anti-schadenfreude

I don’t take enjoyment in watching other people in pain – physically, psychologically, or otherwise. I don’t think the Jackass movies are funny, nor the countless “It’s just a prank, bro!” YouTube videos. Sometimes a little petty justice/revenge or instant karma can be a bit funny, maybe more so with a guarantee that there aren’t any long-lasting effects, but I tend to still feel guilty.
Right now, I’m seeing so many people gloat and experience a sort-of ecstasy at the expense of other people’s fears that I can’t trust myself on social media. I tried to use a trending hashtag on Twitter the day after the election, only to find myself being threatened by a handful of angry white men within moments of posting about my lesbian and my African American co-workers’ concerns for their families.
Whether one feels the terror is perceived or real, the reaction to that pain is so depressing to me. When Obama won in 2008, I saw joy and celebration. People were crying happily and hugging one another. Then the racists started crawling out of the woodwork. And as the so-called “respect for the office” has dwindled, so has their courage deepened and become emboldened by the nasty rhetoric online and in the media.
In the past few days, I’ve seen a disturbing amount of internet comments calling people names, sharing clearly incorrect information to support their own worldview, and a lot of negativity. I’ve seen more than one Facebook friend post “Get it over it. Move on. It’s over.”
I don’t think a lot of people understand what was at stake for almost every minority in the US. Even if you’ve believed all along that the Republican who was running is a joke, never took himself seriously, and wasn’t taken seriously by the party, there are a great many people who believed what he said and plenty who barely waited a few hours to come out from behind the curtain and take over. And if you speak up or complain, you risk being threatened, harassed, and/or doxxed by the angry white people who just want you to shut up.
The whole “anti-PC backlash” doesn’t make a lot of sense to me since I think of “politically correct” as “trying to understand others and not be an asshole.” Yet, being an asshole is SUPER popular right now. You can’t turn around with out someone saying NO THIS IS MY OPINION AND YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO IT, even when it’s just an animated gif of a puppy taking his first bath. Someone will make it political or shit all over it.
I am glad to have more people than not in my life who are trying to find a way to work together and remain positive and provide help to those who feel under-served or fearful of their, their families’, and their kids’ futures. It probably won’t happen with safety pins or Facebook status updates. And it isn’t really about Trump so much as the anger he incited in others and his subsequent complete lack of interest in doing the job he was elected for. But there is something deeply disturbing about seeing a fellow human in tears while someone shouts to “Suck it up, buttercup” and spits in their face.

Pregnancy Panic

Just in case you weren’t aware (because I never blog anymore and you may not be on the book face), I miraculously got pregnant last year (right before I was supposed to go in and have an IUD placed) and am currently in my third trimester with our second child. This was most surprising to me because I was under the impression, after my plethora of female-related health problems last year, that this was not even a possibility. “Getting pregnant” did not seem to be a problem. “Staying pregnant,” however, did. Due to the nature and placement of my fibroids, PCOS, and other funky lady issues, a fertilized egg would not be very comfortable or safe in my uterus.

This one, however, has now maintained its residency for over six months. Every time I go to a doctor’s appointment and they tell me “Everything looks fine!” I say, “Are you sure?” Maybe look again. There has to be something wrong. I am plagued with doubts and fears and concerns that, while relatively normal for any pregnancy, tend to outweigh any sort of pleasure of joy I would feel for being able to give my daughter a sibling. In fact, most everyone I know or meet is significantly happier about this pregnancy than I am.

Maybe the constant nausea and barfing for four months–which I never had with my first, Bea–took its toll. Perhaps it’s the extra weight, the headaches, the sciatica, the frustration, the inability to walk as fast as I used to, the constant urinating, the inability to sleep well. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m now in the “advanced maternal age” category, or that my doctor wants me to consider going on antidepressants prior to delivery. Perhaps I am not looking at this as positively as I could . . . My scumbag brain won’t stop ruminating over the upheaval it thinks this child is bringing.

The plan was to finish school (I graduate mid-June) and begin applying for jobs here in Chicago right before that, probably publishing/editing. Since Bea is in preschool and very happy there, I planned to work full time in a position with benefits. Charlie could go to part time at work, and then begin taking courses at the City Colleges in order to start working toward his nursing degree. No matter what, we would be making more than we’re bringing in now.

Coincidentally, this child is due approximately five days after Bea’s fourth birthday. That would also be sixteen days after my graduation, two months before our lease is up here, and about three weeks after my job is over. This position is tied to school–I am employed by the school as a student and, once I graduate, my stipend is over and so is my job. Which means, between the time that I finish working and the time that our lease is up here, I am kind of at a loss as to what to do.

Do we continue living in Chicago? Do we relocate to Indianapolis (cultural void that it is), where we have more connections, friends, and family? Where rent is cheap and parking is ample and free? Do we sublet here prior to the lease finishing, and have the baby in Indy? How does that work? Do you call the landlord? Put up an ad? Ask friends to come over and start packing for us? I’ll be over eight months pregnant at that point, so not super useful.

It seems as though every time Charlie and I manage to get things on track, something comes along to derail everything. That’s not really the attitude I want to have about this child. I’m sure, once she arrives (yes, it’s another girl), I will think differently. For the moment, however, I am in a constant state of mild anxiety, trying to figure out the next, best step. Any advice or suggestions will be considered.

