June of 2012 presented to me a monumental break from the struggle my life had become in the 3 years leading up to it.
I grew up in real estate and then spent my short 10 year adult career 1998-2008 riding the swells in value of real estate that seemingly had no end. That is, until they did. In 2009, I filed a no-asset bankruptcy (meaning I kept nothing that a creditor could value and sell) and walked away with a clean slate and a very cleaned out bank account. Not only did my business come to an end but also my long term relationship, then the house, then my 13 year old lab Riley passed two days after we relocated to Dallas, TX to start anew. Queue in the country music song!
The next three years would be the most out of place state of confusion I have ever experienced. In hind sight I can say it was due to a total lack of identity and a huge chasm in the place where my purpose should have been. At the time I was becoming the opposite of my previous self who was outgoing and confident. I became a recluse who couldn't make eye contact even at the grocery store for fear someone would ask me what I did for a living to which my honest answer would be:
"I slowly deplete my modest 401k while hitting refresh on my email inbox waiting for someone, anyone, to respond to my latest attempt at employment without having to call anyone back or show up to an interview in person."
During that next three years I did a lot of things wrong, which is ok. But I did do one thing right I know which began with a flight to St Louis to pick up a 7 week old Bernese Mountain Dog, who during the 6 hour ride home with me in a rental car, never even flinched at the 200+ names I suggested for him. Close to the end of our trip I tried to explain in detail the importance of the right name. I said, "Although your name is important, it is ok to wait on the right one because we are hitting a wall."
He looked up with those eyes. "Wall?" "Wally?"
He shot up and grabbed the gear shift with his puppy teeth.
Wally and I moved to New Orleans in 2010 where I continued to pursue a real estate career post housing crisis that was now even more crippled by a move to a new city where I had zero real estate connections. We took long walks in the winter and went to the lakefront or Julie's pool in the hot summer which resulted in a house that usually smelled like a wet dog and 2-3 collars a month ruined by mildew. Julie invited me to join her on a trip to Monaco for a conference where she had been asked to speak in the spring of 2012. I declined:
I don't even have a steady job. Why would I go to Morocco (Monaco!) when I don't even have a plan for next week? That would be irresponsible. I need to stay put and refresh my inbox!
That decision ate at me almost immediately. I had always lived for adventure, especially travel. I can still vividly remember my first trip to Europe. I got off the airplane in Paris to what seemed like an alternative universe where I could not even communicate with other human beings. I realized in that moment how small my world had been and it was a humbling perspective I hope everyone experiences in their life. Just two days before she was scheduled to leave, Julie's conference in Monaco was canceled. She changed the airline ticket to fly into Portugal and check on her mom's home outside of Lisbon then asked one last time if I would like to join. I did!
It was a short 4 night trip and on our last day we went walking through the streets of Lisbon visiting restaurants, castles, churches and gift shops. One shop had tucked away in a corner a hat and belt made of cork. The best way I can describe my reaction is love at first sight. It was as if these cork products had physically reached out and grabbed me and I was obsessed! Julie bought the belt and we stopped into a cafe for coffee where I studied the belt while Julie translated the pamphlet that came with it and explained the benefits of cork fabric. Lightweight. Water Resistant. Anti-Microbial. Hypo-Allergenic. Mildew Resistant.
I studied the belt again. "Wally needs a cork dog collar! I am sure they exist, the fabric was practically made for collars based on its attributes. It's basically this belt with a D ring!"
The cork collar did not exist, at least not yet! If you have not heard what happened next, Julie and I tell our story here in a short 2 minute video that's worth a watch. Needless to say, finding the perfect material for Wally's collar led to 4 cork stores in 4 years and growing. Owning retail cork stores was not at all what I had planned to do but that doesn't mean it was not meant to be, because it was.
I have come to learn that life has many walls to overcome and by their very nature, walls first force us to look up. The answers are almost always up there!
Yesterday, Wally passed peacefully in our arms. He gave us so much to be thankful for including a million smiles just looking into those eyes of his. I have comfort in knowing his time with us was a job well done. For the next wall that I face I will look up, smile at my friend, and listen. Thank you Wally for such a sweet and magical story. We love you.