My Family, Foreclosed
At this time three years ago, the nation’s housing crisis set off waves of despair around the holiday season. That’s when KJZZ’s Peter O’Dowd first met the White family from Glendale. The Whites were grappling with job loss, foreclosure, and the threat of bankruptcy. The family crisis hit young Makele White especially hard. When we tried to interview her, she refused, and ran upstairs in tears. Now, as a young adult -- and with the pain of the housing market slowly easing -- Makele found the courage to tell her story. It begins our three-part series that we’re calling "Recovery."
MILO WHITE (music): She’s slipping away.
MAKELE WHITE: My dad wrote this song for me when I was 16. But each time he played it, I refused to listen. Why did my dad write me such an emotional song, and why didn’t I ever listen? I guess I blame it all on the economy. My dad’s a project manager in the steel construction business. When I was a kid, growing up in Glendale, Arizona, his job was going really well. But back then nobody saw a recession coming. So when it hit, in 2008, my dad lost his job. I was a freshman in high school. My dad looked everywhere for a job in Arizona, but ended up taking one in Utah. My parents decided to live apart for 18 months so my older brother could graduate. Maybe it was because I was a teenager, or maybe it was because my parents had started fighting more, but I felt myself losing respect for them. So I told myself I really didn’t really care when my dad moved to Utah. One time I visited him and his apartment was kind of empty: just a blow-up mattress, a chair, and his guitars. And it seemed like he wasn’t even a part of the family anymore. Meanwhile, my dad’s company in Utah was closing. We couldn’t believe it. But he found job in Oregon and moved up there to begin. But what seemed super unreal was the day we got news that our house was being foreclosed on.
LIN WHITE: The hardest part, I have to say, about losing the home was that we tried so hard.
MAKELE WHITE: This is my mom.
LIN WHITE: Just at the drop of a hat, we would leave and let the house be shown.
MILO WHITE: We really did not expect the market to be so bad for so long. And we brought three short sales. They were supposed to be considering those and extending foreclosure of the home. So one morning, when out of the blue, we got the message that they were foreclosing that morning at 10 o’clock, and we had ten minutes to try to do something, we didn’t even get to someone at Fannie Mae that we could talk to that period.
MAKELE WHITE: So that was when it hit me: I had to move. In Oregon, I was stuck in a small town with no friends. It was summer and my mom did all she could to occupy my time -- but spending a lot of time with your mom isn’t exactly your idea of a good time when you’re 16. And what was even harder was learning to live with my dad again. I had changed in the two years while he was away, and I refused to let him back in.
MAKELE WHITE (ON TAPE): Did the fact that I was on and off five different depression meds worry you at all?
MILO WHITE: Yeah.
LIN WHITE: Absolutely.
MILO WHITE: We were very worried.
MAKELE WHITE: I had never been on medication like antidepressants before. I thought they would help put control back into my life, but something wasn’t working. My doctor, worried about suicide, was switching medications every three to four weeks. I almost stopped talking to my parents completely.
MILO WHITE: We had these dots to connect, and the dots... there was so much space between the dots.
MAKELE WHITE: Even though we lived in the same house, they started sending me emails to try to communicate with me. Like, Here’s an email my dad sent me: “If you learn nothing else from me, please learn that you are responsible for your own happiness. Happiness is an internal peace that comes from knowing that you have done your best in spite of the outcome.” I rarely responded. Things were bad. My parents knew it and I knew it. But I didn’t think that happiness was something I could control. They seemed like they were the ones who had taken it away from me. If they didn’t like it, I thought, they should just send me back to Arizona.
LIN WHITE: I felt like I had never been more distant from you in our entire life. As much as I did not want to let you go, I was afraid that I was going to lose you if we stayed, and I wasn’t willing to take that chance.
MAKELE WHITE: So one day my parents told me, I could move: to Tucson, Arizona, where my brothers were attending college. I thought all along that as soon as I got back to Arizona, my depression would go away. And I quickly realized that just being in Arizona wasn’t going to solve the problems I had developed in the past two years. On my own, I had to discover something that my father had been telling me all along: I needed to control my own life. It’s curious to think that the economy was the thing that caused my family to lose so much control. We lost three jobs and one house. I made six moves and attended three high schools. All in just two years. And still, after all my family had been through, the hardest thing of all, was losing the time we had together and our connection to each other. Everyday I remind myself that only I am capable of removing the sadness that life brings. And that I need to find happiness rather than waiting around for it.
MILO WHITE: Before you spread your wings and fly away, remember this: I’ve loved you from the start.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Makele White produced this story through City High Radio, a youth radio program at City High School in Tucson, Ariz. She won the Arizona Interscholastic Press Association's top honor for Multimedia Feature for this project.