Singularly Happy

About a year ago, I was invited to what I call a “secret lady group” on Facebook, prior to which I did not know these things existed. It has proven to be cathartic for me, though. Many of the women involved were members of the Unitarian church I attended in Indianapolis years ago. There are probably only half a dozen who post questions/comments/concerns with any regularity, and about twice that who comment frequently. They all tend to have pretty excellent advice, are really supportive and positive, and share a common bond — besides being women, we all seem to come from rather dysfunctional families.

I’m beginning to get the impression that “functional families” are much fewer and farther between than I may have otherwise thought.

Last week, I posted some concerns I have about pressure to expand our family. I’m quite satisfied with the way things are: me, Charlie, and Bea. In fact, if we had no other children, even adopting, I would be fine with that. I feel like the only person who is fine with a family of three.

At Christmas, I was asked multiple times if we were planning to have another child. On the way to Indy for our last two trips, Charlie mentioned how much larger a vehicle we would need “if we had another one.” He then began daydreaming about his ideal family-of-four car. He’s mentioned to me that Bea would be a good big sister, and that she would be helpful. When I balked at this talk, he mentioned his employer’s outstanding adoption benefits.

I feel guilty complaining about my pregnancy. Compared to other friends’ and women I know, mine was actually quite easy. Yet I was miserable. I was huge, bloated, sweaty, uncomfortable. I had sciatica, kidney stones, and my back hurt from Day One. I was and, even after going through it, still am scared of labor, delivery, hurting a fetus, or having a child with health problems. I’m terrified of the idea of a difficult birth, a stillbirth, a miscarriage. I’m worried that we can’t take care of the child we have, let alone a second one.

I also worry that, if we “try,” I won’t be able to get pregnant. I know I wouldn’t be the oldest woman in the world to have a baby, but I would be at least 37 years old, and after the age of 35, they start all these additional tests and freaking out. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I have the energy to do it all over again.

As my friend Annette put it, “What’s wrong with the one you have?” I love Bea. Of course.  She’s amazing and funny and smart and outgoing. It’s not so much that I don’t know if I’d have “enough love” to give a second child, so much as I’m not sure I could handle school, work, toddler, and no sleep for weeks on end. Charlie would have paternity leave, unpaid, but, let’s assume I got pregnant tomorrow. The baby would be born, assuming everything was normal, right in the middle of the first quarter of my second year in grad school. If I could somehow plan it right, then I’d have it right after the quarter was finished, in late November. But babies don’t always work that way. And, after your first pregnancy, they have a tendency to come out sooner.

So I’d posted all these concerns and fears and worries on FB. The women in the secret lady group were predictably supportive. One sent me a link to information on books that promote single-child families. Another suggested surrogacy, a third said adoption might be easier. They all said that if I wasn’t ready, I should be honest with Charlie.  So I was. But now I’m not so sure. After thinking things over for a couple of weeks, I know how much he wants another baby. I’m not worried he’ll leave me for someone younger, to have another kid.  He told me last that week that, on a scale of 1-10, he rates wanting a second child as a 7.5. I said I was about a 2. I guess I might be more like a 4 now?

I just don’t know what the immediate future holds for me. I’ve got a year and a half left of graduate school, an internship at the end of which may lead to a full-time, high-paying job. I don’t want to go into a new position pregnant or just getting pregnant, or even with a newborn. We can’t afford daycare, so what would we do with the baby while we were working? Besides which, Bea wouldn’t even be ready for kindergarten.

So I guess what I’m feeling is that it’s one of those now-or-never situations. I don’t particularly like that feeling.

 

One of “Those People”

Years ago, some friends started an animal rights newspaper/organization/web site that I helped with. I wrote some of the articles and tried to help with the web site (not very well), and worked with other organizations to try and get some stuff done in the city to raise awareness.

One of the worst parts about the job (volunteer position) was that I would get the most awful emails from people about animal cruelty they witnessed, strays they picked up that had been abused, even animals that would lay on the side of the road, seriously injured. I hated getting those messages and the idea of all that abuse and suffering affected me deeply.

And of those messages, the ones I found most irritating were from people who were trying to get rid of their pets. Generally, it was a young couple who’d just had a baby and didn’t feel they could take care of their dog or cat any longer and wanted me to help them find another home. Those people really pissed me off. Put the kid in a stroller and walk your damn dog, I would say, only trying to be more polite.

Except now I find myself in a very similar situation. I don’t necessarily empathize with people who have money, own their home, have a great backyard, and just don’t want to mess with pets anymore. But I have come to terms with the fact that, since Bea came home from the hospital we have become the “wrong family” for our younger dog, Alvy.

He just turned 9 last month, and has been staying with my friend Liz since September, when we moved out of the moldy apartment into the second story place a little farther north. The first day we were in the new place, Liz, Bea, and I went out for a minute and didn’t take Alvy. After our return, maybe 10 minutes later, he had peeled the paneling off the back porch.

His behavior at the moldy apartment had been erratic, nervous, and weird, ever since Trinity passed away. He’d eaten the frame off the back door, and if we were going somewhere that we couldn’t take him, we were having to take extreme measures to try and keep him in one area without access to anything he could destroy.

