When The Closest Thing To Home Was A Hospital Bed
In 2014, Charlotte Wheelock and her husband, Nick Hodges, were hoping to find a new start. Struggling to raise their two young children, they left their home in Albuquerque, N.M., and struck out for Seattle to find better jobs.
But before they could get established there, Nick was hospitalized with spinal stenosis — a condition that left him temporarily paralyzed below the waist. Soon, they found themselves without a place to live.
"I remember sleeping in the car while you're in the emergency room," Wheelock tells Hodges, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "The kids passed out in the back seat. We slept in the car outside, we slept in a parking garage."
"I felt totally guilty," Hodges answers, "because I had a roof over my head, I was getting three meals a day, and I knew that you guys were out there struggling."
Wheelock recalls that, in those days, the two of them wouldn't discuss her situation. She says she didn't want to burden Hodges, who had his own struggle to deal with inside the hospital.
When Wheelock and their kids came to visit, Hodges felt a wave of relief — and not just because he got to see his family again. It was also because he knew that, if only for the next few hours, they would be safe with him at the hospital. During those visits, while Hodges got a chance to watch the kids, Wheelock says she would dip away to the bathroom to cry.
"It's a very thin line to walk when you're trying to be normal for your kids but inside your head you're scared to death," Hodges says.
It was only after Hodges was released from the hospital that things began to turn around. Wheelock recalls it was around that time that they discovered an apartment complex in the Seattle area for low-income people. Rent was set at 30 percent of family income. And out of 10 spaces available, Wheelock says, they managed to get one.
"It was just like so many doubts and worries just gone within a few seconds of hearing, 'Come get your keys,' " Hodges says.
They got the keys to their apartment on New Year's Eve one year ago. They moved their stuff in, shut the door behind them, locked it and kicked their shoes off. And it felt like home.
"At that point, we were homeless for 14 months, and I had almost forgotten what it's like to have our own place," Wheelock says. "I'm just so ready to start making plans, and I'm so glad that we get to do it together."
These days, Wheelock works for a homeless shelter in Seattle — where her family once stayed themselves.
"I want to thank you," Hodges says, "for being strong and working so hard for all of us, so we could be whole again."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall and Eve Claxton.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
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