When Chris and Maggie Lewis discovered that she was pregnant with their fourth child, they decided to move to his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. After spending their first years as husband and wife in the town, they moved to Michigan, but he was eager to return home, and she was happy for the help.
Their children were seven, ten, twelve, and fourteen when the problems started happening. Maggie damaged tendons in her knee while working, and was pressured to return before fully healed. The stress caused more damage, leading to a six-month medical leave. Chris continued working, but when Maggie’s medical pay ran out, the family was forced with some hard decisions.
Her employer refused to pay, unless she returned to work, and doctors warned her against it. The couple found a lawyer willing to work pro bono, and the case lingered in court.
Chris worked as a truck driver, but was home every night. To make more money, he switched to driving cross-country for a new company. Unbeknownst to him, his new employer did not have disability insurance, or any form of insurance for her employees.
The pain in his back started as a dull ache, and slowly grew to something more painful. Concerned because his wife still walked with a cast on her leg and a limp, he immediately made a doctor’s appointment. A week of bed rest, and he was back on the road, but the pain was still there. Within a month, he was back on bed rest. It continued like that for six months; Maggie not working, and Chris spending a week out of every month resting in bed. The doctor finally broke the news that he needed an operation, and that he wouldn’t be able to drive a truck anymore.
Suddenly the couple found themselves with four mouths to feed, a mortgage, and no income. Chris went to his boss, and she demanded he return to work against doctor’s orders. Instead he hired a lawyer. They now had two pending lawsuits along with an overdue mortgage. The first overdue notices were ignored, as many people tend to do.
“That lawyer said that we had a clear cut case and we’d get it settled soon. I’d have money and we wouldn’t have to worry.”
Instead the couple quickly found themselves broke, with four children and a house that was dangerously close to foreclosure. The foreclosure letters accumulated, and the couple still believed their windfall was right around the next corner. Then the next corner grew even further away.
Chris’s employer refused to make an appearance in court during the preliminary hearing, and the date was postponed several times by a judge who believed she would appear. Their debt grew, and they continued hoping.
Nearly twelve months after their initial court date, the judge found in favor of the Lewis’s. By that point the couple owed $12,000 in back mortgage payments, and at over $50,000 richer, they immediately made plans to pay off their house completely, but it was too late.
A call to the mortgage company revealed that their house had been foreclosed upon, and they had two months to move out. Their house sold at auction in May, and the subject was closed.
“Its hard,” he says gruffly. “I wanted to do some work on the place, and get it in better shape, but now we have to find somewhere else to go. The kids have friends here, and our family is here, but I think we need a fresh start.”
That fresh start might be difficult to find. Chris is now 49, Maggie 41, they are both unemployed, and while they have the money to make a large down payment on a house, they also have a foreclosure on their credit history.
They have until October 1, 2007 to make their move, but their chances of finding a place are slim. Two rental properties have turned them down due to poor credit; likewise for a potential seller with a mobile home they were interested in purchasing. The couple and their four children are preparing to move in with his parents, where all six will share two bedrooms until Maggie’s settlement comes in, or they find a place to buy.
With less than a month to go, their home is a tangled mess of boxes and packing supplies; some of their things sit in a storage lot, some in his parent’s garage. A friend stops by to pick up their cat, which they had to give away due to his mother’s allergies, and somehow Maggie remains optimistic.
“This isn’t the end, it’s just a setback. We’ll get back on our feet again. I have to believe that or I’d go crazy.” Until that day comes, they are content to dream about the future, and focus on the past.