It’s been as if, since I had the baby, he has gone slowly crazy, and, combined with two moves in three months (after five years in the same place), he’s gone even crazier. Trinity dying was sort of the last straw. He just lost his mind completely.

When I saw the paneling in the back room, I just started crying. Getting him up and down the stairs, wrestling with him and Bea, having to clean up after his messes all the time, had worn me out. I was just standing there, bawling, and Liz said, “Look, I’ll bring him home with me. I’ll see if I can find him some medication that’ll work. He needs to be around other dogs.”

That is, until her husband had enough of her rescuing dogs and helping other people. At one point a couple of weeks ago, she had Alvy, their two dogs, and three rescues she was keeping until she could find homes for them. Her husband put his foot down.

Upon our arrival in Indianapolis yesterday, Liz brought Alvy to the house where we’re staying with our friends Jill and Scott, and we traded him over next door, to a neighbor of Jill’s that thinks her dog is lonely and needs a friend.

That environment is going to be temporary, as well, though. Kristin and her boyfriend are putting their house on the market in February and hoping it will sell quickly. I don’t know what the chances of that happening actually are, but Kristin seems to think they’re pretty good. So she might only have Alvy for a couple, few months. At which point, we have to figure out something else.

If the last moves were hard on him, I cannot imagine how stressed he must be, being passed around from person to person. I feel guilty as hell, like such an asshole. This dog has been my responsibility, my family member, for nine years. Suddenly, because I don’t have time for him, I’m bouncing him around, trying to find a suitable place for him.

I have to tell myself, though, that it isn’t completely my fault. And it isn’t just about “time.” He does have special needs. He desperately needs someone who can give him a lot of attention, and he definitely needs a home without children.

There were times when Bea would try to play with him. I would watch her crawling on him, pulling on his ears (not hard), or just trying to hug him, and his ears would be straight back, his tail down, his eyes closed. It looked as if he was thinking JUST DON’T SNAP. JUST GET THROUGH THIS. And I would sometimes feel a little anxious, myself, like maybe he wants to turn around and chomp on her to get her to stop.

So I know it’s not that he isn’t our dog, not that we don’t want the best for him, not that I just want to give him away because having a pet is too complicated or something. I think he’s experienced so much trauma in his life, and been so stressed out, and has so many neuroses, that we aren’t the right people for him.

It’s still hard to accept, though, because I feel as if I’ve failed him, that I’ve becoming “one of those people” who just gives away a lifelong pet because he doesn’t fit into the new family structure.

Holiday Anxiety

We’ve been struggling with holiday plans for weeks now. Of course, we’d like to have Bea spend as much time as possible with everyone, but we are at the mercy of long-distance travel with a spirited toddler, which is not easy.

Most of the time, she’s great in the car. But we usually try to schedule our driving time around her nap. Charlie wants to head to Indianapolis as soon as he gets off work on Wednesday, 5:45pm, the day before Thanksgiving. We’d spend the day at our friends’ – Jill and Scott – and Charlie would leave late Thursday (or early Friday morning, despite potentially encountering hordes of holiday shoppers) since he doesn’t have to be back at work until 10am.

Then he’d drive back down Saturday afternoon when he left work at 3pm, and we’d all come home Sunday after my family’s dinner.

Complicated enough?

The most irritating part is that we actually had an opportunity to stay even longer — Charlie was actually off today (Sunday) and tomorrow, so we could conceivably have driven down one of those days. But we are also at the mercy of finances, and the longer we are in Indy, the more money we’ll have to spend on food and activities with other people we want to see.

We’ve done a decent job of staying on top of bills until this past week. Charlie finally gave in and went into a debt management program (I did not know until about a month ago exactly how much he owed in credit cards — it’s a lot.), so this program have been a lot more helpful if he’d signed up earlier. Instead, we had to continue making extra payments on everything while they decided whether or not to agree to the terms.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving will be my paternal family’s get-together, which, of course, may include my dad. Though I wouldn’t be shocked if he didn’t turn up, I am really not looking forward to having to see him. While I’m relatively happy with the way things are right now, I just cannot imagine having a polite conversation with him about “how things are going” without gritting my teeth to keep from screaming something about how much better things would have been if he hadn’t leeched off of us for almost a year.

There would be so many things I would want to say to him, and so many things I would probably not allow myself to say. But Charlie is a lot more confrontational than I am, so I’m also concerned that he might just go off, too. The chances of that happening are much more likely than of me doing it . . . I think?

I keep imagining two things: one is this really angry encounter – seething, fuming, hateful – and the other is me feeling like a human being, feeling sorry for him. This man lost everything, including his wife and family (he certainly hasn’t gone out of his way to develop any sort of relationship with me or my sister), job, home, etc… And now he has this dinky apartment in some crappy building in the middle of nowhere and he just wants to make it comfortable.

But then I’m angry again. Thinking about all the times he lied right to my face, all the times I knew he was trying to bullshit or manipulate me, and I don’t understand why I continue to feel sorry for him. It’s what he wants. He really thrives on other people’s sympathies. I don’t know how many times I heard him exaggerate or flat-out like about a circumstance in order to garner sympathy from a listener. His mom, his brothers, me, Charlie, a random person on the phone, bill collectors, you name it.

