Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Hotel New California

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We live on a cul-de-sac in suburban San Diego, amidst baseball and soccer fields, Target shopping centers and California Pizza Kitchens, (where Mr. C and I went for our cocktails, chips and dip last night). The more specific area where we live, the town in the town, is a strange blend of the poor (one bedroom crap-shacks on streets with multiple sex offenders) to the very rich (we see Tony Gwynn often, just last week at the gas station) to the homeless immigrants who work day and night, rain or shine, standing on the carefully upkept corners with their baseball hats and broad smiles.

Somewhere in there are the middle class, and then there is Us- the packaged middle-class. We look middle-class but we are not. We are poor. Not exaggerating, or using the word lightly- yes, we are poor. We struggle to pay our bills and have notices put on our door a few times a year DISCONNECTION IMMINENT We are going to have to declare medical bankrupcy from my prior surgeries due to Endometriosis, and that was with Blue Cross, piece of shit insurance. We owe the IRS due to the business that Mr. Curry slaved over and eventually lost due to astronomical increases in Workers Compinsation insurance. Our cars are cramped, old, falling apart and mine barely works: the power steering is out, so I drive every day wrestling the wheel like a mud wrestling ho, in addition to the chronic overheating and the defunct air conditioner/heater. Mr. C drives Blue Thunder, the loveable old Ford clunker that he recently started using a combination of sheer muscle and a wrench. When our children have to pay library fees we sweat the 15$. My bras are falling apart, too baggy and old and the underwire poking out- but I bought Lola new clothes recently, as she had grown out of most of her pants and shirts. Mr. C's shoes have entire layers peeling off the bottom and we chose to go to California Pizza Kitchen for Valentines Day instead of buying him new shoes. We both work full time. We work hard. We barely keep above water.

Stimulate This Package

A large life preserver in our household has been the addition to our household of the mysterious, the unknown, the oft dreaded: Roomates. Female, all (we have children), we have had roomates for a few years now, and here is the ultimate Red Flag toward our seriously troubled financial position: I share a room with Lola, while Mr. Curry sleeps in the boys room. We don't have a marital bed, much less privacy. It's a shocking downgrade in adulthood and parenthood to have to part ways with your honey and snuggle into a twin sized bed with a long limbed and snoring seven year old.

During the halycon days after Lola's birth, when Mr. Curry's business was affording us a comfortable lifestyle, we had a four bedroom home and large backyard, newish minivan, and Mr. C had a large, brand new white truck, which he mourns to this day. It was repossessed. He lost his business, we moved, the men in their white coats and sweetly apologetic faces came at 6am, waking me and the children, to drag the white truck away. My minivan was lost in That Year, the year where I crashed the minivan after we had lost our insurance, so in addition to the accident and loss of car, I owe the state money, which they are taking from my paycheck.

Moving from that, to this, was hard. Having roomates in our two master bedrooms? Harder.

But not too hard. Not as hard as the many stories and voices that swim through my mind daily, the 8 year old African orphan who is singlehandedly raising her brothers and sisters. That's not a sad tale some writer concocted. That's her Reality. That is her Life. Only the unfathomable lottery of chance decided that I would be born here, in the U.S., with our enormous privelege and responsibillities to our freedoms, and born into a place where I may be poor, and downtrodden, but also within reach of a new life, a better life. Although I was abused as a child, when I was ready to heal, help was available. Because I spent so many years in the dark isolation and suffering of my childhood unit, I know what hopelessness is. Because they thought, before my first surgery, that I might have ovarian cancer, and because I know a woman now who has a 2 year old daughter and 1 year old son who just started walking, and because she has invasive, metastisized breast cancer and will probably die in a few years: because life is endless in it's array of possibilities, I can look at where my circumstance falls and see that I am not on the far side of the dark. My childhood taught me true despair. I will never forget.

The battle is every day, to hold up my marriage, my life and values. Mr. Curry and I have to be very persistently careful to connect, because with him in one room and I in another, without the place carved out for ourselves, we can drift apart so easily. At night, in front of a movie, one of our roomates could walk from her room to get some milk, and in that simple act, bring us from intimacy to a quiet acceptance. Mr. Curry reminded me, as I was in tears the other night, with his arms around me, that we can make it through this and more, that we love each other more than enough, that we have to be patient. I nodded on his shoulder, yes, yes, I know you are right.

Our roomates currently are sweet people. A single mom and her son, named Dakota as well, live with us- our third African American roomates, which is good too, because the area where we live is largely Asian, Hispanic and White. I'm glad for our kids to meet people in this way, up close and personal, and recognize our common humanity, to form bonds, to learn patience and acceptance. One of our roomates is now a best friend of mine, we had so much in common- eating organic, Attachment Parenting, kooky, writers, creative and damaged, moving towards health of all kinds.

