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Freedom!

This is not a political post. While I am deeply committed to this country I live in, and am deeply grateful for those who’ve fought and sacrificed for the freedoms I now enjoy, this is not about that kind of freedom. The freedom I am speaking of is of a different sort. It’s the freedom that comes with being able to choose; to chart a course, set out on it and make it happen. I think fewer people experience this freedom than we might think. Read the rest of this entry

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Bootstraps, “You Didn’t Build That”, Victims, and Miracles

A while back, like last July, there was a great deal of hoopla about President Obama’s comment, “If you’ve got a business,  you didn’t build that.” Okay, I can see how the hardworking business people of this country could get really sideways about that, but reading the entire comment in context it completely makes sense. After all, in context, what Obama was really saying is that others have paved the way to make us successful…no man or woman or business person is an island.

I’ve recently heard people, friends and colleagues, espousing the ideal of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps”.  I have been thinking about this a great deal lately, in conjunction with President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” statement.  I have a lot of questions.  I mean, I love the idea of rugged strength and determination overcoming all obstacles, but…I wonder…what if the bootstraps were to break?  Who’s wearing the boots?  If I’m wearing the boots, who’s supporting the ground the boots are supposedly firmly grounded on while I do my own bootstrap pulling up activities?  I don’t know.  Kind of makes me wonder.

So often people experiencing hard times are accused of taking the victim mentality just because they are experiencing hard times.  Yes, I know.  There are people out there who are making choices that lead them to a place of dependency on others’ good graces, whatever form those good graces come in.  There are many who appear content to live this way.    They milk the kindness of other people and “the system” for their benefit all the while escaping the responsibility of every citizen to give back and help pay for the freedoms and luxuries our great country affords us.  They do this, in spite of the fact that they are able to do more for themselves.  For them, it is a lifestyle choice rather than a helping hand in a time of need. We could accuse them of being lazy.  We could say it is the system’s fault.  We could point fingers at a number of different reasons why this is the case, and all of it, to some degree, will be valid.  All of it, to some degree, will also be bunk.  I know of people who have received more in food stamps than I, as a working professional and single mother of four children, can ever afford to pay for groceries.  It is these very same people who sell their food stamps for money.  This should not be.  I agree.  But not every person who is a victim has a victim mentality.  And not every person who needs assistance at some time or another requires it forever.  Not everyone collecting welfare is a victim.  And not everyone, experiencing hard times is able to get themselves out of their hard times on their own.  Sometimes, even the most stalwart need a helping hand….or a miracle.

I, myself, have been a “bootstraps” person for most of my life.  I figured if I just set my mind to it, I could make it happen.  And…generally…that was the case…when I was younger…and prettier. Two divorces and four children later and, try as I might, no matter how hard I work, or how hard I try, or how much effort and genius I put into things, I can’t catch a break financially these days. Well, okay, I lied.  My water bill was half what it was last month and I’ve paid off the surgeon that did my cancer surgeries this year.  Wow.  Big deal.  I’m still pretty, but the wrinkles are beginning to be obvious.  No one has a clue what my age is unless I tell them (they often guess I’m in my mid-30’s, I’m not).  Wow. Big deal. I have worked hard to pay off debt that belonged to me only because an ex-spouse incurred it.  I have experienced drama and demise of one disaster after another none of which I was responsible for. Try as I might, I can’t seem to catch a break.  I really am trying.  I’m not taking handouts.  I’m working extra hours.  I pay my taxes, my insurance, my bills. I’m not getting ahead.  When I am able to get a little bit together, something unexpected and totally out of my control descends upon my life to evaporate the savings as quickly as I deposited it. I mean seriously.  I couldn’t control my getting cancer.  I had no say in the decision about health insurance costs and premiums and deductibles. I have no control over my daughter, one very normal Sunday morning, getting into an accident that meant yet another cost ($500 deductible) and stress (What the hell are we going to do for transportation now?).