I guess this is the part where people are supposed to tell me I go back and forth because I’m “a good person.” Or, at least, perhaps a “better” person than he is. I don’t know what to think, feel, or do. I just know that I’ve done a pretty good job of managing my anxiety over the past few years and the thought of having to see him for the first time in almost 8 months, with absolutely zero contact (did I mention, not even an email for his granddaughter’s birthday? Yeah, I’ve probably mentioned it several times) gives me a sick feeling in my stomach.

The Importance of Making Lists

There’s a point in the beginning of every semester where I feel like sitting on the floor, throwing all my papers and books into the air, and pulling out my hair.
It’s like everything is whizzing past me and I’m just trying to catch up. But then, after a few weeks, there’s a certain rhythm that’s achieved and I can find some balance between the projects, papers, articles, readings, quizzes, homework, and exams.
Notice I said, “semester.”

Now that I’ve been in graduate school for three (or is it four?) weeks, it’s almost time for me to register for the next quarter’s classes. The quarter is almost half over.

Plug your ears while I shriek for a moment.

Okay. I’m done.

So it sort of feels like that rhythm, the balance you find when organizing the courseload, is just out of reach. By the time I get there, things will be wrapping up.

One thing I find very odd about this schedule is that there is nothing happening for over a month. Between November 22nd and sometime in early January, there aren’t any courses to speak of. I think some people can register for accelerated classes during that time, but not my program. During that period of time, I’ll have no financial aid, my CTA pass will be deactivated, and there’s nothing really to do.

Charlie has a week off in late October, which he is required to take in order to avoid taking time off during the holidays. Which means our trips back to Indy for Thanksgiving and Christmas might be extremely short — if they happen at all. Christmas is on a Sunday this year, which mean if the bank is open on Monday, we won’t have much time at all. And my family always does stuff on Christmas Eve. Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, and, given his status as newest hire, Charlie will most likely not be able to take the previous or following day off in order to celebrate.

I will have time to work, though, which is good. I just learned the hard way that I can’t rush. Last week I was scrambling to turn in as many files as I could, to make as much money as I could before the pay period was over (we only get paid once per month). I took on a bunch of jobs that were two or three times longer than I have edited in the past. As a result, I got one decent review, immediately followed by a really bad one. The QA person was obviously irritated with me because I made the same stupid mistakes on both files, including some really glaring errors that could have been avoided if I’d just waited to turn the stuff in and reviewed everything one more time.

I just cannot balance work, life, and school very effectively right now. As usual, I struggle with the reality of bills and financial responsibilities, set against the knowledge that school is important and I need to do the best I can, paired with the fact that my kid and partner need me to stay present and focused.

I remember this period of time in my life when I was first working in social services, making something like $4.75 an hour. I had three major bills: a car payment, car insurance, and rent. I also began to take on a small mountain of debt in the form of high-interest, low-limit credit cards. Whatever someone would give me, I took. Each paycheck, I was able to take care of maybe two of those things.
I began to prioritize in order of importance. I had to have a car to work, but car insurance wasn’t something I could necessarily afford. So I let it lapse.  The credit card that didn’t have to be used at a store, I kept payments on so I could buy groceries and put gas in my car. The others fell behind and I honestly didn’t really care.

I ended up getting myself into a nasty credit situation and eventually went to a credit counseling agency where I managed to pay everything off in about 2 years. That was a good thing, but if I learned anything from the experience, it’s that I when I feel overwhelmed, especially with finances, I sometimes would rather pull the covers over my head and pretend I don’t hear any of it.

This is also an aspect of my personality that I have seen in both of my parents. And, if the past few years dealing with both of them has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want to just stick my head in the sand. The reason they’re both in the situations they find themselves is because they refused to face the ugliness and reality that life sometimes presents us. Most of which is our own doing.

So, while I know that part of life is prioritizing, I also know that I have to continue to focus on the reasons why I’m choosing to make each decision in order of importance. Otherwise, I end up making choices in the heat of the moment that don’t pan out well.

As much as I’d like to bring in bigger and bigger paychecks, I’ll end up finding my contract terminated if I continue turning in sloppy jobs. So, while I have time off from school during this ridiculously long December break, I can focus on working more and doing a less shitty job at the same time.

Critter Central

Thanks to the generosity and kindness of two different friends and Charlie’s dad (with the promise to pay them back within the next few weeks), we are able to put a deposit down on a better apartment.

Yesterday we went to look at it, had a “doggie interview” with the landlord, and I got to see the place. It’s big, freshly painted, just professionally cleaned, and has a dishwasher. A dishwasher! The landlord seemed cool. He really liked us, and dug my sense of humor. As cool as he may be, he doesn’t live anywhere near the apartment. So it seems like it’ll be a good fit.

The apartment is on the second floor which, in Chicago, is actually one and a half flights up, because there is a garden apartment partway underground. It’s in an older building, so it’s got its pros and cons, not the least of which is the size, which most likely means more expensive utilities. But whatever.

There’s a Polish woman who lives below, two 20-something guys on the first floor, and we would get the top, complete with 10-foot ceilings, a newer kitchen, and two extra rooms, one of which will be a guest bedroom.

