Buried Alive

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2024 by Sara Etgen-Baker

Photo of Sara.
Photo of Sara.

If life becomes too much to bear, remember your angels are always there.” Author Unknown

You do the honors,” Bill said laying the shiny new key in the palm of my hand, metal and skin together. On that summer’s day there was a warmth to it, and the light played gently over the curves. I let my fingers curl around the key, feeling a spark of joy as I pushed it into the doorknob’s keyhole making a 90° counterclockwise twist. I knew it was just the pins turning the cylinder and not magic opening the door, but at that moment I felt like a magician unlocking our dreams and opening the door to our future.

Since the day Bill and I married, we’d dreamed of this day; but getting here hadn’t been easy. For roughly 18 months, we worked two jobs sometimes putting in 12-hour days, living prudently, and saving every dollar we could. Like any good entrepreneur we understood our future success hinged on finding a need and filling it. We discovered our community had no travel agency and, thus, needed one. Although neither of us had any travel agency experience, we were confident we could develop the knowledge and skills to meet travelers’ needs. So we devised what we thought was a fairly sound plan: I continued working while Bill completed a six-month travel industry course after which we used most of our savings revamping a retail space; leasing reservation equipment; buying office furniture and supplies; and registering our agency with the Airline Reporting Corporation.

All that effort culminated into this one magical, unforgettable moment when everything seemed possible. Once inside, Bill popped open a bottle of celebratory champagne.

We did it, Babe!,” Bill exclaimed, clanking our champagne glasses together.

We downed the champagne, flipped over the “OPEN” sign, and waited…and waited…and waited. Four days later, our first customer passed through our doors, and for the next six months, Bill was our solo travel agent focusing on leisure travel customers and small business travelers. When we had more business than he could handle, I quit my job and joined him. In another six months, our business doubled, and we hired two part-time agents. We were elated, believing we were well on our way to being successful entrepreneurs.

Then lightning struck—an economic downturn that brought high unemployment and lower consumer spending. In hindsight we should’ve seen it coming, but didn’t. We’d been too busy making airline reservations and booking trips to take note of the little signs: a slow, steady decline in leisure travel customers and noticeably less small business owners donning our doors. Over a six-month time period, our business and income was half of what it had been forcing us to lay off our part-time agents. So, we trimmed expenses and even took second jobs hoping to keep our fledgling business alive. But the economy worsened, and our corrective measures weren’t enough. We got behind on our mortgage and lease payments and maxed out our credit cards to make ends meet, often using one credit card cash advance to pay off another.

We can’t keep borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” Bill asserted one evening while looking over our finances. “We’ve tried to keep our business afloat, but we have to face reality.” His voice trembled, laden with traces of fear and disappointment.

The reality was harsh. Everything we’d worked and struggled for lay in ruins. We were buried alive in debt, and there was no easy fix. We tried debt settlement, negotiating with creditors to reduce the amount of debt on our delinquent, unsecured credit accounts. Unfortunately, the job market was stagnant, and we had no permanent job or reliable source of income to offer in our negotiations. Chapter 7 bankruptcy was our only viable option, buying us time while giving us the debt relief we desperately needed along with a fresh start. Within weeks of filing bankruptcy, we closed our agency; lost our home; and moved into a tiny two-bedroom apartment, ridden with guilt and shame at having filed bankruptcy.

Handling the downturn in our fortunes was an uphill task, but the worst part was confronting the emotional pain. Our small business was like a living, breathing child that we’d conceived and nurtured. It was gone. Losing it was painfully brutal and no less traumatic than losing a loved one. I often sat on the couch, feeling empty and numb; pulling my knees up to my chest; wrapping my arms around my shins; and curling up into a ball so I wouldn’t have to face the heartache and loss. For days, salty tears flowed unchecked from my eyes until my eyes were red and puffy. I was emotionally bankrupt, buried alive in grief and despondency, convinced there was nothing I could do to get out from under it.

One night I fell asleep on the couch and woke up in a dream with the strong taste of dirt in my mouth. I glanced around; I was six feet underground with no way of digging my way out. I choked on the dirt and gasped for breath feeling enormous pressure on my body and arms. “Somebody help me!” I yelled. “I’ve been buried alive. Help me!”

Suddenly a hand reached into the dirt and gently pulled me out. I blinked my eyes, and through blurred vision I saw a transparent man with a glowing face and flowing golden hair shimmering above me. “Grieve no more,” he said with a voice more soothing than a thousand kisses.

Who are you?” I muttered, dusting the dirt off my face and arms.

I’m a messenger angel. You must continue,” he added, tenderly wiping the tears from my eyes. Then in a flash of bright light, he vanished.

I woke with a start, the warmth of the morning sunlight streaming in through the living room window. My eyes greeted the sunshine; my heart and lungs expanded; and the burden of despondency miraculously lifted from me. After a few moments, I sat up wondering if my unconscious had helped me during sleep or if I’d actually experienced an amazing, unexplainable vision with a Divinely inspired message. Regardless, hope and strength filled my spirit; and I felt comforted and loved in a way I’d never felt before.

With my despondency gone, my steady stream of tears stopped. Bill and I began gradually putting back together our lives and the pieces of our dream-shattered world. Over the course of our lifetimes, we’ve had many more challenges and setbacks, some more heartbreaking and painful than losing our business and filing bankruptcy. Yet, when those difficulties arose, I always remembered my angel messenger’s tender touch, soothing voice, and comforting words. I did as he said and continued on.

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