Growing up, do you remember saying to yourself, “I’ll never do this to my kids!” And then, after you’ve grown, you find yourself saying the exact phrases verbatim that your parents used on you? I have, and I have to admit it’s daunting. But what about the things you learned NOT to do because of the examples you’ve been shown? That’s what I want to talk about — the examples you learn NOT to follow.
We’re homeless. Typically, that’s a sad situation that no one wants to find themselves in. My situation resembles that of a movie — it’s obvious what’s going on, but nothing anyone can do will ever stop it. Stiff upper lip and figure it out for yourself.
I grew up with an example of women bowing to men, waiting on them when they arrived home from work, slippers in hand, with their dinner on the table. Sort of like that Eddie Murphy movie, Coming to America. I’m certain few people watch the comedy to be reminded of their mothers. The image of the beautiful princess hopping on one foot and barking like a dog never ceases to amaze me. It does, however, remind me of my mother. And worse, how she taught me to behave. This, of course, led to the search for abusive relationships–which I found quite easily. All I had to do was be enticing.
My confidence is shattered to the point I can’t even trust myself to consider having a meaningful relationship–I don’t know how. Besides, it isn’t worth the risk of putting my children in harm’s way to take the gamble. Instead, I flounder in an underpaid position, determined to prove my worth to advance in the company with my acquired knowledge. Without inspiring examples, I’m still struggling to learn the correct way to teach my children to grow differently than what I was taught. I want them to be strong! However, teaching what you don’t know is a trying test to be sure.
In my attempt to strengthen them, they’re currently enrolled at Utah Military Academy where they will learn self-reliance and fortitude — things I’m still learning myself. I know, it isn’t fair to anticipate schools acting as parents. But, when the skills are those I have limited knowledge of, aware my children require the guidance, I have little choice. With that in mind, my pride wells with Cpt. Elliott and Maj. Workman of UMA, for stepping in as role models for my kids’ future.
Upon the realization we were to be rendered homeless, I sought out the least expensive Air BNB I could find. (For those who aren’t aware, this is when residents lease a portion of their home out to travelers.) For two weeks, I landed a location for just under $400. A steal! Granted, it wasn’t much to brag about, and the other life forms had us sign a treaty before we settled in. The people were from Venezuela, spoke little English, but were genuinely courteous and did what they could to make us comfortable. Worth the money!
When our time expired, we sought out a homeless shelter. The scum on the walls practically sang and danced. My kids were so uncomfortable, I determined I needed to use my 2-week paycheck for my phone bill and a hotel for a couple of nights–$650 only goes so far. We continued awaiting our turn at a particular shelter geared toward families for nearly two months. It’s called Family Promise. But when the opportunity still did not present itself, we returned to the homeless shelter. They’d lost our records. While they searched for the following twenty-five minutes, I watched the other families enter and exit. My daughter tapped my arm. “I’d rather sleep in the car,” she said. My son agreed. I explained there wasn’t enough room in the car because the trunk was full and 3/4 of the rear seat had the remainder of what wasn’t in the storage unit. They insisted. My mother’s instincts verified they were correct. We left with the representative pounding on the glass window and calling to us to come back. The huge raindrops plummeting down on us felt great.
The next three days were torture. I slept crammed behind the steering wheel with little room to adjust the seat, but the other two weren’t any better off. Cameron’s long legs were crammed under his chin in the front seat, and Nikki was wrapped in a fetal position in the back. We slept in a variety of spots if you can call it sleep, waking up feeling like a gum wad peeled from beneath a diner’s table.
The first night, in a Fed Ex parking lot, I was awakened by what I considered a drug deal going down. I figured if they didn’t see the car in the shadows, we were okay. When they left, I went back to sleep. Two hours later, I awakened to another pair of headlights arriving a couple few yards away at an old camper. A young girl with her arms full of clothing on hangers was followed by an older guy handling a flashlight. That was my cue to leave.
We moved to an out of the way place up on the bench, overlooking the valley. We’d sneak into a grocery store early in the morning with toothbrushes and combs before changing our clothes, one at a time, in the car, behind a church. The kids stayed at Cameron’s dad’s house while he worked during the day, and I went to work, pretending everything was normal–keeping my distance from those who might detect my secret if I got within a close proximity, and I spoke a lot less those days.
