Four months in a Jetta

I don’t live in a car. Isn’t that great?

Two and a half years ago I did. Live in a car. A 1999 VW Jetta, to be precise. If you know anything about cars – and why would you? they’re stinky, dangerous polluters – you know that Jettas are small. Four doors, yes, but definitely not an SUV. Not something you imagine you could spend the night in, let alone four months.

But I did. Live in my car for four months. Perhaps you’ll feel better if I call it camping.

Back in June of 2013, I noticed I was having trouble breathing. This wasn’t usual for me, a highly active dancer, skater, hiker, biker, jump-in-the-glacier-water woman. As a kid, I was a champion underwater-breath-holder. But now I was wheezing. More and more often. I began having nightmares about dying in my sleep. So I went to a doctor, who prescribed an inhaler. We talked about the black mold in my house.

“Do you own it?” she asked, meaning the house.
“No,” I said.
“Move.”

I moved out of my bedroom, where – I thought – the worst of the mold was. Slept in the living room. Awoke feeling better. So happy! I decided to clean the dust bunnies so it would be more habitable. Make it nice.

Turns out mold lives in dust. I was stirring up my own little poison cocktail. The next day I could barely draw breath. Was dizzy, faint, all those old-fashioned words that don’t sound very scary when you read them, but are quite terrifying when you live them.

I researched toxic mold: the worst side effect was death. O-kay. The Department of Health warned against attempting to clean it. Recommended haz-mat-suited professionals. I had been bleaching it off the walls of this abode for years. Come to find out, bleach doesn’t kill mold. And the bleach itself ain’t no picnic either, for your lungs.

By this time I was afraid to go in the house, so I tried sleeping in the backyard, in a tent that turned out not to be clean enough. Meanwhile, the synthetic adrenaline inhaler made my heart race to such an extent that I thought I’d die of a heart attack instead of asphyxiation.

A neighbor called around and found another neighbor with a spare room. Problem solved! Except by this time my body was so adrenaline addled that the intense smell of her cleaning compounds triggered an asthma attack. EMTs were called. Another neighbor – a chemically sensitive one – offered shelter. The EMTs walked me over to her house.

Which turned out to have a mold problem, too. In the middle of the night, I escaped to her garden, nose to the nasturtium and raspberries. Don’t panic don’t panic don’t panic.

The next day I walked down to my PO box, deposited the paycheck I found inside, and walked back up the hill to my car. This all took quite some time and effort. Hours for a trip that usually took 60 minutes.

One thought sustained me: I have to get to the ocean; I refuse to die here.

I am a long-time waterbaby. Legend has it that the first time I saw the ocean, I ran straight in. For me, home is where the ocean is. I wanted to be home. I needed it, like I needed oxygen. Which I wasn’t getting enough of either.

The ocean was 75 miles away, but I had a full tank of gas. And, evidently, no time to lose.

My neighbor gave me food for the journey, fruit from her garden, and let me keep the clothes she’d lent me. With my driver’s license, money, and credit cards in a clean brown paper sack, pink Crocs on my feet, shaking with the effects of the inhaler and lack of sleep, I drove down the street, turned left on Plum, and got on the freeway headed west.
Toward the ocean. Toward home.

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