I Guess I Can’t Avoid This Forever, Part III

So once I found a teaching position and began to get settled into it, I began talking with my family of origin and exploring resources for trying to get them all into better housing. As I described in the last post in this series, the situation they were in was not only inappropriate on a variety of levels, it was in my opinion unsafe and would certainly have made for an undignified setting for my father’s death. One option we began to explore involved a 3-bedroom house in North Richland Hills. There’s a woman who has for many years been a friend of the family. She runs a charity organization and has often used the resources of that organization to try to help the twins with school clothes and supplies or with summer camp, for example. She’s also employed my brother with painting jobs and my Dad and now one of my sisters with help putting together mail-outs  for her organization, etc. This, of course, is good and wonderfully helpful.

However, experience over the years made it clear that this benefactor’s help almost always came with some type of “string” attached- some expectation that the family would assist her with some project, etc. at a later point. She also is notoriously inconsistent. She’ll give instructions for a project for example and change them midway though, requiring half or more of the work to be redone, or she’ll promise the boys something and not always follow through, whether or not it was “intentional.” In any case, some time before my return to TX she began talking to them about renting this house from her. It had been on the market for a number of months and apparently wasn’t selling, and she wanted to rent it to them for $750/month with a $100 security deposit. They couldn’t afford it, but it was an intriguing possibility, and after I was there and finally employed I began encouraging them to think about taking the house- especially after I saw it.

It only has 3 bedrooms, and they really need at least 4 (though 5 would be even better), but the garage had been converted into a family room, meaning that this could also be used as a bedroom, albeit awkwardly. To make a long story short, then, they agreed with me that it was worth pursuing; so we did. As it turned out, I was the one to sign the lease for them (on their behalf), and with some temporary help from a benefactor of our own (since I wouldn’t see a paycheck until the end of September) we supplied the funds for my family of origin to pay the security deposit and make plans to move in. Of course, the security deposit more than doubled (there’s that inconsistency) by the time I actually paid it, but it still seemed worth it. My Dad and I agreed that he would pay $350 of their rent (what he was already paying for lot rent on the trailer), while Kirsten and I would supply the remaining $400 per month.

It took some doing, but they all finally moved in, to my great relief, and things seemed good. Predictably, perhaps, that “good” feeling lasted about a week or two, as that was all the time it took for the woman who was renting it to them to begin pressuring me to buy the house immediately. I had previously told her that Kirsten and I had every intention to try to buy it from her for them in a year, but not before then. Our credit and finances had taken a major hit from the sudden move and my going without a paycheck for so long, not to mention now being financially responsible for three dwellings- our house in Ohio that we still pay the mortgage for every month and had rented out ourselves for about half our monthly cost on it, plus our apartment here in Dallas, and now additionally more than half of the monthly cost of Dad’s rental house. This was and is a heavy burden, and though together Kirsten and I now make more money than we ever have, we also have more expenses than we ever have. Anyway, we had hoped to be able to make an offer on this house for them, but in a year, not before.

Nonetheless, suddenly the woman we rented it from was going through a contentious divorce and needed to sell the house- immediately- or at least claim she had a firm buyer. Toward that end, she pressured me on an almost daily basis to sign a purchase agreement on the house. She was willing to have the purchase agreement somehow last a year- so we could buy it when we said we had hoped to- but she wanted the agreement signed immediately with no independent appraisal, no home inspection and no mention of any negotiation about price. She was essentially dictating the price and terms of the sale and even said she couldn’t afford to lose money on it given the divorce, etc. I did my best to hold firm and set some boundaries- as respectfully as possible- but it didn’t go over all that well and soon she was threatening to sell the house out from under them and require them to move just months after they got in there- and now with no place for them to go (or go back to), as the trailer park assumed ownership of the trailer, which is another long story.

This was a source of tremendous stress and pressure for me until I was finally able to get in touch with her soon-to-be ex-husband (she had refused to supply any contact information for him despite repeated requests for it), who reassured me that they would both honor the lease for at least the year, or that if circumstances dictated that they do sell the house prior to that, he would let me know as soon as possible and provide an opportunity to buy it still at that time. There’s more that could be said here, including describing some pretty suspect behavior on the part of the landlord, but as it is now at least temporarily resolved, I’ll move on.