Off the back of the apartment is the kitchen, which you have to pass through to get to the additional room; a sunroom that could also be used for storage. Off there are the many, many stairs that lead down to the basement and the free laundry. That aspect alone is fantastic, except that we’ll be sharing it with three other people. I’m not sure what the deal is with that kind of a situation. I’ve never shared a washer and dryer with other people in an apartment before, so do you work out a schedule with them? Does each person do laundry on certain days? Do you get priority in order of move-in date?

It even has a garbage disposal, which, as a renter of old, old homes for many years, is not something I have had the luxury of using since, probably 2001. I don’t have a habit of stuffing food, willy-nilly, down drains, but being able to grind up anything that might get stuck in there is something I really miss.

We also thought there was a free garage parking spot included, but that does not appear to be the case. However, the neighborhood is not close enough to any of the large Chicago attractions to require permit parking. When you live near Wrigley Field or close to downtown, a museum, or certain parks and restaurants, the city has zoned parking so residents at least stand a chance of getting to park near their place. Tourists have a habit of randomly taking up spots in an effort to avoid the ridiculous charges for garages.

I am really glad we’re going to be above ground because, this morning, Bea woke up with huge, red, hot welts all over her arms and legs. Our first thought was, ohmygod she has to go to the hospital. That initial parent panic faded as I tried to remain calm and assess the situation. Her mood and behavior were exactly the same as they are on any given morning. She didn’t have a fever. Though the swelling and redness was pretty severe when she first got up, it began to fade within a matter of a few minutes. By the time we’d been up for an hour, it wasn’t nearly as freaky.

I did send an email to a friend on Facebook who’s a pediatrician with a photo of a large bite on the back of her thigh, just to see if he thought we needed to take her somewhere. Charlie told me that a guy he works with woke up one morning in a similar situation and thought his daughter had chicken pox. As it turns out, there were baby wolf spiders in his kid’s room that were gnawing on her in her sleep.

So I got out the vacuum and a flashlight and sucked up no less than 8 tiny spiders in her room and closet, plus four or five other unknown bugs from under the bed and dresser. I got several webs and a lot of hair, which I worry speaks more to my lack of housekeeping skills than anything. And last night, I must have smooshed at least four different kinds of beetles and multi-legged creepy-crawlies. Shudder.

All the more reason to get the hell out of here. This place is such a dump. There are holes and crevices and hiding places and cracks for any manner of critters to hang out and reproduce. We now know there are rats in the walls. The other day I was cleaning under our kitchen cart and found dirt kicked out from under the baseboards. Charlie mentioned this to Anne, who didn’t even respond verbally. She just sort of moved her head around in an acknowledgment of the fact that he was speaking and that was it.

The landlady knows we have been searching, but she doesn’t know that we’ve definitely found a place. Yesterday morning, she spoke to me for the first time in over a week. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned that we may not be able to get out before Labor Day weekend (when we’d initially planned on heading back to Indy for a visit), to which she responded, “Well, if you can, TRY to be out before the first. You guys are really putting me in a bind here.”

At which point I bit my tongue so hard to keep from exploding at her that I think I might have drawn blood.

 

The Lawyer Card

It’s been an exciting few days in the household. And by exciting, I mean exhausting and stressful. Our landlord is currently out of town until sometime this afternoon, which means we breathed a little easier this weekend.

After Wednesday, things have been pretty tense. The super-chatty, in-your-face Anne has turned into the ice cold, brusque Anne who only uses her front door (which she never did in the past two and a half months we’ve lived here), and doesn’t say more than two words to me.

Not that I’m complaining, but after yesterday, things took an even nastier turn. I did some searching the past few days, spoke to a law student and two friendly attorneys, and found the Chicago city clerk’s web site with the municipal codes for landlords and tenants (located here, for your reference). I sent an email to Anne with the information — one particular part of the ordinance applies to any renter in the city of Chicago, which states that a landlord cannot take retaliatory action against a tenant when they ask for inspections or repairs that interfere with a basic warranty of habitability.

Her response to my email detailing this information boiled down to: you’ll hear from my attorneys. Plural. This was sent on a Sunday, which leads me to believe she probably has a friend that she called and that friend said they’d draft up a scary letter telling me and Charlie to pay or they’d start legal proceedings against us.
I, too, have friends who are lawyers, and I’ve spoken with them. All I have to do, they said, is stand in court and read the municipal code out loud. No attorney, no filing fees, no need to do anything but state the facts.

As it turns out, her termination of the lease after we asked for a mold inspection and prospective remediation was illegal. Not only are we entitled our security deposit, we can take up to 30 days to find another place without paying her further rent. And, in the most extreme situation, we could take her to court for all the rent we’ve paid up to this point, as well as asking for attorney’s fees.God knows I don’t want to be here for 30 more days if I can help it. Her personality has done a complete 180.

One of the ordinances says a tenant in this situation can sue for up to a year’s worth of paid rent, if s/he lives in a larger building, but what applies to us, in a dwelling with less than 6 units where the landlord lives on site, says you can only sue for two months. Which is about how long we’ve been here. We weren’t even asking for that — just our security deposit and the same period of time she gave us to get out, initially.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to actual legal bullshit. Ideally, she would’ve handed over the deposit (assuming she has it, which I think is a major part of the problem. If she hasn’t put it in escrow, we’re all in trouble) we would use it to put down on a more satisfactory apartment with better living conditions, and, hopefully, a landlord that doesn’t live on top of us, and just get the hell out. We have found some prospective apartments but we don’t have cash in hand, which makes things complicated for us. Again.

