I couldn’t, I’d simply sell the new house. I never thought it would come to that.
Enter unplanned exigencies. The architect took two years to complete construction plans; the bank took another year to approve and fund the loans. Demolition revealed that the existing foundation and flooring systems couldn’t support the new structure, setting back the whole operation even more. The cost of building and materials rose dramatically; real estate went into decline, and I was running out of funds with the house nowhere near completion. Then, a major client, a successful builder, virtually went out of business, taking my major source of income with him. In desperation, I borrowed heavily against extensive credit card limits and maxed them all out trying to pay subcontractors working on my house.
In September of 2008, I moved into the unfinished house living for months without heat or electricity. I was still clinging to hope that some miracle would save me. In 2009 the unthinkable happened–my dream home and an investment property I had mortgaged for the new construction, both foreclosed.
I have never experienced such wrenching heartbreak in seventy-plus years. I was forced to leave my home, which at the time was only six percent from completion. I had no money, no savings, no investments–nothing left. I sold my SUV, put the rest of my possessions into storage and for the next fifteen months lived with friends. It was tough not to beat myself up for taking on something so monumental and then blowing it completely. There were times over the past three years, I wondered if I’d be joining those homeless people on the street corners, and without friends, maybe I would have.
In October of 2010, I moved from San Diego, where I’d lived for 47 years, to Durango, Colorado. There, with state aid and Social Security, I moved into my own tiny apartment. I’m adjusting. I still hope to get my design business going again, so that I can get back on my own two feet. The venerable adage, “If God leads you to it, he’ll lead you through it,” has never been more true. Life has not given up on me–there’s something good to come, but I have to help make it happen. AND… I WILL SURVIVE!