Realizing not everyone appreciates hearing about my kids, feel free to stop reading. Most of what I do relates to my kids because they are the beacons of my life and oftentimes the reason I'm even alive. So when I write, I usually write about my family's breakthroughs and challenges. Feel free to share your own especially if reading mine stirs emotions and your own realizations -- perhaps one or two you've forgotten.
Imagine if each person on the globe’s intention was a singular, silken strand of spider web. Everything a person did, you, for example, was recorded somehow with a shiny, glimmering strand trailing behind you from the day you’d exited your mother’s womb. Some of us would have strong and sturdy, yet simplistic patterns, signifying we’re home all day with an occasional trip to the store or the kids’ school. When our husband arrives, we twist about in our tiny area making sure all the towels are folded correctly and the dinner is pleasantly warm for his arrival. A tight-knit web with little flexibility–a cocoon of sorts, wouldn’t you say? A cocoon that may never open?
On the other hand, there are those more extravagant webs that stretch thin near and far, traveling to Paris, Cancun, Australia, and back to New York. These webs shine with a glossy finish, high above the others, for all the world to admire. Perhaps more like a dragonfly than an arachnid — but no, they’re still spiders, although they vaguely remember their starting point and seldom double back, making complicated patterns.
Me? I’m what one would refer to as a dyslexic spider; my focus is a bit out of whack. Although I work hard and toward specific goals, sometimes they’re unrealistic and other times I don’t remember what I even started working towards or why. Take this blog for example; great intentions of sharing my life, but I’ve left out a huge and important portion because I allowed Life to get away from me. I need to hold on tight and keep focus. But the question is, why? What is my goal? (Leaning in while I whisper.) **I’m 52, have a degree, and work an entry-level position.** Sick, right? (Not sic) I’m disgusted with failing and the bad example I’m showing my kids. How can I expect them to earn a college degree if they feel as if their end may be the same as my own? I’ll reveal it.
The apartment we’re in is “very lived in”. If you’ve seen the other places we’ve lived, you’ll understand how clean we normally are and what the mindset is for our home now. We hate it here and it shows. The only choice we have is to move. The only way to do that is by making more money. The only way to make more money, as a “well-weathered” person, is by excelling in a craft where appearance isn’t comparable to skills — unless you’re Christie Brinkley who appears as a 21-year-old senior citizen. You may be asking yourself how I arrived at this earth-shattering conclusion, and I’ll explain.
After our multiple moves through Family Promise, we settled into a basement of a home in a questionable part of town where I didn’t feel as if we fit. I’d also noticed more and more families are sharing a single dwelling. They’re pulling up their pant legs and renting their basements either full-time or as an Airbnb for extra cash. As you may remember, I don’t socialize with my family and am not very quick to trust people, placing us at a huge disadvantage.
Now we’re in another place that will have to do, at least until the lease is up. It certainly isn’t as pretty as what we’d grown accustomed to living in and so we’ve let it go to hell before we even completed unpacking. Then again, I’ve certainly had it worse.
I grew up with a family of seven and one bathroom. And we weren’t “spoiled” with boxes of tissue planted skillfully around the house. We all used toilet paper for our noses, but my father was the only one who wore twisted strands up each nostril resembling a big woolly mammoth. And when he blew his nose, he sounded like one too. There were days where I would emerge from the restroom to a line of people with runny noses. That was about the time my father taught us kids to use our sleeves or bottom of our shirts for tissues. Yeah, quite gross, and completely unsanitary. It’s amazing how little things from our childhood impact us. I don’t think there’s a room in our place that doesn’t have a box of tissue in it.
Now you may be asking what kicked this writer in the ass to get in gear with writing again? My one-year anniversary is nearly up at the office, meaning I can apply to move elsewhere within the company and “sow my wild oats” with my degree — finally. But this dyslexic spider has determined that with this weathered countenance, I can’t wait for someone to notice me anymore. It’s time I set out on my own and sink my fangs into real sustenance. The desperation of the winter months are quickly approaching for this black widow, and it’s time to either roll over and die or make it happen. I’m not ready to die.
The best news ever reveals the biggest reason to why you haven’t received a post in the weekly manner of which you’ve grown accustomed. We’ve stayed in various churches of a three month course, weathering week-long mournings, three-day weddings, bathrooms shared with as many as twenty people (and one shower), and meals created for us every night. Sometimes the food had to be experimental leftover creations, but the gamble was well worth the golden nugget of a meal that never failed to surprise us. Even still, we didn’t fit in; we used napkins, said “please and thank you,” and cleaned up after ourselves. Unfortunately, when one family grows accustomed to this behavior it makes blending with other homeless families crushing. I’m certain they felt the same way about us. Parents who call their kids names and casually smack them in the head proves incredibly testing to witness without saying anything.
