There are things that I promise to do differently next year. Promises are often broken so we will see how many of them I can keep. In anticipation of my endevour to be more frank and cut the bullshit with others, I am starting with myself.
I am a reasonably happy individual, all things considered. But what things exactly am I considering? It’s a hard story to tell in one blog entry (and I am trying to keep it down to one).
I was a relatively happy child, but poor as fuck. Not rural poor. Not as poor and as desperate a situation as other kids (because of course, the sick beauty of this world is that no matter how hard you have it, there is always someone else who has it worse).
But yeah, childhood was intertwined with intuiting my family’s socio-economic status and trying to the best I could with it. To be honest, I have never gone to bed hungry in my life. To be honest, I have always had a roof over my head.
But to be honest, I’ve been homeless, for extended stints throughought my childhood and adulthood. The first time was when I was 8. Spending the weekend at my cousin’s house and wanted to call my mom. My uncle’s wife (more of wicked stepmother type than the cool aunt type) at the time, told me there was not point to call home becuase there was not home call and that my family (mother and siblings) were out on the street. Naturally, I didn’t believe her. I was already accustomed to her always finding the most mean and cruel things to say to me (I loved my cousin dearly, I guess, otherwise why the hell did I love going over there so much). Anyway, I tried to call the house, but the line was disconnected. And the evil aunty found comic relief in my confused face.
A couple of days later, my mom came to pick me up. I remember we needed some for me so we were going to the bastion of footwear for the poor: Payless Shoesource. It was there just a few feet away from the entrance that she told me we no longer had a place to live. I got my shoes, a pair of suede-like booties… and the memories of that time crstualized in my memory.
TBH the apartment was a hell hole anyway, teeming with mice and rats. I slept on the floor, another sibling on the couch (where the rats had bored holes and made a nice home for themselves no doubt.
But As I mentioned earlier, I have always had a roof over my head. We stayed with family for a couple weeks (interesting lessons learned from that experience for sure) and then with family friends. Within a month we were in a better apartment, in a better area. So I guess it worked out for the better in this case. We had fallen behind on the crappy place, and although we had a verbal agreement from the landlord that rent could be paid late, he double dealed and put in papers for an eviction anyway.
When I think about it, I never was the same after that. The new apartment was bigger, but we had no furniture for the first year. And eventually, with other members of extended family moved in with us there, the cycle began again…. By the time I was going to high school, another eviction loomed over us. This time, we got ahead of the curve though: We moved out before they could throw us out. And again we stayed with family friends until we got another better space.
Like I said, I’ve been homeless many times. This better space was fantastic at first, but when the working poor fall ill or lose their jobs, then their already tenuous situation gets worse. And this is how I started college. I worked my ass off (academically and literally in the dining hall shifts and other gigs) because my family could not support me financially at all.
The irony of the American dream is that here I was at one of the best colleges in the country despite my circumstances (and thanks to some good years of ebb right before) and studied abroad (thanks to student loans and generous grants). It was not a fun time, (it was a very broke time!… but I made due). But I came home to no home at all: In danger of being evicted yet again, after unemployment ran out, we had to move, this time leaving tons of shit behind/ or giving it awawy. This time, there were no real family or friends to lean on. What could you say? Yet again? Evicted yet again?
That stretch of time was some of the darkest days of my life to date: All of the complications, a sibling was also sick and I was sick too, in a way. I wish that I had done some therapy in retrospect, but therapy how? and Where?
This was the longest stretch of homelessness- from the summer before I went abroad. during the break between semesters we were living in one bedroom in the home of a then friend of my mom. Like I said, I can never say that I never had a roof over my head. I worked that winter break and considered leaving school (but my mother said no). The house was in the suburbs but I walked two miles in shitty shoes in unpaved ice and snow to make 8 dollars an hour as restaurant hostess: Every penny counted. We were paying rent for the room, but things were strained and by the time I cam back from Morocco we were staying in an extended stay-like hotel.
I worked my ass off that summer, to help pay for the room for the night. My days were spent thinking about how to get the 77 dollars needed for the room that night. Our meals were either rice eggs and vegetables, or noodles eggs and vegetables (all we could afford and cook in the room). Depressed isn’t even the word to describe that time. We didn’t even have time to be depressed literal homelessness loomed all around. By the time I returned to college that fall, we had moved to stay with a family friend/distant relative. But that soon soured, and my siblings were in another hotel situation. The job situation picked up though, so by October at last… we had a place to call our own, a bigger one.
I always remember how people remarked so positively at all the weight I had last: Between shitty study abroad and shitty living at-no-home, I went down a dress size. They had no idea what I had gone through to become the then much skinnier me. Yet through it all, I studied for the GRE, got a fellowship to graduate school. Talk about high functioning depression!
Sadly, sickness would rear its head again and again so eviction happened some years later. By then I said fuck it and shouldered the responsibility of making sure as best I could that it didn’t happen again. There have been some near misses, especially when I went to grad school the second time (In search of the almighty steady paying job, I assure you, but before I would be able to get it). Needless to say, I was well into my late twenties before I could begin to maybe hope that poverty and homelessness were a thing of the past.
It’s been interesting to occupy my own unique form of intersectionality.
Being poor ate my youth. Sometimes I think it sapped our energies so much, that we couldn’t really have been fully functioning human beings. I see the effects on myself, on my siblings. I understand what the working poor go through, my life is the embodiment of that struggle. But I also have had opportunities that others perhaps have not. Despite the shit hole that so many months and even years have been, I was never prevented from pursuing opportunities… We simply made due. For that, I am always grateful to my mother; she saw that dropping out of program X,Y or Z or not pursuing A, B, or C would hurt me more in the long-run
Upon further reflection though, this thread of homelessness is the reason behind much of my decisions. Like I said, it ate my youth. Sometimes I look back on things and people and think why didn’t I do X, Y, or Z, but then I remind myself that I was poorer than a church mouse at the time and didn’t want to have to explain myself. Why am I explaining myself now? I don’t know, I just want to get it out and leave it in the dustbins of history.
I was never a flake. I was never afraid to make bold changes. I had real deal shitty circumstances to contend with and for longer than anyone knew. I think this is why time is so important to me. So much of my life has been wasted fighting this scourge, I didn’t have time for much else. I don’t like the idea of wasting any more time than I already have. Gazelle feels every trash relationship, every shitty business meeting more acutely because I feel like I’m playing catch up with life, like I’m just learning how to breath.
But I know I’m not alone. This piece on NPR and this one from the Atlantic say what I already know. It does feel good to get it out though. The one thing I will say for this life experience is that it’s taught me how to weed people out, and the importance of trying to be sensitive to other people’s sensitivities. You never know what someone is going through, has gone through. And you also never know where someone will end up. It should come as no surprise that I’ve had an inordinate number of people shit on me and my family (even members of my extended family) and yet many of those people who wrote me off as trash back then, have a very different opinion of me now. But I just roll my eyes. (and keep my friend circle amazingly small… ha ha… had to have some levity in this post, no?)
Finally though, needless to say it’s made me very sensitive to issues around homelessness. In my own way, I have tried to fight it on the individual level. Why I didn’t end up pursuing it as some sort of career goal is anyone’s guess.
I think what I call immigrant sense of shame kept me from saying any of this, like ever. But now I have declared it on a public blog(that a very finite group of people read, so there is that). I want to leave this heavy load in 2016. Putting it on here, and out there, is one way I am trying to do just that.
I guess I could write more, but this post is long enough.
This was a lot more cathartic than writing about the online and offline randos that I have unfortunately crossed paths with this year… ha ha