One of the things that we were dealing with last year, and one of the components that led to us needing to relocate away from Maui, was our living situation. I knew that housing myself and my kids on Maui was going to be hard once I was divorced (it had been hard enough with two incomes) but I’d already started the process of downsizing when the divorce started, so when the house that both of my youngest kids had been born in finally sold in December 2018, I went from a 5 bedroom to a 2 bedroom with 2 kids, a dog and a pig.
It worked out pretty well. It was tight, for sure, but we made it work, and we had lots of outside space (including a giant driveway that the landlords did not mind me covering with chalk art). But in 2020 we had to downsize again. It had been too expensive for a while, and with losing my business overnight when COVID hit, and my ex’s continued non-payment of child support, I had no choice. So I started my search to try and find affordable housing.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the housing situation on Maui is BONKERS. At the time of my custody case in late 2022, the average rent cost for a 3 bedroom was $5000. And the majority of those rentals were not updated, or clean, most of them did not allow pets, or kids, and many REQUIRED a $25 per person fee just to apply… so $100 per application where there’s a housing crisis and hundreds of other applications just to be able to pay the mortgage of someone who’d paid too much for the property and passed that mistake on to the working class of the island). Totally. Freaking. Bonkers.
I ended up finding a beautiful 1 bedroom cottage in a quiet and beautiful neighborhood near my kids school. When I signed the lease, I was scared. I had no idea how to make a tiny one bedroom with two kids work. But I didn’t really have a choice. Even the rent for this 1 bedroom was more than I could afford, but there were no other options (trust me… I looked… a process that landed me and my kids in an RV crying at the thought of having to live in it… it ended up being too expensive… #funnynotfunny).
During the process of moving in, things fit, almost to perfection. Every item that came had purpose or meaning, and it all found a home with precision… almost as though I’d measured everything out first (I didn’t). The result was a space, that although it had clothing bureaus in the living room (something that always bothered me), it didn’t look or feel crammed or stuffed. There was a place for everything and everything in it’s place. It went well for a while.
But it wasn’t easy. Especially for the teenager. There was nowhere for him and his girlfriend to just hang out. There were enforced quiet hours because I was working non stop and my office was also the living room, kitchen, my bedroom and my daughter’s bedroom. We were basically on top of each other all the time. And if more than one of us had to use the only bathroom at the same time, it became a pretty high stakes game of Rock Paper Scissors. It was hard. The teenager was exhausted by the constant switching back and forth from our house to his dad’s every week. And despite me being really relieved that I’d been able to find us somewhere safe and clean and that allowed our pig Iggy, the teenager ended up going to his dad’s full time, one of the darkest times of my life for a number of reasons.
Near the end of 2021, my lease was coming up. I’d met the love of my life and we had plans to combine households. I told my landlords that I only wanted to sign a 6 month lease because there just wasn’t enough space for all of us. And it was at that time that my landlords, who had been wonderful to us up until that point, said that they would build us a shed in the backyard if it would help us to stay; extra space that could be used for an office and storage so that we could clear out space inside the house in the event that my son decided he wanted to come back (he was already showing signs). They said they loved us and wanted us to stay there forever, and so whatever they needed to do to keep us on, they’d do. We were floored, but so relieved knowing full well what the housing market was. We also found out that they’d be moving to the mainland in a few short months so they planned to have the shed complete the week before they moved and their brother and his family would move in and become our new neighbors. So we signed a 1 year lease and started figuring out how to rework our space with the square footage we’d be gaining.
I banked on that shed. I sat and thought about it, stared at the yard where it was to be put imagining what it would look like. I watched as they dug and leveled a space for it and filled it with gravel in anticipation of the structure. I reconfigured our space on paper, shifting things, reorganizing and creating new spaces for each of us, including my son. He had very quickly, after going to his dad’s full time, determined that he wanted to come back. But he was concerned about the space. So he was relieved when I told him what the landlords had promised to do. This shed became the way that my son could be safe again (for at least half the week) and my family could all be together again. It became the savior to my situation. Literally, everything revolved around this shed.
And then, boom. February 2022. Landlords moved.
I still to this day have no idea what happened. And as soon as that happened, things unravelled quickly. We were left without the space we were promised and they refused to let us out of the lease we signed with that understanding. Our new “neighbors” ended up being super hostile and conversations with our landlords that had previously been completely reasonable and considerate became… well… bat-shit-crazy for lack of a more accurate term. All promises that they’d made previously (and kept) were now out the window.
I don’t think I slept for months. I’d be up at 3am scrolling through the tiny homes that are sold on Amazon, or the new eco friendly domes, or how to turn a container into a living space, trying to sort out how we could build something as a shed. I watched Craig’s List, Facebook Marketplace, the newspapers, the bulletin boards for affordable rentals… but instead found an insane increase to prices that had already been impossible for me to afford. I tried to source building materials, a container, anything. But it wasn’t our land. The cost of building, shipping… EVERYTHING had gone up and everything was to the umpteenth on an island. And even though our landlords had clearly not kept their end of the deal, they wouldn’t let us out of the lease.
I felt duped. I felt trapped. And it was all hurting my kids. I kept telling my son not to worry. That we would find a way.
But it was a shit show. Things had gotten so bad for my son that he decided that returning to me half the time was necessary until we get could get free completely. Between dealing with my ex, preparing for a custody trial, getting my third cancer diagnosis, having 4 people in a tiny one bedroom cottage, toxic AF neighbors, and landlords who had turned on us, I’d sit and look at that empty gravel lot in the backyard and curse the fuck out of that shed that wasn’t there. And I couldn’t really understand it. I had seen it. I saw the cinderblocks on the gravel. I saw the frame in my head in the way that I see things when they end up happening. And so I turned all that frustration towards myself. At my inability to get back on my feet financially after 5 years despite trying my absolute hardest. At my inability to protect my kids. At my inability to house them properly. At my inability to stop getting cancer. And at not having made the landlords write anything into the lease making it contingent on the shed. I know better.
But I’d seen it. I’d seen it being built. I’d seen the frame. And they’d always followed through with everything they’d ever said for the previous two years of renting. It just became a circle of ripping myself apart endlessly.
Well, it turns out I did see that shed. And I didn’t even realize it until yesterday.
It’s not like I didn’t know it was being built. We’ve been talking about it for weeks. But it never dawned on me, until we drove up to it yesterday… and there was what I’d seen in my mind last year. The cinderblocks atop gravel. The floor. The wood frame.
Only this shed isn’t being built to increase the value of someone else’s property, just so that I can temporarily cram my family of 4 into a one bedroom with awful neighbors.
This is a shed that’s being built for our future.
And do you know who’s helping to build that shed? My son. He helped my father-in-law move the logs that he felled, that were then milled into lumber. He’s learning how to make something from nothing. And when he’s done working, he returns to our simple yet loving home where he has his own room (we all do!), and where both of my kids are slowly but surely returning to their previous happy selves after years of trauma.
If you’re in it right now… like really low… feeling trapped, like you’re cursed or like you just can’t get anything right… you have to stick it out. YOU CAN’T GIVE UP. Give yourself a chance to see the shed you saw in your mind. It may not end up exactly where you thought it would… but I guarantee you… it will end up somewhere so much better.