But, minding your own business in such situations is a survival tactic. Our family kept to ourselves except during dinner where everyone convened in one dining area. The hosts and food donating individuals were a godsend with patience and kindness beyond belief. Two designated hosts would remain through the night, leaving when time to leave at 7:00 a.m. Another couple arrived at 5:00 p.m., when the families returned, the meal was brought by yet another group at 6:30 p.m., and following cleanup the night team arrived. On a weekend, staff remained in shifts; some would keep to themselves, while others crawled on the floor with children or played board games with families. But each church had its own personality. Nevertheless, all of them had dedication too awesome to imagine.
Some of the other families came from places where defecating in the waste basket and urinating in the toy box are acceptable practices—only worth mentioning if caught in the act. Not somewhere you’d choose to live if given a viable option. And still, the keepers of the church maintained the premises.
But without options, we were fortunate to have food and a private sleeping area.
Some provided multiple gender-specific showers, where others required the perfect-timing of one shared amongst the group during a few short hours. These were the times having a vehicle that drove to Flying J was appreciated. Some families had no vehicle and waited for the company van to pick them up and drop them off with each transition. They’d spend the day in a mutual room watching television, showering, or doing laundry at the facility. The ones who worked, maneuvered their two hours per night with caution. Lights out and doors locked at 9:00 p.m.
All the families had to get along when a crying infant or ill child was present, we all suffered and dealt with it. In one instance, 3/4 of the “community” awakened to new haircuts following a lice infestation. Because of our unsociable habits, we were spared, but don’t think we weren’t paranoid. For about three days, there were periods I swear I felt something climbing through my hair. I’d inspect, have someone else investigate, and shower. It was horrible! It could only have been worse to actually find them.
A month later, we’ve managed moving into a home converted into a duplex. The commute to school and work begins at 7:00 a.m. and ends about 9:00 a.m. at the office, unless I get there earlier for some much needed overtime.
Now one may think traveling from one end of Salt Lake Valley to Lehi and back a total waste. Honestly, I did too. Between fuel and time spent traveling, I could drop the kids at the train station and gain five hours a week in overtime without stepping foot inside on the weekend. Of course, the ride back to my employment from the school takes the kids a couple of hours each night. But they’re troopers.
At first, I felt all the traveling as an unnecessary waste of time and fuel. But then I realized something vitally important; with the kids trapped in the car with me for an extra ten hours per week going from and to home, they had to communicate or at least hear a fraction of what I spewed. I chose the quality time in cussing at other drivers—in unison—a rare family activity solidifying our bond.
We got a pet. Sure, a dog would have been grand, but we wouldn’t have the time to train him during the school year. Instead we got a cat. His name was Moon when we got him, but “Lucius” got a unanimous vote—even by the feline. This paragraph brings us to “the bad.”
Understanding I had a bit of a physical reaction to cats, I was careful about how much I held Lucius or allowed him to snuggle me. It wasn’t until Nikki helped me prepare for work one day by saying, “I brought you a different coat to wear today. Lucius was using it for a bed but he can do without for a day. I know how much you like this jacket.”
Merrily, I put it on and padded off to work. But that isn’t all—oh no, that isn’t all! I draped the jacket around the back of my chair like some fool tempting Fate. Halfway through a phone call, I got a scratch in my throat and attempted to clear it. It didn’t work. In fact, my voice was nowhere to be found. Some people would have liked me that way. Although I usually had a bottle of water on my desk, there was none now. I could barely breathe, much less carry a conversation.
I politely asked my customer, through a hoarse whisper, if I could call her back in a moment. I quickly maneuvered to the water fountain and got a drink. “Are you okay?” a passing supervisor inquired.
”Well, that was weird…” I managed before gasping like a astronaut without a helmet. “My windpipe feels as wide as a stirring straw.” The supervisor turned back, grabbed me, and guided me to a chair before calling an ambulance.
Even though a stretcher, a crew of paramedics, and the supervisors gathering around were necessary, I wish they weren’t. We were in a semi-secluded area, but passerby paused on occasion to take a bit of commotion with them.