The money provided by their rents will allow us to file for medical bankrupcy for my past medical bills (again, curses to Blue Cross) and allows us to do smaller, regular things with the kids, like the Zoo, trips to the thrift stores, new clothes. The money will allow us to save for a better car, one that won't make up it's own mind if it feels like starting on a cold morning.
The experience, though, is ours to use, a currency we have to handle carefully. We keep a close eye on our marriage, our children, our stress levels. It's hard to manage such a busy, busy, oh so fucking BUSY household!

The Math

Four Cats
Two Dogs
Four Adults
Five Kids (sometimes four, If Ian is with his mom)

Four rooms (one on the other side of the house, affords privacy)

So the economic downturn? We were there already, America. In the trenches, owing the money, sucking it up, the tears, the anger, the frustration, the hard work. Keeping roomates is how we keep our head above water.

I've got some great stories out of it, at least.
The Panic Room said...

I caught this right as I was turning in and will be returning tomorrow for a more thorough read. But I wanted to suggest you send this or a version along to

Sandi said...

I want to help you! Lets at least go bra shopping and get Lola an outfit! When Brandon gets back, I am coming down!

Lola said...

Wow! It's incredibly brave of you to be so honest and open about your life. It's even more brave to do what you've got to do and take in the renters.

It can't be easy, girl, having so many people in the house and not having your private space, but it's very smart.

This economy is destroying people, and it seems to get more scary every day. At least you're doing something about it, which is an incredible lesson for your kids and all of us.

Have you seen that movie Kit Kittredge? Lola might really like it. I did!

Maggie May said...

Thanks PR, that is a great idea, along with your Letters to the President. it pisses me off to no end, how hard Mr. Curry worked to get his business up and running, and then how the ridiculous Workers Comp. insurance fees put him out of business. you wouldn't BELIEVE the amount of money the government took from him every paycheck. we looked good on paper, so we could get the cars, but otherwise..and the insurance thing, so sad. i paid for the Blue Cross for years for what? i owe them like 70,000 DOLLARS between the three surgeries and tests and MRIs and etc.

thanks Sandi, i won't take anything from you, Lola just got a bunch of new cute clothes and we have family helping, but I'd love to meet for coffee sometime anyhow :)

Lola i want to see that with Lola! i think we'll rent it tomorrow. thanks for the heads up.

Holly said...

maggie, i just read this entirely and the part that shined through the most was the bit about mr curry holding you and re-assuring you. focus on your love, you are strong!

ButtonHole said...

I'm so sorry. I've been there, and it's so hard, I know. The hardest part of all, I think, was how the stress affected our marriage. It sounds as if you're very acutely aware of the importance of not allowing your relationship to fall victim to life's circumstances.

If anyone ever looks askance at the bankruptcy, tell em to fuck off. Nicely, of course. And tell Blue Cross, too! And the IRS! I think you'll be amazed at how relieved you feel after the bankruptcy. Some folks act as if it's some mortal sin to "get out of paying" bills like that. But you HAVE paid....maybe not fully in dollars, but oh yeah, you've paid. The road that leads to having to make that decision is an incredibly painful and difficult one.

Blogging Mama Andrea said...

You are a very strong person to have been through that and yet you still move forward, keep walking, keep living. I have not known your misfortune but I do know that it could happen to me as easily as it happened to you in these uncertain times. Your post has shown me to never take anything for granted.
It was beautifully written and your emotion and determination and "I will not fail" attitude shines through clearly.
Keep your head up. And I hope you enjoyed your night out, you certainly deserved it.

Joseph said...

randomly came across blog... I loved the title picture... and then I read it and thought I'd leave a comment.

Your writing reminds me of the Depression Era Dorthea Lange pictures... (a good thing!)

Be well!

Jeanne said...

What a brave, honest, open, loving person you are -- all the traits that will bring you through this difficult time. And wise enough to realize that your rough childhood made you into a woman who's strong enough to bear some adversity.

Loving your blog....

Sharon said...

It's amazing how difficult they make it for the small business owner. We have our own business & we have struggled for as long as I can is just a way of life. Now that my husband & I just turned 55, our health insurance is going up again. Hang in there! It sounds like you already have people who want to help LET them!! Thanks for sharing everything with us. I think your blog is extraordinary!!! I think you are extraordinary too!!

Patois said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. I wish I could offer you more than virtual hugs and sympathy.

PalagiGirl said...

I here ya! We are working just as hard as we ever have and it seems like we are barely keeping our heads above water. I just have to look at my kids, hug my hubby A LOT and remember that as long as we have each other...we have so much. You will get through this because you have your family's love and support. I'll be sending my love and prayers your way.

Laura said...

Just remember that these trials will only make your family stronger in the end. I know this can't be easy and I will keep your family in my thoughts.

a mouthy irish woman? ridiculous! said...

you are a warrior...and there are so many of us in the trenches together....

Annie King said...

The important thing is that you're all together, and you're doing your best to keep everything as normal as possible. Good luck, always.

julochka said...

oh. wow. this post took my breath away. you are so brave and honest to share in this very real way. it's so scary what the bush years did to the country of my birth...i don't think i ever previously heard people talk about medical bankruptcy...i got a lump in my throat reading this.

sending big hugs from across the atlantic!!!


david said...

All I can say is wow! It is reassuring to know we are not the only ones struggling out here. It seems like all we can do sometimes is hold on for another day and just keep moving forward. I have to put in the movie "The Grapes Of Wrath" once in a while to give myself a good reminder that we are truly blessed considering the world around us that seems to be falling apart. I wish you guys the best. Hang in there because your family is truly rich in love and spirit. -d

Kristi said...

I love you guys.

Maggie May said...

Holly you are a true sweetheart, thank you.

Button i agree. I'm not ashamed of the bankrupcy- i did MY part, paid my fees, the fn insurance company jacked me.

Andrea i am keeping my head up, and having a community online is part of what keeps it up.

Joseph i know exactly of the picture you mentioned, amazing picture. glad you came by and commented.

Jeanne you made me smile. thank you!

Sharon the cost of health insurance is wrong. I hope you guys thrive!

Patois thanks for being my bloggy cohort :)

Pali girl, i agree- it is hard but necessary to keep focused on the love.

laura thank you for your good thoughts!

Irish you are such a truth teller, i know you get it.

Annie that's right. I'm glad you read this.

Juloc- the Bush years...a dark hole.

David you are definitely NOT alone!!

Kristi we LOVE YOU TOO!!!!

Magpie said...

Oh wow. You are a strong and creative woman. Good wishes to you and your family.

Petunia Face said...

I just read this after last night--a tense, horrible night of fighting with my husband about no money, bad decisions, changes that we will have to make. It is so hard not to turn on eachother when there isn't an actual person to blame (other than Bush. Or Cheney. The Lehmen Bros. But I mean people you actually KNOW.)

Anyway, such a great piece of writing and a tribute to what parents will do for their family. Thank you for this.

From someone else in the midst of THAT YEAR.


Anonymous said...

I love that sometimes, when you don't have the words, you stumble to a blog that does. Thank you.
I couldn't believe when I looked in the sidebar and saw a quote by Gwendolyn MacEwan - she's so.. perfect, and so loved... and I've only met one other person who knows about her. Bliss to you.

Maggie Madison said...

Wow. Am sending you a virtual metta meditation: may you be well and happy;
may you be strong, confident and peaceful;
may you have ease and well being.

San Diego Momma said...

I keep feeling like we are one lost paycheck away from losing our house, car, etc. and sadly, it's true.

It's heartbreaking to read stories like yours, but I'm struck by how strong and grateful you sound despite your difficulties.

Something tells me your family will pull through with your stories and your strength intact.

Collin Kelley said...

I'm a little late to this, but what an incredibly brave post. My thoughts are with you Maggie. There are many have us struggling, so no you are not alone.

anymommy said...

I am humbled and uplifted. You two have a firm grasp on what really matters. I hope with all my heart that you will inch a little more towards security every day.

I know this wasn't your intent, but thanks for putting the things that are driving me crazy right now into perspective.

Miss Grace said...

Ugh and suck. Double suck. Gabriel and I are squeezed into a one bedroom, which is not so bad for now. I may become more concerned when he gets older.

I'm really hoping for some sort of economic turn around. Really Really.

Rachel Tamed said...

I got a long, sappy email from this %$#@& I went to college with the other day. She wanted everyone to donate some money so that she and her husband could keep going to the Y amid their financial crisis. The "crisis" was that her husband quit (yes, quit, intentionally) his job, she has never worked...and for the love of God, they had to disconnect their cell phones!

I wish I could show her your story, and that someone as clueless as her could be shamed by the comparison! Hang in there!

Breathing Beside Us said...

Oh Sweetie,
I empathize with you, right down to the bras.....
You are so brave to tell. It is these times when we learn what we value the most. Material things are no longer important to me....Baby steps, take them one at a time.
Positive affirmations, every evening before shutting your eyes, every morning before putting your feet on the floor.
baby steps.....
You are strong, remember that.

Ms. Moon said...

This post moved me.
Stay strong and hold on to that love which supports and holds your heads above the rushing water.

Simplicity said...

I wish I could be your roommate! I'd room with your daughter and my daughter and let you and your hubby have your own room! I am there with you! Really, truly...

I would take in a roommate right now, but I don't have the space. I have a two bedroom, but it's more like a kitchen with two boxes as an offshoot that they call rooms. There's barely room for my daughter and I to pass each other in the 'hallway'/kitchen.

And every once in a while (like my $17.50 steal of a deal at Zellers!) I need to buy myself just a little something as a pick-me-up. But the reality is that I return 95% of the things I buy. I take them home, sit on my bed and cry because I want to tear the tags off, but I can't.

And I keep thinking...someday.

And someday will come for you sweet woman! It will! You are surrounded by love. That will carry you further than all the money in the world!!

molly said...

that's usually the point of all this, isn't it? GREAT STORIES!! great stories from all that happens in's the sweetest part of all.

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