The lease had expired. She hadn’t paid rent in months, yet she continued to run a day care out of our home in Chicago, so she was making money. She claimed she would leave, but didn’t. She became my nemesis: The Squatter.
Four years ago, we left Chicago to come to California and were unable to sell our house. Renting was our best option. We had great tenants for a couple of years, and then they moved out in late fall. The Soon to be Squatter was the only applicant in the dead of a February in Chicago, after months of paying rent and mortgage. After two years of unsure ups and downs during which we felt like we had done the right thing, we were stuck. Suddenly, this reluctant landlord (a.k.a. me) was forced to enter the legal labyrinth of eviction.
The rest of the backstory is long and, now, irrelevant. What seems to matter now is that I clench my jaw so hard while I sleep that I’ve cracked a tooth. I blame The Squatter. Our savings are gone. I blame The Squatter. I’ve lost my faith. I don’t know who to blame. I only know when the worst of it started.
My anxiety level spiked as we realized she wasn’t going anywhere without intervention. I ran through all of our options: my South Side cousins and uncles, a picture of our two-year old daughter eating dry Ramen, a trained squirrel with a match taped to its back, etc. Our only legal path was eviction. In my experience, any time someone official (the police, firefighters, postal works—anyone in uniform) has to get involved, it adds another layer of anxiety to everything. That, and we had run out of money. Paying our own rent and the mortgage on the house had tapped our savings completely, so now there was a different level of desperation.
In July we flew home for a court appearance ($300 for the appearance, $700 for the flights home, please). A futile court appearance, because the sheriff had been unable to serve her the summons (he arrives in a marked car, knocks on the door, and if she doesn’t answer, he leaves. Done and done. $66, please).
While in Chicago, we went over to the house to assess what repairs might be necessary and just to poke around. I held my daughter as we approached, not trusting that I wouldn’t lose my shit. As we walked in, The Squatter, who is a devout fundamentalist Christian, was speaking in tongues with a friend, as if we were demons she was trying to banish. I held it together until she came down into the basement while we were looking at some holes she had put in the walls. I don’t remember everything but I know that I didn’t swear but, as she retreated up the stairs away from my crazy mother voice, I yelled, “Do you know the Commandments? Thou shalt not steal!!!” My friend then escorted me out of the house.
When we learned our next court date was a week after we returned to California, we decided to put a lawyer’s fee on credit instead of flying back ($740, please). In the meantime, a special process server (a Shady O’Grady) was stalking The Squatter in order to serve her the papers in a bunch of flowers, or some such nonsense ($85, please).
Finally, within a frantic week, we learned that she had been served, but the case might get thrown out because of a crossed out section on one document. That would mean we would have to start all over again.
Around this time, I left a message for The Squatter that started in my mother’s voice and ended in pathetic tears. I am sure she deleted it as soon as she saw the number, but venting my anger at the proper target was helpful and kept me from doing equally crazy shit to someone in Starbucks.
On August 1st, we learned that we had won the case and a money judgment, although ever seeing that money is entirely unlikely. It may only take until November for the sheriff to actually remove her. Three more months. No. Big. Deal.
I’m sure more time and reflection are in order before I really try and make any sense of all of this, but what I do know right now is that it fucked my shit up. I don’t consider myself naïve, and have intermingled with the criminal element before, but we tried to be human with The Squatter. We gave her chances for redemption all along the way—not blind chances, but chances with boundaries built in. We wanted to be fair. What I learned it that it’s not worth it to be fair because nothing about what happened has been fair, except for the ultimate outcome, which only ensures that she will, one day, get out. We’ll never get our money back. The rage that I have been trying to release from my body is just hanging out, playing solitaire inside of me. When I try to excise it, it gives me the finger and rolls over into depression. I feel violated. I feel robbed. I look at the hypocrisy of her version of Christianity and want to punch a cherub. I mean, tongues? Really? You’ll lie and steal, but…oh, you know how it goes. None of it’s news or shocking or even that bad, in the end—no one is sick or hurt. I think there’s been something about all of this injustice that tapped a wellspring of old sludge inside of me to make all my feelings about it disproportionate and huge.
But my faith…it’s hiding. Before this, I believed in things. Now, none of it feels quite right. I got unmoored somehow and am floating along on gray water. There aren’t sharks, but there’s no sun either, and no land in sight. My old faith would tell me there’ll be something to learn from this. I’ve been broken open for a purpose that I may not understand for awhile. The agonized agnostic me just looks around and shrugs. Maybe. Or maybe her shit just got all over me and now I have to wash it off. Maybe there’s no purpose. It’s just a mess that we have to slowly clean up. I don’t know.
All I know is that, along with The Squatter, I want to evict these feelings of unease and anger /depression. I want my house back. I want my life back. I want myself back.