Twenty years ago today, my life reached its nadir.  

On the cusp of my 35th birthday, my life was a disaster.   

In January of 2003, my 16-year-old marriage (yes, I married at 19) crashed into a fiery ball of burning hell.  As lawyers say, I was the intervening cause, but the truth is that our marriage was toxic to us and our kids. 

For the first time in my life, I lived alone.  My kids were 12 and 6.  To make ends meet, I worked two or three jobs, depending on the season.  Teaching.  Waitressing.  SAT-prep tutor.  Perfume sales.  I even taught horseback riding lessons for a short stretch. 

On Memorial Day 2003, firefighters woke me up at dawn.  Torrential rains had forced Swift Creek over its banks and 200 feet up our back yard.  Thirty minutes later the filthy, putrid flood water was streaming under the back door.   

It took months to recover.  Flood insurance covered very few of our losses. 

Then, on September 19th of 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit Richmond.  My house looked like this for almost a week:

Td house flood

I dug in.   

I got FEMA assistance to cover short-term housing.  Chesterfield County building inspectors informed me that a county ordinance might require me to elevate my house.  Since it was slab construction and I had no money, this “solution” was a joke.  I kept paying the mortgage to preserve my credit score.  I refused to fix it up and sell it – that was unethical in my book.  

I researched bankruptcy.   

Then I learned about the Hazard Mitigation Program Grant.  After months of lobbying, Chesterfield officials finally agreed to apply for grant funds that would buy out four chronic-flood homes on Beach Road. 

It took two years, but finally, in 2005 the funds arrived, and Chesterfield County bought my home.  Before I signed the closing docs, we had little fun.  Yes, that’s me with the straight red hair.  #mistake

House paint

Chesterfield demolished that home and my little family slowly recovered.  In the twenty years since Isabel, we have come a long way.   

In 2008, I left teaching for law school at the University of Richmond.  After almost four years at McGuireWoods, I started Dunlap Law PLC.  My kids are married to fantastic people and thriving in the lives they chose for themselves. 

Along the way, I’ve made a lot of decisions and I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned along the way.  Today’s mantra: 

Go bold