To Live or To Mold

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

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I Am Not Ashamed

From victim to survivor.
Sure I’ll speak your language.
Since you refuse to learn mine.
I was sold by my mother.
Wait that’s not what you want to hear.
My pimp was the woman whose body grew mine.
Whose body God knit together my soul in.
I was sold for sex as a child.
Wait…
I was a victim of sex trafficking.
Because then you can have that layer of denial
Of cognitive dissonance
You don’t have to hear the words come out of my mouth
The words that would strobe graphic pictures in your head are too much
You don’t want to know what really happens
You can’t believe it would happen in your city
It happens in your city
No matter how big or how small
Do you have a gas station?
It happens in your city
Do you have a hotel?
It happens in your city
Do you have internet?
It happens in your city
I was a victim of sex trafficking. Trafficked in my home town. By my parents. By a national gang. I saw too much death way too young. I was born on drugs, literally, my mother had meth in her system when she gave birth. And Throughout my life she would shoot me up. Regularly. I live in pain every day, because of a pattern of things in my life that were there when I got here. I wish I could tell you it happened for only a year or two and then I was rescued. But that is not my story. My story is not a story of rescue. This is where sugar coating or speaking your language doesn’t really cut it. People bought me for years. As a child. This was all I knew. This was my normal. I knew it wasn’t normal, but it’s what I was conditioned to do. When I ran away. I was lucky in some ways. And not in others. I’ve been followed. I’ve been raped. I’ve been kidnapped. I’ve been beaten and shot up. I’ve been stocked. I’ve been ran over. And I’ve run away. I’ve sold myself. And for a long time felt a lot of shame about this. But you know what. I’m done with that. I was a sex worker. I was forcibly sold. And then I sold myself. I refuse to continue to wear the shame our society puts on the consensual selling and buying of sex. I refuse to allow the anti-trafficking movement to make me less of a trafficking survivor, because I later made the choice to sell my own body as others had done to/for me, for my entire life. One does not negate the other. I am a trafficking survivor. I was sold forcefully. I am a former sex worker. I sold myself, consensually. I am more than either of those things though. Life, my life, is worth more than any of those words. Those things are part of who I am. I am also a wife. I am a friend. I am a parent. I am a sister. I am a coworker. I am a neighbor. I am a writer. I am a student. I could go on, but you get the point. Being a trafficking survivor doesn’t define me. It is a big part of my life though, as an advocate (such a problematic word), for trafficking survivors, sex workers, DV survivors and many more. As Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well; I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”

I am Autistic

I am autistic.

I am sometimes unnecessarily dramatic

But it will always be because I am passionate about that thing/person/topic

I do not throw fits

Or tantrums

I have meltdowns

Sensory overload

I am autistic.

Sometimes I need a break

I sometimes don’t realize it

But am extremely non-empathetic

And other times

I feel all of your pain or joy or anger

I always take in all the senses around me

I am autistic.

The buzzing fly

The humming computer monitor

All the traffic sounds

I am autistic.

The grating sound of your nails scratching your skin

The air being suctioned in and out of your nostrils

I am autistic.

The taste of all the colors

And the taste of all the words as I read them

I am autistic

The smell of trees

And people

And food

And cigarettes

I am autistic

All the things to touch

All the textures

Chairs – some hard, some soft, some rough, and some flexible

Door knobs

Clothing

Shoes

Food

I am autistic.

Not to mention all the things “normal” people sense

Alarming sounds

Food being cooked in the vicinity

The pain they are in

Physical and or emotional

I am autistic.

I hold down a full time job

And I have associates degree

I am autistic.

I have a family

And I am working on my bachelor’s degree

I am autistic.

I eat food

I drink alcohol sometimes

I like to go to movies

I am autistic.

Sometimes I have bad days

And I need all the sense to calm the fuck down

I am autistic.

I live life

One day at a time

Just like you

I am autistic.

~Sarah

The Journey of Love

All my life I’ve had trouble dreaming of my future, which probably seems weird for anyone who knows me because I am very strong willed, sometimes to the point of stubborn, and I have such huge goals. The struggle I had was where I saw myself in my personal life, relationships, kids, home-life, etc. It’s always been something that seemed to change and be at odds with each other.

I knew from a very young age that I was gay, I was 5 when I remember my preference for women becoming something I struggled with. As a very young child, preschool and kindergarten to be exact, my grandfather and father would tease me about boys; asking me if I kissed them behind school or on the bus, or if I thought they were cute. When I would show embarrassment they didn’t understand that I was embarrassed because I felt like it was wrong to like girls in the way they were asking me about boys. They saw my embarrassment as, ‘cute,’ as a reinforcement that I did in fact like boys. – With the religious background that my fathers side of the family has, there was no way I was ever going to admit that I was gay, not to them at least. I remember times where my grandfather and father would talk, “homosexuality is of the devil. You will go straight to hell if you even think about being gay.” They thought of it as a decision….

There was a time in my life when I wanted to live in downtown Manhattan. I wanted to be a writer and have a white and silver, all glass, sky rise apartment with my cats. I didn’t want anyone in my life.


There was a time in my life when I wanted to be a lawyer, live in a big house with a big family. I wanted to somehow be superwoman and also be a stay at home mom with my kids, go to the gym every morning, and have a partner…and that is where it stopped. That part would never form, because I had this impeding thought that I was suppose to marry a hard working man, be a stay at home soccer mom, barefoot in the kitchen 9 months pregnant cooking dinner for him. Driving a minivan, running errands all day while the kids are in school, having the house clean when daddy got home.

…As if who we fall in love with is a decision we consciously make for ourselves.

And then I decided to really listen to myself…And everything changed. Literally my entire life did a 180. I started taking note of all of the things that have ever held me back. There is a saying, “Garbage in. Garbage out.” What we take in matters. – As a child I didn’t realize all that I was taking in, to many negative things to list. I was allowing the negative and horrible things that were said and done to me my entire life, to continue to ruin my life and my future. I was allowing my past to hold me back.

In the midst of this realization…Lauren walked into my life. I had only begun this journey, of undoing all of the negative and rebuilding my life from the ground up. She helped me find direction, I was wandering around a little lost and she came alongside me in the most amazing ways. She was my friend, when I needed it most. She is the woman I love. – I am starting to get a picture of what our life together is and will be, it’s so beautiful and amazing. I cannot describe the hope and peace and love and confidence I feel on a daily basis. Yes, there are days where life sucks, but I have my best friend and the love of my life by my side. I wasn’t ready for this change in life when it started, but it has been the greatest journey that I have ever been offered.