Journal Entry: December 18, 2008

I’m tired.

Last time I posted was December 5th. Back then, I was complaining about sleeping problems, and mentioned obliquely “drama with our Tulsa house.”

This year, we’ve paid $8,400 in mortgage payments on the Tulsa house. We have also spent that much more money repairing the house (the bulk of that going into a new air conditioner and new carpet when we were trying to sell the house). So we’re easily looking at more than $15,000 spent on that house in 2008 (although, to be fair, $5,000 of that is still sitting on a credit card, slowly piling up).

We spent a month working on the house, three months with it sitting on the market (and only 4 or 5 people ever looked at it), and then another couple months while we waited for an incompetent property manager to get it rented out. It’s been occupied since September, but we’ve only seen $475. Word is there’s another check in the mail, our portion of the November rent, but we’re not holding our breath.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, T– sent off an email to our incompetent property manager, asking why we hadn’t yet received November rent, or any messages from him. Three days later, he wrote back to say that he’d been buried under a massive list of complaints from the tenants, and listed out enough problems that he’d clearly been collecting them for a while (without informing us or, apparently, doing anything to correct them). So we learned all at once that our tenants were being abused, that we weren’t going to see any money for the month, and that once again our property manager was shirking his job and avoiding contacting us with crucial information.

T– wrote back right away, expressing her displeasure that he’d waited so long to contact us (and that only in response to her emailing him), and, at the same time, giving him consent and encouragement to get those problems resolved. We have no interest in being slumlords.

So he wrote right back the next day and said, “This is too hard. I don’t want to do it anymore.” Although he did it with significantly less punctuation and poorer spelling. And that was that, he’d quit.

He claims, at this point, to have done about $950 worth of repairs (at the tenants’ insistence, and with our approval), but we haven’t seen any receipts yet. He also owes us at least $500 which, as I’ve said, is supposably in the mail.

And he quit. Sure, he was incompetent, but it’s not exactly like we can take care of the property from OKC. T– worked her ass off researching a new guy, finding someone with impeccable references and experience this time, and getting us a contract with him in no time. He waived the usual “first and last month’s rent” fee, because that is generally used to defer the cost of advertising and running background checks on tenants, and we already have tenants — tenants who have apparently regularly paid on time, even if we’ve barely seen any of the money.

So that’s…not resolved, but probably better. Exhausting, though. That was the big stressor in my life last time I posted, and probably what was keeping me from getting enough sleep.

Then, four days later (on Tuesday the ninth), I was waiting in line to order my lunch at Taco Bueno when T– called and said, “Aaron, we’ve been robbed. I am not joking. You need to get home now. I’m calling the police. Bye.”

And that left me with a frantic thirty-minute drive home — plenty of time to imagine all the horrible things that could have been implied by T–‘s brief message (and unable to call for more information, because she’d said she was going to call the cops).

As it happened, none of the nightmare scenes in my head were necessary. The truth was exactly what I’d imagined in the first few seconds. T– had taken AB out to do some Christmas shopping around 10:30, and by the time she got home at noon the house was cleaned out. XBoxes, the 360, the Wii, two laptops, my computer and monitor, digital camera, movies and games. All light, expensive, highly portable stuff. I got home around 12:30, and a cop showed up about 15 minutes later and took down our statements.

N– was in the area, having lunch with K– who works just up the street, so she came over when she heard the news. D– showed up a little later and brought me a laptop so I could get back online and restore a little bit of my sanity. Mostly we just sat around dazed, after we’d gotten the better part of the mess cleaned up.

T– has taken it really well. We have okay insurance, but we’re probably not going to try to replace everything that was lost. Financially…I don’t know. We’ve had a couple blessings, and that’s helping with the sanity a little too, but we weren’t looking rosy beforehand, and this certainly doesn’t help.

The stuff isn’t that big a deal. It was all toys. But we lost data that can’t be recovered. I’d gone on a kick for the last year scanning in all our important family records, and throwing out the originals. I kept all of our financial accounts on spreadsheets on the laptop. T– had all her pictures for the year, and all the videos of AB she’d recorded on her camcorder on her laptop. All of that is gone, now.

