Mary Trejo clearly remembers the day she suffered the injury that would leave her homeless and unable to work.
In a simulated prisoner’s attack, Trejo was pushed to the ground. She was expected to regain her balance, but instead fell to the floor, injuring her knee and wrists.The single mother of three was undergoing annual physical training in 2011 for her position as a group counselor at Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall, where she had worked for nearly 30 years.
“I thought I could do the training and get myself back up,” she said. “But I didn’t think, ‘I’m almost a 50-year-old woman and I might not be strong enough to go through with this.’ ”
After a partial knee replacement, Trejo was left physically unfit for her position at juvenile hall. And though she had also operated a successful day care business for years, she no longer had the stamina for child care. She struggled to support herself and her youngest daughter, Maryana, then 8, on workers’ compensation.
“It was hard. I don’t think anybody could go from good income to bad income overnight.” Trejo said.
Then came the second fall.
In August, Trejo was leaving her house when she tripped down a flight of stairs. She fell face forward, feet planted. She broke her knees, wrists and ankles.
The doctor ordered a full knee replacement on her left leg, followed by a long recovery. Work was out of the question.
During her recovery, Trejo was unable to make mortgage payments. She soon lost her Sunnyvale house, which she had owned for 27 years. Trejo, 50, and Maryana, 10, packed their belongings into Trejo’s minivan and parked outside a Toys R Us. They lived out of the van for three months, showering at a nearby gym.
“You get humbled when you go from a privileged life to being homeless. I was used to taking a shower twice a day, so I always thinking, ‘When’s the next shower going to be?’ ” Trejo said.
Their own apartment
With help from The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, which paid first month’s rent and deposit, Trejo and Maryana moved into a studio apartment in Sunnyvale in November.
The apartment is a bit cramped – but they’re happy to have a home and grateful for simple things, like a hot bath and a heater.
“Maryana and I don’t have to cuddle close at night to keep each other warm anymore,” said Trejo, as she hugged her daughter.
When asked about her children, Trejo beams. Her older daughter, Maryssa, 21, attends UCLA on a scholarship and intends to be lawyer. Her son, Phillip, 23, goes to Humboldt State.
But Trejo has a special relationship with her youngest. Maryana, who only occasionally sees her father, faced especially difficult times with Trejo but remained her “little angel.”
“It was Maryana who rescued me when I had fallen for the second time down the stairs of my home,” Trejo said. “There were no neighbors, no one around. She was the one who found help.”
Maryana also took over household duties when her mother could no longer do things like laundry. Now in middle school, Maryana’s favorite subject is music, and she dreams of one day going into show business.
“I keep telling her that no matter what she does, she should go to college.” said Trejo, who holds a bachelor’s degree from San Jose State.
Financial pressures still weigh heavily on Trejo. Rent costs $792 a month, and her only form of income is her $800 disability check. Recently, Trejo’s mother, Sylvia, 70, took a cleaning job to help Trejo and her children.
Taking care of herself
Still, Trejo tries to remain positive. Despite the difficulty of exercising with her injuries, she’s lost about 60 pounds, which has helped take pressure off her knees.
Trejo’s doctors say she’s healing more quickly than expected. She’s surprisingly energetic for someone with her injuries, and says people are always telling her to slow down.
“I’ve never not worked. So I’m always finding ways to stay active.”
Trejo said she’s building her resume, but finding a new career after 30 years in the same position is a challenging move. She hopes to re-enter the workforce by doing what she knows well and loves – taking care of children. She would like to open another day care. “I’ve always liked helping young kids. It’s the job I love,” said Trejo. “Plus, I’ll get to be around my baby.”
Through the hardships of the past few years, Trejo says she’s learned an important lesson.
“I used to judge people a lot more,” she said. “I saw kids in juvenile hall and questioned their life choices. Now I know: Everyone has a story.”
The original article can be found here.