I have changed my opinion about the bootstraps thing.  I mean, sure, people can have an amazing impact on the course of their own lives.  A child from poverty can go to school, do well, make plans and achieve great things.  A child from wealth can squander all the benefit he/she started out with and end up being pretty much nothing.  We all have great power to do great things with the energy and intelligence we’ve been given, in spite of our circumstances.  I still firmly believe this.  Sometimes, there are things that happen that are just beyond our control.  Sometimes these things are so monumental or so continual that we can’t, no matter how hard we try, change our circumstances.  We are, in essence, pulling as hard as we can on our bootstraps, making progress even, but someone, something cut the bootstrap just a little higher up.  I know.  This is tough for people who’ve never really known hardship to fathom.  If life has always been pretty easy for you, it is difficult to imagine others’ struggles.

This bootstrap cutting from higher up has been my life this year.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t catch a break.  I worked extra hours, I cut back on expenses, I even moved and made colossal changes in lifestyle to try to get ahead.  Under normal circumstances, the efforts I’ve expended would have paid off.  What I didn’t account for was the stuff in life that no one can really ever account for.  Early this year, I knew it was going to be bad when the biopsy came back with results that required surgeries, radiation and additional out-of-pocket medical bills that I could not have planned for. (Remember, I’m a divorced, single female trying to support four children on my own salary which is decent, but not what someone with a graduate degree in a professional position should be earning.)  I also filed for bankruptcy, and that has not gone well.  I was assigned a trustee who is Evil Incarnate and completely non-communicative, so I couldn’t plan for the surprise billing she threw on me in late September. A billing of over $738.  In spite of all my attempts, and my attorney’s attempts earlier this year to avoid this scenario, it happened and it is beyond my control.  To add insult to injury, my daughter recently was involved in a fender bender.  She rear-ended someone.  No big deal, but the deductible is $500.  Since I just paid $817 on this vehicle to service the transmission and replace brakes, rotors and all just a month prior, I have absolutely no discretionary spending or savings to get this vehicle repaired.  It isn’t because I haven’t tried.  The point I am trying to make is this:  From cancer costs, to Evil Incarnate Trustee, to daughter wrecking car, to insurance deductible, to unexpected but required car repairs, none of this was in my control.

What the bootstraps people don’t seem to take in to consideration (and what I didn’t consider for years) is the fact that sometime shit just happens.  Sometimes that shit can be dealt with quickly, and other times the shit just keeps coming and you can’t recover before the next load drops.  Such has been my life this year, which gives me a greater appreciation for the words President Obama uttered when he said, “You didn’t build that.”  I understand the value of having others around to collaborate with and to support you in your efforts.  No man or woman is an island.  Though success does require our own initiative and efforts.  Our own initiative and efforts can’t always guarantee success.  There’s just too much out there that we can’t plan on, budget for, or anticipate.  Sometimes the bad fortune rains heavily on the parade we are trying to conduct in life. These days, I can’t catch a freaking break because the shit just keeps dropping.  It keeps dropping in spite of my good choices, in spite of my efforts to be a responsible, contributing, law-abiding citizen of this great country. Sometimes, the bootstraps don’t help.  Sometimes, your success is predicated on the kindness or efforts of others, whether you are willing to admit this or not.  Sometimes it is just complete chance or fortune. Sometimes it’s a miracle.

Last month, as I endured the worst month ever since my divorce and trying to feed a  family of four on $350 for an entire month, I needed a windfall.  I even whispered the prayer, “God, I know you’ve done miracles for other people.  I’ve tried.  I worked.  I couldn’t plan on the demand from the BK attorney.  I need help.  I need a windfall.  And not a $500 or $1,000 windfall either.  I’m not asking to win the lottery, but I need help with the car and Christmas.”  Okay, sometimes in desperation, we beg for the miracle.

