Life Lessons: Live in a Hell-Hole Once in Your Life

When I was in my third year of university, my two best friends, my boyfriend (who would become my husband) and I decided to move into a small house together. It wasn’t the greatest financial decision (at the time we were all living at home with our parents, rent-free, having our meals cooked for us and our clothes and sheets washed for us), but we were young and headstrong and thought it would be a wonderful thing to be out on our own. We learned a great deal from that experience, both good lessons and bad ones. We learned that dealing with finances is difficult, that living with others can be both awesome and painfully frustrating, and that there are a lot of things (cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc) that you just don’t grasp until you have to do them all the time.

And then there are the other lessons you learn by making this kind of leap…lessons like how sometimes the world is just sitting back and laughing at you.

The house that my friends and I moved into tried it’s best to warn us off, you see.

"So...I found something under here...and, well, I don't think you're going to like it."
“So…I found something under here…and, well, I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

The house in question happened to be owned by one of the aforementioned friends’ aunt. She lived on the other side of the country and a had a friend look after the residence for her. In retrospect, the fact that our prospective landlady lived thousands of miles away probably should have been our first warning sign, but the place was cheap (which, yeah…probably should have been the second warning sign). Even bypassing those first two signs, it’s truly amazing that we agreed to take the place after having taken a walk through in it. The day the assistant-landlord let us in to look around was the first day he himself had set foot in it since the previous tenant had gone…a tenant who, as it turned out, was a drug addict. The story went that her family had shown up and essentially kidnapped her and her nine-year-old daughter, shipping the tenant off to rehab and thus leaving the house empty. Empty, in this case, is a subjective term. The tenant’s stuff, for the most part, was gone, but the house was certainly not empty by any stretch of the imagination. Every room was filled – and I mean filled – with bags of trash. The sink was filled to overflowing with dishes and, since the heat had been off for several weeks, they were literally frozen into a giant hunk of ceramic and water. There were pizza boxes strewn about and stains on the floors. The daughter’s bedroom walls were covered in crayon – every last inch. There wasn’t a curtain in the whole building. The place, to put it lightly, was a wreck.

Somehow we got past our shock, agreed to help assistant-landlord clean the place up, and took it. Young people are ridiculously stupid sometimes.

As if we hadn’t gotten enough subtle hints already, on the day we cleaned up the house to get read to move in we noticed something that we definitely should have noticed a hell of a lot sooner: there was no stove in the kitchen. The place where the stove should have been was simply empty. Confused and confident that the drug-addict’s family wouldn’t have bothered to take a large appliance with them when they left, we began to search the house. It didn’t take long, since it wasn’t a large place. We located the stove, inexplicably, sitting in the basement. Not only did this bewilder us (had the previous tenant simply never cooked? And if so, still…why bother putting the stove in the basement), but we soon found ourselves wondering how it had gotten down there in the first place. You see, the basement stairs were so narrow, that the boys literally couldn’t put their hands around it while trying to drag it back up. They had to lift it entirely from the bottom, taking it one step at a time. As a side note to this part of the story, I must mention that this particular moment became a favorite story of my husband’s to use to torment our male friend. The reason? Hubby, who was on the bottom end of this particular lift, made it about halfway up the stairs before screaming at our male friend to “get the hell out of the way and let Tracey do it!” Sorry, male friend, but we’ll never let you live that one down. 🙂

So okay. Let’s reiterate: by this point we had been warned off by the absence of the landlady, the state of the place and the story of it’s previous tenant, and the fact that we had to extricate one of the major appliances from unfinished, dirt-floor basement, which logically should have never been down there in the first place. And it was at this point that we actually moved in.

From there on it seemed like an endless slew of tricks that the house was playing on us to try and scare us away. There were “little” things, like how we kept blowing fuses and the fuses in this particular house were of an ancient design so we had to call the assistant landlord to come replace them each time, or how it turned out that there wasn’t even the tiniest bit of insulation in any of the walls of the house, so we went through heating oil like water, and on days when it got warm out it feel like the ninth circle of hell in there. But those were pains gained by an ignorance of reality…someone else may have thought to look at these kinds of things before they moved in. These things we dealt with because we hadn’t known to wonder about them before hand. No, the real “tricks” were the weird, creepy, and disgusting ones.