Several times the paramedics asked if I wanted a ride to the hospital for additional treatment after the instant nebulizer. The only thought absorbing into my mind was the cost. An ambulance would probably cost another thousand or so—plus the humiliation of being wheeled away. Turns out the reason they kept asking me to ride to the hospital comes down to the time being about eleven a.m. and the treatment lasting about four hours, a doctor explained later. She followed up with information leading to another attack if not treated properly. I drove to the hospital knowing I’d be working late to make up my time.
The following three hours were spent being examined before enduring the doctor’s voice of reason explaining how ridiculous it is putting an animal ahead of my own health. “Would your kids rather have a mother or a pet?” she asked me. My prescriptions are for an Albuterol inhaler, a plastic device that lessens the shakiness it causes, and Singulair. The plan is that I will acclimate. Sounds crazy—but it’s the one commonality we have as a family we can all talk and laugh about.
My last bit of news comes after a phone call I received at work today. It was the military school—you know, the one Cameron’s anticipating his pilot’s license from? He was caught sluffing yesterday. They suspected more because of the kids he was associated with in the car. So he’s suspended for tomorrow. Needless to say, the television remotes and his phone have been confiscated and his visit to his father’s denied. All that aside, he’s mostly upset that he’ll miss a kid’s birthday party Sunday—his one chance to truly make friends at his new school. His father’s even more upset. Not with Cameron but with me for not allowing the visit. He feels I’m “taking my frustrations out on” him. I explained my decision wasn’t “about him” at all but directed toward my son. Dave didn’t get it—surprise. I’m unreasonable.
Here’s how I see it: I’ve only got one shot at getting this motherhood thing right—sort of like skydiving; no way to fix a major error after jumping.
What would YOU do? We’ll check back later for the end results.
You know when you watch a movie and the main character does something totally unthinkable leaving you scratching your head in confusion?
After having no manageable sleep for four nights, working full time, having curfew restraints, and being unable to shower for nearly a week—while working overtime on the weekends, you’d think I would be thrilled to move to another shelter. Not when it’s in Bountiful and the kids attend school in Lehi.
We’ve located four units to move into over the past month, searching only during my free time on the weekends. Each time it’s lost because the shelter isn’t open during the weekend when all of the listings are posted. By the time the shelter calls Monday afternoon to check on the vacancy, the new resident has signed, sealed, and delivered their agreement with the securing payment. And I just can’t pretend anymore.
I will not be searching for anything more than a temporary shelter providing us more than safekeeping. Still, the late night customs of religions one week and an incessantly crying newborn baby the next is enough to drive my sanity over the brink. I can only imagine how my kids are surviving. Think calm thoughts—think calm thoughts. Be grateful for food and warmth. But sleep is paramount to survival; look it up.
Every night, as we go to bed, an endless stream of our own muffled laughter ends our day in good spirits, with hopes that tomorrow offers a promise for the future.
Unsure of whether it’s considered “unhealthy” or “mentally strong” when someone mentions dying and I realize it’s part of the natural process. Everyone dies, it’s only a matter of when and what has been accomplished in the lifetime–people aren’t typically aware of the “finish line.” But every day poses new challenges and another opportunity to learn something spectacular. Here’s your chance!
Family Promise is an incredible opportunity for people to reach out and help others without making a huge commitment of time or money. Although I’m not religious, I still believe in the Golden Rule and Karma–or anything else you want to call it. Perhaps it’s best considered Yin and Yang where it all evens out, but the good begets good and vice versa, coming back around in the end. And my personal philosophy is that everything that can create a learning experience is in a sense “good.” It’s the “bad” we repeat.
For those who aren’t familiar with helping others through resources like Family Promise, I urge you to educate yourself and have your church leaders welcome them. This is an opportunity to prove what your God has been instructing all the while. Watch and see.
If everyone’s days are numbered, as are the days of the families in this program, as well as the hours people have in dedicating themselves to others, is there a better time to start than now? How would your God answer this question? Everyone’s days are numbered, and we’re hoping our number comes up soon.
It was a quiet night at the church as Nikki and I left to pick up Cameron from his dad’s. The church members prepared food and entertainment while we sneaked out to get him.
Up late the night before, without a washing machine or a way to purchase “superfluous” haircuts, we must either go scraggly or see what creative styles we can conjure up. Following giving myself a haircut, I washed my hair and Nikki’s uniform in the shower. I used a blow dryer on both of them for cleanliness the next morning. With little sleep, I was ready to crash after getting Cameron the next day and having a relaxing meal.
