By November, the seller's insurance company had also rejected the claim, she'd hired a lawyer, and I was starting to suspect my experts wouldn't recognize a big deal if it was advertised on a turnpike billboard. Then one Friday evening, after several days of rain, I arrived home from work and was hit with a smell eerily reminiscent of some other not-so-scenic turnpike roadside attractions. My wife greeted me with that strange, glassy-eyed expression commonly found in teenage huffers of model airplane glue. "I thought I smelled something," she admitted, "but I wasn't sure." When we made our way to the basement and saw a viscous brown ooze seeping through seams in the vinyl tile, the last shred of doubt left the building: We were screwed.

But not as screwed as we would be. Oh no. My oil spill would take many, many, many more turns for the worse before it was done with me. That "few feet" it had spread onto my neighbor's property? Actually, it was more like a few dozen that extended in an amoebalike sprawl clear into the middle of his yard and under a portion of his house. My spill was like some extraterrestrial creature that only grew larger the more money I spent trying to delineate it. It flowed uphill. It contained levels of contamination the likes of which the environmental consultants had never seen. They'd hold their meters up to the soil samples, and the little needles would arc to the last hatch in the danger zone and then just collapse back to zero, as if giving up.

By the time the consultants had taken some semblance of a final measure of the thing, the estimated cleanup costs were pushing $500,000 if I chose to move my domicile (if I underpinned it, the tab jumped to $600,000). Four different insurance companies and seven lawyers were arrayed against us at this point, my legal bills topping $100,000, my $115,000 home equity line down to its last $14.36. That's when I had to make perhaps the hardest call in my adult life, and ask my father for a loan so we could keep going.
Ask TOH users about Home & Real Estate

Contribute to This Story Below