This is a guest post by Dawn Arrington, who lives with her husband and children on E. 111th Street in the Buckeye neighborhood. She works at ideastream, where she is program coordinator for education. She expects to complete her MA in English & Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University in September.
Ours is a simple and rather traditional story.
Boy meets girl. Girl thinks boy handsome. Boy and girl date, get married, buy a home, have children and a couple pets.
Simple. At least that is what we had hoped would be our existence.
I remember the day we picked out our kitchen cabinets. They weren’t builder basic so we were going to have to pay an upgrade fee. That was OK. We had room in our budget. When we first discussed purchasing a home the conversation kept looping back to “Can we really do this?” It was 2001 and Mike and I were still in the honeymoon phase of marriage but we had been living together since 1999.
I wanted a home in an urban neighborhood, similar to the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood where I grew up. Big lots, front porches but with a mix of young urban professionals. At the time we were renting an apartment a stone’s throw from Shaker Square so I wanted the amenities of “up and coming”. I thought Buckeye was that area.
He wanted Cleveland Heights or Euclid. Safe, clean, high taxes but good schools and, did I mention, safe.
I won. We moved into our home on E. 111th Street south of Buckeye just before Christmas 2003. Our neighbors to our rear brought us a plate of cookies to say welcome. I gave them a sweet potato pie.
Things were good. We had two cats and a dog. We shoveled the driveway regularly and cut the grass and I pulled weeds in the front and dreamed of the day I would learn gardening skills and create an urban oasis in my back yard.
May 23rd, 2008: Our lives changed. Our foster daughter, whom we had had since she was a few weeks old, was being reunited with her birth family. It was a sad day and no matter what anyone tells you, fostering children is a hard and often heartbreaking ordeal. I stayed home with my family because it was the last day that I had with her.
Then my phone rings and my boss is on the other end of the phone telling me to not bother coming in. He was sorry, I had been laid off. Rapidly and seemingly without succession, our time since has been a dance of stubbornness and testimony, joy and pain.
December 2010: After two years unemployed, I'm back at work at the Urban League, marveling at my holiday card from President Obama and the first family. My phone rang and my cousin, my emergency contact, tells me I need to get home, the house had been burglarized. The bar that was next door to our home had closed and so no daytime patrons were around. The burglars cut all of our screens on our windows, took one of our laptops and all of my jewelry.
I’ll spare you the details, but there have been several break-ins since then.
Two years later, I was out of work again. No job, no money and now two small children to feed - we weren’t sure what to do. We thought about walking away from our mortgage, you wouldn’t believe how close we were to actually just walking away. Our marriage suffered, my health took some serious blows.
Easter Sunday 2013: Our garage was broken into. Lawn mower, leaf blower, weed whacker all gone. We went to church defeated and done. We were going to move to Atlanta with my brother-in-law and start over. There had to be a better way.
Two days later, we returned home from our respective temp jobs to a freshly mown lawn. It wasn’t super pretty but still - the lawn was cut for us. Our neighbor to our rear, the same ones who greeted us 10 years prior with cookies, had heard about our situation and walked around the corner and cut our grass.
We made our final decision to stay after that. They remained true neighbors, they helped us in our time of need. They didn't give up on us and we owed it to them, and ourselves, to remain good stewards over that relationship. Besides, Atlanta wasn't home - we were home.
We hired a lawyer, former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, to help us save our home from foreclosure. We also started a Food and Amenities exchange, inviting neighbors to exchange goods and services on our front porch on the last Saturday of each month. I'm finally working full time again, after spending a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA for Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.
When we first moved in we thought being a good neighbor was taking care of your yard and picking up after yourself, and for sure those are a part of it. Although I must say we are doing a poor and terrible job of maintaining our area. I think it’s going to take some emotional and actual financial investment for us to bring the same level of enthusiasm we had when we first moved in. Although I have begun to dream of that urban oasis again.
I think we will get there, eventually.
One tiny win at a time. We will get there.