Homecoming had Cameron psyched beyond excitement as he prepared everything to go off without a hitch — unfortunately, not exactly what he ended up with by the time the next 36 hours had passed. Because the shelter we’re staying at has a curfew of 9:00 p.m. and Homecoming was in Ogden, special arrangements needed to be made for him to go.
Homecoming was certainly not ending by then, Cameron arranged to stay at his friend Jarom’s. Sunday morning, his father would pick him up. After Nikki and I did our weekly move to the new church at 2:00 p.m., we’d swing by and grab him from his father’s. All went as well as could be expected. That is until we had delicious tacos for dinner that evening with our new church friends.
Shortly after dinner, Cameron approached me, “I swallowed a dime for $20.” Now remember, he oftentimes creates his own imaginative clichés and I thought this was one of them. So I said, “Okay…?” urging him to get to the punchline.
He rolled his eyes and repeated it again. “Okay, Cameron, just spell it out. What are you trying to say?” I was tired. We’d been to the storage unit in Ogden and back, we’d moved all our belongings, and I was ready for bed. “I ate a dime for $20 when a couple of guys I didn’t know dared me to.” My eyes squinted and shifted back and forth. “I wanted spending money, but I couldn’t ask you.”
“You have ingested a dime—a metal coin?” I was certain I was misinterpreting what he said. I mean, what type of teenager confuses himself for a piggybank? Buttons and dog chow is what kids eat when they’re learning everything small doesn’t belong up our noses, in our ears, and down our throats. And I understood being without money. Then again, I wasn’t a teenage boy trying to show a girl a good time on a magical evening.
Looking at me as if I’d just swallowed my own head, he nods his head. “You’re kidding!” I screamed horrified as he described feeling its movement in his chest. “That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard!” I forgot to mention everyone was clearing the tables from their own families as I unloaded on my teen. “Get in the car!” I commanded him, “And get your sister. The rules state we need to stay together, so she’s coming with us.”
I went into the room to get my purse, and the deafening whines of a preteen girl filled the air, “Why do I have to go? Can’t I stay here while you guys go?” Nikki had no idea where we were going. That was the next question, but I shooed her along as I stopped by the evening host and quickly blurted out I’d text him with what was going on. The others stared on dumbfounded, not having a clue as to what was happening except that I was fit to be tied. They’d only seen me helpful and cheery. I wasn’t either.
We went to Jordan Valley Hospital since it was the closest. After a few x-rays, the doctor asked a few questions as to why Cameron hadn’t mentioned anything to anyone for over 24 hours and asked what we’d done, if anything, to try and get it out. Hard-shelled tacos wasn’t, surprisingly, a recommendation by the doctor.
The dime is to the left of his spine
You can clearly see the coin
Apparently, my son felt that eating hard-shelled tacos would force the dime down his throat. The only problem was that the dime got stuck at the top of his esophagus where his lungs paired off. The metal coin fluttered at the top of his lungs with each breath. Needless to say, he was sadly mistaken. Since the procedure required in-depth maneuvers, they referred us to attend Murray’s Intermountain Healthcare Hospital.
The nurses left the tourniquet on for over two hours
Cameron has NO idea how serious the procedure is
Mucous-covered dime fluttering at the entrance to both lungs
But because Cameron isn’t yet an adult, there was a question of whether or not he should be seen at Primary Children’s or if there was the danger of the coin damming up a lung, requiring immediate attention. They decided transporting was not a good idea and settled on treating him there. They performed a “Bronchoscopy.” Try saying that 3x fast!
And because we were all spent when they finished the procedure of removing the dime, I called into work. There was no way I would be able to function on the stress and lack of sleep. The families must exit the church by seven a.m. throughout the week, so we found a parking lot and went to sleep in the car. Nikki across the back, Cameron reclined in the front, and I was tucked neatly behind the steering wheel with the car facing the west for just a little more shade.
For anyone who ever considers indulging in a really stupid dare – instead of dreaming of your friends patting your back for the next five minutes in congratulations, you might want to ponder $5,000 in hospital bills isn’t worth the twenty bucks. Plus, you have a stranger – even a kind doctor– invading your body. Not saying doctors are “bad” people, but you don’t know if they’re a Jekyll/Hyde combo! Halloween is just around the corner!
But the next morning, I swung into Smith’s up on the east side of the valley and ran into this guy who made my week’s adventures a memory to look back on. I deserved a break! Check out his name. It’s “Dug E. Phresh!” Stop into Starbucks and tell him MJ sent you.
BTW- we’ve taken two additional trips to the hospital for infections and an onset of pneumonia since, but Cameron’s hit the trail for new adventures.