For instance, I brought two cats into the house with me, and they kept pawing at the heating duct in my friends’ room. Not too strange, because cats do tend to be odd sometimes. It wasn’t until my friends’ had kept their bedroom door closed for some time that we realized what the cats were interested in, when a little white snout started poking through the grate. Yeah, it turned out that the dirt-floor basement that I mentioned earlier had quite a large number of white mice living in it.

Later, we found the only thing worse than live mice in our house, when one of my cats started pawing anxiously at a small bump in one of the carpets. Hoping against hope that it was just a poor carpeting job that had left the lump, we peeled back that section of carpet to find a rather enormous dead mouse. Pleasant. Quite pleasant.

But the particular story that we’ve told time and again is the one that reminded us very firmly just exactly who had been living in this house prior to us. You see, from the day we moved in our toilet didn’t quite seem to flush right. It would flush, it just seemed to be a bit sluggish and would occasionally clog for seemingly no reason. So one day, when he finally got thoroughly fed up with the toilet, male friend decided to plunge the ever-living hell out of it. Several minutes of hard work later out popped…a spoon. And not just any spoon. This spoon was enormous. It was one step away from being considered a ladle. And it had been flushed down our toilet.

There are probably more tales to tell about this particular house, but I think you get the point. What is really sad about this is that when hubby and I eventually went our own way and got a different apartment, it was no better…it may have actually been worse. It was an old basement apartment with ceilings that were only about 5-1/2 feet high, a closet that was so disgusting we literally taped it up with packing tape and never entered again, a kitchen ceiling that would occasionally dip and “rain” if the upstairs tenants ran their bath water too long, and rats…yes, rats. Though we didn’t actually find out about the rats until I moved away for my job, leaving hubby alone in the apartment while he finished college. Seems that the rats knew the second that the cats moved out of the house.

The reason I’m telling you about this is because living in these places served a purpose. I came to form a strong conviction about something because of these experiences, and that is that it is my personal opinion that every young adult should experience living in some level of squalor and near-poverty. I’m not saying that we should throw the college generation out onto the streets or anything, but there are a great number of life lessons that I feel can only be learned by struggling to make ends meet, and seeing that sometimes you have to deal with some pretty awful things in order to get ahead. Living in these types of places gave me a great appreciation for what I wanted in life and what was important. Designer clothes, for instance, don’t seem nearly as important if you’re choosing between having them and living in an apartment that’s not infested with rats.

This is a pretty simple lesson that I don’t believe enough young people learn. Too many of the kids I went to college with came out of the experience with an inflated sense of self-importance and a genuine belief that the world was going to bend to their needs. They expected their parents to keep paying for their crap and doing their chores, even after they were supposed to “officially” be adults. They spent half of their student loan money on toys for themselves (one girl bought a goddamn car) and then baulked at the idea of having to actually pay that money back. They seriously expected that the moment they graduated, work would be waiting for them with a big, shiny sign that said, “Over here! Pick me!” They truly believed that when they moved out of their parents’ house or the dorm that they’d been living in while at school, that they would all get to move into beautiful three-bedroom houses with finished basements and a goddamn pool in the backyard.

What I’m getting at is that kids these days (haha, look at me, talking like I’m so very old) have a terrible world view of what things are going to be like when they’re out on their own. They expect to receive everything they want in life by sheer virtue of wanting it, and when that doesn’t work out they turn around and fall thousands of dollars into debt in their pursuits (or, in some cases, throw their pushover parents into debt on their behalf). The reason that kids turn out this way is multifaceted (don’t get me started on not keeping score in sporting events because it “hurts the feelings of the kids who don’t win”), but one contributing factor, in my opinion, is that most of these kids never experience what it’s like to live in a hell-hole and eat Kraft Dinner ten times a week, and because they’ve had it so good their who lives, the idea of having anything less than that is absolutely abhorrent and unacceptable. It’s an attitude that truly frustrates me in many of the young people I see around me. I think that loads of young people would benefit significantly by being cut off from their parents’ money for a year, having anything resembling a credit card or loan taken away, and being forced to actually live on what they earn and deal with whatever results because of that.

Believe me, ladies and gents: never did I appreciate the little things in life more than when I got far away from the two places described above and started earning enough to buy decent food again. 😉

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