This is the first time in my life I’ve ever had a landlord.
If you live in an urban area, paying rent is inevitable. But around here in the rural Shenandoah Valley, renters are looked upon with skepticism. If you are 50 years old and still renting, you are looked upon with downright suspicion.
Attempting to find a home to rent was merely the first humiliation of the many to come, having had our two homes foreclosed on and forced into bankruptcy. Whoever thinks such a path is, as I’ve come to hear, “the easy way out” has never traveled this way. Dirtman and I are finding that declaring bankruptcy is a lot like having a building fall down around you. Just when you think it’s over and you can begin climbing out, another beam knocks you on the head so you are now not only right back where you were, but you’re even more injured than you were before.
I don’t share this as an attempt to garner sympathy. I don’t call myself a “victim” of foreclosure or the housing bubble burst. We made some really bad decisions and are paying the price. I only offer this as an insight, just in case you might think we’re getting away with something. If we were, I’m pretty sure we’d be feeling a whole lot better than this.
For instance, we knew we couldn’t be too fussy about where we moved to. We couldn’t use an agency since agencies check credit scores. So we had to go private, relying on newspaper ads, bulletin boards or just driving around.
In short, the two-bedroom rambler was our only option, short of moving in with relatives. We were honest with the owner and admitted we’d just lost our homes in foreclosure and were in a particular hurry. He was nonplussed and said he figured we were the type of people he’d end up renting to. But, he said, he needed that rent money on time every month (emphasis his). I cringed a little. This was my first encounter with distrust.
Being shown a rental house is very different from being shown a home for sale. Basically, we were given the list of prohibitions attached to each room. He didn’t want a lot of holes in the walls, the owner said after informing me the walls had to stay white. No pulling out the bank of peonies on the side of the house, he said. I wouldn’t have anyway. The peonies were beautiful but, still, a part of me rankled at being told what I could and couldn’t do in the place I lived.
No loud parties, no barking dogs, guests for only up to two weeks at a time. All of these are part of my lifestyle anyway, but someone else telling me I can’t makes my stomach lurch.
It’s a nice little house, I have to admit. And our landlord, who is also our neighbor, by some accident of good fortune (lately we’ve taken to calling any good things that happen “accidents”), are nice, tolerant, friendly and very understanding of our predicament.
But we are still “renters” in a neighborhood of homeowners. There was no hearty “welcome to the neighborhood.” I introduced myself to a couple across the street from us. They were reluctant to offer me their names, even though I was there holding my Goodwill Ambassador, my Parson Russell Terrier Salt. They had a large black Labrador Retriever named Pepper. They stared back blankly when I chuckled at the irony. There was no attempt at making conversation.
And why should they? I had a good 20 years on both of them and here I was without the means to own my own home. They, on the other hand, had their whole lives ahead of them and they were already better off than this loser chick and her mangy dog. I knew how I looked in their eyes, assumed the appropriate humility and slunk back to my rental unit.
Still I plug on, trying to retrieve my dignity from the shambles. I weeded out the front flower bed to plant some annuals. I scrub down the stove, ridding it of years of accumulated grease. I wave to everyone whether or not they wave to me – me, the terrified introvert forced out of her comfort zone by a stereotype.
And I cut a few of the peonies and put them in a vase by my desk.