A Brother’s Love
Christmas Eve, 2016, 9 p.m.: I was hiding in my bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably. I owed: four mortgage payments; two rents to my shop landlord; money to my graphic designer; a payment to a short-term loan company; the printer for our business cards; my friends Nancy, Christine, Tassos, Paula, Lisa, and assorted others; and about five credit card payments. My head hurt from the crying, and I was trying to be quiet so my husband would not hear me.
December had not been a good month business-wise, and the bills kept adding up. My stress levels were so high that I was grinding my teeth hard at night and would wake up with a fierce headache…every day.
The next morning, on Christmas Day, I would be flying from New York to San Francisco to visit with my brother, his son, and his daughter to try and unwind from a tough year. I had briefly shared with my brother that I was broke: mentally, financially, and emotionally. He promised to “talk” and figure it out with me.
My husband walked in and asked nervously, “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” in Greek. “Is everybody OK?”
I sobbed out my answer that I owed so much money, due dates were upon me, and I could not make the payments. My sobs turned to white-hot anger as his response was to ask who I borrowed from, how much, when…and then carried on to say I should shut down my business, I was so irresponsible, I didn’t know what I was doing, and a barrage of other pleasantries.
In San Francisco, my brother and my godchild, Aphrodite, picked me up, took me for coffee, and enveloped me in a cocoon of love and warmth. They gave me Christmas gifts, and I cried with frustration at not being able to return the favor. My brother kept repeating, “we are your family,” like a mantra. We made no reference to my meltdown of the day before in New York or any work and home issues until the morning of 26th, when he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk and a talk.
Four hours later I was awestruck, hopeful, and above else, grateful. During our walk, he invited me to speak about everything, and I rambled singularly about my business. I shared what my vision was, what some of our projects were, how I ran things, my team, the press we received, the contacts I had, the future, and of course, my debt and the three apartments I had sold to self-fund my business. He only interrupted me to ask for clarity. At the end I was hoarse from my animated purge. At his home, he pulled out a pad of paper, asked me for an hour of time, and scribbled away.
As I sat in the backyard and sipped another coffee, I reviewed our life as siblings. I did not recognize this Jason. On our walk, I would have interrupted one million times to share my story if he had been talking, but he didn’t. He just listened. The Jason I knew from my childhood in Kenya was bossy, all about money, and very different from my new-agey approach to life. He was a Republican, and I was a liberal Democrat. We were so different that for several years we only spoke once or twice per year. I moved to France and he was in California, and when we met, we always argued, often fiercely. Who was this man? What had wrought these changes? Had he read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus?
At the end of an hour, we sat outside under the olive tree, and his opening statement was something like this: “Leez, you have an amazing business. I had no idea. You should be very proud of yourself, because I am.” I started to cry. I knew I had an amazing business. It was just that I had worked in corporate for so many years that when I launched Luludi Living Art, I launched like a Fortune 500 company and not a small business. There were ideas about what I wanted to do, but no vision. There was no one close to me whom I could reach out to for small business advice. At home, everyone around me told me what I should be doing, but no one listened to what I wanted to do…and then there was the shame of asking to borrow money from friends I’d lended to for years.
Jason laid out a simple suggestion on what to do from the second I returned to New York, to become solvent and start paying off the debt. He made me call the debtors over the holiday and push back due dates. He reviewed, cajoled, and challenged me to see beyond my panic over the debt and the deadlines. He showed me hat the bones of my business were excellent but I had to get beyond the struggle for survival so I would not be paralyzed. We agreed on a plan. It was so simple. And because he knew I would return and likely get mired in the morass of bill collector calls, he suggested we speak every Saturday morning to review the week and plan the next one. Of course, I cried again.
My brother is a small business owner and a single father with two grown children. One has substance abuse, which has wreaked havoc in both their lives. The other child has been tutored intensely in Greek so that she can attend medical school in Greece. My brother’s life is not easy, but he has a vision and a dedication to seeing everything through. He put all of his commitments aside to buoy me up emotionally and set me back on my path. He dedicated so much time to me during the weeks and months after my return to New York: encouraging me and pushing me when I floundered, listening to my wins and losses, and being there all the time until I could stand on my own.
I dedicate this article to him for being so open, thoughtful, caring, and loving to a sister who had really lost her way. Few people would undertake such a big project and stick to it, week after week. He did—and I will be grateful for the rest of my life.