Monday, June 20, 2011

Wanderers No More -- Homeless Part 5

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
The  journey started on May 15, 2001 and seemed to take a new direction in November of 2004.  We had lived with family since August of 2003. Jeff had been working at a home improvement store for 8 months, but it took half his salary to keep our medical insurance intact. I woke every day wondering how many more days I would live in limbo all the while creating an atmosphere for my boys that indicated life was good. Surely, a good God was watching over us. I kept assuring them that the details of his good plan were coming together even if he was the only one aware of that process.  I did what mothers do. I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  In truth,  I had begun to believe that we would become one of the chronically homeless.

It was the holiday season - our 3rd in limbo. HR departments move slowly during the holidays. We had given up hope of hearing from any engineering firm until at least the 2nd week of January 2005. The phone rang.  A company in Raleigh wanted to know if Jeff would come to work. Two weeks later, he was an engineer again.  We felt a curious sense of relief and survivor's guilt as he explained his departure to his fellow workers at the store.

The job was, in engineering lingo, 'contract' meaning he would be employed only as long as they needed him.  It could be a week or 10 years.  We wrestled with the decision of where to live.  The boys were calm and  settled in a vibrant, cohesive homeschool community.  Was it worth uprooting them for a job that could be over in weeks?  My mother-in-law was continuing to deteriorate.  It would be good for her and the boys to have more time together. I kept the house running so my father-in-law could attend to her more closely. By the time we had the money in reserve to rent a place to live, we had decided it was better for Jeff to commute on the weekends while we remained 'at home' w/ family and friends.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
It was, not to be cliche, the best of times and worst of times.  We knew there might be a new beginning in sight. The comfort level in our home away from home was becoming increasingly stressful.  Gradually, Jeff got his 'work legs' under him again and stopped expecting the contract to end every day.  I began to look at rental homes.  I bore the disdain of landlords who heard the words Chapter 13 and dismissed me with a sniff of disdain. I continued to try and be invisible by erasing any evidence of our presence at Jeff's folks from common areas of the house any time we left to go elsewhere.

I had been generally aware that his family had not been the most peaceful when he was growing up.  Over the months we were there, concrete realities replaced the general impressions.  Best behavior gave way to transparency.  In good situations, our situation would have become mutually trying.  The situation was far from good.

It became apparent to us that things had to change and the quicker the better.  We could no longer allow our sons to be exposed to the harsh realities present on a daily basis.  We began to commute each week between my sister's home and my in-law's home.  We were never at my in-laws unless Jeff was present. It meant I packed up our life every Sunday and Thursday.  I kept putting one foot in front of the other. 

One landlord finally listened to our story and asked for 5 references.  He checked all 5 spending a minimum of 30" to 60" talking with each of them.  He called.  "I've spoken to everyone.  To a person they reported the same things. That you have helped these families in times of crisis and sacrificed to do so.  Something bad has happened to you.  I am going to trust you. When can you move in?"   The last weekend of April 2005 found us settling into a lovely home on a quiet street.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
I had not realized how exhausted we were until we closed the door of our new home and closed out the world. The boys, even our notoriously early riser, slept till well after 11a  for days after  we were back in a house with our own stuff around us.  It was like Christmas unpacking things we had not seen in almost 2 yrs.  In retrospect, I realize that my younger one missed many of the books that I had read to our older one.  We read oodles of library books, but those special memories were not the same.  In those few months, he had outgrown all the books I had treasured and waited to read to him when the time came. The time had come and gone because life did not stop while we were a statistic of invisible homelessness. I mourned the lost memories of a childhood fractured by wandering like nomads. 

I sat with the boys while we enumerated our 'thankful things'.  We breathed deeply allowing the tension built up during months on the run to dissipate. The phone rang again.  Jeff quietly asked, "How do you feel about my coming home?"  My gingerly tethered tranquility evaporated.

I looked at the ceiling and silently mouthed, "OH GOD! Do not tell me they've yanked his contract! We just signed a 12 mo lease..."  I choked back the panic while saying, "How do you feel about it?" 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
He let a long, slow chuckle slip out.  "I got a call from a company in Greenville.  They want me to start in 10 days."  Curiously, the location of the new office put our new home geographically square in the middle of the commute between his employer and his doctor.  Our sojourn as wanderers was officially coming to an end. Jeff was coming home. 

Homelessness creates a unique set of fraidy cat fears.  I'm not sure you ever outrun them once you've earned them. Your fraidy cat probably has a different name and triggers.  No matter. It takes a fraidy cat to understand one.  Thanks for walking with me while I go about the work of evicting mine.  Hope you'll come back and visit again.  Life is lonely.  We all need to feel needed.  I need you. I hope you need me.....

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12  (NIV)
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of 3 strands is not quickly broken.


  1. I was in tears reading this. We have never reached the point of being homeless, but we HAVE been through Chapter 13~it wsa the only thing that kept us from being homeless with a newborn baby!! So I can completely relate to that "sniff of disdain" you mentioned. In fact, we filed for Chapter 13 in 1997, and there are still some of my husbands relatives who don't know about it, because if they did, they would no longer have anything to do with us. In actual fact, Bankruptcy is a Scriptural concept, but that is fodder for another post :))

  2. When we filed, we were freaks. However, given the effects of 2008's economic tsunami, there are now many more folks who understand that decision. Used to be it was a sign of being an unrestrained glutton w/ no capacity to delay gratification. Now folks understand that no matter how diligent a steward you are, it can happen to ANYONE. In fact, when we were arranging to rent this house to move to Chatty, a real estate management firm said: "Used to be if you came in and uttered the words 'foreclosure' or 'bankruptcy', we wouldn't even talk to you. Now, we will either talk to and rent to folks who have been thru it, or we will go out of business. Folks losing their homes ARE our renters now. In fact, we have some renters whose terms we will adjust just to keep them IN the home after a layoff because our business will not survive if we don't!" So, I have to believe we were 'ahead of the curve' for a reason that I don't yet understand! If fo no other reason, so that folks like you know you are not alone! Love ya!