The Journey Continues

by winteryder

Two days after I wrote the last post, I was searching Craigslist with a Maine Coon cat on my lap and my dog snoring beside me in the recliner. Scrolling and (im)patiently waiting for the page to load, I saw an ad for a 600 sq. ft. house with an indoor bathroom in a price range that I could stretch/starve/scrape to afford.

My initial reaction was to write it off. After two years of living so frugally that my health suffered, I wasn’t sure if I should even contact the landlord. It would require me to pay rent on two places at the same time in order to give the requisite 30-day notice to my existing slumlord. The amount of money needed to simply secure the place (first month’s rent, last month’s rent AND a security deposit) was the generic equivalent of a small car. Yeah, I know. In Alaska it’s illegal for landlords to charge all three items up front, but they do it. And if you’re a single mom of a teenager and two pets, you take it on the chin because there is a line behind you of well-heeled college students with families who are more than happy to cough up a liberal arts degree AND off-campus housing for their Precious.

I had been forced to upfront $1,000 as a security deposit plus the first month’s rent of $700 just to rent the dry cabin I was living in, when I moved in two years before. Thanks to a kind and generous friend, I had the ability to do that at that time.

Days went by. I kept looking at the listing. I called a couple people to see if they would loan me money. They couldn’t. I broke down and had a desperate conversation with my daughter’s biological father. It was my only chance. There aren’t any words for having to express that kind of vulnerability, there just aren’t. He came through for his daughter- and provided the money needed to secure the house.

Things moved pretty quickly- I looked at the house on a Friday afternoon and signed the lease the following morning on my way to help a friend offload and stack hay. My mind was reeling from the sheer number of things that had to be accomplished in a ridiculously short amount of time: work full time, pack, keep the daily routine the same as much as possible for my kiddo and pets during the school week, get all the utility accounts set for transfer/closure…

I took two days off from work and started packing on a sunny autumn day. The roads were dry and the skies were bluebird. I pulled an eighteen hour day, the first day. I woke up the following day to a foot of heavy, wet snow. I’d planned to rent a UHaul truck and make short work of my bins/bikes/gear… the short work ending up being my daydream. I spent most of the day digging a UHaul out of various ditches that it slid into. Bald tires, crappy transmission… all the good things we know and love. Twenty hour day still wasn’t enough, with my slumlord demanding to show the cabin WHILE I was in the process of trying to pack and move. I had paid rent through the end of the month, I was prepared to pay for half of October as well… yet, there he was. Calling my cell phone multiple times a day, physically “stopping by to see the progress”. I nearly lost my shit. The guy is insane. He decided that he would be bringing three people to see the cabin the following day at 10:00 AM, regardless of what stage the moving was at.

I worked through the night and cleaned the place top to bottom, with the exception of the ancient fridge. The compressor had died about two weeks before, costing me a month’s worth of groceries and I had literally jury-rigged it and taped the wires back together. There was no point in cleaning it beyond the basic, cursory wipe down. Additionally, at the time I rented the place, he had made a point of telling me that he always took $250 from his tenants for a cleaning deposit no matter what the condition of the cabin when they moved out. I was so desperate for a place to live, I had no choice. Regardless, I cleaned the cabin to the point where it was in far better condition than when I moved in.

I was taking apart my Jenga-puzzle bed when he came wandering in at 9:30 AM on Saturday morning. After exclaiming about how clean the place was, he proceeded to walk in with his boots on and track mud all over the floor. He and the tribe of prospective renters spent 45 minutes walking through and around the 400 sq. ft. place; I was uncharacteristically silent due to not trusting myself to speak with any degree of civility to anyone.

Due to the pressure he put on me, I moved out completely five days ahead of schedule and continued to pay rent as agreed.

The freshly fallen snow turned to slush in the ensuing rain- and was followed by an apocalyptic 20 inches of additional heavy snow. Power went out all over town. My new house was 34 degrees, school was cancelled, roads were abysmal… and I was on a mission looking for a propane heater and a regulator to hook up my 20# tank. The Slumlord called in the middle of all that and began a new song and dance routine- it went something like this: “I went through the cabin and it looks ‘pretty good’, except for the fridge and there are some picture hangers on the walls. If you clean the fridge and pull the nails, I will give you your cleaning deposit back.” I almost laughed out loud. There is no power, there is no water, all my cleaning supplies are ten miles away at my new house- he’s calling me in the middle of my work day to say what?? I told him I’d try. After all, I was still paying rent on the place. Might as well give it a go.

