law, mental health, musings, narcissists, psychology

The great awning collapse of 2017…

Good morning everybody. It’s August 30th, which means that summer 2023 really is on its way out…

Here in Germany, it actually feels like summer is ending. I can’t say that it’s a given that cooler weather routinely arrives in Germany at the end of August. I do remember coming to live here in mid September in 2007 and needing to buy a jacket, because it was already chilly.

But ten years later, three years into our second Stuttgart area stint, I remember it being super hot on August 30th. It was so hot that I decided to unroll the ugly orange awning that covered our patio. I was told by the landlords, when we moved into the house in 2014, that this was one way to keep the house somewhat cooler during the summer months. I’d never had an awning in any other house I’d lived in, but our next door neighbor also had one and used it all the time during the scorching summer of 2017.

On August 30, 2017, the awning was 17 years old, and had recently needed to be repaired. Our former landlady sent her very handy husband to fix it, and it appeared that he had succeeded. Ex landlady wrote in an email that her husband had “fixed” the awning, but it was old, and they weren’t sure how long the repair would last. It was blazing hot outside, and I wanted to allow for air flow in the downstairs. So, instead of lowering the Rolladens, I unrolled the awning to block the sun. Some time later, there was a stiff breeze, and the damned thing collapsed with a resounding thud. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed when it fell.

I’ve already written extensively about what happened after the awning fell on August 30, 2017. Our former landlady went on the warpath. First, she wanted to know if we had liability insurance, something that most Germans have as a matter of course. Most Americans don’t carry it, and I think she was counting on us not to have it. But, thanks to Max, our former dog sitter, who strongly advised us to have German insurance, we did have both liability insurance and pet liability insurance policies.

I think ex landlady was disappointed, because she no doubt saw this event as an opportunity to get us to buy her a brand new awning, rather than settle for the low settlement from our insurance company. I’m sure she also realized that by taking a settlement, she would not be able to ask for anything else related to the awning without having to deal with the insurance company. She couldn’t easily manipulate them, like she thought she could manipulate Bill. But again, I don’t think she expected us to be insured. When ex landlady demanded the insurance, she also limited her ability to negotiate a better deal on the collapsed awning.

Frankly, I don’t think we should have even had to give her our the insurance information. Nothing I did caused the awning to need repair; it was simply old and ready for retirement. She sent her husband to fix it, rather than hiring an actual technician. It was part of the house and, naturally, I assumed I was allowed to use it. She never said not to… and I don’t control the wind.

I’m pretty sure it really burned her up that we were wise enough to get insurance. It likely especially annoyed her that we also had German legal insurance. When we moved out and she tried to cover the cost of a new awning by stealing our deposit, I’m sure she wasn’t expecting to be sued. And we sure didn’t want to sue her… but I’ll be damned if I willingly allow someone who treats us with such obvious contempt to get away with it. She was NOT going to be illegally taking our money and acting like a complete jerk on my watch. At least not without a fight.

I’m writing about this subject today because I saw the photo I took of the collapsed awning in my Facebook memories today… and it reminded of me how we ended up moving to Wiesbaden in late 2018. But it also reminded me of how reluctant I was to move. Isn’t that crazy? I actually worried that our new landlord might be even worse! That’s how completely mindfucked I was after four years of living in that house.

It was about five years ago that Bill’s bosses in Stuttgart told him that his job was being converted to a government service job. Consequently, his choices were to:

  • Stay in the same job, but become a GS worker at significantly reduced pay and without a housing allowance,
  • Find a new contracting gig in Stuttgart, either with the company he currently works for, or another company,
  • Move to another location with the company he works for or a different one,
  • Move back to the States and work for the same company or a different one,
  • Retire and live on his pension, while hoping I write the great American novel. That option would have also required a move. 😉

Neither of us wanted to move, even though we hated dealing with our ex landlady, and we didn’t really like living in her house. It only had a few things going for it. The rent was relatively cheap, although I doubt a German would have paid what we were paying. It was in a pleasant town near a beautiful nature park and close to the Black Forest. The neighbors were nice and relatively friendly, especially for Swabia.

But the house itself was old and charmless, furnished with old, nasty carpets in the upstairs, and it had outdated appliances. It was originally meant to be two apartments, so the layout was weird and kind of sterile. It was a duplex, and while I really liked our next door neighbors, who were actually pretty cool people, I don’t like sharing walls with people. I’m sensitive to noise, and I don’t like feeling like I’m making too much noise. We had two beagles who I know were loud. I wanted a free standing house… and Bill and I were, by 2018, in a financial position to be able to afford the rent on one.

I still dreaded the idea of moving. I was comfortable with our vet, our dentist, and getting around the area. I’d had a total of six pandemic free years of experience living near Stuttgart. It has its issues, but the area is very beautiful and inspiring. The idea of moving somewhere else seemed daunting. And again… I worried very much that we might land in an even worse situation. Our former landlady was very unpleasant to deal with, especially in the wake of the great awning crash of 2017. But at least with her, we knew what to expect.

