I generally try to be a positive person. This is something that I have worked hard on over the last couple of years with special thanks to my husband. He developed a nickname for me in the early months of our relationship: Negative Nancy. He used to laugh as he’d call me it, brushing off whatever pessimism I had just thrown at him to prompt him to call me that, but it began to sink in that he was onto something; my outlook on life was often negative and I spent a lot of time and energy worrying about the worst case scenario. At that time in my life I had inadvertently developed this as a survival tactic which had grown to become second nature until I slowly realized in a telephone conversation with Chris one day that it was my only nature. After years at an incredibly high-pressure, high stakes job, living on my own in a foreign country thousands of miles from my family I had developed coping mechanisms and the most prominent of these was my ability to find ANYTHING that could go wrong in ANY situation and exert every ounce of energy on preparing for that. It served me well in a number of instances but, without me being aware of it it had consumed me and become the very focus of every thought – even when I was spending those long nights on the phone with Chris daydreaming about our future.
After that, I made more a conscious effort to be more positive and not give way to negative thoughts. By the time I learned of my pregnancy I had a real moment to myself where I realized that anxiety was consuming me. It had put my marriage in jeopardy a number of times, it had hugely affected my job performance, my ability to sleep, and I had developed severe cystic acne. So when I found out I was pregnant I knew it was time to really change for the sake of my unborn son growing inside of me who depended on me the be the healthiest version of myself – physically and mentally.
When I was 8 months pregnant with Junior I had been offered a new job in Nashville, TN and, with the ever-reliable support of my husband, I had accepted and we were preparing for a big move. We sold the house within 2 days of me accepting the job and were renting it back from the new owner for a couple of weeks until we finalized the paperwork on our new house in Nashville.
Then disaster struck.
After I had already left my job of 5 years so that I could have a little down time before the baby came and the new job started. About 5 days before we were due to close on the new house in Nashville I received a letter from USCIS (the immigration authority here) to tell me that they would not allow me to transfer my visa from my old job to my new one because I was married to a US citizen. As a result they were revoking my work permit, so not only would I lose my new job in Nashville before I had even started, but I would also not be able to take my old job back, or any other job for that matter.
It’s a long and boring story but essentially the moral is that by simply marrying my husband I had violated the terms of my visa. While I had applied for a green card and would be eligible for one, there is a crack in the system which doesn’t allow you to change jobs while you’re in the midst of your 1 year wait for a green card. It’s a nonsensical crack in the system, one which I took a hard fall through.
So at 8 months pregnant I had nowhere to live, no job, and, because of the way the American healthcare system operates, I was due to lose my employer-sponsored health insurance 1 week before Junior was due to make an appearance. Now on 1 income, we couldn’t afford to take on the $800/month premiums, it would bankrupt us.
To say I was “stressed” doesn’t cut it. My husband can testify to the fact that prior to this happening I was already dangling on the edge of a nervous breakdown by a very fine thread. But I had a beautiful baby boy growing inside me, the love of a wonderful husband, and the echo of that nickname bouncing around my head; “negative Nancy”. So I took a deep breath as I held that letter in my hand. I felt my son bouncing around in my belly the way he did when I sat still and I thought of my husband and how hard he had worked over the last couple of years to build a life for me that would ease my stress, and I said “it’s going to be okay”.
And it was.
Junior was delivered by C-section 1 week early, just 2 days before my health insurance lapsed. The owner of our house was kind enough to see that we were in real trouble and allowed us to stay for another couple of months while we found a house to rent, and Chris worked round the clock to supplement my lost income. It was not easy but we weathered that storm together and were stronger because of it. It also taught me a valuable lesson in not focussing on the chaos that rips your life apart but rather focussing on your fortune. My fortune was a beautiful, healthy baby boy, and a husband that loves me fiercely. You can’t put a price on that. Everything else is just padding.
18 months later when we decided to embark on our adventure, partly because we were still recovering from the emotional and financial trauma of this disaster and we thought that this new plan would help us to do so.
So, as you’ve probably read from my previous posts, we landed on our feet and were off to a running start. The clouds of the previous trials and tribulations seemed to suddenly clear; the sun shone a little brighter, the air tasted a little sweeter, and the future seemed brighter than ever.
What I had yet to learn was that this moment of calm was indeed just that; the eye of the storm that had not quite finished raging.
After a couple of weeks of hosting we had a trip to the Memphis area of Tennessee planned for my brother-in-law’s wedding. We planned to stay about a week to give us time to visit family and friends and really enjoy the trip instead of a brief fly-by like trips of the past. As always, our plans to get up early and leave at the crack of dawn were unsuccessful after a late start and a grave underestimation of how much crap we had to load into Old Jessie (that’s the name of our rig). By nightfall we had finally loaded up and were on the road headed West toward the sunset.
Because of our late start we decided to stop for a pause before Atlanta rather than trying to fight through the gruesome rush hour traffic. After a stroll around the Walmart parking lot and stocking up on supplies we headed back on the road at Junior’s bedtime so that he would sleep through the whole drive.
After about 5 hours on the road we were only halfway to Memphis. We stopped just outside Birmingham, AL to get gas, stretch our legs, and shake our weary bodies awake. Chris ran into the store to pick up some cigarettes and snacks while I sat on the curb outside smoking a cigarette. I was admiring Old Jessie and glancing at the tires and windows making sure everything seemed okay when my gaze lifted and my heart sank.
I must be seeing things. I’m tired. It’s dark. That’s not real.
I stood up and walked closer. My jaw dropped and my stomach began turning. As I looked up to the top of our rig I saw that something – probably road debris – had hit us. The metal at the top of the front panel had peeled back and the rubber roofing of our rig was ripping off. This was big. This is not a duct tape sort of job, this is a potentially life-ending injury for Old Jessie.
