Transitioned: Nobody Can Survive Without Backup

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The economy’s not just in a downturn. It’s in transition. The rules of the game are changing, industries are transforming, and many jobs don’t feel so secure anymore. This spring, WPLN’s Kim Green is collecting stories of Tennesseans who are learning to survive and adapt to an uncertain marketplace, and an economy in flux. If you have a story of transition, tell us about it. We may post some of your experiences on our website or use them on the air. Send your emails to transitioned@wpln.org

Nobody Can Survive Without Backup

 

On Agee's computer: Cheery Louise Hay motivational mini-poster and reminder to file for weekly unemployment

On Agee’s computer: Cheery Louise Hay motivational mini-poster and reminder to file for weekly unemployment

Two years ago, with unemployment on the rise, Rachel Agee was grateful to have a job. She worked at a law firm, producing training videos, including ones about, ironically, how to properly fire someone. “Pretty much everything that the training video tells you to do, yeah, that didn’t happen,” says Agee.

The company terminated her, without warning, in February of 2009. “The first thought that popped into my head,” she says, “was ‘Oh god, how am I going to pay my mortgage?’”

“This is not who I am.”

Agee thought she’d made all the right choices—steady job, affordable house, good credit.

After working for a year at the law firm, she bought a modest 1950s ranch house in Donelson. “It looked like the Bradys’ 70s porno house gone horribly wrong,” she laughs. She and her parents rehabbed it together. But when she lost her job, then fell behind on the payments, Wells Fargo started calling.

“If I get to stay in this house, this is the BEFORE picture” — Agee

“If I get to stay in this house, this is the BEFORE picture” — Agee

One day, she’d had enough of the barrage of scripted calls. “I kind of had a breakdown,” she says. She told the Wells Fargo agent, “Listen, this is not who I am. I am not a person with a hundred thousand dollars in credit card debt who is living far beyond her means…I am a person who had a really high credit score and was really responsible who had a run of really profoundly bad luck.”

And still, every week, the Wells Fargo calls keep coming.

A Love of Something

“When I was five,” Agee quips, “I wanted to be a truck stop waitress. And I wanted to be named Mabel, and I would only respond to Mabel.” Growing up, she considered careers in nursing and teaching. “But in addition to whatever else I wanted to do,” she says, “I wanted to be an actor.”

Agee’s been performing in stage plays since college, and she does get paid to act. “It’s not enough to live on,” she says. For the first year or so after she lost her job, Agee told herself that she didn’t have the “luxury” to pursue theater, that she needed to focus on looking for work. She says she didn’t feel funny or entertaining.

But the opportunity to be cast in a musical last winter lured her back to the stage and lifted her spirits. “I felt for the first time in a really long time like I used to feel when I was onstage,” she says. “I don’t know what people do when they’re in this situation and they don’t have a love, a love of something.”

“The Piper” — photo courtesy of Rick King, RIK Photography

“The Piper” — photo courtesy of Rick King, RIK Photography

“You have to take help from people.”

Agee says she’s learning to “come to peace” with losing her house. Thanks to a safety net of friends and family, she knows she won’t be homeless. But learning to accept help from people was a “life-changing lesson” for the independent Agee.

“I’m not gonna put on a backsplash now for Wells Fargo!” — Agee

“I’m not gonna put on a backsplash now for Wells Fargo!” — Agee

“My mom helps me buy groceries at 38 years old,” she says. “It’s a little embarrassing, but what are you gonna do? Nobody can survive without backup.”

If you have a story of transition, tell us about it. We may post some of your experiences on our website or use them on the air. Send your emails to transitioned@wpln.org .

 

More: MP3 Direct Link | “Transitioned” Series Page

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