My first defining moment occurred the day I was born in Wiesbaden, West Germany, in 1956. I was separated from my mother and placed in a foundling home until I was four years old, then moved to an orphanage in Frankfurt. When I was six, James and Hildegard Dysart adopted me. Soon after, we moved to America.
When I was 8, I was frequently called to the principal’s office for drawing in the classroom or fighting with boys on the playground. My adoptive mother told me she’d send me back to the orphanage in Germany if I didn’t “straighten out”. One day, a Social Worker came to my school and told me that I could come with her and go to a wonderful home with kids, animals and a swimming pool, or, I could go home with my mother and be put on a plane to go back to the orphanage in Germany. I accepted my fate and went with the social worker. I spent the remainder of my childhood in four different foster homes and learned not to trust adults.
I did well in school and was awarded the Robert Mouville Scholarship in my senior year. I chose to attend the University of Puget Sound, but the scholarship funds ran out and I was faced with getting a student loan to complete my degree. I decided against going into debt and left college. I found a position where I worked my way from receptionist to executive secretary to small business loan portfolio manager to accounting and payroll positions.
I lived in a 2 bedroom apartment for 27 years that I shared with two cats. It was truly my sanctuary, and it was the first time I’d ever stayed in one place for any length of time. My crash came gradually over a period of about 4 years as a confluence of negative events piled up. First, I left the job I had worked at for over 13 years because my salary hadn’t kept up with the cost of living in Seattle. In fact, my apartment rent literally doubled over the last 5 years.
I found another job with better pay, but I was micromanaged and felt that I was being set up to fail. After 2 years, I realized I could not be successful in such an environment, so I resigned. Ironically, I learned that the boss resigned just 5 weeks after I left. Had I just held out, things might have turned out very differently.
No longer able to pay rent, I lost my apartment. After selling off and giving away all of my worldly possessions, on September 30, 2017, I drove away from what had been my life for nearly three decades. I didn’t want to live, so I decided to stop all food and water. I had read that it would take around 7 days to die, but 24 days later, I was still around. I was too weak to drive, so I decided to check into a hotel until the end came. The physical changes of a 24-day dry fast had left me completely emaciated. When I saw my reflection in the mirror, I was shocked. I looked like one of those people in the photos of survivors from concentration camps. That’s when something woke up in me.
I called the Crisis Clinic for help. The kind voice on the line was reassuring and she gave me the number to Elizabeth Gregory Home. I called and came into EGH that very day. I met with Michele, who listened to my story without judgment. She was compassionate, empathic and immediately got busy with getting me food stamps, Apple Health Care and emergency housing at Hospitality House in Burien. Some days later, she sent me off to the AARP Senior Community Service Employment program, where I got a part-time position in their office as a Payroll Clerk.
After three months at Hospitality House, I was interviewed for EGH’s Transitional House and was invited to move in. It was an amazing relief. This house is giving me a safe and comfortable place to live while I work to rebuild my life. I still work part-time with AARP and over the past seven months, I’ve been volunteering at PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society). My next goal is to earn my certificate to be a Certified Payroll Professional.
I think of all the wonderful people who have given of their time, talents and money to make my new life possible. To all, I say thank you. In a world where so many are dealing with terrible loss or tragedy, EGH offers a chance to those, like myself, who want to reclaim our lives. Thanks to Elizabeth Gregory Home, I can see a future again.