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The water that moved without a break, made the music Lilah and I became accustomed to. The bedroom that we shared had many portraits that I painted of Lilah and a white canopy bed that hid us from view; that kept our world safe. I loved it when we made love there, when we bathed together; everywhere, because I knew that she loved me. I wanted to take care of her for the rest of my life. I wanted to kiss her all over, everyday, and have the biggest family in South Carolina and grow old with her.

I sat down where the mahogany square table was; waiting for Lilah to come back. The grandfather clock, that existed in my family for generations, leaned against a wall in front of me, tick-tick-ticking away time. I looked out through the glass sliding door that showed the grass and sand in the back of the beach house. Lilah was with this man at the time, yet I did not know it, did not want to believe it. I kind of suspected it because her hair was always a mess and one time, her lipstick was smeared around her lips. Sometimes late at night, Lilah climbed into bed and I noticed that she smelled different.

Still, being nice as much as possible, I never talked to her about what I thought she was doing. Lilah used to live with loving parents. They worked hard without any thought of taking breaks. They were employed in a restaurant where the owner was Chinese. They were not allowed to sit, even when they were too tired or sick to stand. Lilah served the food. Hardly an Oriental face was ever normally seen. I met her at the restaurant. It was mid-afternoon; around 4 PM and the restaurant had a few customers before the dinner hour at 5 PM. When Lilah approached me, I was struck by how delicate and different her beauty was.

She had on a white T-shirt and a pink ruffled skirt. She had a shapely body. Her eyebrows were thick, dark arches, her eyelids were small; it was the first time that I saw eyes like hers. Lilah blushed. I must have had an astonished look and sound in my eyes and voice. I was led to sit at a table with an empty seat in front of me against a wall. Or, um, see me sometime? I had to keep seeing her face. I had that urge within a few seconds. She put a menu on the table. Her smile was polite.

Her hands held each other tightly. Please, my name is Colin. I stuck my hand out for her to shake. I turned red and I lowered my gaze to my hand. She put her hand in mine and I shook it; slowly and carefully, taking my time. Lilah was a truly nice and trusting girl. She would have came back an hour or two ago. Of course, recently, she always came back later and later. I had enough, though, and I was so worried about her.

I decided to walk outside to look for her and I left a note on the kitchen counter, just in case Lilah came home before I did.

When Lilah and I dated, there were many instances when I heard her parents scream at her when I pulled up in my car. She always left her house, with her head down; arms crossed. We only saw each other a few times, when she confessed to me one evening, next to a river, sitting on a rock beside me, that her parents wanted her to go. They hated her for falling in love with a white man. She looked as if she was slapped. There were purple streaks on her arms and cheeks. Her parents planned to move with family members in New York to be closer to their connections.

They want me to go away. I kissed her some more, as she cried lightly. The sand was smooth from the many years it has been here and the many people who walked on it. I was a lone figure with worried eyes, looking for my love. Because I loved her so much. I had to make certain that she was okay. I let the days go free for her, while I let work be my burden. I preferred that she had freedom and space; she was so unhappy and I thought that I could let her find her smile.

Then I saw a woman with long, black, wet hair. I could only see the back of her head. She was with a man and her face was so close to his that I knew that she was kissing him. I knew that I was an intruder and should turn back, but the woman moved her head slightly to her right. I opened my mouth and widened my eyes in shock. I did not think because anger darkened my mind and I did not see. I only looked at her and did not even look at him. I only cared about her.

The man saw me and he pointed me out to her. Oh, I loved her. Her brown skin that I touched, teased, and painted. Her black hair that tickled me and the warmth that it gave me. The way she held me with her arms and the way her legs wrapped around mine. She was the only one that kept me alive. Lilah turned around to look at me but I was already there.

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I grabbed her wrist roughly and held it tight, so tight that she put her hand on my closed fist; a plead for me to loosen my grip but I was not going to. It pained me to see the hurt in her eyes and I never did hold her like that before but I did not see. I knew the man still stood, where he dared touch my love. He was no one for me to be concerned about. We walked back to the house and when I locked the front door; I let her wrist go. She was already accustomed to being talked down on by her parents since she was a little girl.

She held her red wrist and put it against her chest. She was crying, her dark eyes were shiny and they looked sad. I wanted to know what I did. I needed to know how she felt. I thought you really, really loved me. I looked directly into her face; her eyes looked down on the floor. She could not control her sobs. Her voice was afraid, was hiding in fear. Her voice was so soft. Her voice was always so soft. I was more than stunned. I knew not a thing about this other man. Lilah was too sweet to be a liar! I felt a sharp pain somewhere in my body. She looked at me with eyes like a child and she was whimpering.

