Meet “Landon”

He was startled awake by the silence. Spider-Man was over; he always fell asleep before the end. In the creepy sliver of light peeking through the curtains, he knew things didn’t look like they should. And it smelled funny, like when his Grandma left his Paw Patrol tee-shirt in the washing machine too long. His bed made a big squeaky noise when he sat up and he knew that he wasn’t in his bedroom. Panic and fear took over and then his thoughts. Scary thoughts that had no place in the head of a four year old. But they stayed there. Like Nick , the mean kid next door who never seemed to know when to go home.

The bed next to him was empty, the covers bunched into a ball on the floor. His Mom was there before, watching Spider-Man with him. But really she was just playing on her phone. His eyes scanned the room, landing in the corner where the light creeped from under the bathroom door. Untangling from the covers, his little feet hit the floor just as a slamming door outside shook the room. Then voices, loud and laughing, passed by the window, making shadows on the wall as they stumbled into the night. He ran to the window and climbed onto the metal humming box; his Mom said it would make the room cool. Peeking through the curtain, he saw the voices, still loud and laughing, getting into a car. His tummy felt wavy and then calmed a little as he realized his Mom wasn’t one of them. He ran to the bathroom door, peered through the crack. His mom spent a lot of time in the bathroom; he probably should have looked there first. He knew better than to bug her by knocking, but if he could just see that she was in there, then maybe he wouldn’t feel so much like crying. His tummy did the twirly thing again; he could see his clothes were still on the floor and now so were the sweatpants his mom was wearing earlier. Gently, he pushed the door open, knowing he’d be scolded for disturbing her. But he was wrong.

He hated crying and being a sissy, but sometimes being brave was extra hard, especially in a weird place like this. The room at the motel was old and tiny. And now he knew that his mom was nowhere in it.

She was more like his sister, really. Landon was born when she was 21 and still trying to find her way in the world. As a child, she struggled to feel okay, never really measuring up to what other people felt was normal. At 18, her vulnerability didn’t go unnoticed by Landon’s father. She was captivated by his rough good looks and bad-boy attitude. He treated her like an adult, introduced her to adult things. Nothing else mattered when they were together, not even Landon. Living with her parents made it easy for her to come and go; to put off parenting until she was ready. She knew that Landon didn’t really mind; but then again, he had never known anything different.

He climbed back onto the box by the window and pulled the curtains open. There was no one out there now, just the eery yellow lights that tried to brighten the parking lot. The road out front was dark; he couldn’t even see the plastic play house that excited him when the man dropped them off at the motel. 45 minutes was a long car ride, and his legs felt like they needed to run. But his mom was in a hurry and promised he could play there tomorrow. Now he didn’t even want to. He just wanted to go home. He wanted his Grandma. And his cat.

Thoughts of his Grandma made the wavy feeling move from his tummy to his chest and into his throat. Grandma never got angry when he went looking for her at home. Most of the time he didn’t even have to. When he couldn’t sleep, he could call her name and she’d appear almost before her name left his lips. She would curl up in his bed sometimes and stroke his hair, singing quietly in her sweet, soft voice until he drifted off to sleep. Even her smell- like cookie dough and coffee- was comforting. Grandma made him feel safe. The wave left his throat and turned into a noise he didn’t recognize, scaring him even more before he realized it was his. He was crying now, giant heavy sobs that made his tiny body shake. He didn’t care if he was a sissy; he knew this was bad. Even at four, he knew that he had never been all alone, and certainly not in a creepy, smelly place like this.

He took a few deep breaths and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his pajamas. He had to find his Grandma.

Because he was certain that she’d never be able to find him.

Kurt & the “Mother Lover”

“So my life has abruptly changed; my fiance’ is pregnant.”

