Saturday, November 14, 2009
What a Foreclosure Sign Means
I'm not sure why I remembered that event with such clarity, but it struck me with such force a few days ago that, for a moment, my breath was taken. Maybe the pictures of those people leaving their offices with their possessions piled in their one box, walking void of emotion, triggered it or maybe I had heard a few too many news reports of families leaving their homes and that sent me back to a lifetime ago.
I was 15 and we were packing up our belongings. We were "starting over." My dad took a job in a city 2 hours away because there was nothing else in our area. Still reeling from the death of my mom a year and a half earlier, this was more than we could bear.
It was the early 80's and we were still experiencing the effects of the recession of the years prior to this and were in a business unkind to those desperately wanting to hang on until the economy turned. There would be no turn for us.
I was the one who answered the door when a man, whose face I can no longer see, asked for my father. He handed some papers to my dad; I don't recall my dad every explaining it, but I knew.
My father went to the bank to ask for more time. They were not interested in giving us time. It was after this that my father began sleeping longer.
We lost our business- the business my mom and dad built. My father took whatever job could pay.
I remember grocery shopping as a 13 year old, shortly after my mom was gone. It was my job to buy groceries with what money we had. I would clip coupons and try to purchase only what was needed, but sometimes there wasn't enough in the envelope and I would become terrified that I would have calculated incorrectly and would be humiliated when I reached the register and have to choose what to put back. Sometimes I would add my babysitting money to cover the lack. I never told my dad; it would have wounded him unnecessarily.
I remember the day we left. Someone had given the cat medicine to help him sleep during our move. The medicine made him ill and he vomited up a mouse on our living room carpet right before we walked out of the house we used to call home. I realized we didn't have any cleaning supplies and I remember a friend saying to leave it for the bank.
I died inside that moment. The thought of leaving our home- the home that I was responsible to clean, with vomited mouse remains on the floor, as if we were white trash leeching off of society, unwilling to pick up after ourselves- was unthinkable to me. I frantically searched for something to remove the newly formed symbol of our destitute situation.
We left our house, the last home I remembered with my mom, the last place we gathered as a family, and turned down the driveway. We had acres of wooded property that now belonged to someone else. I suppose it always belonged to someone else, but it's funny how you never think that when you're living there.
I have only been back one time. There was a man in my front yard, wearing a jacket like my dad wore, looking at the trespassers in his driveway.
I don't know what sparked this memory - the one of the cat throwing up the mouse. It was the moment that changed me. Humiliation and shame were my companions then. I also watched my father and knew I lost another parent; for the bank took more than our house and business that day.
When I see foreclosure signs I view them differently then most people probably do. I know another side of the story. I know some people live beyond their means and there are natural consequences for foolish choices, but I also know sometimes situations occur that are not a result of foolish choices, and occasionally normal people find themselves in places of great loss, not of their own creation. That is not to say my dad did everything right. I'm quite sure he did not, but I do believe he did the best he could with what he knew.
I wonder about the stories of the people who live in those homes with the signs in the yard. What dreams did they leave there? And will they ever hold their heads high again, or will the demons of their past haunt them?
25 years later I still get nervous and sweaty palmed when I reach the check out line, and I secretly hope I calculated correctly.