In my email, I was honest, saying, look – this is your space. You live here, you work here, you clearly don’t want us here anymore. So let’s resolve this issue as soon as possible so everyone can go on about their lives. The only people who are really out anything here are me, Charlie, and Bea. We’re the ones who have to pack up, who have to enlist the help of friends again, who have to put in another change of address, take another trip to the license branch, change all of our utilities. We are the ones who have to uproot ourselves, try to explain to a future landlord why we were here only 3 months, find a new pediatrician.

And, sadly enough, even if she has no legal grounds to do so, she could still at least start the process of eviction (filing the paperwork is nothing more than her paying a fee and claiming we’re late on rent), which would appear to other landlords if they took the time to look it up. So if she wanted to be a super duper mega-bitch, which would not surprise me at all, she could do that. We would fight it and win, but it wouldn’t change the fact that there’d be a court record of it.

Deep down, I do empathize with her. Despite feeling as if she’s put me and my family in a nasty living environment – first our physical and now our emotional health – for her own personal gain, I think she truly believed it just wasn’t that bad. Her office was down here for a while and she claims she didn’t have any problems, her business partner has a mold allergy and didn’t have any problems. But they weren’t here when the plumbers were tearing up the floor and drywall. They didn’t have to breathe in all the junk and have their belongings covered in the dust and mold spores. Telling me to “go to the doctor” didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t see anything for half an hour, every day, five days in a row.

She initially tried to make it sound as if this was what I wanted (I didn’t want to move, no matter how it sounded to her or in previous blog posts. That’s merely the eventual conclusion I came to, given my understanding of the expense of addressing the problem from her end) and she’s just doing us a favor. Which probably makes her feel that much more pissed off.

Like many women do, she’s got a mental chalkboard going where, every time she’s done something nice for us, she’s made a mark. Now she’s pulled out the chalkboard and is fuming, thinking, “I can’t believe they would do this to me after I did X, Y, and Z!” But the principle of the matter is, picking up a stroller she found at a thrift store for ten dollars isn’t the same as me feeling sick for two weeks, talking to her about it during that time, and her saying nothing but, “You could have had an aneurism/stroke/brain tumor.”

All the little things she has done for us, I appreciate, but I would have appreciated it much more if she’d just minded her business, stayed polite, and offered to clean up the effing mold.

I feel as if she’s yet another in a series of people in my life who are The Victim. While Charlie and I stand around feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck, the driver screams out the window that we damaged their truck. I just don’t get it.

Even if she suddenly decided she would address the mold, it’s too late. Of course, she’ll need to address it, anyway, because if anyone else with mold allergies lives here, the same thing is going to happen again. Her complete disregard for me and Charlie and, especially, Bea leads me to believe she is not as genuinely nice a person as she wants to be perceived. From Day One, she tried to act like Bea’s grandmother, demanding hugs and kisses and giving her little trinkets to try and win her over. It sort of grossed me out. Most of said trinkets were dirty, covered in dog hair, or something that Bea didn’t particularly care for. A bag of glass stones does not negate the potential asthma or pneumonia my daughter could develop from living in this house while people are tearing out walls.

I get that she feels threatened and totally betrayed, because that’s how my mom and my dad and several other people I know are. It’s never an issue of the other person attempting to be rational and hash things out. It’s, “I have done this and this and this, and this is how you repay me? You stab me in the back? You try to ruin my life?”

Because, essentially, I’m feeling the same way. Although I don’t think I’ve gone out of my way to do favors for Anne, I feel as if I have done nothing wrong and am being punished for no reason.

We knew she wasn’t going to do anything. We knew she didn’t want to put out more money. We knew she was going to try and make things uncomfortable for us (and I’m honestly scared to see how the next few weeks go). But her first response of “pay me rent, leave your deposit, and go,” was not quite what I had in mind. Her second response of, “You’ll hear from my lawyers,” also was not what I was expecting.

And, of course, now I’m thinking, “Shit. If I’d just relented, given her the rent, and left the deposit, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” But she knows that, which is exactly why she pulled out the lawyer card. I’ve pissed her off, I’ve broken her trust. She thought we were friends and I asked for more than she was willing to give. So now she wants me to suffer. And, in the process, she’s going to make an innocent two-year-old suffer.

We’ll see how things go when she returns this afternoon. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I hate confrontation. But if she indeed wants no further communication, she’ll just have to ignore me when we’re outside at the same time.

By the way, why can’t I just catch a goddamn break?

Minor Eviction

Okay, yes. We were leaning toward the possibility of having to find another place. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so fast. And it’s not like either of us is in the military, so moving every three months seems quite wasteful.

Yesterday was my birthday and, having a two-year-old, it wasn’t quite as low-key as I’d hoped. We spent almost all of the morning and early afternoon going to two different parks and trying to keep Bea entertained. She was in a sassier-than-usual mood and was being quite difficult.
By the time we got home, had lunch, and put her down for a nap, I realized I didn’t feel that sick, my head wasn’t hurting, and the fresh air had definitely kept me from experiencing any of the symptoms I would usually have if I’d been in the house.

