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Chapter 4

My story of how we arrived at this fearful point is a long one. (Sorry!) I am sure that for many people, financial insecurity is not the result of one factor. In our case, it was a dreadful chain of events filled with bad luck and bad choices. I’ve chosen to tell it in chapters. Today (October 2009), we are in negotiations with Wells Fargo that began around October 2008, and progressed significantly around March 2009, yet today remain unresolved. Will the three of us be forced to leave our modest little fixer-upper home? Right now, no one knows.

Catch up to this part if you like, by reading Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3.

Unable to sell my Massachusetts home the Spring of 2007, I found a renter. I asked for a rent that was reasonable for the blue-collar community the house was in, but didn’t come close to matching the mortgage amount.

12)       The problems with my renter began immediately. She was almost a month late for her FIRST month’s rent. After a few sporadic payments, she stopped paying altogether. She eventually stopped answering her phone, and when I called her workplace, they told me she was no longer working there. I began researching how to evict a tenant in Massachusetts.

We were living at The Uncles outside of Portland while we looked for work. Mark’s unemployment check went to rent at The Uncles, and the mortgage payment, and I continued to rob my 401K to make up the difference. We spent the summer of 2007 just trying to make ourselves get up and be productive each day, and not succumb to fright or despair. Mark couldn’t take the daily reminder of his perceived failure, and took off into the desert for awhile.

All summer I filled out applications till they made me numb. I was invited to only a couple of interviews, and was not offered a position.

13)       In September I got a job with the VA. Not related to my degrees, but it was at least employment. In October, Mark got a job.

14)       School loans came due. I went into forbearance on the greater sum, and began paying Sallie Mae. They required a huge fee for a short deferral, and it was simply cheaper to make my monthly payments.

With two incomes, we were in a position to have our own home. I was sent to Baltimore for training, and while I was there, Mark found a house he wanted to buy. (We love The Uncles, but after 8 months, were ready to be on our own)

15)       We still had faith that the Mass house would sell someday, and made an offer on the Portland house in January 2008. By the last day of the month, we owned it. It was a 1925 home, basement crumbling, roof mossy, stained walls and stinking of dog pee on the carpet, but… it was large and we could afford it! Well, we could as soon as the Mass house sold, which had to be soon. In the meantime, we made two mortgage payments every month.

16)      February 2008, my daughter’s father decided he wanted to move back to California and take her with him. I disagreed with the plan. Since we had no money left, Mark put the attorney’s retainer on his credit card.

17)       Still no communication from my renter, so I hired a Realtor in Mass to put the home on the market in March, and plunked down the credit card once again for a cross-country flight and got the lady out of my house with relatively little pain. I spent a few days putting the property back in order. The electricity had been shut off. She had drained the heating oil and the pilot light went out. The water was off. The toilet leaked. There were mountains of construction rubbish in the back yard. I hired a guy to pick up everything inside and out, and haul it away. I hired a landscaping company to take care of the lawn. $$$$$$$ I went back home about a foot shorter, shrinking under the weight of the world.

18)      June 2008, Mark lost his job. It was a shocking blow. Poverty hit hard. There was no way we could survive in the new home on my paycheck only. I was earning $42 K a year. We put up a clothesline. We washed and reused baggies.

19)      The custody skirmish was over only a few months after it began. We only spent $5000. That was a MIRACLE compared to what had happened to us in California. AND, for the first time the courts ruled in my favor. Barney moved to Cali like he wanted to, but our daughter came to live with me finally. For good.

20)       I asked my family law attorney to recommend a bankruptcy attorney. Both of them were fabulous and I would highly recommend either! I was advised that bankruptcy wouldn’t work for me. My major expenses included $60 thousand in student loans, which I would still have to pay. One of the only things that didn’t cost me much was my car, and they would take it from me. They wouldn’t even wipe out my credit card debt… just rearrange it and put me on a payment plan.

We put our heads down and pressed on. We focused on getting my girl into school for 6th grade, settling in the house. Mark looked for work and tried not to sink into depression. We called Wells Fargo and explained that we were not going to be able to make our payments much longer. They told us that as far as they were concerned, our account was in good standing. We had paid every month, and on time, and our credit was great. “We can only help those people who have been delinquent for three months in a row or more.”

We began giving that statement some serious thought.

