For reasons I’ll explain at the end of the post, today feels like a good day to write Part I about how my house came to be. There’s a lot to this part of the story, and I’m only going to touch on the high(low)lights.
I moved to my current state eight years ago for a job. I’d only been to this part of the country once before, and never to this state. Never mind, I was up for an adventure, the job was a great fit, and I was looking for a change.
The rental situation in my area is tough. It’s a major university town with little around it. Most rental properties cater to students and the remaining houses are for families. I was neither…I was single, and I had a dog.
A colleague found a great farmhouse for me on a working orchard. It was perfect; I was in heaven. I had sweeping views of the orchard. The house was old and quirky. The landlord loved me. He gave me expensive gifts for Christmas and told everyone about his great tenant.
Everything was great for six-and-a-half years. And then…I let the landlord know I had been smelling fuel oil fumes on and off. The short version of this story is that it turned out that the chimney and furnace had not been maintained during the time I lived there. The process of getting everything fixed made things worse in the short term. When my house filled with overwhelming fumes, I tried to manage them on my own, not realizing for several days that I should have left. My landlord was unconcerned. It took several co-workers to convince me to pack up and leave immediately.
When I notified my landlord that I had to leave the house and mentioned that I had been having headaches over the past few years (and that I did not know if they were related to the intermittent fumes), he terminated my lease immediately. I was to vacate the house by December 22. Merry Christmas…no Christmas gift for me.
This started a nine-month period of housing instability. I had nowhere to live and it was very difficult to find a rental property in the middle of the academic year. In addition, I was incredibly ill from the intense fume exposure. I spent the next two months staying with my then boyfriend who lived too far from my job to commute and then staying with friends on days I needed to be at work (thank goodness for a flexible work schedule!).
I finally found what I thought was a suitable short-term rental home. My wonderful mom flew in to help pack my old house. Due to the fume exposure and its trigger on my headaches, I couldn’t spend any time in my previous house without a mask. Additionally, all of my belongings that could absorb odors were now no longer safe to have in my new house. Good-bye couches, rugs, clothes, linens, pillows, towels, etc. I lost about a third of my belongings in one fell swoop.
Over this time period, I hired a lawyer and put off eviction. I moved into my new house in February. While my mom was here, we had several feet of snow that WOULD NOT STOP falling. The new house had a long, steep, decaying driveway that had to be cleared and de-iced for the moving truck to make it up. To say it was a nightmarish time period is an understatement. Then we ran out of fuel oil because the fuel oil truck couldn’t get up the driveway. My poor mom.
The new house turned out not to be such a great place. The other tenants on the property included Tess (the world’s laziest and most demanding young woman) and her fresh out of prison boyfriend, complete with ankle bracelet. Additionally, the house was on a main road that had a lot of truck traffic. I found out that the diesel fumes continuously triggered headaches as the spring arrived and the weather patterns changed.
Once June arrived, it became clear my current living situation was not healthy (in many ways). My parents and I began brainstorming options. When my boyfriend and I broke up and I no longer had his home as safe haven, the situation became more dire. I was still pretty sick, I had moved into a friend of friend’s in-law suite for a few weeks, and I had no immediate options. My mom and dad made an emergency trip to see me to figure out what to do.
It’s hard to be a middle-aged woman and find yourself in this situation. I’ve always been super independent. Sometimes life takes you down paths you do not expect to travel down, and you need help. During this time, I was fortunate to have a lot of support from family, friends, and work. I had the financial resources to replace some of my damaged belongings. Others are not so fortunate. I think about this often.
I started this post by saying that it is a good day to write Part I of my housing journey. I’m writing this post sitting at my desk in the “Little House,” which is what I’m currently calling the old barn converted into small apartment. Someday, this apartment will be a refuge for people who need short-term crisis housing. People like me, who unexpectedly found themselves down a path they didn’t expect to walk down. I’m so honored and blessed that I’ll have an opportunity to give back.
It’s my first time hanging out in the Little House because my parents were just here helping get things done around this house we share (more on that in Part II). We spent a lot of time working on the Little House. They left yesterday and will arrive home today. I’ve been thinking about them today as they will glad to be home in their own house, grateful to rest their weary bodies that are tired from two weeks of travel and work.
It’s also a good day to write as I talked with my lawyer today about moving forward to close out the chapter with my old landlord. Legally, things have been on hold as we have been exploring several different options. It’s sad, but the legal system isn’t set up to be in my favor. We have a plan and hopefully I’ll get some money out of the situation, but it won’t come close to replacing all that I have lost.
The theme of Part I is loss…loss of belongings, relationships, trust, health. What you can’t see as clearly when reading are the people who supported me throughout everything. Those people were invaluable. I learned that my support system is amazing, that I am loved, that this place I moved to eight years ago without knowing a soul has become home, even if I don’t have a physical house.
Stay tuned for Part II. It’s a happy story!