As many of you know in July I had a series of strokes which was the first domino in a series of ugly events. My strokes left me unable to work and while I have used this as an opportunity for going back to school it has left us with only one income. School has been great for me and I have done really well in my classes with the best GPA I have ever had. I am even looking into grad school which is something I only dreamed of doing previously and now it is becoming a real option. At the end of September we not only moved to a first floor apartment but downsized as well. The move was doctor’s orders but also we were down to one income so a cheaper apartment would allow us to allocate that savings elsewhere in our budget. It also allowed me to have an easier time leaving the house as I didn’t have to navigate the stairs with less than one eyeballs vision and a cane.
From the moment we moved into the new apartment though, all three of us had been sick. We honestly didn’t think much of it due to the stress of my health issues and then the move. We know stress can cause illness. Then my wife got a horrendous rash from head to toe, which we initially thought was due to our recent switch from liquid fabric softener to dryer sheets. After a voluntary trip to the after hours doctor with a steroid and anti-itch medication prescription in hand, we went home. The rash decreased to a somewhat manageable level for a couple weeks until Thanksgiving break hit. When it flared up again it was much worse. Bad enough for my wife, who HATES doctors, to wake me to go to the emergency room at midnight on a work night. Upon arrival at the ER and speaking with the doctor, we were asked if we had been exposed to meth or mold as the rash looked like a chemical burn. This sent us on a hunt for the problem, convinced at this point it was our apartment that was the culprit for her rash. We dove into Google looking for some answers and we found them alright. We found more than we would have liked to find. Our apartment was either a previous meth lab or infested with toxic mold. I’ll save all the gruesome details of at home testing and the going back and forth with the apartments and sum it up with our apartment is infested with toxic mold.
We tried for 2 weeks to get our apartments to do mold testing with a certified mold inspector before they went in and did any kind of cleaning. They refused. So we called lawyers who were no help as they don’t take mold cases in Texas any longer if you live in apartments. Several did tell me however to watch out because it’s common in Austin for apartments to go in and ‘treat’ and then do the testing so they can say it’s negative. Great. We called the Health Department and low and behold they do not take these complaints any longer and referred us to the Austin Tenants Council. Yes you read that right…the Health Department does NOT take toxic contamination cases any longer. They did warn us through that if we take anything out of the apartment and contaminate another place we are then at risk of being sued for contamination. This is awesome news! The Austin Tenants Council told us we had to have 25 square feet of CONSECUTIVE VISIBLE mold for them to step in and help. An apartment doesn’t have a wall that is 25 feet! Similar to the Health Department, they warned us about not taking anything out of the house either do to the risk of being sued for potential contamination and for our own health as you cant clean toxic mold. Mycotoxins are terrifying for the record. We called an independent mold inspector, the best in Austin, and they quoted me a very decent price to come out and inspect so we were going to hire them ourselves. That was until they got the address from me and then I was told, “Oh we don’t work with your apartments, they don’t do what they’re supposed to do. You are not the only people who’ve called us to come take a look. Also, it is against your lease to have an independent contractor come out it all has to go through your corporate office.” This is when we knew we had to get out of there.
We lived in that apartment for two months to the day. It only took two months for us to lose LITERALLY everything we own. Books, photos, clothes, furniture, family heirlooms, dishes. Everything. We had to walk away completely. Luckily my wife has family who has opened their doors to us in this time of need. We have had some amazing people from the shelter we adopted Charlie from come around us and help with some things like a bed big enough for Charlie, some dog food, and some clothes for us. We have found this wonderful room to rent to help us get back on our feet, it just so happens that the man has a dog who Charlie was instant friends with which will be a good transition for Charlie. We had to break our lease to get away from the toxic environment that was going to continue to make us sick and could easily kill me with my autoimmune conditions which will follow us for a while but it is worth it if it means our health and lives will not be continually at risk.
This has been a super overwhelming time. Everything has suffered. Our physical health. Our mental health. The health of our dog. At a time when we are getting hit again and again by life, we are also surrounded with support and things just happening to work out at the right time. It is extraordinarily difficult to walk away from everything you own. A lifetime of everything you have built. Furniture handed down from family. Things you bought with your first paychecks for yourself that you love. A home built lovingly piece by piece; blankets, artwork, photographs, kitchen needs,book by book and walk away from everything. From yearbooks and family photographs. From odds and ends that mean nothing to anyone but you. A strange little Knick knack given to you by a dead relative. Souvenirs of traveling. The flowers from your wedding. Crystal glassware from your grandmother. A odd little wooden pig given to you by an old friend at a hard time in your life. Years and years and years of collecting hundreds of books. Gone. In an instant. Then dealing with all the people around you second guessing your decision, telling you that you are wrong, that you are overreacting. When you are doing NOTHING of the sort. It was an agonizing decision made out of nothing but sheer desperation and need. A decision that could LITERALLY be the difference between life and death. It is absolutely the most difficult decision we have made in our married life. It isn’t easy. It wasn’t made lightly. To realize how little people actually know you if they think you could make this decision without a second thought or a care. To be anything but calm.
To live the tragedy over and over and over again as you remember little things that you’ll never see again. Things linked to memories sometimes forgotten that you get to smile at and remember events long past that bring you joy. A funny little keychain from Mexico that goes with a story of a funny event that you never think about until you see that keychain. A book you read on a road trip that brings back memories of your family. A picture of a time forgotten except in that photo. All of those big little things are gone.
How do you grieve such a huge loss all at the same time? Honestly, a fire would be easier. A fire would destroy everything the same way but a few things would be different. One, insurance would cover it. Two, you wouldn’t have to make a decision to walk away, that decision would be made. Three, people would actually understand your grief and not blame you for it. Four, no one would question your pain. You would just get to feel it. I wish it had been a fire. Instead….mold has stolen a part of us that we will never get back.
As someone who comes from trafficking the way I have…it stings even more to once again not have control over my life. To have things like this just happen to you is even worse because it is triggering on so many levels. To walk away from everything into the unknown. But I’ve done it once. I know I can do it again. With my wife at my side, I have faith that everything will work out. That we will recover from this. That I will survive as I always have, like the Phoenix. I am born from the ashes again and I will rise.
~Sarah, Co-Authored by my wife