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  • Cecil Lewis Jr.

How Did You End Up Here? - Part 2

This part two of a blog entry I posted several weeks ago. https://www.viewfrommywindow.net/post/copy-of-how-did-you-end-up-here-part-1

The first part of this story focused on the logistical side of how I ended up in Germany. For the second installment, I wanted to share a bit more of the personal side of the story.


In the months leading up to my first visit to Germany in 2009, well let just say, it was more than a stressful time of life. As the company I was working for prior to July 2009 was scrabbling to be sold, and on a few occasions, the employees (including me) were not being paid. I was in a panic. How will I support my family, pay for my house and pay for my cars?


In 2005 I had purchased a ½ acre of land (2023 m2) and built a home. Which was the beginning of what was to be the worse financial decision in my life. Under the guides of “go big or go home” this house was big. To put this in perspective, the total finished living space was over 6,000 sq. feet (550 m2), 10 rooms, 5 bedrooms, 4 full bathrooms and ½ bath, a 3 car garage, a theatre room, a workout room and more, on a piece of property on the 4th tee of an 18-hole golf course.


The house was spectacular, and I was proud of the finished product. However, I want you to be very clear that I am not bragging about myself or any accomplishment in any way because I built a house I could not afford. To this day I still remember saying to myself as I embarked on this endeavor, “this is a mistake”.

The American Dream? More like the American Nightmare

I, like so many other Americans during this time, had participated in what has become known as one of the biggest mortgage banking crashes in American history. Banks were handing out mortgages like candy and approving people for mortgage amounts that they simply could not afford. Everyone was riding high and I jumped on the mortgage bandwagon.


This mortgage crisis resulted in a housing bubble that burst in 2008. The collapse of the housing market along with rising unemployment during this time led to mass foreclosures (German = gerichtliche Verfallserklärung) and close to 10 million homes were lost by Americans. In 2008 alone, 3.1 million Americans filed for foreclosure, which at the time was equal to one foreclosure for every 54 homes in America. (I will not dive into the history and cause of the crisis, but here is some interesting reading on the topic)


https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/062515/how-was-american-dream-impacted-housing-market-collapse-2008.asp


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subprime_mortgage_crisis


So how was I feeling when I arrived in Germany in 2009? I was a mess. Although the company I had worked for, had been successfully sold and I had joined the company that had acquired us and I was getting paid again, I was now facing a whole new batch of stress. Now, I had to meet the demands and expectations of a new employer. I had agreed to manage our business in Europe. I was trying to hold on to a house that was worth 50% less than what is was mortgaged for. I basically felt as if my life was being held together by bandages.


During this time, my weight exploded (220 lbs. 100 kg) and I was taking a lethal cocktail of prescriptive medicine to treat my thyroid, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, topped off with a heavy anti-depressant.


Hence, from 2009 until 2011, I was completely in survival mode, simply trying to hold it all together. I was bouncing back and forth across the Atlantic 5 or 6 times a year for extended stays in Germany and throughout Europe, sleeping in hotels more than I slept in my own bed. I felt as if I had no alternatives. My area of technological expertise was all I knew; I was too old to change careers and I had to suck it up and try to be as successful as I could be as a means to make ends meet.


Being displaced from my homeland was something I never imagined (although I think I may have fantasized about it a time or two). Trying to conduct business or even trying to function in a land in which I did not speak the language was an enormous challenge. This was the time I came to find out what the word lonely really meant. I think most people have said at one time or another that they are lonely. Unfortunately, I got to meet Mr. Lonely firsthand and he is not a nice guy. I felt as if I was all alone, cut off from everything I knew, with no one there to save me.


At some point, I came to a place that I would not allow myself to feel too much pain. I would often say to myself, “just close your eyes and go with it” (yes, when you are alone a lot, you talk to yourself). I would say, “this is not about me, it was about my family, my standing in the community, my responsibilities, I simply could not fail”.


The good news is, I survived these early days in Germany. My business began to flourish. I learned to embrace the opportunity of seeing and going places that many people would only dream of. I learned that there was a whole world out there, that I had only seen in movies or read about and I was getting to see it with my own eyes. I traveled to England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, The Netherlands. I learned to take this as an opportunity to experience the world in exchange for the heartache I was facing.