I felt so misunderstood and so alone my whole life.

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Now Lilah was killing us both. I grabbed her violently and tore her clothes off. She struggled beneath me but I was too strong for her. She cried in pain but I cared less. My past, my hurt, were all there as I went inside her I thrust myself into her so hard; her screams filled with dried blood; she was so loud and I understood later how alone and scared she felt.

But I was tired of her slicing my heart lightly and teasingly. My body felt as if it was the right thing to do; to destroy my past, using this woman who was supposed to love me to make me feel better. But my heart and my body were not at its best; they were in deep pain and I felt even more alone because I knew that when I stopped, I already lost her.

I should never have hurt her, I felt so sorry; I cried but I went inside her again and again. I handled her roughly; all the questions that I had about why I hardly had any love dissolved. I wanted to erase every bit of that man inside her. She was mine, all mine. Her cries became soft. Her eyes were closed; tears came out from under her eyelids, and her chest was moving up and down. I stopped and she was red and weeping. I could feel hurt around us; a pain that stained us and could never leave. I lied facedown on the floor, looking at her and she, at the ceiling.

I cried; the tears kept coming out and I could not stop crying. In my chest, my heart was in great anguish. I was in pain, pain that could never be caused by something as weak as a dull knife. The pain was one of gloom, of constant nothingness, of a bottomless pit that you can only fall into, and keep falling with despair acting as your only friend.

There was silence, except for our heavy breathing, a silence that preceded something terrible. Lilah moved her head to look at me. She was not going to marry me. I proposed to her every night, since we first saw each other. My love for her was absolute and final. It was the question that never had an answer. Most feel cautious. None feel safer. I still remember being on the Tube on the morning of September 15 I bumped into a colleague.

We were both reading on the front page of the Financial Times that our employer, Lehman Brothers, had gone bankrupt. It was a total shock. We had recently been told by management that the bank had enough liquidity for a full year should anything happen. After the meeting, we didn't really know what to do. We wanted to be together for solidarity, so around 4pm, we went to the pub and drank vodka tonics. Within a few days, the administrators [PricewaterhouseCoopers] told us if we stayed through September we might get paid for the month. It felt very strange, but we kept going into work.

Sitting on the trading floor, we updated our CVs and spent our days job searching. Headhunters had parked themselves in the Starbucks downstairs. The bathrooms started getting dirty, because the outsourced cleaning companies stopped providing services immediately. Employees were buying armfuls of sweets at our internal snack shop to spend the money on their cash-loaded cards, which made me sad: here I was in shock, worried about my future, while people were manically buying chocolate bars.

It was a traumatic experience, really. I suppose everyone deals with it differently. Lehman was a collegiate place. I strongly identified with my work and remember thinking, had those four years all gone down the drain? It felt like a big part of me had suddenly disappeared. In the following months I started grinding my teeth and suffered from terrible migraines. I heard that others, particularly those who had worked at Lehman longer, suffered much more serious health issues. To me, the financial crisis was a strong warning sign that the finance sector needed to change.

It showed that taking care of environmental and social issues and stakeholders is critical to business survival. However, most people around me were not interested in integrating sustainability issues into business practices. It felt like nothing had changed and I became quickly frustrated. Because I'd worked in the City for my entire working life, I decided I wanted to make a change, and work for an organisation that took sustainability seriously. I took a job as a financial sector policy adviser at Oxfam. But I took it.

When you work in the City, you get used to the money.

And if you don't have a strong reason to change, it's tempting to stay because you get paid so well. Without the external shock of the crisis, I could easily have stayed there longer, getting increasingly disillusioned and unhappy. I really needed to be inspired, and to find purpose in work. My role at Oxfam gave me a wide-ranging experience, from engaging with investors on human rights issues to researching how global companies sourced materials, and their tax and lobbying activities. Taking the plunge proved worth it. I learnt more working for Oxfam in less than three years than I did in nine years at an investment bank.

PRI works with investors to incorporate environmental, social and governance factors into investment practices. My focus now is on the sustainable development goals — they are ambitious goals agreed by countries of the UN to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all by One more thing: I studied economics and went to business school, but neither taught me to think critically about the purpose of finance. Most people in finance look at spreadsheets and screens all day, having only learnt one type of economic theory.

In , I bought a house in Florida at the height of the market for less than I could afford. I qualified for more, but didn't want to overstretch, as my then husband and I were having a second baby. We were at the right point in our lives: married with kids and had a web design business that was doing well. It was a bad move, but we really didn't know that at the time. Everybody was buying houses. The real estate market was exploding. Our realtor, the bank, advisers, everyone who approved me for a mortgage all suggested I find something better or newer than the house I chose.

