Mike and Ashley Rutkowski are at a crossroads.
Their rural Racine County dream home became infested with mold. After the Rutkowskis and their two young children became very sick, they had to tear down the house.
They now live in a camper looking out on the concrete slab where their home once stood.
The house is gone, but their $217,000 mortgage and $30,000 in medical bills remain.
Another thing that remains on their property is a large steel storage container. The container is full of the chapters of their life that they rescued from their moldy home.
On a recent visit, we discussed the container.
“It’s hard. Everything from our life; yearbooks, baby blankets, everything is inside there.” Ashley told me as we opened the huge box. “We had to throw out all of our furniture and mattresses. It sucks but it is what it is. It’s all that other stuff I don’t know what to do with. Some of it I can’t get back.”
The Rutkowskis now face the challenge of deciding whether to save their belongings, risking their health in the process. They are afraid to go through the crates and boxes that hold the pieces of their past.
“We’re going to do the best we can to keep some of it. We’ll clean it. Can it even be salvaged?”, Ashley asked me as we peered inside. “That’s going to be the hard part.”
Ashley’s husband Mike has trouble finding the words to explain how they’re feeling.
“It makes me upset that we may have to throw some of it away,” Mike told me. “We’ll eventually have to go through it. We’ll have to go through it all and decide what we can clean and what we can’t.”
The pain on Mike and Ashley’s faces is obvious as they struggle to talk about the container. I asked Ashley if there is part of her that just wants to get rid of it all.
“One day you don’t feel good. It’s an emotional roller coaster. I am so tired, I can’t get out of bed. Those are the days you think, ‘I want everything gone.’” she told me. “Then other days you reflect and there is a part of our life in there and we want to keep it if we can.”