The woman running the program in Ogden was beyond strange and particularly demeaning in an ignorant sort of way. But the extremely friendly and helpful one, Alyssa in Salt Lake, was an absolute breath of fresh air. I could tell she wasn’t marking checks next to a list as she spoke but treated me as if I was a friend who hadn’t seen me for a while. I really needed that, especially after our second night in the car when she had us sign the entry papers. Only one more night in our cramped quarters. But the following night, it happened for us; a warm, clean place to sleep — without eight-legged visitors. Still, we’d need to adjust.
Out of gasoline, I awakened at 7:00 a.m. Saturday to check the bank for Dan’s child support payment. We haven’t received one since the 10th of August and he’s still behind from the last time. It wasn’t there. What was there was a debit for my school loan that was set up for deferment. It set me back $84. When I called the collection agency, she told me she couldn’t refund the money, but she could reject future collections until they switched companies again. I definitely needed money–just to get to work for the next week. But by the time I got paid, I’d be over $125 behind.
Because the process of re-enrolling for plasma donating is extenuating and long, I determined to continue in Ogden rather than spending 5 hours signing up at a new location for one or two times. Nikki and I climbed into the car with the knowledge arriving with the fuel remaining was a gamble. I dropped her at the library and drove to the donation center with a furiously blinking light. I just prayed they wouldn’t mess me up and send me away without payment. It’d happened before, but if it happened today, we’d be stranded over 50 miles from where we sleep.
Traffic was built up due to an accident. If we made it, I was sure to miss my appointment. I pulled off the freeway into a parking lot and popped the trunk. Getting my computer out, I quickly changed my appointment, setting it out an hour and crossed my fingers we’d still have enough fuel to make the journey. I exhaled loudly as I safely arrived.
Unfortunately, the first arm got messed up when donating plasma. It was the first time I worked as hard as I did not to scream. Instead, my back arched and my eyes welled with tears, but the machine stopped pumping. That arm was done. They wrapped red gauze around my elbow and asked if they could use my right arm. I agreed, but my arm didn’t. With both elbows tightly wrapped in bright red gauze, they sat me down on a chair and handed me a Gatorade, instructing me to drink it before leaving.
Have you ever tried drinking from a container with mummified elbows? As if that wasn’t enough, when that was over, I had to use the restroom. Pulling my pants up was the least of my problems in there. Driving wasn’t fun either. But, I had enough fuel to make it to the service station. Someone raced me for the last pump, however, I managed to beat the old woman who gave me a crusty expression and waited in line somewhere else. My fuel light was blinking desperately, and I wasn’t about to run out of gas in line. After all, I had $45 now.
I ran the cash card through the pump and the read-out told me to speak with the cashier. When I did, she said, “That’s because you can only run the card through once before you use it, not a bunch of times.” The cashier eyed my suspiciously wrapped elbows in target-red gauze before straightening up as if talking to a child. I explained I only ran it once, but she repeated herself. “Listen,” I said, “Would you run it through in there for me?” When she did, she inspected my wrappings again before gaining contact with my face. “How much?”
It worked! I still had fifteen dollars left. I knew Nikki would be hungry. I was certainly hungry after our close call and having to eagerly stuff our faces before leaving earlier. But this money had to last at least a week. Without the child support of Dan K Anderson, the next few months were going to be slim. My total income from my entry-level position and child support from Cameron’s dad would be $1,815 per month. Hardly enough to support three people. But that’s what he’s counting on. I have another plan.
I picked Nikki up from the library, we stopped at Maverick, and I sent her to get one Redbox movie, a drink for me, and a treat for her. She’s awesome! I didn’t want to get out of the car, due to my bright red elbows, which had to remain wrapped and constricting for at least two hours. But that was dashed when she was unable to retrieve the movie. She did go in and return with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to share and a large Dr. Pepper which I shared with her.
The following day was Sunday, the day we were to pack up and change locations. We were moving to a church this time. The three of us would share a room prepared with three air mattresses and clean linens, along with fresh towels. We’ll continue doing this until we are capable of providing for ourselves. For us, this is either six months when I get a raise, or when they relocate us to a place called LifeStart Village. Although the second choice is sort of like a low-security prison, it’s better than my car and even better than wondering if Dan will get his way and win the battle. My objective — to land on my feet. Sure, I won’t have forgotten Dan. But for now, my focus is on ensuring my kids grow strong and resilient, understanding that ultimately they have control of their lives.
The one lesson my parents never did educate me about — being self-sufficient and independent. One needs to do this before getting married. Otherwise, prone to an abusive relationship. Difficult changes must happen one patient step at a time. I’m crossing my fingers I can create change in my children’s lives quickly enough.