It’s been a rough couple weeks. T– has done a ton of work, getting a new bank account set up, filing our report with the insurance company, taking care of AB. She’s always done most of that, but she’s doing more than usual these days. I’ve been worthless.

I really have. I go to bed at midnight or one, and don’t sleep. I wake up feeling miserable, always late, and rush to work where I spend most of the day staring dazedly at whatever project I’m working on. I’ve got a couple distractions that cheer me up some, but they’re just distractions. As soon as I turn them off, I’m right back where I started.

So…bah. I haven’t been blogging regularly this month, as I’d intended to, but it would have just been page after page of this complaining. In the end, this incident isn’t that big a deal. If it’s over, we got off easy. Still, I spend hours worrying about the possibilities for identity theft, the hassles that could come from losing our passports or tax records or titles. I think about the possibility of the bastards coming back. They say that happens sometimes — the thieves will wait three to six months, give you time to replace everything with insurance money, and then come clean you out again. What if T– is home next time?

If it’s over, we got off easy, but it still weighs on me. I wrote a poem earlier in the year about being a kid pretending to be a grown-up, hoping no one notices. Everyone I showed it to agreed with the sentiment, maybe it’s something about this generation, or just something everyone goes through during the transition from 20s to 30s. I don’t know.

But for me it’s not just that. For me, it’s being a selfish, irresponsible, starving artist-type pretending to be a husband and father. That’s not really who I am. I love T– and AB absolutely — I have no trouble doing that. But then, artist-types don’t often have trouble finding genuine emotion. I don’t come naturally to making wise investment choices, though. To balancing a budget and paying bills on time, and addressing problems early when they’re cheaper to fix, and putting in a hard day’s work. Those are things I can do, and things I work hard at doing, but it’s just that. It’s hard work.

I know people, like K–, who seem to come naturally by that. Being responsible, making good decisions, just makes sense to him. And then I know people like D– who have paid the price for bad decisions often enough that it’s just easier to make good decisions, so he does. For me, it’s all playacting. My parents raised me to know what a decent man should do, so I try to do those things, but it’s not anything inside me saying, “This is important.” It’s just a desire not to let down the people who depend on me.

It feels like treading water. Not the relaxing sort, where you don’t feel like swimming so you just sort of lay back and float. No, I mean when you get to the point where you’re far too tired to swim, too exhausted to even tread water, but you know that the only other option is to drown, so, weary as you are, you keep kicking. Every day when I go put in a day of work to pay the family’s bills, it’s a kick. It’s not a bad job — in fact, it’s a great one — but it’s not what I want to be doing. Everytime I pay down the credit card instead of adding on to my computer or upgrading to HD cable, it’s a kick to keep afloat. To keep seeming like a good guy.

It’s exhausting. And then when I think I have it in place, when I look at my budget out to next June and see that we could get the credit card and the car loan paid off, then we get a deadbeat property manager and never see any rent money. Or somebody breaks into our house and steals the budget along with all our stuff.

I don’t have the energy to deal with it. I’m tired, all the time. There is so much that needs to be done right now: paperwork for the insurance company, for the police report, paperwork for my work since I lost a government laptop, paperwork for the bank and all the credit cards that were taken. I need to rebuild our financial records, and figure out exactly where our money is going as we get these piddly checks from our property managers, and I have a little Christmas bonus check come in, but then we’re also spending big chunks here and there, trying to put our house back together. I have projects at work that need to be cleared up before the end of the year, but I just sit at my desk, eyes glazed over, too tired to even think. I go home and sit on the couch and lose myself in WoW, a distraction for a few hours. I watch the calendar and wait for Christmas, and hope I can deal with anxiety of leaving the house empty for three or four days while we’re in Wichita.

It’s…we’re not that bad off. We had some toys stolen. We’re failing to turn a profit on our summer home in Tulsa. It’s not like we’re missing meals or anything. Most of this nightmare is all of my own making, but I can’t shake it. And the people close to me are suffering because I’m no frame of mind to make good decisions, or be a decent person. That’s the worst of it.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.