****

Call was at 12:30.  My daughter had stressed how important it was to be on time to the call for her show, so I made sure I was ready. !2:15.  12:30.  She drove up in my Durango at 12:45.  I didn’t wait.  I hurried out, locked up the house and turned to climb into our beloved SUV that we  affectionately dubbed, “Rango.”  I glanced in the window and panic shot through my psyche.  My daughter was in tears, her eye makeup streaming down her face.  My daughter is not prone to obvious displays of emotion. I was alarmed.

“What happened?” I asked.  “Are you okay?”

She sputtered and sobbed and finally got the words out. “I was in an accident.  My phone vibrated.  The sound startled me.  I looked down.  I hit the car in front of me.”

Every mother’s nightmare.

My daughter, who is usually so very careful and cautious behind the wheel had rear-ended an F-350 which tore out the fog light on our vehicle, leaving a gaping hole.  The Durango, otherwise, seemed unharmed.

As insurance issues tend to do, this one unfolded in slow motion, as did my understanding of exactly what was going on.

“Oh no,”  I thought.  “Another at-fault accident on our insurance and a $500 deductible to fix. Great.  How’s this going to work.”

Remember, I had $350 to my name and I had to feed my family with this and I still had most of the month left.  I drug my feet for a week getting my car into a body shop to get an estimate.

****

“I’d like to take your car back to my tech to have a look at this,” the young handsome adjuster said.  He was getting to know me by name.  This was the second time this year my vehicle had reported to his shop for repairs.

Before he took the car to the garage, I asked, “So, what are the chances that this vehicle is actually totaled?”  He smiled, “I’m not sure, but that frame is bent pretty far back there.”

We waited.  My daughter cried.  I waited.  As I waited it dawned on me.  If the vehicle is totaled, then there will have to be some sort of cash settlement.  I glanced over at my daughter and whispered, “Honey, don’t despair.  This could be a blessing in disguise.”

****

Three weeks later, and I am I going to pick up my 2012 Nissan Altima tomorrow (today).  Never in a million years would I have anticipated ever driving, let alone being able to afford a recent model anything, let alone a vehicle which is fuel-efficient, comfortable, reliable, has low miles on it and is absolutely luxurious in a color I like!  I would love to sit down and detail all the ups and downs between then and now, but it would be tedious for you though it was an exciting ride for me.  The insurance settlement came in much higher than I dared hope.  It provided a substantial down on this new car, and will replace the money that Evil Incarnate took out of our Christmas/Emergency Fund coffers.  In addition, it will allow me to pay off the rest of my medical bills and pay down my credit cards. It is an amazing windfall, and not a little one either.  And one further thing…there was nothing I could do to make it happen.  It just did.  I’m grateful, but I’m fully aware that, “I didn’t build that.”

Sometimes bootstraps and strength alone are simply not enough.  Sometimes we all need a little good fortune or a helping hand.  I got an  assist through some bad/good luck and a bunch of events that were beyond my control which happened to turn out well. They could just have easily turned out badly, leaving me without transportation at all.  I’m really grateful for how things turned out, but I did nothing other than make my insurance payment to deserve this. I didn’t do any of this on my own, but all of it seems to be the turning point for my little family as the savings in gas costs and repair costs will far outweigh the new car payment, plus it will put money in the bank for us. I just wonder, does this make me a victim or does it mean I’m able to recognize that I am not all-sufficient.  I can appreciate the miracles in my life, even when they walk in clothed in disaster.