So I did some research and sent the landlord an email (she was working at her business partner’s house rather than her own) detailing the information I’d found and the steps most departments of health recommend. I made sure to use reputable sources (the CDC rather than http://www.blameyourlandlordformoldexposure.com — which is not really a site I found, but is close to some I came across).

I’d called the allergist I saw in Indy when I encountered this same problem in 2005 and they offered to mail me the results of my testing. I told Anne she might consider hiring a mold remediation specialist.

First, you get an estimate of the inspection. Second, they give you a detailed explanation of the findings of their inspection. Third, they give you an estimate of the cost and how involved a removal of the mold will be. If my allergy test displayed the same types of mold found in the house, we could go from there, I said.

Within ten minutes, I had a reply that simply said that Charlie and I best move out and be gone by the first of September. It was really that to-the-point.

I was shocked and it left me speechless. I knew there was a chance she wouldn’t be up for trying to address the problem (see my last blog post). I had no idea she would say we had to leave. I called one of my friends who’s a landlord and she calmed me down. There’s no way you can be evicted in 20 days, she told me, and Anne would have to file papers that gave us 30 days, at the least. Also, she reminded, Anne has no cause to tell us to get out.

So we started looking at the tenants’ rights pages and I came across one interesting and frustrating piece of information: a landlord in Chicago can issue you an eviction, sometimes after only ten days, if you violate the lease and have not paid rent. Right now, we pay her rent twice a month (half on the first, half on the 15th), at her suggestion. Which means, she could claim 10 days’ unpaid rent on the 10th of August because we’d only paid half on the first. The lease says to pay rent on the first of the month, in full, and I don’t have anything in writing to back up the fact that she told us we could do otherwise. Charlie started yelling, “I knew that was going to bite us in the ass! I knew it!”

Talk about frustrating.

I wrote her back immediately to say look, I’m sorry if I upset you, I was just trying to figure out the best approach and this is what I found. She didn’t see that email right away as she was already on her way home. I saw her pull into her parking spot and Charlie went out to speak with her.

She came up and said, “Wow. You guys have had a busy day, huh?”
Charlie said, “It was pretty calm until we found out we were being evicted.”
“What? Oh, no! That’s not what I meant!” she exclaimed.
“Well, your email to Courtney said we had to be out by the first,” Charlie said.

She went on the explain that she was “only trying to help,” and if I was “that uncomfortable here,” she was just going to let us out of the lease. Charlie reminded her that the reason we’ve paid her rent twice a month for the past two months is because we haven’t been able to afford the whole deal at once and still keep on top of our other bills. So how could we sign a lease on another place if we’re still trying to get on our feet here?

They spoke for quite some time and I didn’t hear most of it, but what he told me later was that they agreed we would be out by October first — at the latest — giving her time to list the place and giving us time to put together some money, find another place, and perhaps she could keep our security deposit for the September rent. She agreed to this, but kept saying that she didn’t think the problem was mold and I needed to see a doctor and she was just worried about my health because migraines are a neurological disorder.  She went so far as to suggest maybe I had a brain tumor or aneurism.

Charlie and I left immediately after this so we could talk about everything without worrying she was trying to stand outside our windows and listen in (which seems to happen a lot when she’s watering the plants). We walked to Boystown and sat outside to eat and people watch while we tried to figure out how the hell we were going to do all of this.

My classes start September 8th. I have a graduate student orientation on the 6th. Financial aid will go through sometime around then (I have no idea exactly when it’ll be in our grubby little hands), but that will at least offset some of the cost of moving again. Of course, Liz offered to drive up and help us, because she’s just that kind of person.

In the meantime, I have to start packing. We have to fix the back door that Alvy has been chewing on when we leave him alone. If Anne is keeping our deposit for September rent, we better make sure there isn’t any damage she can claim and charge us for. Granted, the house is about 100 times cleaner now than the day we moved in, but whatever.

The really fun part is, this morning, as she was performing her hour-long obsessive ritual of watering all the stuff in the yard that doesn’t need watered because we’ve had something like 18 inches of rain in the past month, she started to turn things back around on me, just like the landlord from the house in south Broad Ripple.
I need to take antihistamines. I need to go to a doctor and find out what’s “really” going on. There’s mold everywhere. Who knows what’s really making me sick? Also, she feels sorry for us because we’re never going to find a place that allows our dog. She feels sorry for us because ALL the house around here are OLD and I will just keep coming across more and more mold. She feels sorry for us because we’re never going to find a landlord as understanding and kind as she is.

All the same stuff the landlord in Broad Ripple said, and all things I told Anne about when we first had a conversation about this a couple of months ago. She clearly doesn’t remember it, or considers herself an exception in this case.

I didn’t tell her that we’ve already found three potential apartments, two of which are completely rehabbed, all of which are cheaper than what we pay now. Two are within walking distance of Charlie’s work. All three have parking, a laundry in the building or in the apartment itself, A/C, hardwood floors, and dishwashers. One even has a built-in microwave in the all-stainless steel kitchen.

Of course, none of them are perfect. I’m not familiar with the neighborhoods like I am with this one. Do I need to get a different pediatrician than the one we’ve already made an appointment with? Will there be a nice park within walking distance? Is there a close el stop? How long will it take me to get to campus? Will we have enough room for our friends to come and stay?

