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Square One

For the last ten years or so, Jamie’s business has provided customer service at a tradeshow in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Working on this show has always been a family affair.

Over the years, the show has become more than just another job. Now it’s more about friends and family. It’s tradition, reunion, loyalty, fun. 

It was while we were at the tradeshow in Myrtle Beach last March that Jamie and I first heard rumblings about COVID-19. Busy with the job at hand and without much free time, we didn’t pay close attention. We had no way to know then that ours would be one of the last tradeshows in the country. 

Within ten days of our return home, Jamie lost all the clients he had on retainer. Suddenly, what had been just part of the static of our daily news feed, came crashing into our lives like a tsunami.  Square One Creative, the graphic design business Jamie started sixteen years ago from our two-bedroom apartment in Washington, DC, had all but evaporated. 

For sixteen years, he cultivated, fertilized, and toiled to make his business a success. Then, with very little warning and in an incredibly short amount of time –  it was gone. It is equal parts breathtaking and devastating.  

For a day or two, Jamie and I spun in circles like the tilting teacups ride at the fair. What do we do? Where do we start? What’s going to happen? What does this mean? 

Soon, the boys were dismissed from school, sent home with their bookbags full of  Xeroxed worksheets put together in a hurry. Sent home in the middle of memorizing multiplication tables, on chapter six of Charlotte’s Web, two weekends away from a Quiz Bowl tournament.   

Then, my office shuttered, too. Thankfully, I was able to move my office computer, office phone, and all necessary files to a corner of our sunporch and continue my full-time job uninterrupted. 

Jamie refocused fast. Quiet and still, he began searching for work on a website for freelance designers. Those first days were full of being on hold with calls to the bank, the utility company, our mortgage holder. Jamie handled all that flurry of numbers, figuring, and estimating in almost complete silence. 

By nature, I’m a fixer. A doer. An in-crisis casserole maker. I’m Pollyanna on steroids, always looking for the silver lining and finding the bright side. I stay busy so negatives are held at bay.

True to form, I went all-in. I visualized Rosie-the-Riveter. “I’ve Got This” became my mantra. I made cards and construction paper artwork to send to front-line workers. I grocery shopped for friends and neighbors. I made bread. I instituted family game nights. I researched starting a vegetable garden. For a hot second, I considered buying a pressure cooker so that I could start canning vegetables. 

I picked up two part-time jobs. “I’m a contributor. I will become the breadwinner and single-handedly make up the difference. I can do it.” Easily distracted by all this self-imposed activity, I didn’t stop. 

At first. 

Countless times before, my tried-and-true Pollyanna attitude empowered me. But, I’d never had to Pollyanna for this long before. This crisis seemed to have no end. It’s a thunderstorm that never trickles to the slow, lazy drizzle, but remains an endless torrential downpour. 

After a few weeks of nose-to-the-grindstone, we-can-do-this attitude, I came to a screeching halt.  Just as quickly as Pollyanna appeared, I sent her packing. 

Head down, I shuffled through the house like a zombie, my movements habitual and dreamlike. Everything felt futile. Those things that had felt so important just a few days before became silly, stupid, too much effort. 

For the first time in my life, when I prayed, I couldn’t articulate my prayer. All I could do was whisper my husband’s name to the heavens, with the hope that God knew what it was I was trying to say.  

I was grieving. Lots of days, I still am. 

Grieving for a business Jamie and I had sacrificed for: years and years of late nights, canceled plans, ruined vacations, unexpected ups, and disappointing downs. 

Grieving for plans canceled: a sixteenth birthday celebration in Atlanta, Holy Week preparation and Easter Sunday breakfast, a family vacation planned for NYC in the fall, a long-held promise of a trip to Disney for Colin. 

Grieving, because saying, “We lost the business,” out loud carries a stigma that is hard to shake, even if the loss has come through no fault of your own.   

We are grieving. But, even the grieving feels selfish. All we lost was a business. Some lost so, so much more. In the real scheme of things, we have much for which to be thankful. All the things that are supposed to be the only things that really matter –  we maintain. I know that to be true. Most days. 

So, why does getting a shower take so much effort? Why does making supper take so much brainpower? Since when does “She’s in Love with the Boy” played over the loudspeaker at WalMart make me cry so hard I have to leave my buggy in the dog food aisle and go to the car? What is wrong with me? 

This loss isn’t something that can be articulated very clearly. Losses like this aren’t typically something that friends and family know how to help you through or even ask about.  Not really. 

Jamie and I don’t talk about it with people. We rarely talk about it with each other. Why would w