Trashed House~My Payment For Trying To Do A Good Deed

I wonder, is it my payment for doing a good deed or is it just that somewhere along the line, maybe when I was a kid, (I was a really bratty kid and lied a lot to my parents) I earned up some really bad karma. Or maybe, it is that bad things, sometimes really bad things, happen to good people. I don’t know. My right wing fundamentalist evangelical Christian friends might say it is because I’m being punished by God for not attending church every week, tithing, and being a faithful servant. Well, as for not attending church, tithing and being faithful they’d be completely accurate. I’m just not sure that’s how God rolls though. I mean, think about it, when Jesus walked the earth he hung with some of the lowest of the low according to society and the religious elite of the day. Rahab, a harlot, was used to save some godly peeps and, well, I kinda think God tends to look past the mess in our lives right into our very inner being and that is where he deals with us on an individual basis. I think the outer stuff, the yuck that I am dealing with now, is just life. It is also the result of me being a naive person, when I should not have been. It is also the result of me simply making some very foolish choices. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But about the next bad thing that has happened in my life. The thing that makes me wonder what kind of evil karma I built up throughout my life only to have it be dumped out on me this year has to do with the rental. I’ve only alluded to it. Here’s most of the story.

Last year, I made the decision to go through bankruptcy (actually a smart decision given all the details which I will not disclose here). In the process, I decided to surrender my home. This was also a smart financial decision when you run the numbers, again, something I won’t bore you with here. This was not a case of me being angry at the bank for whatever reason. I just wanted to make a fresh start financially and the home was more financial and physical burden than I was going to be able to deal with. However, the entire process has ended up taking far longer than expected (over a year and counting). I knew it would take some time and I was not able to stay in the house and risk a move during the middle of the school year. I have three school age kids and my own career would not have been able to accommodate such a transition at such a time. I was getting legal heat from the Evil Ex and needed to make sure my daughter was enrolled in a good school and that she was doing well and liked it. I decided to move to a nearby town and in September we found a place to rent and settled it. And that, was going to be that…or so I thought.

I was approached by a friend….(you can see this coming, can’t you?)…who mentioned that her son and two friends were looking for a place to rent temporarily and would I be interested. Well, no, not really. I mean, I really had no desire to be a landlord or make the place a rental; I just wanted out. But this was a friend I have known and worked with for 14 years. Her kids and my kids grew up together, went to school together and our kids are now graduating together. This woman has impeccable character and is a top notch quality person. Her son is also. The friends came highly recommended. So, I did a bit of research, wrote up a rental agreement, we all signed it, they paid their move in money and I moved out. I left the place in pretty decent shape. It wasn’t perfect. I had some stuff in the garage still to move out, but the place was, for all intents and purposes, a clean and homey dwelling. The friends of the friend’s son turned out to be disastrous.

Things started being a problem almost right away. I’d drive by the place and see that it wasn’t being maintained, then the rent began to come in partial payments. Two months in and I was working on evicting them. Fortunately, they ended up getting out within the 30 days after being served the rental termination notice. Then I got another renter in, who was actually, at first, responsible and timely in her payments. She got some roommates to help share the rent and utility expenses and all was golden. That lasted about two months and things began falling apart. There were violations of the rental agreement, which I followed up and she attempted (though not satisfactorily) to remedy and I gave her a 30-day notice of termination of the rental agreement (we have a month-to-month). Rent was not paid completely last month and rent didn’t appear at all on the first. I went by to collect on the first, no response. I went by the next day. The house looks deserted, but the door is wide open. No answer when I ring the bell. I try contacting my tenant with no response. I drive by the house the next day, the door is closed, otherwise there is still no sign of life. The dog does not bark when I go to the door. This goes on for a week and I’m beginning to think they’ve abandoned the house. Finally, I get in touch with the tenant, over a week after the missed payment and the termination notice. She confirms that she received the notice. She also confirms that they have indeed abandoned the place, with the intent to come back for her stuff by the end of the month; the others have already gotten all their things out. In a phone conversation, I express my concern about the security of the home if no one is living there. She agrees that she will get her stuff moved out within the week and move the rest of her stuff to the garage. I gave her till the end of the month to get her stuff out of the garage. In exchange I get the possession of my home and I won’t go after her for the late rent. Her week to move her stuff ended yesterday. Today, after my radiation treatment, I went over to the house to check things out.