This really throws off a lot of my plans, as I’m sure you can imagine. The landlord clearly does not want to hire any sort of licensed specialist to check out the house, probably for fear she’ll be required to address the problem to the tune of thousands of dollars (as well as some other not-so-legal issues being found out). Her mantra this morning was, “I don’t know what I can do to help.” But I reminded her that the “help” comes from the mold removal people. And she just repeated herself over and over again.

So, instead of, as I was secretly hoping, actually getting things fixed, we now have to dump even more money into moving. And there were so many things I wanted to get. A new toilet brush, a new vacuum cleaner, rugs to replace the ones Alvy and Trinity ruined when they were sick, a nice storage unit for Bea’s toys, textbooks for class . . .

I am so tired of having things turned upside on me. Every time we seem to get settled and things are beginning to adjust into a calm sort of routine, it’s like the universe reaches out to yank me out by the back of my shirt and say, oh no, you’re not getting too comfortable over there, are you?

Suburboring

Some time ago, I read two similar books. One was Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, and the other, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Both were guests on either The Daily Show or the Colbert Report (I couldn’t remember which until I searched through my blog and found this post from 2007 about the exact same subject), and both intrigued me. Each book had a point that stood out to me: the importance of goals for human beings, and how the process we go through to reach them is much more important than the actual achievement.

Some old friends and former classmates have occasionally asked me why I don’t want to move back to the suburb of Indianapolis where I went to high school, especially now that I have a child. They have “four-star schools” (whatever the hell that means – I don’t feel like I received an excellent education there), and I could have free babysitting.

It didn’t fully dawn on me until this afternoon, for whatever reason, why I didn’t like the idea. Off the top of my head, I know living in that particular area doesn’t appeal to me because it’s essentially chain restaurants and box stores. Here and there, you might run across an independent restaurant but, not only is that rare, they usually suck. Bad food, poor management, high prices, limited hours.

But this afternoon, as I was taking a walk while Charlie was home from work for lunch, I realized it has more to do with my personal goals and the idea that I would feel stifled living there.

For the past few years, I’ve been working on my undergraduate degree, and, at the same time, deciding to, applying for, and being accepted to grad school. The schools to which I applied were only in two cities, and I knew I wanted to end up in Chicago. Thankfully, Charlie did too, so that wasn’t an issue for us.

Once I was accepted, the next item on the list was getting here. And, even though we now have that checked off the list, there are still a great number of other things, big and small, that I am working toward: getting my free DePaul t-shirt (it’s not really free – but they make a big deal out of how you get a shirt because of the student athletic fee everyone has to pay), getting my driver’s license and student ID, taking Bea to a museum, navigating the transfers on the El with a two-year-old without losing her (this has not happened – it’s just one of my fears); getting an advisor at school who can let me know what my chances are of securing an internship that’s going to guarantee me an awesome job in Chicago, or, if all else fails, even considering my Ph.D.

And once those things happen (or don’t), I have other ideas up my sleeve. Moving to a different city, moving back to Indy so Bea can be closer to her family, going to school somewhere else for another graduate degree, traveling.

The only thing that has kept me sane this summer as we’ve struggled to get back on our feet is knowing that, soon enough, we’ll have too much to do. Charlie and I joked this evening that, once we’ve got the cash to really experience Chicago, I’m going to be like, “I’ve got a million papers to write! I don’t have time for that!” But, of course, I’ll make the time.

But knowing that I have things to work toward, however small or large, is what keeps me going. And there’s something about that small town where I went to high school that makes me feel . . . limited.

When I see folks from high school post photos on Facebook, I see the walls of their manufactured homes – two-stories, no yard, no trees, built over a garage. The interior is always painted taupe or forest green with the same white or wood trim. Their sofas and chairs, all taupe and tan and brown and purchased on credit from the same furniture store. Their “art” (if they have any — completely bare walls are pretty common), prints purchased at Target or Wal-Mart in frames. Their husbands, clad in basketball shorts and Colts jerseys, snoring in a taupe recliner with a can of Coors Light still gripped in one fist.

It makes me sad. Their personal goals: making sure the dry-erase board in the kitchen/family room/dining area (because it’s always one room) has all the kids’ soccer and softball and football schedules; getting enough people to come to the “candle party” they’re hosting to make some money to save for the next summer’s trip to Florida.

That’s it.

Maybe that makes me sound like a gigantic, stuck-up asshole. In fact, I’m positive it does. But it’s not that I’m judging those women’s lifestyles and choices. It’s that, imagining myself in that scenario makes me feel depressed. If I’m going to move somewhere that’s a cultural void, I’d rather be on a farm, growing my own food, making my own clothes, homeschooling my kids. I mean, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it all the way. The town where I went to high school has a mall now. People who live there plan their weekends around shopping at this mall. They have date nights at Applebee’s® and take pictures of their Weight Watchers® approved Chipotle Lime Chicken and Mucho Margarita®. It’s just not for me.

Not to mention the fact that, if Bea went to the same school I did, and if she expressed any interest in sports, her coaches would be the same assholes who tortured me in high school. The soccer coach is the guy who tripped me in the hallways, knocked my books out of my hands, called me names, and generally terrorized me. I really don’t want to have to associate with him on a regular basis again.