Chapter 3

This is a continuation of a brief history of what led up to our current threat of home foreclosure. We don’t have one of those crazy risky loans, and we found this modest home for a reasonable price. The problem mostly boils down to the fact that we managed to lose all our savings for other reasons (notably another home that sold for a loss), followed by Mark losing his job.

Catch up to this point in the story if you like, by reading Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

my new community, far away from the old one

Viola! I found myself in a Boston suburb in July 2004. All alone, didn’t know a soul there, and was 34 years old preparing to enter college as a sophomore transfer from California. People said, “Wow, you are so brave.” But I knew the truth is that I can go to extremes to run away from my problems. Left my career, ex-husband, and beloved Pacific Northwest behind, in order to start out on a new track and see where it would lead.

7)      As I mentioned in Chapter 2, I put my sophomore year at Brandeis on my credit card because I was scared they would kick me out if I didn’t pay. My financial aid package finally kicked in around November, but by then I had a $17,000 balance with Bank of America. (Thank you Rita Fine ’55 Memorial Scholarship people for keeping me from having a $34,000 balance!!)

Since my student loans were insufficient to cover the mortgage, the credit card payments, filling the heating oil tank (OMG!! New Englanders heat with OIL?!), buying monthly passes on the commuter rail train, etc. etc. Not to mention cross-country flights so that either I could go see my kid or she could come see me, I was constantly broke. Because of her young age, flights for her also required a ticket for another adult, or huge chaperone fees. Because of unresolved custody, my flights usually included a bonus payment to Family Law Court in California for one reason or another.

8)      I was forced to begin pulling out money from my IRA. Twenty thousand here, Fourteen thousand there.

By the end of my junior year, the infallible courts of California had decided that my daughter had to stay with her father as long as I was going to be out of state. I was crushed and angry, and forced with an awful decision: quit school and go dragging back with my tail between my legs so that my girl could have me more often? Or bear the continued separation another year, in hopes that being the first in my family to get a classy degree would be the key to pulling her out of the white trash sludge I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of.

OK, ok, yes. The whole truth also includes the fact that I did not want to go back to live in the same small town as her dad who drove me crazy, and also the fact that I would have zero chance of getting my old job back, so I would have to scrounge around for whatever job was available there.

9)      I chose to stay in Massachusetts.

For her part, my daughter seemed fine with it all. I talked with her about it in kid terms, and – in kid terms – she begged me to stay in Mass. She loved the house, loved her friends there, and seemed to be healthy and happy. Happier perhaps, without her parents’ unspoken animosity charging the atmosphere. Her winter visits afforded her snow vacations for the first time in her life since she was a baby in Vermont. She felt very grown up to consider cross-country flights a natural part of life.

I took advantage of my distress, and piled on the schoolwork. I got myself into a program wherein I worked on both my Bachelor and Master degrees at the same time. I lived and breathed school, every waking moment.

10)       I never did find a renter, but Mark, my Massachusetts boyfriend, eventually moved in and began splitting the mortgage payment with me.

11)       In my last year there, and especially the Spring of 2007, I tried to sell my home but it didn’t sell. Something funky was going on in the economy. The stock market was faltering, real estate values were actually falling, and people weren’t so interested in buying. I heard that one of my neighbors had to move because her home was foreclosed upon. This news was my first exposure to foreclosure. It was disturbing to have it so close to me. I knocked thirty thousand off what I had purchased my home for, three years earlier, and still no one was interested in the asking price. It was a beautiful, new home. What was the problem?

Finally graduated in May 2007 with a BA in Cultural Anthropology summa cum laude, minor in Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence studies. I also had an MA in Cultural Anthropology, with a focus on International Mediation. (Read this awesome profile my friend Dave Nathan wrote.)

For all the sacrifice, and the coveted sheets of embossed paper that apparently heralded my achievements… I was full of fear and doubt. I had so much debt it was staggering to think about it. Approximately $80 K in student loans, $230 K on my house, $26 K on credit cards. No job.

During my last year of school, my daughter and her father had moved to Portland, Oregon in hopes of finding a community that offered more job opportunities. He needed work and knew I would soon be needing work. It was a rare moment of cooperation. Approximately 72 hours after I graduated, I was moving West.

Portland seemed large enough to contain her dad and me together. It was exciting to anticipate my new town, my new career, new friends. I also was lucky enough to have a loving partner who had decided to leave his home state of Massachusetts and try out a new life on the West Coast with me.

One of my many guises

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