Friday, September 27, 2013

Confession: I Survived Foreclosure

I had a nightmare the other night. A recurring theme dominates my dreams when I’m stressed out about something. And occasionally even when life is peaceful—to mess with me, I guess. The premise is always the same, though events and characters may change: I’m back in the house I lost, hoping not to be caught by the new owners. Sometimes the house is in a state of clutter and remodeling. Sometimes it’s empty. Other times, it is full of the new owner’s furniture. It’s usually nighttime. Many times I am there because I am homeless and don’t know where else to go, but sometimes I’ve just sneaked in to reclaim something left behind.

In last night’s dream, my old house was full of someone else’s furniture; my son’s room was being painted a different color. My ex was there, as was my daughter. I don’t know what we were looking for, but we had wandered all over the house during what was our second break-in before we noticed the cameras that had been installed at ceiling level since our previous visit. Panic ensued as I tried to get the other two out the door before we got caught. A car door slammed outside, so I turned off lights and peeked out the front door to see the owners parked in front of the house instead of in the driveway (where our car was parked). They were unloading shopping bags. I wondered whether we could run out the back door and dive into the car to get away without being arrested ... when I woke up feeling the remnants of distress.

Even typing about the nightmare makes tension creep into my shoulders and neck. And the sad thing is that I have been pestered by these dreams for TWELVE YEARS. It doesn’t matter that I was able to buy a better house six years ago or that my children have grown up. Experiencing foreclosure and all it involved was one of the most traumatic events of my life, and it continues to haunt me.

This is what happened in real life. My former husband and I had been married for three years when we bought a fixer-upper and moved in. Four years later, we added the first of two children to our home. Seven years later, in 1999, I discovered one of my husband’s secrets. I told him that I loved him but that I knew what he was doing; I was willing to get marriage counseling, but if he was not, there was no reason for him to be there. I thought he might take some time to think about it, but he didn’t. Instead, he jumped up and started packing. I went to pick up the kids from Vacation Bible School, and when we got back, their daddy was gone.

He agreed to pay the mortgage in addition to child support and did for almost a year before he let the mortgage get behind, though he still paid child support. He asked me for help in catching the mortgage up, and that was the end of my small savings account and our son’s very small college savings. Then, he started lying about his payments crossing the overdue notices in the mail. (I asked him once why he lied to me when I hadn’t even asked a question, and he said, “Because I can.”)

Foreclosure was set in motion. I went nervously to the court hearing (and was surprised to see him walk in, wearing the wedding ring he had taken off when he moved out). I even spoke to an attorney who said that due to the circumstances, there was nothing I could do to save my house. Meanwhile, my prodigal husband claimed that he had almost all the money needed to catch the mortgage up and save the house. Out of desperation, I wanted to believe him. I lived 500 miles away from my hometown and felt alone and helpless.

The weekend before my home was supposed to go to auction, I called a deacon and tearfully shared my fear that the kids and I were about to be homeless. The next day after church, a team of 25 church members came to my house, packed and loaded up my belongings, and moved us to a rental house owned by another church member. Yet another member passed along money to help me pay the first month’s rent. It was an overwhelming, emotional day of grief and thanksgiving.

Within a day or two, my prodigal husband called to say that the foreclosure auction had been delayed a month. There was still time to save our house. My hopes were raised. Maybe the kids and I could move back into our house, where we went every day anyway to get our mail and feed and play with our cat, Sneakers. (Our landlord had a no-pet policy, and I hadn’t found a family willing to take our beloved 8-year-old tuxedo cat.)  There was one big box of belongings left in the living room along with my hide-a-bed sofa that didn’t fit into our new, smaller home. Maybe I wouldn’t need to move those things out. If the prodigal husband was telling the truth, I’d be moving all of our things back in just a few weeks.

It had been another lie. The day our home was sold at auction, my husband was living it up in Las Vegas. A former colleague of his blabbed the news. On the bright side, the landlord had taken pity on on my kids and decided to let us keep Sneakers, so the cat was already with us when the new owner of my old house broke in the front door.

I nearly had a heart attack when we dropped by that house and saw the yellow notice on the door and the broken door jamb. With extreme anxiety, I opened the door, grabbed my box of belongings, and rushed it to the minivan. I left a note on my couch saying that I really would like to have it but would have to arrange for someone with a truck to pick it up. I included my phone number.

When the new owner called a month later, he didn’t mention my couch. Finders keepers, losers weepers, I guess. I was too embarrassed about being a foreclosure victim to ask about it. Besides, it wasn’t as if extra space for it had magically appeared in my new place. He told me that a package for me had been delivered there, and he was willing to meet me in town and give it to me. I was grateful that he was nice and didn’t have me arrested for trespassing. The box turned out to be an unexpected Christmas gift of cheeses and summer sausage sent by an organization that was unaware of my forced change of address.

The worst of the trauma was over. The kids saw their father a total of five times over the next seven months before he told his final lie. On May 27, 2002, at our son’s soccer game, he gave me less than half of the monthly money, hugged me, and told me that he would have the rest of it for me that weekend because he knew I needed it. Then he vanished, refused to answer or return any of his nine-year-old daughter’s anxious calls, and disappeared from our lives for several years. In fact, I didn’t hear from him again until the December he had me served with divorce papers and wrote that if I tried to fight it, I would have to pay for it. Merry Christmas to me, huh. Two months after the divorce was final, he called to say he wanted to see the kids, for the first time in four years. They were so excited. A month or so later, he mentioned his fianceé. The excitement dimmed.

Well, he got married, and I bought a house all by myself and finished raising the kids as best I could. Things have mostly turned out okay. But the nightmares persist.

I guess the fear I had when I entered a house that was no longer mine, to collect one last big box of my belongings, made itself at home in my soul. Some fear is healthy, but not this fear. I hate it. I hope the courage it takes to share this very personal story will drive that fear out because it is not welcome here. After all, nothing tragic happened. We were never homeless. I didn’t die of grief. Needs were—and continue to be—met. I have an adult daughter who makes me proud and an adult son I still have hope for. God has a way of working things things out when I least expect it.

I survived foreclosure despite my often overwhelming fear . That voice in the back of your head that tells you that you might as well give up and die is a liar. When the thing you fear most happens, you have a choice: to let it beat you, or to beat it. Believe me, beating it is more rewarding.

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