You would think a decision to leave your home, and all of your belongings would require some planning. Some forethought. I woke up the morning of October 4, 2008, with no intention of leaving. By 8:45 that night I walked out knowing we would never be back.
Toxic Mold and the Decision to Vacate
Chris was in Chicago. I was keeping up just fine with Pippen’s shots, Colin’s shots, chauffeuring the kids, etc. In the midst of the juggling, I had an e-mail exchange with Dr. Jack Thrasher, a leading toxicologist in the field of toxic mold.
A friend from the internet, Darlene, a mold victim herself, suggested I send him our story. He responded immediately. “Let me repeat what you’ve already been told. Those levels of mold are very serious. Call me tomorrow.”
I called him first thing Saturday morning. October 4th. He didn’t tell us to leave. He explained the contamination process. The fact that 50% of all indoor mold hides behind walls. The fact that dead spores still emit toxins. The fact that Stachybotrys is extremely dangerous. The fact that exposure like ours doesn’t “just go away.” He asked if we were still having symptoms. I explained that my tongue was black. Colin’s rashes were back. Our dog was terribly sick.
Ten times in the course of the hour-long conversation he said, “This is very serious.” Ten times at least. I’m glad he repeated the phrase. I didn’t hear it the first nine times.
Dr. Thrasher wanted to bring in a colleague of his, Dr. Michael Gray. He said he would arrange a conference call later in the day. I called Chris in Chicago. I had strong feeling we needed to leave the house. “We’ll do whatever it takes,” he said.
It was a nice day in Colorado. I gathered the troops and loaded up bicycles and took them to the Santa Fe Trail. I was preoccupied. Until my conversation with Dr. Thrasher I only had my gut instinct that the medical issues were connected with the mold. Now I had an expert in the field not only acknowledging a connection but suggesting we could be at risk by staying in the home.
Dr. Thrasher called back and set the conference call for 10:00 the next morning. Chris would be back by then, and we could sort through the situation together.
As the day progressed, I felt increasingly uneasy. A deep anxiety. I think I ordered pizza for dinner, but I’m not sure. I only recall a friend asking Kaitlyn to sleep over. Sounded good to me. I was having a difficult time focusing. After dropping her, I called a friend of Reagan’s and asked if he could sleep over. Maybe I could think clearly with fewer children in the house. I didn’t realize it, but I was preparing our departure. Kristen was eagerly getting ready for her first homecoming dance with her best friend. I suggested she sleep over at Brandi’s. Ryan agreed to call his best friend and spend the night. I was left with Colin and Brandon.
Our oldest daughter, Erin, called. (Our other two daughters had apartments nearby.) I told her about the conversation with the toxicologist.
“You need to leave,” she said.
She and I had walked the day before. She had seen my black tongue, my rash, and I was limping from the joint pain. “Dad’s not here, and we have the conference call tomorrow,” I argued.
“Please,” she pleaded. And then she started to cry. “The Titanic looked fine.”
I called Jennifer, the only person I knew who could keep both Colin and Brandon. With Colin’s diabetes and Brandon’s tornado-like disposition I knew she could handle it. I dropped them off and drove back alone with a heightened sense that we were leaving for good.
I called my friend Sara who found me wandering the street, my camera dangling from my hand. I needed to go across the street to take homecoming pictures at the home of our neighbors who would soon shelter us.
I can’t recall how many pictures we took, but Sara and I found ourselves back at the house and, for the final time, we sat in our kitchen. Ryan was packing. He brought his beloved guitar and asked if he could take it.
Chris’ plane touched down in Denver. He called immediately and listed some reasons why it would be better to wait. It was a remarkably calm conversation. I listened, and he listened. He had an hour’s drive to process.
Chris pulled in the driveway at 8:45 p.m. Sara left for Walmart to buy us a set of clothes.
He knew, and I knew we were leaving. In the end, it was so easy. A simple walk across the street.
His suitcase, filled with his new suit, dress shirts, dress shoes, and gifts is still in the garage.