I ventured to the supermarket with my husband, 3 year old, and 1 year old, and we ran into some friends of ours with children the same age. After some small talk, they confided in us that they had put their last two mortgage payments on credit cards. "We both have perfect credit, but I haven't worked since April." They laughed giddily, nervously about it, but I couldn't help but notice they looked a bit more haggered than usual, brave smiles topping their stress like whipped cream on dirty dishes. "No but seriously, we can't go on like this more than two more months. Somethings gotta give." They were happy that their lender was still in business, thanks to a federal bailout. But what about them?
We all bought our homes in Los Angeles at about the same time - 2005 - in less than upscale neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods are known as "in transition", which means there are still some gang shootings and domestic murders, but there are also educated, fashionable people who don't carry firearms, and there are plenty of nearby mommy and me classes. Homes are not easy to come by in Los Angeles, and we bought into a big bubble where we could. Perhaps it's living in neighborhoods that are "in transition" that gives us permission to be brave, honest, and unpretentious with one another.
At a birthday party recently, as our small children played, my circle of friends admitted one by one the extent to which we are each under water, upside down, maxed out, and in some cases unemployed. One friend, mortgaged by Countrywide, laughed at the fact that when they bought their home, they were both unemployed and she was 9 months pregnant. Their broker forged employment documents, lied about income, and told them this was how it's done. They managed to find employment eventually and keep the ball rolling, with the help of home equity credit and loans, but not ever saving a single penny. Countrywide has been unwilling to help modify their ARM unless they default on their loan. ruining their credit rating.
My circle of friends used to be all about playdates, preschool, and family barbecues. Now our conversations inevitably turn to facts of survival: Chapter 13 bankruptcy, employment possibilities, foreclosed friends, how to make your lender listen. We don't have a federal bailout plan for our families, but we do have each other. Sharing information, ideas, what's worked and what hasn't, breaks us out of our personal American nightmares and reveals a light at the end of the tunnel.