This is the scene that greeted me when I drove up to the home:

I just had a really bad feeling about this. I immediately texted my tenant asking about all the stuff and she actually texted back saying she’d had a garage sale and this was the leftovers. On the mattress, there is a sign that reads, “Free. Please take.”

This is what the living room looked like when I entered:

Those are the window blinds that were in great condition when I moved out…now all broken and scattered on the floor. The big black stain in the middle of the carpet was not there when I moved out. You can’t see it well from here, but there is also smoke damage on the fireplace brick. Nice. Here’s the other side of the living room:

It gets better, before we head back to the bedrooms, let’s check out the kitchen.

The back slider was left open. Check out the grass in the back yard. We left them a lawn mower. It sure looks like they made good use of it. Here are views of each side of the kitchen:

2They left the kitchen sink.

And some food for any guests that might stop by:

I just can’t fathom how people can operate like this. They were in violation of their rental agreement for trash being left around. I gave her the appropriate amount of time according to state law to correct the problem. An attempt was made, but it was nowhere near satisfactory. Look what they left behind in terms of trash:


The thing that really irks me about this is that for the entire time I was renting this house to both sets of tenants, I paid for the garbage service which included a recycling bin and a yard debris container. What kind of mentality is it that thinks that it is okay to live in squalor like this let alone leave it for someone else to pick up? But let’s just do a quick tour of the rest of the home. My skin is beginning to crawl and I’m glancing around for the rubber gloves and sanitizer.

Part of the rental agreement stipulated no smoking in the house or garage. Apparently, the rules don’t apply to these folks.

Those aren’t just carpet stains you see in that picture with the pillow in the corner. That is dog poop on the carpet.

Of course, no rental trashing by tenants is complete without some damage to the walls. This hole is about a foot long from top to bottom.

That wasn’t the only hole either, but it was definitely the largest one. In all there were three holes in walls, and a wall had been repainted a hideous purple-blue color. The wall was previously white. Other damage to the home included damage to lighting fixtures:

Broken glass on the floor:

