I grew up in central Virginia in the 1990s. My mother was a court
reporter who owned her own business. Our family did pretty well. She had
deep connections to the legal profession and like all parents, she
wanted me to be successful. So I got my degree in philosophy with a
pre-law concentration and I went to work in legal services, where I
worked as an independent contractor for seven years, until I was 25.
In 2010, the bottom fell out. After watching my mother work all
through my childhood to build a business, sell it for over a million
dollars, and begin her retirement, I watched everything my mother had
slaved for evaporate overnight when the housing bubble collapsed and
their beautiful property in Louisa County became basically worthless. I
watched her go back to work two years into retirement, punching keys for
rich attorneys with a barely-healed greenstick fracture in her arm and
the beginnings of carpal tunnel in both hands when she had worked hard
her whole life and mine to play by the rules and do everything right.
Watching all of this happen, I realized I was running myself ragged
working up to 80 hours a week with no health insurance and no retirement
plan. Worst of all, not only was I sworn to secrecy about the sometimes
questionable things I learned, but the work itself did almost nothing
but make doctors and lawyers richer. No matter how hard I tried, I
couldn’t shake the idea that there had to be something better than this.
But I needed the money. I didn’t know what else to do.
Then, one seemingly regular day, my stepfather had his first seizure. I
was laid out sick three hundred miles away, with less than a thousand
dollars in the bank and unable to work, when my mother called to tell me
that they were at the hospital. “They don’t know why this is
happening,” she told me, “but I think it’s the Agent Orange.” hung up the phone and cried.