When Teresa Trabucco puts her 9-year-old son Liam to bed for the night, she collapses on the living room couch in her one-bedroom Menifee apartment and lets the tears flow. It’s been this way since a mortifying letter from her landlord appeared in her mailbox two months ago.

The coronavirus has forced the 42-year-old single mother to trade in her weekday shifts as a waitress at a local restaurant to stay at home and look after her son’s distance learning. She can only work weekends when her son stays at his dad’s house in nearby Hemet.

But weekend shifts at Texas Roadhouse haven’t been enough to pay the last three months of rent. She is behind $4,500 and she’ll be behind $9,000 in February when the statewide eviction moratorium lifts.

Teresa Trabucco
Age: 42
City: Menifee, Riverside County
Race/Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Waitress

In many ways, distance learning is keeping Teresa from making ends meet. The waitress can only work weekends when her son isn’t in class. She’s falling behind on rent and considering moving out of state.

The letter in her mailbox was clear: pay 25% of owed rent by February or she’s out.

In a typical week, Trabucco works two weekend shifts and brings home $350. That’s $600 less than what she would earn each week before the pandemic hit.

Trabucco had been managing for most of the pandemic. When the state shut down in March, relief from the CARES Act supplanted her income. Her weekly award of $339 was bolstered by $600 from the federal government.

She used that money to pay her rent months in advance, knowing the benefits expired in July. Trabucco didn’t have to worry about paying rent until September.

Since then, Trabucco has been able to pull in only about $1,400 a month plus $766 in child support. She prioritizes paying her internet bill so Liam can attend class and the rest goes to groceries and utilities. Her credit card bills go unpaid.

At night when Trabucco has time to process her situation, she wrestles with feeling like a failed parent, but she knows there is only so much she can do.

“You got to make sure you can provide for your kid,” Trabucco said. “So when you can’t, it’s hard.”

Trabucco says she feels abandoned by the government.

“They’re fighting about whatever they want the stimulus package to be, but they have no idea about us that are having to deal with this and go through this,” Trabucco said. “They’re not thinking about the toll that it’s taking on all of us families.”

A Trump supporter, she fears President-elect Joe Biden will implement mass lockdowns and completely shut down restaurants when he takes office in January, putting her out of work. Trabucco is still holding out hope for a Trump reelection.

Trabucco believes COVID-19 is real, but thinks its danger has been blown out of proportion.

And as much as she wants schools to reopen so she can return to work full time, Trabucco is adamant about not sending Liam back to school if he is required to wear a mask or be vaccinated with the new coronavirus vaccine.

Confronted with the growing possibility of eviction, Trabucco is heavily considering moving out of state to Idaho, where her dollar goes much further. Life in California is simply too expensive, she says.

Her 23-year-old son Anthony moved to Idaho with his girlfriend in June. He had worked alongside his mom at Texas Roadhouse for seven years before he moved. Now he works two jobs in Idaho, one of them at another Texas Roadhouse. If she’s unable to catch up on rent by February, Trabucco plans to follow in her son’s tracks.

One of the few things lifting Trabucco up is her faith. She prays every night. On her fridge, she wrote on a calendar: “Believe Faith & God, IDK But I Know He Has Me.”

* This project is part of California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.