Jim

“I was a patriot and it fucked me up. I’m a fucking mess.”

I met Jim this evening, at the light rail station a stone’s throw from my apartment complex. He sat on the sidewalk, the stub of a cigarette dangling from his fingers. His face was red; a bottle of alcohol poked out from a black grocery bag beside him. We talked for a good long while, fragments of his story coming out in fits and spurts.

After college, he joined the marines, where he spent the next twenty years, including two tours to Kandahar, Afghanistan. He killed people and watched as his pals, Adam and Ron, were shot and killed.

“I’m okay,” he reassured me early in our conversation. “I’m okay. I’m not a bum and I have money. But sometimes its just gets so overwhelming. They say that I might have that PTS, but I’m not crazy. I just miss my pals. Why did they die and I didn’t?”

It’s one thing to read about veterans who ask this question. It’s another to have a veteran look you straight in the eye as he asks it.

I don’t know. There is no answer—certainly none that I, as a middle-class woman half his age, can offer. So mostly, I just listen.

Jim is from Bennington, Vermont, where Ethan Allen and the green mountain boys intercepted and defeated British forces who were en route to Montreal, despite being outnumbered six to one. He told me the whole story, gray eyes sparkling with pride, and said I should try to make it to Bennington Battle Day someday (Wikipedia informs me this is a “state holiday unique to Vermont”).

We talked about history for a while longer, about Harriet Tubman (he wanted to see a picture of her, which I pulled up on my phone) and Francis Scott Key.

Jim isn’t homeless. He has a room in a hotel—run by another veteran—and a job in recycling. “I’m not poor,” he reiterated, asking if I was hungry. I’m pretty sure he would have bought me dinner if I said that I was. But I wasn’t. He wasn’t, either. “But what’s the point of money?”

I had no answer to this, either.

Dusk started to fall and with it a slight chill. We talked about what he should do next and he decided to go back to his hotel, about five miles south. He lit a Pall Mall while I checked the light rail map on my phone. I showed him where he should get off and how to get back to his hotel. I don’t pray much these days, but I prayed he made it safely.

The lady on the light rail recording announced that the train would be there in seven minutes, so I suggested we move to a bench a little closer to the track. It took him a minute to get on his feet and another couple minutes to talk himself into walking to the bench. But finally he staggered the ten or twelve feet and sat down beside me.

That’s when he said it. “I was a patriot and it fucked me up. I’m a fucking mess. I used to milk cows, I loved farming, and then I joined the marines.”

I glimpsed the headlight of the approaching train out of the corner of my eye. He gathered his bags and we stood. “Was it worth it?” he asked as the train pulled to a stop. “I’m fifty-eight years old. I’ll never have a girl. I’ll never be normal. Maybe I do have PTS. Was it worth it, to fuck me up like this?”

I was nine when the war that fucked up Jim began. Most of my conscious memories exist post-9/11, in a world supposedly made safe by people like Jim—people, I was told, who “fought for my freedom.” People who killed, and watched their friends be killed, and who are haunted by the fact that they weren’t killed.

The train pulled away and I turned and walked back to my apartment, on which I spend more per month than some people around the world make in a year. I’m working from home these days, processing mortgages, mostly refinances, helping people who are spending obscene amounts of money on glorified roofs and walls save a couple thousand bucks over the span of thirty years.

I knew the answer to his last question as he asked it, but there’s no way to look a man in the eye and tell him the answer…even though he already knows it, too.

No, Jim, it wasn’t worth it.

Sacrificing your cows, and farming, and the hopes of a girl, and being normal. None of it was worth it.

I’m sorry so many people—myself included, for much of my life—thought it was.


I’m not sure if the internet is the right place to post a story like this, but I wanted there to be a record of Jim, and Adam, and Ron, and all the Jims and Adams and Rons. Maybe someday we’ll live in a world where were it’s not acceptable to fuck people up so we can have cheap gas.

Better // Week 2

This week at Better.com involved a lot of firsts.

  • I started an NMLS prep course, which is the first step toward getting my NMLS license.
  • My classmates and I got to know each other better, which has been one of the biggest struggles of starting a new job remotely. We’re learning each other’s personalities and quirks, which makes for Zoom sessions that are way more fun!
  • I attended my first all-hands meeting. Each month Vishal Garg, Better’s founder and CEO, hosts a company-wide meeting—a combination of recapping the previous month and forecasting the future. Vishal is at once enthusiastic, energetic, and laid-back.

Side note if you’re reading this in April 2020: despite COVID-19, Better is continuing to hire at an incredible pace. If you’re looking for work, check out their job listings here. Let me know if you’re planning on applying and I’ll recommend you. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

  • I got my first loan file, which is at once both exhilarating and terrifying! I’m still learning the system, but there’s no better way to learn than doing it for real! I’m looking forward to helping my first borrower achieve their home ownership goals.
  • Though I don’t leave for Charlotte until this coming Friday, I did a dry run of packing my car yesterday. Not only was I able to fit everything I really need to take with me inside, but I had some spare room left for an extra box or two that I was hoping to take, but wasn’t sure I could.