The toilet looked a lot like the kitchen sink:
I guess they had a crappy experience living in my home. Here’s the genius work in the master bathroom:
I’m not sure you can make them out. The writing reads, “I am beautiful. I am a leader. I am an amazing mother and friend.” I’m thinking that explains a lot. She must have run out of Prozac.
Last but not least, the garage is the coup de grace:
These mattresses are as high as I am tall.
Yes, folks, this was the disaster that I walked into today after getting my tenants out. When I moved out all the lighting fixtures had just been replaced. Now they are all damaged and missing light bulbs. I had just had someone put new screens on every window a couple of years earlier, and only one window has a screen left. There are stains on every carpet, holes in walls and the yard alone will take weeks to clean up. There is damage to doors, the air vent grate has been kicked in and there is rotting food everywhere.
Upon returning home, and while uploading the photos, I did a quick Google search on landlord’s rights when tenants trash a house. Turns out, in most states, this is not a police matter, it is considered the risk one takes when renting. It becomes a civil matter. In my case, I know these people are unemployed and even if I did go to court and win (which I would), I wouldn’t see any of that money ever. I’d spend more than I’d be awarded just to get it back. Here’s another kicker: I have to do this clean out myself as I have absolutely no financial resources to pay someone to clean it up. The Hesitant Boyfriend’s long stretch of unemployment and even longer stretch till he gets paid for the work he started last month is straining my monthly budget beyond belief and it was already strained before I picked up the tab on his car payment and insurance this month. (Which he promptly decided to increase the cost of by getting into a fender bender with a Cadillac.) Add to this the fact that the 18 y.o., just got her license and her cost to be insured inflated my insurance bill to over $400 a month.
Yes, I am the poster child for the club “Smart Women Who Basically Make Idiot Choices In Every Aspect Of Their Lives”. Or maybe Some Divine Being mistook me for the Morton Salt Girl who is comfortable with the idea that when it rains it pours.
Which leads me back to the thought about karma vs. punishment vs. it’s just life. This all happens to be just great timing. The tenants are out of the house, but the house is completely trashed. Just making the house secure and sanitary so it isn’t a public health hazard is going to take some doing. I’m halfway through my radiation treatments and my energy is in limited supply as it is. Just as all this crap is hitting the proverbial fan of my life, The Hesitant Boyfriend and I ran headlong into a deal-breaker, that I just can’t get past. I’ve told him he needs to move out and get his Hesitant Stuff sorted out, because sorting it out in anger on me or my children is just not how I roll. All of this is just very, very, very unfortunate.
This afternoon as I looked upon the devastation that is my life right now, I turned to my son and said, “I am truly at the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life. It is worse, even, than when I had to call in help to clean out after the Evil Ex.” And yet I had no tears to cry. I could do nothing, but make sure the doors were closed and locked, all the electrical items unplugged, and walk back to my car and get in and drive away and try not to gag in the process. My brief search on Google helped me realize that while tenants can trash houses, and unhappy people who are unhappy tenants often do trash houses, my situation could have been so much worse. While this clean out is bad and I’m going to have to figure out a way to get it done quickly and on the cheap, it is basically a matter of dumping and cleaning. At least, I hope that is how it works out.
As I am up late documenting this damage and pondering the irony of this all, I strangely aware that while none of this is fun for me, I’m not exactly in a panic about any of it. It is kind of like I’m playing a game of Monopoly and I pulled the “Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200” card. I’m stuck in the Monopoly Jail of life right now, not able to move forward or improve my situation because I simply keep drawing the bad cards. It’s a season. It’s not forever. (I sooo have to tell myself that right now because there is that teeny voice that sometimes squeaks, “What if this NEVER changes?” or, worse, “What if things just keep getting worse?”)
In a nutshell, it can all be summed up in the following conversation I had today with my oncology nurse:
Nurse: So…how are things going? How are you handling the treatments?
Me: Great. This is the least of my worries in life.
Yes, she looked at me like I’m crazy. Maybe I am…just a little.

Insomnia Episode #748

There are some nights that I fall asleep quickly, early even. These are the nights after a night or two or three spent wide awake, tossing and turning and searching Craigslist for everything and anything in the hopes that I will become drowsy and eventually knock off to sleep. I thought tonight might be one of those nights but, here I am, wide awake again.

There are some nights, very few and far apart, where I actually sleep the entire night through without even waking at midnight for a potty run. These nights are exceptionally rare. Most often, I sleep soundly for about three or four hours, then I’m wide awake for most of the rest of the night. Tonight appears to be one of these nights.

Tonight my mind is spinning around the possibility of my 11-year-old completely rejecting me and going to live with her father. Now, I know it sounds a bit exaggerated to say that she would reject me, but that is exactly the choice she would be making, though I doubt she would understand that at first. The reality is she would be making a change for a completely different way of being. She would be choosing a life that would not allow her to tolerate me (yes, her dad is one of those ultra-religious and very judgmental and not-very-nice Christian types). She would be taught and would learn to hate me because I don’t attend church every single Sunday and because I sip a beer or two occasionally. She would, I fear, become a disrespectful, ugly, intolerant, and unloving human being if she were to live with him most of the time. I hope to avoid this by teaching her the difference between having a relationship with God, and being religious. Further, were she to live with him, she would be prevented from staying with or seeing me. I cannot worry about this. Though it would crush me and grieve me for her to make the choice to live with her dad, it is ultimately her life.

To distract myself from this, I decided to cruise Craigslist. Tonight’s category: bikes. This did nothing to help. It just made me feel badly because I have no money.

The other day a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she tried taking NyQuil just so she could sleep. A few minutes ago, I tried this. I emptied the last of the cold medicine, just enough for one dose. This might be working, so I’m signing off for another night.

Sweet dreams, or if not, then here’s wishing you a deep and restful slumber.

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