Have you ever won a bet just to lose big in the end? Share!
Probably the most testing part of living in a shelter is as much as I like observing people, I don’t particularly care for interacting with them. They say writers are introverts, but I’m not shy–and when I do speak, I’m a no-holds-barred person. I believe the issue boils down to an acute hearing condition referred to as hyperacusis, which isn’t nearly as wonderful as it sounds. While it’s true I can hear a bee’s fart clear across the park there are certainly some serious drawbacks. My sounds all blend together at the same decibel level. For example, if I were to eat at a fast food restaurant with kids running around giggling and families jabbering, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish their chatter from that of someone seated next to me speaking. It’s one massive cloud of cacophony that sucks. On the other hand, if my surroundings consist of virtual silence in a library and someone across the room whispers to the librarian I can hear what book or information the reader seeks. In an area with twenty people, separated at night by curtains dividing the rooms, my anxiety requires additional attention. I get little to no sleep due to the constant whining and bickering, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Thank goodness for the sparse groups of individuals and churches who do more than just preach about all the good they’ve done to earn their ways into heaven. There are some who truly believe in assisting others. Now whether they do it to feel good about their deeds or as some sort of pass to enter The Pearly Gates, I don’t know. And frankly, not being a follower of God myself, I still believe in The Golden Rule. If people simply abide by doing unto others as they’d have done unto them, wouldn’t that be a ticket to Heaven for those who truly believe? I don’t do it for rewards–I do it because it’s right.
Today I’m mentioning one such group the program called Family Promise relies on located at Wasatch Presbyterian Church. That’s where we met our two newest families and had entire families to help us through our week. We had three attorneys waiting on us. (If you want to see a real miracle… attorneys helping homeless for no pay?) Unbelievable, but actually helped restore my faith in the legal system or at least a few choice individuals. Not all lawyers are assholes. One played the guitar and offered company while we ate the delicious, star-rated meal another attorney prepared including a blueberry and cherry oatmeal and a delicious quiche with bacon and sausage. Not a typical meal at all, but memorable for sure. And the last was our hostess. Nikki enjoyed the inflatable air mattresses that invited us to take a nap straight away.
Music with our meal
A meal a chef would love
Nikki relaxes on air mattress
Sunday, the 16th, Shawn and his teen daughter left, due to what he called bedbugs (which were baby cockroaches), and Eric and Justin’s crew found their new living quarters with their kids. Everything was calm for one night with my family of three and the Hispanic family of four. Last Saturday, the dynamic changed considerably with an addition of two families consisting of thirteen people – hair pulled up or shaved off. They’d arrived from the same place—The Road Home. The Road Home is a shelter that’s overpopulated, understaffed, and an absolute last resort. We went there once because we were told if authorities caught us sleeping in the car they would take my children, but we just couldn’t stay. After going there, we decided to take our chances. With the bug infestation and dysfunctionality of it, we spent three nights crammed like three triplets crammed into the uterus of my car, surrounded by our possessions. The two additional families are Road Home graduates with shaved heads — need I say more?
The first family is a father, Troy, whose wife left him and their five kids, and one grandchild, for meth. He doesn’t work but is upset that the program requires him to find employment. The young teen mother has a raging attitude, a deplorable vocabulary, and no sense of regard for anyone else. Yeah, I guess a typical distressed teen but the stress has amplified it about thirty times. He has a young teen daughter (I thought was a male for two days until I realized she has hair); a son about my daughter’s age who’s intelligent but desperate for attention; and a set of twins who are about four. Like the Hispanic family, they do not have transportation and rely on the van to pick them up every morning at 7:00 a.m. and drop them off at 5:00 p.m. each day except for the weekends. Sunday is generally when we change church locations at 2:00 p.m.
The second family proves that if there is a God, He certainly works in mysterious ways. The father’s story was he was hit on his motorcycle with his bride-to-be on the back. When she died instantly, he inherited a metal plate in his head, brain damage, a messed up spine and pins to hold his legs on. The accident brought his professional life as a chef to a screeching halt. He married another woman who, according to her, was hit in the head by an anvil at the young age of three. Neither of them works and their four children, under the age of thirteen, prove the mother was sincere when she announced they would have as many children as possible. Put them in the room with any television set on and they stare like cats watching fish swim in a bowl.
When we met them, we were at a church with the most amazing hosts. We’ve already met several incredible people through our journey over the past month, as is visible in earlier posts. But this church supplied entertainment for breakfast—and extremely caring people and an incredible supplier of organization orchestrating numerous families who pull together for a week to serve others who have had a rough time.