Life in an RV is definitely simpler, until you realize that that RV is your home and one little piece of road debris can turn your whole world upside down.
Chris came out of the store and saw my face. “What?” He asked before slowly turning to follow my gaze. I saw the same heart-sinking look take over his face. A string of profanities followed which, for the sake of decency, I shan’t repeat here. But I’m sure you can imagine.
He turned back to me and we both smiled and hugged each other tightly. It was horrifying, but we both immediately had the same thought: we have each other, we are all ok, this will be ok.
15 hours that journey took. We stopped repeatedly at Walmarts across Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee to buy flex tape (an expensive and larger version of duct tape) to prevent the high winds of the interstate speeds from doing further damage, and to rest. At one point we pulled over on the interstate to swap so I could drive and Chris could rest. That turned out to be my first ever time driving with a trailer and it was at 5am after almost 24 hours of no sleep and a wrecked 30ft rig behind me on treacherous Mississippi roads. By 6:30am we were close but it became a battle against not just sleep deprivation, but rain.
That’s right, RAIN. That evil lurking force, the enemy of all RVers everywhere, especially those with a wrecked rig. Because why wouldn’t there be a huge storm coming towards us at the exact moment that we were incredibly vulnerable to such weather? The tiredness was overwhelming now as we left the interstate and traveled the last few miles on the back roads, the huge black storm clouds looming overhead threatening to undo us at any moment. Our eyelids were so heavy that it was physically painful to keep them open. Dangerous as it was to keep going, we couldn’t stop as everything we owned was in the trailer behind us and would certainly be ruined by the looming torrential downpour.
At around 7am we finally made it to Chris’ parents house. As we pulled into the driveway the baby woke up and was ready to rock and roll. We dragged our tired bodies from the truck and lurched to life frantically trying to set the trailer level, put the jacks down, unhook the truck and get a tarp over the roof. The storm was nipping at our heels now and lightning flashes spurred us on over and over as we hurried through our work. With moments to spare we secured the tarp over the front of Jessie and the storm erupted over us dumping gallons by the second.
I’d like to say at this point we breathed a sigh of relief and got some much needed rest. But there was no relief and there was no rest. We had a 1 year old who had slept for the last 15 hours and was ready to unleash his pent up energy, and we had a few days to figure out what we were going to do about Old Jessie.
I spent the morning on the phone with the insurance company finding out what could be done. They told me they’d have to send an appraiser out to look at it and take pictures. In my exhaustion and absence of sanity I told the insurance agent that “it might just be that the seal was old and gave way”. Chris’ head dropped and began shaking. I hadn’t assessed the damage myself but for standing in that dark street in Alabama at 10pm. I didn’t know what I was talking about, but I knew even less about how that would trigger the insurance agent to say “if the seal is bad then it’s not covered”. Though I thought it wasn’t possible, my heart sank even lower. Now they would want us to take our home into a repair shop to have professionals assess the damage which would delay the claim even more.
Then she tells me that even if it is covered it would likely be write-off as the cost of a new roof would exceed the value of the camper itself.
We were stuck 500 miles from our home in Georgia and our house had half a roof and may have to be put down like a sick dog.
We spent the next couple of days weighing our options while we waited to hear from the insurance company. We considered waiting to see if they would fix it but after the rain let up and we got a good look at it we realized that was not going to happen. A new roof would be the only way forward with Old Jessie and insurance wasn’t going to pay for it and neither were we. So we set off to go and look at RV lots to find a replacement home with no money and severely dampened spirits.
After a couple of days of driving around with a cranky 1 year old we found Patsy. She was a brand new rig – a 2019 Keystone Passport 2820 with a Super Slide and an outdoor kitchen. Here’s a link to a virtual tour of her: https://www.keystonerv.com/travel-trailers/passport/floorplans/2820bh-gt-travel-trailer/ She was perfect – or as perfect as we were going to get with our limited resources. Best of all she came with a 10 year roof warranty – something we both fell immediately in love with.
With gritted teeth we begrudgingly signed the paperwork and agreed to the finance terms that would leave us with another monthly payment. While we knew we could afford it, it was disheartening to take on another $22,000 of debt when the very reason for this whole undertaking was to ease our financial burdens. But we had no choice, so we made the best of it.
There was a whole mess of dealing with the shop that was supposed to send the damage assessment to the insurance company and we are still dealing with it now. We made it back to Georgia after another long 13 hour drive and sadly we barely got to see any family because buying Patsy and moving everything from Old Jessie to Patsy took up the rest of our trip.
We are still waiting to hear from the insurance company and we are less than hopeful about recovering anything from this disaster. With careful budgeting and planning it will probably take us about 3 years to pay off Patsy and that puts a devastating dent in our plan to be debt-free in 2 years.
There are silver linings in life to EVERY dark cloud, I’m a firm believer of that. There are lessons to be learned from every heart break, I’m also a firm believer of that. Some silver linings from this debacle are already clear; we have a new rig with more space, warranties, and more modern conveniences. Perhaps the lesson was that one should never embark on such a journey without more financial security. Perhaps it’s that I should never, ever be the one to speak with an insurance company. Perhaps it’s that Alabama roads are horrific and should be avoided at all costs. Who knows?
As time goes on I’m sure things will become clearer. We will pick up the pieces and rebuild again and come through this storm stronger, happier, and more prepared for whatever the future holds.
I know one thing is certain at this point, and that is that we will not be attempting a trip to Tennessee anytime soon – at least until we have some money saved up and a LOT of duct tape.