It was in 2010, that I realized I could no longer hold on to my house. There was no way that I could continue to pay for something that was worth 50% less than its mortgage value. In 2011, I had to let it go. The house had been a black cloud that was constantly hanging over my head and was simply a financial situation that I could not fix.


The humiliation that came with the realization of my failure hit me hard. Although I could rationalize why it happened and tell myself that it happened to 10 million other people, it was not supposed to happen to me. So, after the 2 years prior of operating in the survival mode and finally coming to a place that I could function abroad and do my job well, I felt horrible. I was ashamed that I had failed, I felt I had embarrassed my parents, that I had let my family down and I had lost so much of what I had worked a lifetime for. All the money I spent on the land, the building of the home and every mortgage payment I made were flushed down the toilet.


Around this time, I asked my boss how long my assignment in Germany was. He indicated it was “likely permanent”. I was not exactly sure what that meant. Like “forever-permanent” or as long as I am “employed-permanent”? (in business, I have learned that permanent should be classified as the “foreseeable future” there is no such thing as permanent) With that, it was suggested that I acquire housing (as the company was paying a small fortune in hotel fees) and obtain a working Visa for Germany.


In April 2011, I moved into an apartment. A small apartment! ( ~700 sq. feet= 65 m2 ). A far cry from my house, to say the least. I talk about my downsized life in this blog post: https://www.viewfrommywindow.net/post/my-downsized-life


Here I was in the middle of what I considered “nowhere”, living in what is basically the attic of a 400-year-old building, all by myself. Yes, I actually had several pity parties for myself in the early days, but actually felt and believed the whole situation was some type of punishment for my past sins and failures.


Since the age of 22, I had always lived with someone. Now some 27 years later. It was just me. I hadn’t actually cooked much or did my own laundry during my lifetime. Now I had to set up a house, decorate it and make myself a place to live. It was interesting that after I acquired some furniture and the basics for living, the apartment looked like a hotel room. Hmmm….wonder why?


As I embarked on this new chapter in the Book of Cecil, the distraction of the apartment helped me get over the shame I felt for losing my house and my financial failures. No one knew me here and no one was here to judge me. Although the distractions helped, my bad feelings never completely went away until years later. Because my trips back to the U.S. and the ongoing legal and financial ramifications served as constant reminders of those dark days.


In the first few years of living here, I felt that my entire life was work. I worked primarily from my apartment, I worked long hours to cover the European and American time zones. My apartment became an office where I slept. (on a side note, I did make a lot of money in my underwear – no air conditioning – sorry for that vision)

My apartment office in the early days.

Nonetheless, somewhere along the way, I began to change and to get stronger. I worked hard and built my business, I cleaned up my financial past, I lost a lot of weight and I gave up almost all of my medicines. I finally decided and accepted this was the card that I had been dealt and I believed there was a greater reason I was here, and I needed to embrace it.


I began making friends, I found my music once again, I learned to cook and most importantly I learned that my time alone had taught me a lot about myself. Oftentimes, I think we lose sight of who we really are and what our real values are, when we are caught up in the rat race of life or manipulated by someone else’s vision or plan for us. I even wrote a song called “I Found Myself When I Was Alone”.


A lot has happened since the time I got here. My mother, three uncles, and an aunt passed away while I have been here. My son graduated from college, my daughter graduated from high school and she will graduate college in a couple of months. Some of the American holidays are hard to be away from. I still miss some good Mexican food, chicken wings, ribs and a good steak (yep, all not so healthy). But I have missed my children and my parents the most. I missed a lot of things I wish I could have attended or participated in, to my children and family for this I am sorry.


I am not really sure if my children even read my blog. Nonetheless, one of my goals in writing was to have an archive of stories that my children may read someday, perhaps when I am not around anymore, or they might even share my stories with their children someday. Nonetheless, this is part of the story of how I ended up here and ending up here may have saved my life.


There is a lot more to the story from a personal side, however, when I started this blog I decided I would always be considerate of others' privacy. (Here is a nice American saying for my German friends ………….. “Somethings are better left unsaid” or a Cecil saying, "Somethings are better off forgotten"