(Since I feel like a break today, I’m posting an article that I wrote which was published in Folio Weekly, a local alternative newspaper here in Jacksonville, Florida, in October, 2012.)
I’d like to think I’m a good person. I have followed the rules all my life. I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. The police have never been called to my door. I got straight A’s in school. When I’ve got the sniffles, I power through and go to work. I don’t litter. I vote. I donate blood sporadically. I give little old ladies my seat on the bus. I pay my taxes. I even recycle. I just made my 34th micro loan to Kiva.org. When I was 10 years old, I started my own business growing and selling house plants at the flea market, and I’ve pretty much worked or been in school ever since. I’m not the kind of person you’ll see on Jerry Springer. I don’t even WATCH Jerry Springer.
Is it just me, or should all of the above count for something? I mean, after 47 years of never coloring outside the lines, you’d think that the universe could see its way clear to cut me just the tiniest bit of slack. So much for good karma.
Two years ago I decided that my life was one big do-over. I was at a job that I loved, but it had no room for advancement, lousy pay, and even worse benefits. I needed a change. So I started researching other careers, and quickly became overwhelmed with the possibilities. Then I decided to go backward. Instead of trying to find a new career, I decided to figure out what kind of LIFE I wanted, and then figure out what type of career would allow me to have that life. To heck with the fact that now is not the time to be leaving a perfectly good job. I had a tiger by the tail, man! The sky was the limit for me! And everyone told me they admired my courage. Before I knew it, I’d sold my house (and took a total financial BATH on it, to be honest), left a 16 year relationship, quit my job, and moved myself and my dogs 3 ½ hours south, where I knew no one, all so I could study Dental Laboratory Technology at the only school in Florida that offers it.
Don’t say it. Do NOT mistake me for a Dental Hygienist. I respect that profession immensely, but no WAY is this girl sticking her hands into other people’s mouths. No. What I learned to do is make dental appliances such as retainers. And oh, how I love it! I love making things with my hands. I love the variety. I love solving dental problems for people. I love the smell of acrylic before it hardens. I graduated Summa Cum Laude in May. So, happy ending, right? Of course not, or I wouldn’t be ranting. I sent out 198 resumes and/or applications to dental laboratories, and was willing to relocate anywhere on the continent… and NOTHING. Rejection letter upon rejection letter. Yeah, yeah, the economy. Blah, blah, blah.
I gambled and I lost. I’ve no one to blame but myself. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that that wasn’t supposed to happen. What about the American dream? Where’s the chicken in every pot, for Pete’s sake? I’m not only chicken-less, but I’m pot-less, people!
So, with my tail between my legs, I went back to my old job. Thank heavens I had left on good terms, or I’d be in deep trouble. And I realize I’m lucky to even HAVE a job in this day and age. The problem is that I’m now homeless. Before, I was able to survive on 10 dollars an hour because I had owned my home for 25 years, and the mortgage was only 430 dollars a month. Now, even though I have a some of the money from the sale of my house still left over, and a credit rating of 835, which is about as good as you can get, no one will allow me to buy a home, because I don’t have a year and a half of work history. Well, duh. I was in college. And I’m back with the employer who kept me for 10 years, so you’d think that this would indicate a modicum of stability. But no one will touch me. This thrusts me squarely back into the realm of renting. Great. Except that based on my calculations, the very most I can afford to pay is 600 dollars a month, and everything I’ve seen in that price range in this town comes with either hot and cold running cockroaches or hot and cold running crack addicts.
Get a studio apartment, you say. Well, yeah, but I still have my two little dogs, and while they’re mature and not destructive, if they heard strangers on the other side of the wall, they’d bark and that would not work out well in the long run. Give up the dogs, the only bright spot in my otherwise dreary existence and my only source of unconditional love? It makes me cry to think that that is what I’ll be forced to do.
Do I sound like a brat to you? Believe me, I do realize that I’m a lot better off than most people in the world. I’m grateful for so much. I live in a country with no famine or gulags or land mines, I have good friends and family, I have no children to worry about. I’m intelligent and relatively healthy. But I’ve worked hard for everything I have, and like most Americans, since birth I’ve been spoon fed the idea that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead. Instead of a mid-life crisis, I seem to be having a mid-life tantrum, because I never truly believed that I could lose everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.
How is this possible? I’m 47 and I’m sleeping on a friend’s couch. Half of everything I own has been stuffed into the back seat of my ratty old car for a month and a half now. I feel like a freakin’ Okie, a la the Grapes of Wrath. Don’t I deserve my dogs? I mean, is that too much to ask?
I always thought I understood the concept of homelessness. I’ve seen people on the streets and it breaks my heart. I’ve donated clothing. I’ve thought about what it would be like, and I know that one way or another I’ll always be lucky enough to have some sort of roof over my head, whether it be mine or someone else’s, and for that I’m quite grateful. But when thinking about homelessness, I never really grasped the fundamental concept of wanting desperately to go home, and having no home to go to. Call me nouveau homeless if you want. I haven’t really earned the right to be called just plain homeless. I haven’t paid my dues. Yet. I strongly suspect that I have a great deal more to lose before all is said and done, though, so who knows?
So if you see me driving around in my ratty red sedan, which is bursting at the seams with old family photographs, college yearbooks, and my favorite lamp, and I’m stopping at every for rent sign I see, please be kind. I realize I’m grasping at straws, thinking that there is a 600 dollar a month single family house somewhere out there that will allow me to keep my two little dogs and not have to go to bed with a cocked pistol under my pillow. Try not to laugh too loudly at my naiveté. You will be witnessing the last gasp of an American dreamer who just wants, more than anything, to go home.
(Update: I’m happy to say that since the writing of this article, I’ve found a wonderful place to live, and my dogs and I are quite happy here. However, it’s more than I can afford, really, and I’m spending 350.00 a month more than I’m earning as a bridgetender. If something doesn’t change soon, I’ll be back on the streets in about 5 months. It’s a scary and unsustainable way to live.)