Let’s face it, kids the answer to the aforementioned riddle is Wasatch Presbyterian and Family Promise helping families – organizing this jumble of people is a feat in itself much less creating joy in the process. But somehow, Allison, Alyssa, and Brickel manage. Our stay was wonderful! After the last church, I never wanted to leave the shelter of this God’s house and the incredible families inside, but all good things must come to an end. We moved again, and this time it was to a little church in West Jordan for real adventure!
Good news and bad news, but that’s life, right? We’ve got to take the good with the bad, take away the accomplishments and pay the price for our flaws. In a world where you make larger mistakes, guaranteed the price will be paid a very long time. If you’re damned lucky, you’ll pay it off in time to reap some sort of reward.
Trusting in the law and that child support will be paid—I’m not the only one stupid enough to think that could happen. And then ending up in a world of crap… But let’s forget about that for a while. Maybe it’s better to forget about it for good. If we do, we’re more likely to repeat the events that got us here in the first place, though.
For you, my readers, I’ll simply post the photos and let you fill in the blanks to the events. In fact, let’s just do this week’s entry specifically in photos. It was supposed to be posted on Sunday and I’m wiped out. So, here are the photos I’ve taken this past week. If you have any guesses, post them. I’ll make sure and tell you how close you are to the correct answer—it’ll be fun! (And all in a week’s work.)
After I dropped off the kids to school in Lehi, I followed this beast to work. Without a plate and tinted windows, you’ll never guess who’s inside.
We’re on our third week of living in the shelter called Family Promise. Cameron spends this weekend with his dad, snoozing in his own bed, watching cable networks on television, and he’ll golf. He enjoys that short commercial break of “living the dream” once in a while. But Cameron almost didn’t get to this time.
The family I mentioned last time, Shawn and Kiwi, came a week ago last Thursday. Although she was separated from the rest of us, the accordion curtain that separated our families wasn’t enough to keep her untreated illness from spreading. After a long three-day weekend, I woke up on my birthday with a headache, sore throat, and body aches. But I couldn’t let the dreaded Norovirus stop me for several reasons.
Can’t separate from the phone…
… couldn’t care less.
First, if you miss a day of work after a holiday, as with most companies, your holiday pay isn’t available. Second, I had already paid for my birthday celebration with my kids. And third, well, I didn’t feel like sitting this one out. It’s been forever since I’ve celebrated my birthday, so everyone else can suck it and let me have a good time being sick!
Who could discover the nuance of the still night?
The Friday before, I’d been talking to my manager at work and discussed my plans for having a fun birthday and she suggested a place called, “Painting with a Twist.” It was fun, allowing Cameron and Nikki to freely express themselves on canvas. For my birthday, we all copied from the same painting, you can see the variation in each of our psyches and how it reflects on our outlook. Can you tell who painted each? (See bottom for answers)
We returned late and went straight to bed. I felt pretty bad. The night refused to hold any promises of sleep. Between the city nightlife of passersby yelling at each other and cursing with the competition of a runny nose, sore throat, throbbing head, and having to empty my intestines, I didn’t sleep very well.
The following morning was surprisingly worse. I went to work and was so worn I could hardly hold a thought, much less work. The day would have dragged if I could remember it, but it was a murky mess of mistakes and apologies.
When I arrived at the church, I discovered Cameron was also ill. We decided to take Wednesday off for the doctor. The illness was so nasty we were treated with medication that was a liquid-based prescription level ibuprofen that could only have tasted worse if scraped from the bottom of a farmer’s boot. We were each given a bottle of water before the nursing assistant cautiously left the room. I swallowed hard, twisted the cap off my water, and then downed the medicine in one fatal drink before chasing it with the entire bottle of water before coming up for air.
Cameron didn’t swallow his water with the same vigor as me. He sipped his, and then took a swallow of water—several times between intermittent mini-convulsions. Afterward, we were given Z-packs containing Azithromycin. Fun? But the paintings will last forever AND Cameron’s stealthy play won him a painting created by the instructor. The scowl I received with the suggestion he might consider it a gift to his girlfriend, Trinity, was at least notable. He smiled warmly and declined.
At the shelter, “residents” must be absent between seven a.m. and five p.m. for typical services and upkeep of the churches. So Cameron and I went to a library—a public library where we could cough and “share the glory” with others. Although, we did manage to stay in our own little corner and keep our breathing to a minimum. We always cover our mouths and wash our hands in an attempt to stave off infections. Doing what we could in distancing ourselves and keeping calm so we could heal quietly without infecting others, but gain intelligence at the same time.
