A daddy left a mama because he had to move to another state for a job because he couldn't find a job here. Things happen. Daddy's gone. Mama's stuck with the house and the bills. Mama and the kid are moving out in a few weeks, giving the house back to the bank because she's out of options. She's hanging on desperately to her car because she needs it to get to her job.
This is a middle/working class subdivision just like thousands of others. There's a carved wood sign trumpeting the name at the entrance. In better times, there were probably flowers planted by the sign. Now there are a few leggy shrubs. Reminders of the glory of the 1990s.
If the people who populate these homes were reaching too far, it's hard to see. I suppose they should have remained satisfied with their trailers, tiny tract houses and rentals while their wages were being suppressed and they were encouraged to vote against their own economic interests. Their mistake was believing the hype that this was the ownership society and they would be fools for not buying these houses. That was going to be their best investment. The American Dream was theirs if they just signed on the dotted line. That mortgage broker skulking out the door with his sly grin? Pay no attention. Just don't try to call him when your ARM loan balloons and you need a new loan in a crashing economy. He made his money up front. He's done with you.
I don't believe our neighbors were craven social climbers. They just wanted something a little nice. It's not the really nice subdivision with the clubhouses, pools and tennis courts and the huge houses with the wrap around porches or the numbered phases that perfectly illustrate how houses evolved between the mid-nineties and the housing bust.
The kids who live in our subdivision love to be invited to their friends' houses over there in the nicer subdivision. It's good for them to see what they can aspire to if they escape the winding deadends and occasionally shabby split-levels of this modest neighborhood. Funny - when I was growing up in a brick ranch, I would have thought these split-levels were the height of sophistication. The house I grew up didn't have a Master Suite. I didn't know a soul with a garden tub.
But standards have changed. The definition of necessity has shifted. Our kids know this. Most of these kids have never known anything else. And those who have to settle for the second and third rate stuff are keenly aware of what they're missing. They can't escape that knowledge. They see it every day held in the hands of their friends, emblazoned across logo bearing chests, screaming at them from the television, billboards and just about anywhere else you look.
And even so, they are hardly deprived. There is, sadly, some gut-wrenching poverty in this county, but the kids in this subdivision don't see it. Not much anyway.
So these kids who have spent most of their lives as part of the donor class - they proudly carried their unwrapped gifts to drop into the Toys for Tots barrels - now they're becoming part of the recipient class and their parents are trying to figure out how to tell them without having to tell them. We want them to figure it out and just deal with it. Their parents aren't high flyers, haven't made the smart career choices with the fat paychecks, have been less than careful with every penny maybe, haven't been given a leg up through family connections. They should feel lucky for what they do have, damn it.
When you go from being able to give to maybe having to receive, there's an acceptance gap. It takes you awhile to accept the fact that you're going to have to take some charity. Even as you become painfully aware that this isn't a financial blip, but a real trend, you can't see yourself going to the food pantry. You go to the grocery store. You use coupons and buy less meat. You don't buy as much produce and fresh foods and you look for long expiration dates. At the check out, you contribute the extra dollar for some charity because you've always done so before. It's a reflex. Later, you look at your bank statement and wonder how you're going to make your car payment next month while keeping the utilities paid up and the house payment current.
You beat yourself up because what constitutes a necessary utility has changed and you want to do everything to help your kids keep up - schools expect them to have computers and cellphones and to use technology to stay on top of the ever-growing expectations for learning when they're not in the classroom. Pay the phone and wireless bill? What can you defer until next month? You can't do without water, gas, electric. You can do without cable, but that means you do without any TV because the idea of free TV is basically a thing of the past out here in the sticks. No one has an antenna anymore. No TV? Fine. If you can keep the internet service, who needs it anyway?
Preemptively, you tell the kids you may have to use the computers at the library if you can't pay the internet bill and they understand. Some of their friends have learned to sign up for the computer - you get one hour - and while they wait their turn, hang out in front of the general store next door. But you have to watch for changing library hours. Noted.
And then one night, the neighborhood kids, form an information chain, a modern day game of telephone. Mama's car is hidden as best as possible. The lights are off in the house. The porch light is dark. One kid at the front end of the subdivision lets the others know when the tow truck appears. It chugs around the bend and goes to the end of the street and turns around in the cul-de-sac. Text messages track their movements. The tow truck idles outside the wrong house. Everyone waits.
Another mother sits inside her own split-level in the same subdivision, chews the inside of her cheek and remembers what it was like to hand the keys over to the repo man. She was prepared. She needed the relief of not paying that car payment, but it wasn't her only means of transportation. She and her husband could commute together, albeit inconveniently, until her job disappeared.
Never in her life did she think she'd be dealing with things like repossession and foreclosure, but there they are on her list of experiences. Life is full of surprises.
She aches for this other mother who is doing everything she can to hang on, to do what she can to make things work. Who wants to pay her bills, but simply can't. How can anyone think that people are enjoying this in any way? That people who always paid their bills before have somehow decided that living with the stress of collectors' phone calls and the constant threat that something is going to be shut off or taken away is so much better than just getting a job and going to work everyday.
Just get a job! She wishes.
Meanwhile a low rumble comes from outside. The neighborhood watches as the tow truck driver makes a call on his cellphone......