So, when Bill was told he should apply for a job in Wiesbaden, I was initially reluctant to consider it. I think he was reluctant, too. Moving is a pain in the ass. Then, as we decided we’d try to stay in Stuttgart, he went to Africa for a TDY, and I was left alone in that weird house…

One night while he was gone, I was sitting there with Zane and Arran, looking around that house, and thinking about the broken orange awning that had caused the former landlady to verbally abuse me in my own space. I realized that I hated the idea of being beholden to her. I hated dealing with her intrusions, which had become less frequent since her outburst to me and my declaration to Bill that I would not be tolerating that again. He sent her an email telling her to talk to him when she had concerns or issues about the house. Naturally, she really resented that request. She clearly didn’t think I was worthy of the consideration, even though she and the former tenant were trash talking us, and it was likely that when we weren’t home, ex landlady was entering the house without our knowledge or consent.

I thought about how I hated the kitchen, the crappy flooring, the cat piss reeking carpets, the weird, mostly useless tiny rooms on the ground floor, and the annual projects the ex landlady did to the exterior of the house… She’d opted to put in a partial new fence and driveway rather than upgrade the antiquated upstairs toilet that clogged three times due to its “water saving” feature and inability to handle American toilet paper. Toilets are a necessary feature of any home. The upstairs one did work, but it was old and actually didn’t save any water, because it required at least two long flushes whenever either of us took a dump. I hated dealing with it.

And then it dawned on me. WHY IN THE WORLD WAS I FIGHTING TO STAY IN THAT HOUSE? I didn’t even LIKE that house! It defied logic. If there was ever a sign from the heavens that it was time to move on to bigger and better things, it was when that awning crashed on August 30, 2017. But I was kept there because I was afraid that the worst was yet to come. I also knew that when we moved out, ex landlady would be a colossal pain in the ass. I expected that she’d try to take our deposit. I wasn’t wrong.

I remember Bill came home from his trip and I told him I’d had an epiphany. I said “I want you to apply for the job in Wiesbaden.” It turned out that he’d independently kind of come to the same conclusion, even though neither of us had initially wanted to move. Also, the folks in Wiesbaden, having seen Bill’s resume, actually asked why he hadn’t applied. He was perfect for the job they were looking to fill, and people with his unique skill set aren’t easy to find. His boss in Stuttgart even told him that if he applied, it was pretty much a given that he would be hired. And that’s precisely what happened.

We were much more careful when we went house hunting in Wiesbaden. The house we live in now was the seventh one we toured. In over twenty years of life together, Bill and I were never as picky about our house as we were when we moved to Wiesbaden. It paid off, because our current landlord is extremely nice and very considerate. He’s also our next door neighbor, and he’s an excellent neighbor. The house itself is also much, much nicer than our old one was, although it lacks the beautiful views and places to walk the dog(s).

Life here isn’t perfect, and I do miss a lot of things about Stuttgart… but I definitely wouldn’t go back to where we were. The move to Wiesbaden was difficult. It took a long time to process the mental anguish and damage wrought by our experiences in our former house. The lawsuit was painful, especially since the wrangling was going on during the height of the pandemic. But… I thank GOD we were in Wiesbaden for that, instead of living in that weird house.

I am grateful we were able to change our situation. I know it doesn’t always work out that way. But thinking about the great awning collapse of 2017, I realize that we were probably a bit “trauma bonded”. This is a phenomenon that can happen when people are in abusive relationships where there’s a power imbalance. It often happens between people who have romantic relationships, but it can also happen between kidnappers and captors, bosses and employees, and yes, landlords and tenants.

In the article I linked about trauma bonding, the author mentions that people often feel the need to reach out and “try again”. I can honestly state that while I did feel regret that things ended the way they did with our ex landlady, I have no desire to ever see or speak to her again. She violated our trust and tried to fuck us over, and she underestimated both of us. That was a big mistake on her part. Not trusting my rather nervous gut feeling when I met her was my big mistake. One life lesson I have learned is that it’s smart to take heed when people demonstrate who they are. Learn from the experience.

Also, we were much too nice when ex landlady egregiously violated boundaries. This is a problem we still struggle with, as Bill and I have both been traumatized by abusers before and trained not to get into conflicts (in spite of his Army career). That’s why, in July, when those awful window workers were in my home, acting like complete assholes, I didn’t throw them out. I also wanted them to finish the job. Now, I realize that I should have marched over to my landlord and had him deal with those guys, as they put their feet up on my patio furniture. Next time there’s a big construction project, if we’re still here, Bill is going to try to work from home. That way it won’t be just me, dealing with the disrespect.

I really do not try to get in other people’s ways. I keep to myself, most of the time. Somehow, I still manage to find myself in these situations with people who act like narcissistic jerks. Maybe it’s the universe’s way of teaching me something new.

Anyway, we are mostly thriving in Wiesbaden. I am truly sorry that the awning fell on August 30, 2017. I certainly didn’t plan for that to happen. I didn’t do anything to directly cause it, other than unroll it on a day that happened to suddenly get windy. But it was the start of a necessary shift northward. Just like Mary Poppins, we stay until the wind changes… and in our last house, that’s pretty much literally what happened. The wind changed; there was a big crash; and we moved on to our next destined place together. It was a good, healthy thing to do. I don’t know when the wind will change again, but I don’t regret our move up here. I just shake my head in disbelief that it took so long to realize we needed to make the move. That’s what happens when you’re stuck dealing with abusive people in your life.

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