They really tried to influence me to spend more. Everyone was hungry. Central Florida is not like New York.

Losing Lila

Our house cost less than we were making per year. So we thought, we can easily afford this and I can take a year off and raise the kids. No problem. It was somewhere between and when things started to really decline. We were aware that the economy wasn't doing well, and obviously that was reflected in our business: people weren't spending money on websites or design. They'd get inexpensive prepackaged websites and ask us to tweak them or hire their cousin for a few hundred bucks.

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I think my husband kept up with that more than I did. I had little kids. It seems he was panicked about our loss of income, because one day he took all of our money and ran. He disappeared. Desperate times can really change people. I was left with a two-year-old, a six-year-old, no business, a one-day-a-week nursing job, a big house that I couldn't afford by myself and a lot of debt. I lived in the house for the next few years, watching its value drop to half of what I paid for it.

Crime in my neighborhood exploded. My house was robbed five times, even with a security system. Anything the kids left outside, like skateboards and bikes, disappeared by morning. Before the crisis, we had never had that problem.

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I had to learn how to be poor again. It was like being in college, but with kids. In , I claimed bankruptcy. My credit was destroyed. When I bought the house my score was low s, almost perfect. Then I was bankrupt with a score of I had to build my credit back up because no one wanted to rent to me, and to do that I needed to stop paying the mortgage.

I felt like a loser doing that, but it was the only way I could get back on my feet. I didn't have anyone I could stay with. My parents helped me watch my kids while I worked three jobs. I just stopped paying the mortgage and eventually lost my house. It probably took me six full years to recover financially, to get my credit back to average, build up a decent income, some small savings, and start contributing to my k [retirement savings plan].

I went back to school last year for my masters degree, and next year I'll graduate and become a nurse practitioner. I was reluctant to take on student loans, but decided it was worth it because I'll be doubling my income. The crisis has made me do a lot more research before making any big decisions. I feel less safe now than I did before the crisis. I learnt from experience that the little guy is not the priority. Corporate America might get a bailout, but no one was going to bail me out. I was on the Sunday night conference call on September 14 when Paul Tucker from the Bank of England told representatives of all the big City firms and infrastructure that the Barclays acquisition of Lehman had failed, and Lehman was going to go down the pan the following morning.

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It was just a monumental time. Lehman was a global titan. The idea that it would collapse was unthinkable. We knew there were issues in the market; prices were all over the shop. But we went into that weekend assuming that someone would step in and a deal would be done. There must have been odd institutions on that Sunday night call. When Paul told us that Lehman would go down the next day, nobody said anything. When in doubt, keep it short. We went around the call and everybody said the same thing. The next morning, I got the 4. We drafted announcements. Exchanges have these archaic but useful things called default rules, where you freeze all of the unsettled transactions and cash settle them out, with just a net amount owed between each institution.

But nobody had ever done a bank administration of this size. They had done supermarkets and factories, but nothing of this complexity. It was on the top floor, with great views down the river. I had been up there before for lunch, and remembered it with thick carpets and chaps in white gloves. It had been a real place of tranquillity. But this time, all the paintings were gone from the walls. Gangs of year-olds were running between rooms with laptops, clearly with little idea of what they were supposed to be doing. I walked PwC and their lawyers through our processes.

It seemed they had never even heard of Stock Exchange default rules. It took an hour or two of explaining. They were pretty relieved that at least the unsettled equity trades would be sorted by someone else. That was just the start. Over the subsequent weeks we watched the prices of some of the largest financial institutions in the world drop by huge percentages every day: 5 per cent, 10 per cent. When you realised Bank of America and Merrill Lynch would have to be bashed together overnight, that Goldman was potentially going to have to be rescued… can you imagine?

Goldman Sachs? Even they had to go cap in hand to Warren Buffett. It felt like absolute Armageddon. It was awful at the time, but I've spent the rest of my career dealing with regulation, and it has been a bit of a golden era since the crisis. We were seen as a block. Now demand for good experience in this area has rocketed. It is taken seriously. Regulation and compliance has become a proper career.

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What the crisis threw into sharp relief is that you absolutely cannot run an economy without an effective financial services sector. The damage that this crisis caused to the real economy was quite sobering. We live in a bubble in financial services. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably kidding you. We get paid more than most industries do. Do we deserve it?

Not in my view. Are people much cleverer in financial services than in other industries? No, not in my view. Most of us are just relatively high-achieving doers.