7:00 PM I arrive at a friend’s house to borrow some cleaning supplies and hot water… he had no driveway. All trees on either side had collapsed and there was literally no driveway. Then the transformer blew. Beautiful blue sparks and lighting bolts of electricity sailed above my car. That was it. I was done. I drove home to take care of my family. I called and left a message with the slumlord and told him that it wasn’t safe or feasible to attempt any further “cleaning” of the cabin.

He never responded. October 1st came and went. He rented the cabin to new tenants. I finally reached him to inquire about my security deposit: the song had changed. The new verse went something like this: “Since you didn’t clean the fridge, I had to hire not one, but TWO people to work overtime and they found that the place was just filthy. They charged me much more than $250, so you’re fortunate to be getting very much back at all.” I did laugh out loud at that one. Good song, Bro. Wait. What??

Yeah. In the end, I had to track him down in person to get a “partial refund” of my deposit. What more can you expect from a self-described slumlord who actually makes passes at his tenants, makes fun of them when they request repairs or maintenance, mocks them for paying rent on time and when they turn down his advances… becomes belligerent and creepy(er)…

Did I mention that the last two years have been rough? They have indeed. Putting my best foot forward, I turned my attention and focus to my new house. There were a couple issues that were pressing…

Most importantly, I had to figure out how to MacGyver a kitchen in our new home: as crazy as it sounds, there is only two square feet of counter space, two very high cupboards, a range and a fridge. There is no place to put a dining table, no storage, no cabinets… it was daunting. I cook all of our meals in order to stay on a super tight food budget; having no prep space would be challenging. There was also a minor detail with the water: it reeked of sulfur. Not a little bit, not like high mineral content… nope. It was the kind of stink that makes you run out of a building gasping for air. Since the house is equipped with a 1,000 gallon water tank and all water is hauled by a reputable company- that left a giant question mark in my mind concerning the water heater itself. A little research and a lot of head-shaking later, I learned that when the hot water sits for a length of time in a small (5 gallon) water heater tank, the anode/heating element corrodes and anaerobic bacteria grow in response to the rust. The only way to deal with it is to drain the tank, replace the heating element and then use the water regularly.

The toilet is an RV style toilet that drains directly to a tank buried under the house, which is then pumped annually. The toilet was also malfunctioning. The kitchen window was broken and had been caulked over, mildewed, and covered in plastic. We had running water and a bathroom, though and I was determined to make it work. Luckily, our new landlord is a decent, kind, responsive and generally awesome human being. He worked on the water heater, his brother fixed the toilet, and one of my friends kindly replaced my kitchen window yesterday.

It’s been a time-warped couple of weeks. I have some sharp edges- living in survival mode for so long, followed by mayhem, has left me necessarily fierce, hard and twitching. It’s going to take time to regroup, to thaw out, to learn how to relax a little. I’m weary of apologizing of the edges, not that anyone cares either way. Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do. Many times, it’s lonely work.

I stood in a group of likeminded folks this weekend and sang “Lean on Me” with tears running down my face. Often, when I hit my breaking point and I reach out for someone to lean on- I’m left feeling like I’ve asked too much. Somehow, I either ask wrong or too late or too soon… hell, I don’t know.

I have a hard time believing that I’m worth loving, that I deserve to be cared for. I have a hard time trusting. I have an even harder time asking for help. Needless to say, I have a lot to process and consider as the snowy blanket of winter descends. There’s something healing about the long, dark days… there’s something safe and sacred in wintering-over.

The sharp edges I feel so keenly right now will eventually become rounded like river rock as the water of time washes through the moments that have come and gone. What remains is the spark of hope, the belief in the basic goodness of my fellow humans, and the courage to carry on.

I’m thankful for the friends (near and far) and the family (even though we’re thousands of miles apart) I have- and determined to keep my mind and heart open. Thanks for joining me for this new chapter in my journey, complete with the ability to shower in my own home for the first time in two years.