This morning a fellow writer asked an out of the blue question about when I was homeless. What did I eat? Where did I sleep? How did I survive? I, in turn, asked my husband if saying I’ve been homeless is legit. He said stuff like that happens to everybody. Minimization and globalization are survival tactics. You have a fight with a parent. You couch surf. Maybe sleep in your car. I didn’t have a license till I was 29. I didn’t own a car till I was thirty something. But I did live on an island where it was acceptable to show up at work barefoot, braless, basically naked and still get paid.
I was screamed out of my house by a stone cold sober parent wearing nothing but a sundress. I was wearing the sundress. He was wearing shorts and hurt feelings. We’ve long since made peace with each other but you sort of don’t forget being stomped out of your, albeit flea-infested, safe place. I stuck my thumb out, out of habit, once I got to a main road and never once looked up at the driver; just stared at my dirty feet and blurted out an address hoping to be let in when I got there. No such luck but his mom fed me two slices of lasagna which I probably regret to this day. Moms and carbs are always complicated.
I ‘slept’ on porches, under a kitchen table, in a hammock by a grove of bamboo, the beach, an attic…mostly for that month I didn’t sleep. I did math in my head trying to calculate how much I still might have to pay to the warden who’d kicked me out and the registrar who’d be waiting to collect when I attempted to go back to school. Spoiler alert, when I showed up with my trash bag of laundry, fresh off the boat and Greyhound bus, I was $350 short and found myself ‘homeless’ for an additional five hours while I called relatives to beg for money, which I’d have to pay back ASAP, so the school would unlock my dorm room door.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Before sweating it out on campus (have you ever been holding your life in a Hefty bag watching people carry brand new bushels of Apples?) I spent one uncomfortable night at the very fancy home of an acquaintance who made it all too clear I was an inconvenience she didn’t want to deal with. All the summer people are rich people. Wrongly projected assumptions feel like superimposed madras shorts; heinous, almost infuriatingly awkward. I wasn’t a drug addict or crazy; those are the convenient labels we tend to slap on people who can’t afford to hide their humanity behind status symbols, gated communities and Xanax. I’d simply spoken the truth in a place where it wasn’t allowed; like skateboarding in front of a library. The rest of the time I spent at work, where I appeared to be a spoiled island girl who had it all. You get to live here! Ugh. You’re so lucky!
One of my brothers showed up with my wallet, a handful of clean underwear, an apple (the regular kind that grow on trees) and an apologetic face. Don’t come home. I already knew that but had forgotten how much I loved him and simultaneously wanted to fix everything for him in that moment. Dude, it’s fine. Don’t worry. He’s just having a bad summer. It’s all good. Ok?
I showered at work and wore the clothes I unpacked, steamed, hung on the racks, dusted and evenly spaced. One of the many compulsive habits I have to this day is spacing the matching hangers in my closet which is now full of clothes I own, which I bought with money from a job that requires shoes (and an expensive degree I’ll be paying off till I’m 175 years old). I have shoes now. More than one pair. They’re fantastic. And underwear, bras and socks. Lots of socks to go with all my shoes. I even have more than one towel and eight pillows! Ten if you count the two throw pillows on my couch. I have a couch. It’s eight years old and from Ikea. I wash it every three weeks and marvel at it every single morning when I brush my teeth. I have a toothbrush. I buy a new one a few times a year when the bristles show signs of being withered, tired and no longer capable of scraping popcorn kernels out of my gums. Sometimes I even floss. I have floss. It’s waxed and tastes like mint. Not to brag, but I also have Q-Tip brand Q-Tips. The real deal. Have you ever tried cleaning your ears with toilet paper? Futile. Q-Tips are the height of luxury.
I’ve been living this high life for the last six years. Before now I was sleeping indoors but for about two months lived with one of my bosses so I could save up for my own place. This is sometimes called ‘situational homelessness’ which I’ve experienced twice. I’m saving the details for the book but basically it’s a polite word for broke and sometimes comes with a side of trauma, like volatile drunken rages and house fires. Those both suck.
I eventually upgraded to a mattress on the floor in my very own studio apartment. After that, little by little, I got a car and all the other things that make you count as a real person in the mainstream world. Heated seats rule but expensive beauty products feel like jars of deceit. Pandora and Oil Free Neutrogena for Sensitive Skin are much more honest. Here’s a cloud of locusts, some honey and fragrance-free dimethicone. You still have forehead wrinkles but after the wrath comes metaphoric hope. What? For the dermatological afterlife? If this prosperity thing keeps up, I’m getting laser resurfacing.
When I remember we’re living on a pale blue dot in an ever expanding galaxy, in an unexplained universe full of black holes, exploding nebulas, zero gravity and stardust, I tend to think we’re all homeless.
I’ve loved this jam for many moons.
ps: Many thanks to Petru for asking the question-look what you started! I thought about it all day, and to my fellow hope bloggers, Louise and the gem of all gems, Niki. And to q and Sue for teaching me the art of editing.