I held my daughter as she cried. My husband and I have been discussing short sale with a real estate agent while she’s been listening in the next room. She doesn’t want to lose the only house she’s known but neither of us can spare her the grief. It is the only option left. It will provide closure. It is the dignified way. Going down with the ship is important when all you have left is personal dignity.
I have the task of writing a hardship letter to the bank, the great unfeeling, unethical, dishonest bank. In the letter, I must describe what our lives were like before we stop paying our mortgage and explain what our lives are like now. In the actual letter, I must use figures, dates. This letter will be emotionally draining to write but it must be done. I’ve done this multiple times in the last few years.
This last few weeks, my prefrontal cortex has been so busy trying to control my frustration, my grief, my anger that it’s starting to fail. My emotional reserves are being maxed yet life and circumstances pile on more demands. I struggle. I fight back tears. I rage. I know why.
I am sharing what I’m about to write publicly, because I’m tired of feeling ashamed. Both my husband and I have been blamed for our situation by people, many of them relatives, who chose to find fault with us and our choices. They choose to be angry with us. They distance themselves from our lives as if what we have is contagious. They don’t call to see how we’re doing. They don’t offer emotional support. We are the enemy. In their minds it’s evidence of our character flaws. In good times, they were near. Why not now?
We never expected that after 18 years, my husband would be fired from his job, accused of falsifying time cards for a sum of approximately $100 dollars over a 2-year period. We didn’t expect his union to tell him that the company’s got a “hatchet man” eliminating positions. What idiot steals money so slowly?
“There isn’t anything we can do,” the Union Rep said.
What has happened to us can happen to most people. The fast majority of people struggling with poverty are there not because of poor financial decisions but through job loss or a medical crisis that creates an insurmountable financial burden. You can check my facts. I have. I’ve read about poverty in America. It’s a topic that seems to make a lot of people uncomfortable. Maybe they realize how easily it can happen to them and just don’t want to entertain the thought.
Once upon a time, we were comfortable. Never well-off, we made do. We had nice vacations. We travelled. We planned going to Europe together. We could retire and be comfortable. I was a stay -at-home mom, a good one. I kept busy. I was creative. I networked with other moms. I enjoyed being domestic. Suddenly, I had to go back to work. Those years spent out of the work force were a liability. My age worked against me in a tight job market. My skills were questionable. I was a college-educated English Major who had worked in my field, several times, something not many English majors could say. Now, I was lucky to get an interview for entry-level positions. I couldn’t get a call back for jobs cleaning toilets and I had experience. . . work experience besides years at home.
After almost two years in a cubicle with a 90-mile commute each day, I found work closer to home, with the school district because things were starting to unravel at home. I’d make the same choice today. I’m still criticized from a distance by people who have never walked in my shoes, who don’t know my heart, who have learned to practice a profound indifference. The status symbols of the American Dream and the desire to associate themselves with the images of success cut us out of their lives.
My husband has sent our more resumes, followed more leads, visited more companies, than any one should ever have to in the quest for a job so that he has a chance to provide for his family. Some would have me give up on him now. As much as I’d love to run from all this and from the problems that lack of work, isolation,criticism and indifference have created in his soul, that would not be the honorable or the right thing to do. He’s made a valiant effort and if his spirit fails him, it is not without cause.
We’ve gone through harassing collection calls, bankruptcy, state assistance applications and reauthorizations that require oodles of daunting paperwork and proof of how poor we are. I still hope that no one I know will see my using my Food Stamp card at the grocery store. It’s how we eat. We paid into the system those years were were working. We understand how important such programs are and I have seen grown men cry in DSHS knowing that they can feed their children. I’ve also seen those who abuse the system. Life, assistance is more complicated than most people realize. I never expected to sit in a room for hours waiting for my number to be called while I struggled with a deep sense of shame.
The feeling of failure is toxic. I know first hand. I’ve seen what it does to people. I know how it stirs chaos in my mind and soul as I struggle to remember that I am a hard-working, decent human being who has fallen on hard times and I am doing what I can to get by.
As I prepare to write my hardship letter, I know that shame is counter productive. As much as I want to believe that “something good will come of this” and “God has not abandoned us” there are many moments when I don’t feel this way. I’m tired. Everything feels like a struggle. There isn’t enough of me to go around and there are never enough hours in day. I look at my life, my job, my house and feel that I don’t belong in any of them.
We do not have a housing alternative. I do not make enough to qualify for average rents in the area not to mention the lousy credit that would prevent our acceptance as tenants. We’re a bad risk, a terrible risk. As for agencies and churches, the demands on them are overwhelming. Phone calls end in dead ends.
Some times I feel sorry for myself.
Some times I feel angry.
Some times I feel sad.
I start to cry as my own daughter struggles with letting go.
I write this to educate, to inform, to put a human face on a problem, knowing that people have a commitment to their own views that is not easily shaken. If one person sees the human underneath this, if one person is raised up just a little in knowing that bad things happen to good people not because they deserve them but because they just do. Good can come of this. I’m staking my life on it.
Don’t give up when things are difficult. Know your value, your incredible worth even when others fail to see it. You matter. The world may feel hostile. It is neither hostile or kind. We shape our corner of it. We can use what we have, who we are, to fight against the poverty of compassion. We can be the light in the darkness.