Friday, I had a weekly review at work. I wish I could say that despite the havoc in the rest of my life that my job is going smoothly, but I can’t. Tuesday’s pathetic average worked itself in to bring my score even lower than it was, which was a very “unbirthday” surprise. My average of files per hour still sits at about eight. I have two weeks to bring it to a ten or I’ll be in danger of losing my job. All I can say to that is that it would really suck—but with two more weeks, I can only hope that positive occurrences happen.
After I picked Nikki up and left Cameron at his dad’s, we entered our room to discover things had been moved. Nothing major has been noted missing, but I have a real issue, especially when chaos is breaking out around me, to have everything organized and placed evenly. Although my suitcase was still positioned in front of the closet door, the door wasn’t latched and my suitcase was half unzipped. Now we lock our door when we leave and have the host open it each night when we get back.
The family of Erica and Justin with the kids—a five-bedroom home has been found for them if you can believe that. It’s a lower portion of a home, which must be gigantic to have five bedrooms in half of it! I’m happy for them, but a little sad because that’s the only family we’ve been conversing with regularly. Awaiting the next family is like playing the shell game. I figure we’re here for another four months or so. I still have a lot to learn about finances before we can move.
When I went into the playroom to notify Erica of the Norovirus, because I heard the Hispanic grandma hacking up a lung in the room half an hour earlier, the host entered just after I finished relaying the warning signs of the virus. It’s both viral and bacterial, meaning the room most likely churns with contamination. But as I was leaving, Erica informed the host that the Hispanic boy urinated in a bin and carefully placed the lid on top just as her son entered. Norovirus doesn’t seem so dangerous all of a sudden, OR perhaps this is exactly where it was born.
Shawn came running out of his room next to ours yesterday screaming about having bedbugs and demanding he saw a really big one. I’m thinking, if it was that big, it probably wasn’t a bedbug. They’re relatively small.
Both kids plan on joining the CERT training at the end of the month through their school, Utah Military Academy. This provides the certification necessary for rescuing people from flood, fire, or other catastrophic events. Empowering–we need this.
Today is Sunday. It probably sounds petty to say we’re not eating breakfast because it’s the day the church doors are open to feeding the homeless. While there are courteous transients, addicts, pedophiles, etc. in the mix, I’m guarded. When it comes to my kids, I’d rather avoid than take the time to sort— it’s quicker and safer.
As I stated earlier, numerous families live together in this program and give each other the nod and smile of passing strangers. When we go to our individual rooms is when we all vent out the frustrations of how the other families agitate us or comfort us. Of course, there’s a huge mix, even considering just four very different families who’ve fallen on hard times in this crisis our country is headed toward.
The members of the churches offer their services by providing homemade dinners they’ve prepared themselves, and delicious breakfasts as well on the weekends. If ever there’s a time one considers whether God exists, it’s when good people step in front of the harsh words of discriminating people and allow these people center stage. I can’t say I believe in a singular body claiming to be all-powerful any more than I believe Santa delivers coal to children who’ve misbehaved. But it’s clear as day that whether or not a singular god does exist, as long as people continue caring for each other with the goodness of their hearts, there’s hope for humankind. Let’s reveal our recipe.
Family One: The family that’s been here the longest is going on their third month. They seem happy enough, although their accumulation of children is extremely original. Justin and Erika are white and have four children between them, but only the dark-skinned one is hers, Z. The cutest bright-eyed, testy, and full-of-energy little four-year-old you could ever hope to meet. Everyone loves Z. They have an additional array of children from hopeful and happy Jade, who is about seven; Tyler is their reliable and trustworthy boy at about nine; and Sean who is extremely responsible and often times a parent himself, at the age of twelve. Justin has another child who remains with her mother elsewhere.
They arrived in a camper. Oft times, the couple “takes a break” from the kids by disappearing on occasion into the camper for a period of time. This is when Sean steps up to the plate to break up any occurrences between his siblings—a rarity for someone who isn’t yet a teen himself. He and my daughter get along splendidly.
Family Two: Is the family who’s lived here about two months. That’s Sydney and her crew. She has two hefty children, a broken leg, and a deviously grinning grandmother Laura who claims not to understand a lick of English. Anytime the squatty woman sees me she waves and smiles, “Hola!” It was sort of cute at first. But after a week, I’m thinking, “Why can’t she just say ‘Hello’?” But her daughter, Sydney, learns more English every day from her daughter, Alex. It’s awesome when people set out to learn.