 

I’m blogging every week about what I’m learning as a processing expert at Better.com. You can find all the posts here.

Better.com // Week 1

I started my job search back in the good ol’ days of early 2019. Before the pandemic, before stay-at-home orders were a thing, before unemployment skyrocketed to 6.6 million Americans.

Even when the landscape started to change and things began to get weird (there’s no other way to put it), I forged ahead, and within just a few days of submitting an application to Better.com for a role only listed as “operations associate,” they reached out for an interview.

To make a not-very-interesting story short, after a couple weeks and a series of really great Zoom interviews, I was hired as a processing expert.

Not-so-side note: Better.com is one of the fastest-growing homeownership startups in the country. Based on New York City, they opened an office in Charlotte, NC (where I will be eventually) just last year and have already grown it to over 200 employees, with plans to add another 1,000 over the next year. Basically, Better.com lives up to its name by taking the time-consuming, frustrating, broken system of getting a mortgage and making it fast, simple, and 100% digital. By utilizing technology, Better.com is changing the game when it comes to home ownership. Okay, end of sales pitch (for now).

Initially, the plan was to start on-boarding in person on April 7. As soon as it became abundantly clear that this would be impossible, Better changed gears, shipped me and my fellow new hires laptops, and planned an entirely remote on-boarding experience.

It. Was. Awesome. You’d have thought this was how on-boarding always happened, it went so smoothly.

My classmates and I spent most of the week hopping from one Zoom call to the next, setting up logins and benefits and learning some of the basic software tools Better utilizes (job-specific training starts on Monday).

Some of the highlights of the week included…

  • Storyshare. Friday morning, we were broken up into groups of 9 or 10 and given the opportunity to share our story with our classmates. Childhood, favorite memories, travel experiences, hobbies, friends, family—anything was fair game. This was an awesome and simple activity that really brought us together, especially given the remote nature of the week, and made me all the more excited to get to the office and meet everyone in person!
  • Cheers and Shoutouts. This is already one of my favorite parts of working at Better—and I’ve only been there four days. Each Friday afternoon, everyone in the office comes together (in person if we’re at the office and virtually if we’re remote) with their choice of beverage. Anyone who wants to can give a shoutout to anyone for anything, and everyone raises their glass. Cheers! It was so fun to see the culture of Better in action and how everyone came together to support each other.

And in related-but-separate news, I signed a lease on an apartment today! Submitting the application online and being accepted took all of five minutes, then another ten or so to sign the lease (always read the full contract, peeps 👀). Not only do I love the looks of the apartment, but the speed and ease of the entire process made the complex very attractive.

I move in two weeks. Who knows what moving in a pandemic will look like!

Fast Track to Operations Tech Stack – The Project

In 28 days, I built an operations tech stack from the ground up.

I’ve been interested in the field of operations almost ever since I started the Praxis program. I’m detail-oriented. I love systems, strategies, and making things better. I’ve managed projects and teams in the past and am confident in many of the soft skills needed to be successful in operations. However, I’ve never worked with many of the common applications someone in operations may encounters, so I chose to teach myself the basics of a wide variety of these applications.

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Fast Track to Operations Tech Stack // Part 3

This month, I’m building an operations tech stack from the ground up. In thirty days, I’m teaching myself the basics of Zapier, Hubspot, Autopilot, Trello, and TextExpander—and creating video tutorials about each application. You can find the initial project outline here, the first update here, and the second update here.

Finishing a project the same week as Christmas was no small feat. While I knew it could be done, I also knew I’d have to enter the week with an intentional game plan if I wanted to pull it off.

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Fast Track to Operations Tech Stack // Part 2

This month, I’m building an operations tech stack from the ground up. In thirty days, I’m teaching myself the basics of Zapier, Hubspot, Autopilot, Trello, and TextExpander—and creating video tutorials about each application. You can find the initial project outline here and the week one project update here.

Last week, I shared how my project outline shifted from what I’d first planned. This week started out a little rough as well. I’d planned to be out of town over the weekend and get back to the videos Monday afternoon, but I ended up adding an extra day to my trip and not being able to touch the videos until Tuesday evening.

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Fast Track to Operations Tech Stack // Part 1

This month, I’m building an operations tech stack from the ground up. In thirty days, I’m teaching myself the basics of Zapier, Hubspot, Autopilot, Trello, and TextExpander—and creating video tutorials about each application.

I outlined the project in a previous post, but already I’m making changes. My goal this week was to record two videos and edit and post them. However, as soon as I began scripting the videos, I realized just how integrated these applications can be. Not only is this “cool,” but it’s useful.

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Fast Track to Operations Tech Stack – The Outline

This month I’m creating a project centered around my interest in the field of operations. While I have a lot of the soft skills needed for such a role—I’m organized and I enjoy creating systems—I want to hone some of the hard skills that would be used in such a field. Specifically, I’m going to learn some of the most common software tools and applications that someone in operations may use and document the experience.

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29 // The First Paragraph

If I’ve learned one thing about writing this month, it’s to delete the first paragraph.

Most of the time, the first paragraph is like turning the key in the ignition: necessary to get started, but less than riveting to watch unfold.

Your readers—and your future self—will thank you.