A few weeks before I received his 30 second (as opposed to 30 day) notice of intent to move out, Kurt had been just a bit…off. Up until that point, he had been considerate, respectful and helpful, rarely complaining about anything. When he did have an issue, it was valid and reasonable and he approached it almost apologetically, usually with a lighthearted wit. I often found him to be entertaining. About six weeks before he moved out, a few hints crept out that the easy-going, even tempered, working man who basically kept to himself, perhaps had a little side of mean and nasty. It was just enough to give me pause, but really nothing concerning. I chalked it up to a bad day and forgot about it. But looking back…

“This asshole has me blocked in and he and his mother lover are not here.??” — text from Kurt

The owner of the blue van was another tenant, a young (and very spoiled) college student whose mother spent an odd amount of time at Roselawn, looking out for her adult son. Both Mother and Son had been complaining about Kurt, accusing him of stealing food and several other issues that were nearly impossible to prove. They had apparently left the van behind Kurt’s car and then left in another vehicle; a completely unreasonable and passive-aggressive thing to do. I certainly understood Kurt’s frustration, but the way he presented it was completely out of character for the Kurt I knew. I immediately called him just to be sure he wasn’t in the midst of slashing tires.

I absolutely (big word) never lie to tenants. So before contacting Blue Van Tenant, I asked Kurt if he had somewhere to be. “I’m going out to lunch,” he said. A valid reason to request driveway egress, I thought, as I called Blue Van Tenant. His indignant response to Kurt’s plight: “He probably just needs to go get beer.”

I specifically recall feeling a bit protective of Kurt. He just did not strike me as a drinker. Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking.

At 2:00 in the afternoon.

In the middle of the week.

Unless you, yourself have an alcohol abuse issue that you’re working very hard to ignore. And because we drunks like to stick together, I decided that Blue Van Tenant was making it all up.

The driveway blocking incident was the last in a very long line of straws for Blue Van Tenant and his “mother lover”. The conversation that ensued regarding their disrespect for fellow tenants, as well as for their Landlords, resulted in a formal request for them to vacate the premises. They were gone the following month; Kurt remained.

Mark one down for the Drunk Team.

Meet “Bryn”

She was uncomfortably pregnant, resting her left hand on her belly, chain smoking with her right

She had a large presence; her strong voice could fill a room even at a whisper. She was rough on the surface with large features and a metal stud on either side of her lower lip. Her hair was long, thick and wavy, tossed into a sloppy pony-tail with shocks of natural brown peeking through years of layered box color. Tattoos were plentiful yet not overwhelming and not exactly tasteful. Most were names, some from her past, a few giving nod to current relationships; “Landon” above her heart and “Kurt” encircling her left ring finger. She had scars on her arms. Her face was puffy and her legs were swollen. She wore an oversized black tee-shirt, black leggings and black Addidas sandals that cut into her feet. She was uncomfortably pregnant, resting her left hand on her belly, chain smoking with her right.

Her demeanor was childish, much like a teenager still believing the world revolved around her. She was the star of the show, chattering details of her pregnancy between drags from her Traffic cigarettes. Her baby was due in six weeks, on June 6 and she was having a little girl. She had been “sick” throughout the pregnancy and her blood pressure was elevated, the baby would probably arrive early. And yet she beamed with pride.

She spent most of her time with Kurt at the house on Roselawn, in the small rented room meant for only one person. That was a hard and fast “Landlord Rule” and probably the reason I’d heard so little about her. But they were beginning to disrupt the other tenants; their arguments were getting out of hand, food was coming up missing and they were asking to borrow money on a regular basis. Through conversations with an annoyed tenant, I learned she used to be a heroin addict, was somewhere in her mid-twenties, lived with her parents and had a son who was in elementary school.

Nothing about her fit with clean cut Kurt with the squeaky clean background, who was pinching pennies in a rented room while on the straight and narrow path back to middle class living. Nothing about her impressed me.

Everyone has a story.

Meet “Kurt”

I first met Kurt when he rented a room from us in Akron. For $260 a month he got an 8 x 10 room with a bed, a chair and a storage bin in a house shared with four strangers. Right on the bus line in what once was called the Rubber Capital of the World.

His application showed he was an Uber driver, his emergency contact was a cousin. He had lived in Vegas for several years, at one point becoming successful selling real estate. He was friendly and well spoken on the phone, and his background was spotless. I wondered about his story.

He came to collect his keys wearing the same smile I heard over the phone. He was neatly dressed with dark hair and deep brown eyes and a long slender nose; Slovakian with a slightly receding hairline. Small and thin in stature, built much like a wrestler. He was not stunning to look at; and yet, something about him was quite charming. For six months he was a model tenant.

Then he moved out without notice and sent me a text: “So my life has abruptly changed; my fiance’ is pregnant.”

And yet, something about him was quite charming.