I discovered the grandma has no interest in having anything to do with this country. We used Google Translator to communicate, and I learned a lot of what goes on behind that smirk of the “friendly” grandma. In November, when Sydney’s husband is released from prison, grandma plans on returning to her home country. As twisted as she is, I see her point and can try to resonate with her discomfort. I mean, going shopping in a store where all the labels are a different language would be hard enough—but trying to exchange currency with someone who’s unable to communicate would be really difficult—especially with all the family’s stuff packed into garbage bags. Their youngest, Jay, is a relatively large six-year-old, and he is the interpreter for the children to parent communication. Although I have no idea what he’s communicating he’s seen that day.
Still, they allow “little” Jay into the women’s bathroom where he periodically climbs on his hands and knees to peer beneath the doors calling, “Grandma! Grandma!” Doesn’t she answer him if he doesn’t look? My daughter no longer uses the restroom without a guard—me. Can’t say I blame her. And this family is by far the messiest.
Family Three: Is Shawn and Kassandra, who goes by Kiwi. I believe she’s about fourteen with special needs, and I also have a fairly strong suspicion he’s schizophrenic. He often speaks to himself and “spontaneously combusts” during sleeping hours. He also refuses to acknowledge that anyone has a variety of skin color. He and his daughter are black, but for some reason, he’s hung up the Hi-fi Shop killings from the early 1970’s and claims it happened in the early 80’s. He revealed that because the killers were black, he’s disassociated himself from the race. I wonder if he’s heard of Hitler—white and not the best example. They’ve been here about four nights, but the first one was the worst. I’d slept from 1:30 a.m. to four.
The heavy curtain drawn to separate the rooms wasn’t enough to block the noise. And with my exceptional hearing, the situation proved to be extremely trying.
Every hour the first night his daughter would cough so hard I thought they needed a stick to cram her lungs back in. Each time he’d say something inaudible. Once he shouted clear as day, “Get the fuck away from me!” I wondered if both would emerge from the room the following morning.
Kiwi whimpered and cried, but apparently stopped trying to get close. I was heartbroken by the incident. Still, I couldn’t do anything. I was told we couldn’t intervene unless there was visible physical damage. Since I can’t do anything, I do my best to prevent my children from hearing what goes on with the others.
Last morning was a bit different. I awakened to hear “other noises” omitting from beneath the curtain. It started with an “Ooooh!,” ended with a sigh, and his door opening and closing, before the men’s restroom door across the hall did the same. When I asked him how he slept, he replied, “Good. Too good, actually.”
Glad I don’t have to clean their room. It’s enough we all share one shower and must plan accordingly. Because the families generally shower in the evening, we get up at 5:00 a.m. to cleanse ourselves and prepare for the day’s events–traveling to work and school despite where we awaken.
Cameron still tries adjusting enough to be successful at school. Everyone at the churches is enchanted with his level of respect. He shakes the hosts’ hands and introduces himself before offering his assistance around the church. The adults always seem to be taken with this, and it makes me proud.
Danika, or Nikki as she used to be called, excels in school and has her sites set on becoming a squad leader this year and a sergeant next year. Her grades show commitment, so we bought a huge black backpack for her to carry her computer back and forth to school because her other one was pink zebra-stripes and unacceptable by the school’s standards. Her potential is limitless.
Me, on the other hand, I can’t say I’m up-to-par with the circus. I had my one-on-one with my manager last week and it isn’t looking good. That means I need to work a little harder. Sure, coloring and cutting my hair is an issue, as I’m used to doing it myself. But without my supplies, guess I’m going back to gray and having to buy a haircut from a local salon—something easy to keep up.
Today, we broke up our day by swinging by to visit Grandma Bev. She’s one happy lady, even if she can’t hear us half the time and weighs half of what my daughter weighs. She’s stopped repeating the same stories she’s used to telling of her father painting and her grandfather, Francis Scott Key, writing the national anthem. I have a feeling she’s beginning to wind down but fighting it every step of the way. I’ll truly miss her when she’s gone, but we’ll have created wonderful memories like the one we made today by bringing her a lunch that will last a week.
Tonight’s our first night in a church downtown. We’ve lightly canvassed, such as the Harmon’s in the picture. I’ve heard the cooks are unbelievable, but I have a hard time believing that. After all, the last church did a bang-up job of keeping our stomachs and gas tanks full. People are wonderful!
We realize how fortunate we are to be cared for, but also prepare for our turn to care for others in the future.
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.