Meanwhile, things were not going so well on the job front. I won’t go into great detail here (and certainly won’t name the employer) for obvious reasons, but soon after starting work I found myself mired in what proved to be an untenable situation. I was part of a brand new grade level teaching staff at the school, with the previous year’s staff having either quit or been dismissed (and I suspect the latter). Not only were I and my team members new to the school, we were all brand new teachers as well. Of course, the reason why a brand new teaching team was needed had a lot to do with behavior issues in those grade levels that we were to teach, but even more to do with their scores on the state test, which apparently were just low enough that they kept the school overall from being in the highest reporting category according to the state (in compliance with No Child Left Behind). I came to learn later that there were a lot of issues the previous year, which is perhaps obvious due to the staff turnover (fully a third of the previous year’s students were gone too for those grade levels). In any case, and again without sharing too many details, a mere three weeks into my teaching career I was yanked from my classroom in the middle of a lesson and told that I was no longer a classroom teacher. Apparently, I had “failed” to “handle my class” appropriately (in regard to discipline), and so was removed from my regular teaching duties and eventually reassigned to tutor students on a pull-out basis at another campus.

I was, of course, devastated. I know behavior change takes time, but I wasn’t afforded the time to teach new behaviors in this case. Ironically, the person they replaced me with, after having been given more than twice as long as I was, was likewise recently yanked out of that classroom, no doubt for similar reasons. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not glad for this, but I do take some small comfort in the knowledge that perhaps it wasn’t my “failure” after all- especially as a brand new teacher. Nonetheless, the manner in which all this went down for me- and the incredible systemic and administrative issues that contributed to my situation- was very, very hard to take. To be sure, in fact, I am still struggling with the implications of it all today. Thankfully, I’m still employed as a “teacher,” which is a good thing considering all the people that are relying on my income (along with Kirsten’s) just to keep a roof over their head. Nonetheless, I have no idea if this year will “count” for my permanent teacher certification, and I can’t help but wonder if despite the poor handling and lack of support and all the other problems- in spite of all of that- what if they’re right? What if I’m not meant to teach, after all?

Just for kicks, then, while my family of origin in their new rental house was under threat of being evicted just after having moved in, as my father was all the while still slowly dying of cancer, and just after undergoing all the above noted stress and uncertainty in my new job, I suddenly developed a rather large kidney stone and had to deal with trying to pass it. I did, thank God, and have a picture if you’d like to see it, but I’m guessing you won’t take me up on that. I got good medical attention and am very glad for that, but I still missed a week of work with it before it finally passed, which only exacerbated my sense of job and overall insecurity. Finally, as all of the above was taking place my brother went in for kidney transplant surgery and stayed with us for a short while afterward. This was a great blessing, as we had previously agreed that I would give him one of my kidneys next summer. It turned out that he didn’t need it as a perfect match became available a week after he went on the transplant list, which was something of a miracle. As I said, this was a very, very good thing, but naturally caused some stress too.

In any case, as I’ve articulated often of late, despite everything I’ve been through in my life- including the death of my mom and Kirsten’s dad within a day of each other- this combination of simultaneous stressors is probably the worst I’ve ever faced, and the growing depression I feel mired in at the moment is due in no small part to all this. The other huge contributor to this depression, though, has everything to do with my faith (or lack thereof, depending on your point of view). I’ve been writing some about this already, and will continue to do so. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “I Guess I Can’t Avoid This Forever, Part III

  1. Your first year(s) of teaching naturally will lead you to increased depression even if it is a successful experience. 🙂 What an onslaught of manure you’re dealing with. Is there no one in your family of O with boot straps besides you? It is just insane that a houseful of adults (your dying father excepted) can not manage to scrimp together more money. (I know…generational poverty….mental illness? Abuse? There is something going on there that I don’t know about). You and your wife are flipping saints. Your family and this crappy job are going to be your own personal India for a bit here.


  2. Well put, Jamie. I’ve thought often about Mother Teresa’s charge to “find your own Calcutta,” and I’ve long yearned to do just that. At one point not long ago after getting back here, I said that I thought I had indeed finally done so, meaning I agree with you, for good or ill. Now, if I can only handle it with as much love, dedication, grace, and impact as Mother Teresa. I doubt it, but we shall see…


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