As we talked on the phone recently, my daughter told me recently , “Mom, you sound like you’re beat up.”
It’s true. I feel like I’m beat up. I’m exhausted. And that was before this latest development hit this week.
This pandemic has been really hard on us. With my husband having a heart attack less than nine months ago and being over 65, he exactly fits that vulnerable population they keep talking about. We have done everything we can to protect him. I can’t have him get sick. I can’t have anything happen to him. I don’t know what I’d do without him.
We have felt isolated, unable to go see our daughter and son-in-law in Charleston or our son and his family in Seattle. We have been unable to do many of the things we like to do. We really have no friends here. It’s been lonely.
My boss put me on a 7-week layoff early in the pandemic. He re-opened the office mid-May, offering me a reduced work schedule. He is in the middle of “restructuring” his business, he told me recently. I’m not sure what that means for me and for my job. Joe has quit driving for Uber on doctor’s orders. He can’t take the chance of being in an enclosed car with someone who might have the coronavirus.
The isolation wasn’t too bad at the beginning. It’s wearing thin. We feel lonely, alone, frustrated.
And then the latest thing hit.
We have lived in Asheville in the same small apartment for eight years. We have looked for a home to purchase, but it’s so expensive here. We just can’t afford to buy a home and then have enough left over to live on for the rest of our lives. My previous boss’s father-in-law offered by build us a home (a shell we would have to finish). We calculated the cost and felt like we couldn’t financially do it. In addition, the fact that it was right next to a cemetery really bothered my husband. Some people find solace in cemeteries after the death of a child. For some, it’s a constant reminder of the huge gaping hole in their lives. I am the former; my husband is the later. My husband just couldn’t live by a cemetery. And so we have stayed put.
Our landlord is a difficult man. He knows it all and he is never wrong. He talks down to people. If he feels you don’t know something or don’t know what he’s talking about, he’s good about making sure you know how stupid you are. And you never question him or give him attitude. He gets angry and is proud of his anger. He is proud of his past physical altercations and will go into detail telling how he put someone in their place. If you cross him, he is harsh and unkind. There is no grace. He has driven away nearly everyone.
He lives right behind us, just a driveway width away.
We have managed to stay relatively under the radar of this side of him. Joe has tried to be a good friend to him, helping him mow the lawn, dig up roots in the driveway, cut down trees, clean up fallen branches and fallen trees. Our landlord is 78 years old, and Joe really has had a heart to help him. My husband is one of the kindest, most generous, giving men I know. He has helped our landlord a lot. He has climbed on top of a motorhome to wash it and or on roof of our second story apartment to clean gutters. Joe has rushed over to help our landlord get his wife off the floor after she has fallen (she had a stroke before we moved in) or to help with her iPhone when she can’t figure something out. He has stepped up to the plate whenever our landlord needed help. Every week there has been many projects with which Joe has lended a helping hand. We have tried to be good tenants and neighbors, kind, sharing fresh-bought produce or just-out-of-the-oven muffins.
In return, Joe has at times borne the brunt of some derision. Our landlord is sometimes not kind in how he talks to Joe, especially if Joe asks a question or has an opinion about something. You know what they say about no good deed going unpunished.
A series of events recently has put us in the crosshairs. First, our landlord informed Joe that he was hiking our rent up by $200, and he felt like Joe “gave him attitude” when he was informed of this. He doesn’t like people to give him attitude. Second, because of some minor memory and cognitive issues, sometimes Joe struggles to connect the dots. He asks some extra questions to try to understand things. To our landlord, just in everyday conversations about everyday topics, this also has been interpreted as “giving him attitude” and questioning his superiority and authority.
And then, the septic system is having problems again. It was supposedly fixed a couple of months ago. Last week, instead of just informing Joe about it and asking us to conserve water, our landlord told him there was a problem with the septic system, instructed him we would have to take sponge baths and not flush the toilet, and – the kicker – that, if we didn’t do this, he would cut off our water. Instead of informing of the problem and asking us to work with him on water conservation until he could get it fixed, he went straight to threats and aggression and dominance.
Joe called me at work, upset at how our landlord addressed the problem to him. The whole “cutting off the water if we didn’t comply” threat has finally been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for Joe. He’s put up with a lot from our landlord, but felt this was over the top aggression for no reason. It was totally unwarranted. Joe did not confront our landlord about how this was addressed, as that is a losing proposition. Joe is not a large man and our landlord is large. Both our daughter and I have been concerned about Joe’s safety should verbal unkindness turn to aggression and then be pointed at Joe, especially when I’m not home.
I spoke to our landlord when I got home. He basically told me the same thing, but with less aggression. He did, however, also tell me he would have to turn off the water if we did not comply. As of today, it’s been more than a week and the problem is not fixed and I have no idea when it will be. We are doing our best to conserve water, although not to the extremes our landlord required.
And then when I got home a couple of days ago, our landlord was waiting for me. He told me he had some good news and he had some bad news. The good news was that the water table in the septic system was down 4 inches because of our conservation efforts. The bad news was that he was telling us we had 45 days to move out.
After eight years, countless hours of helping our landlord out, in the middle of a pandemic, with my husband having a heart attack less than nine months ago, being the best tenants we could be and as helpful and friendly as we could be, with no valid reason whatsoever, we are summarily told we have to move in 45 days. And he would appreciate it if we could move out sooner.
I’ve been feeling helpless about changing things for the better for a long time. I have been struggling with feeling hopeless. For some reason, Jason’s birthday really knocked me for a loop this year and I’m just plain struggling.
I worry about the extra stress all of this is having on Joe. His after-heart attack therapy doesn’t include so much stress. He doesn’t need this. I don’t need this. All of this stress is not good for him. It could cause him to have another heart attack, I’m fear. I can’t lose my husband because of this, because of the actions this horrible man.
I’m not sure what we’re going to do. I’m not sure where we’re going to move. So much unknown. It’s time for a change. Past time for a change. We should have moved a long time ago, gotten away from this toxic man. We should have known we weren’t immune from his harshness. We just didn’t know where to go. We still don’t. We have wasted eight years here. Where is a place we can finally be at home? I don’t know. I haven’t truly felt at home since Jason died.
© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney