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.
The last I recorded, I needed to attend court for our eviction. Not to say that the experience was wonderful – it wasn’t, but it turned out as well as could be expected. We got three days to vacate. I wasn’t sure how I could afford to move out. I mean, between the storage unit ($110 for a 10 x 10), the U-Haul (.79 mi + $39), time off work, and the movers ($300 + tip), not to mention where we would stay until I could find another place to live ($59 a night for 12 nights) with about $800. Not an easy task by any stretch. The total is over $1,300. Not to mention food, gasoline, and all the other necessities. I sure am glad we don’t need to purchase oxygen for breathing.
First, you figure the numbers and see if you can make it work—bet you can’t.
Here’s how we did it. We got the storage unit free for the first month because we used the U-Haul for transport to the U-Haul storage site. The movers from Wasatch Moving Company never showed up, called, or anything else. After waiting for two hours, we gave up. Cameron and I began doing it on our own. (I’ve never been happier to no longer have an injured back!) But because I neglected to print their information, I couldn’t even remember who they were and wound up paying Cameron’s 16-year-old friend, with an injury, to help us move from the third floor for $120. (I found out the name of the company when I received an email yesterday asking me how Wasatch Moving Company performed.)
Where to stay at under $59/night? That’s a tough one! One of my friends suggested I contact Airbnb, which I did. Some of the rates raised my eyebrows, but I managed to locate one in the shadier side of Salt Lake for under $400 for the whole time. Granted it’s no Hilton, but it is dry and cool. The rhino-sized spiders think so too and visit on occasion!
Nikki tries to remain on the bed and only climbs off to use the facilities. Didn’t work so well the night she was throwing up though. She fell asleep on the cold bathroom tiles to awaken screaming and motionless because a spider had her cornered. I killed it and guided her back to safety.
Nikki and I share a bed and Cameron sleeps on an air mattress next to us. We share a bathroom and a tiny fridge. No microwave, and a shower that leaves us so dry, we could be corn flakes, although that sounds pretty good about now.
We brought 2 loaves of bread, peanut butter, a gallon of milk, assorted fruit packages, Gummy Bears, two large bags of raisins, a large package of cheese slices, Naked fruit drinks, and lots of water with Gatorade and Crystal Light. We also have about 20 cans of chicken and a jar of mayo. I usually take one can a day for lunch and drink a powder Muscle Milk for breakfast. It’s tight, to say the least. It reminds me of that game where you ask if you could take three things on a desert island, what would they be. Yep, that’s pretty much it, although we have no flint or inflatables.
Then, of course, there’s gasoline. Filled the tank once after donating plasma and experienced a leaky gusher after getting into my car. It ruined one of the four pairs of pants I brought, but they were worn. It also ruined an expensive T-shirt and took an upholstery scrub with paper towels. We purchased two Big Daddy’s $3.50 pizzas for a hot meal. It was heaven. We put the rest into the gas tank.
Also, remember the kids were to attend the military school in Ogden? That didn’t work. But thank goodness they have another that’s a bit closer they can attend instead. We still need to finish purchasing boots, pants, etc. though. School starts next week.
Meanwhile, I’d been conversing with a friend from 30 years ago, unsure if I wanted to dig up the past, especially now. I’ve received conflicting information about my past behavior from siblings, parents, and my ex’s sister. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it. But then, I decided she’d been a friend, so the news couldn’t be all bad.
After overcoming my wishy-washy insecurities, I met with Belinda. Cameron was with his dad, and Nikki was with me. So well-behaved and proper, Nikki remained chatting with the ladies, except when Belinda let her three dogs out to run around. Nikki loved it! When Belinda brought out a photo from way back when Nikki’s eyes lit up. “That’s you?” she caught her breath. I couldn’t remember the photo, but it certainly was me. I thought I would share it. Nikki could barely be pulled away from the cat, Trixy when it was time to go six hours later.
My next entry will be what happened in the course of our stay at the bed and breakfast and what we did when it was time to move. With a $650 paycheck and a $500 child support (including some back child support), where will we move and how will we eat? Your guess is as good as mine! Imagine what you could do in this predicament.
I’ve always been competitive as a kid growing up. Had a big family of nine kids total. The situation with our parents was sort of like puppies fighting for nipples when there never seemed to be enough nipples. With that many pups, getting your share was pretty tough. It took the right kick in the right place to ensure your place in line without getting caught by the watchful eyes of my parents and sent to the back of the feeding line.
The best part of being part of a big family was the hand-me-downs. There’s nothing like getting handed down your sister’s Halloween costume of a homeless person. It always fit each kid too, no taking anything in or letting it out. It was one of our favorites. Plus, on Halloween, we found the parents with the bowls would offer us more candy than they offered the pretty princesses. Once in a while, even the other trick-or-treaters would donate from their own bags. We’d make that candy last for six months! Sometimes we’d each place a share into our family community Christmas bowl. Trust me, there’s nothing like seeing a wicked chocolate witch mingling with a marshmallow Santa for the holidays. The true spirit of Christmas!
Sure, we were poor growing up. With that many mouths to feed and parents who missed graduating from high school, we had to fight for our food. Dinner time was the most organized our family was, we each waited until my father was served before we helped ourselves. No smacking, no reaching, and no talking ’til my father finished and left the room. Sort of like he was the king. But after he left, it was every man for himself.
Everyone had a favorite; mine was potatoes. You wouldn’t guess it then. I was so small, my choice was to either have the waistband so huge my belt gathered my britches around my waist or absolute floods that hit halfway between my ankles and my knees. I usually wore the belt cinching them up with safety pins strategically placed on each side. That way, no one could see my unmatching socks so big the toes were doubled over. All of our socks were interchangeable that way.
Because we couldn’t afford lunch, we reused our lunch bags for a week. Some people consider that cost conservative. It isn’t like there was anything to ruin the bag. Every day a peanut butter sandwich and some change for a milk. Multiply that with the number of kids and my father’s meager income and you can get a fuzzy picture of where we were.
Still, I remember fighting this big kid named Mike in elementary because he wanted my lunch. The kids were standing in a circle around us as soon as I told him I wouldn’t give my peanut butter sandwich to him – sort of a modern-day David and Goliath story going on in the schoolyard. A hefty boy against a scrawny, four-eyed little girl too hungry to back down. One hefty punch was all it took. Yes, from him. I was a twiggy-armed girI half his size! I didn’t see him for the rest of the day – or anyone else for that matter. He’d knocked my glasses halfway across the playground and broken them. The rest of the school year I looked like one of those nerds from the television sitcoms with tape holding the nosepiece together. But the bullies still didn’t bother me after that and I’ve never trusted another Mike. And I continued to receive little notes in my lunch from my mom–usually the highlight of my day and the main reason I was excited about lunchtime.
We moved a lot too. The longest I went to school in one district was two years. There were several I went to less than half a year, and that was tough. As soon as my name was no longer “the new girl,” it was time to change schools. You can imagine my horror when at one school another girl stole my “new girl” title. I was pissed. That’s when I became “Michelle Z.” There were already two girls who had the name “Michelle.” It made sense that in addition to being new, I was also always the last in line. And no one could ever pronounce my surname. Nine letters long and starting with a Z; I was proud of anyone for making an effort to sound out the extensively long German name. Even the people of my immediate family had an individual way of pronouncing it. I chose the shortest – Zetner.
I remember in school one time, in third grade when we lived in Bradenton, Florida. I went to a school called Orange Ridge Elementary. Yep, third grade was a long time ago. But I’ll never forget that school and Mrs. Sanders, this black woman that kept forgetting I was in her class. The principal called over the speaker system to, “Please send Michelle to the office.” Mrs. Sanders explained she had two Michelles and needed to know if he needed Michelle Winters or Michelle Barker.
There was silence for a moment before he continued, “Could you please send Michelle Z-e-h-e-n-d-n-e-r to the office?”
My third-grade teacher exploded, “We ain’t got one of those!” That’s when I understood why she was a third-grade teacher.
I raised my hand from the back corner of the room. “I’m talking to the principal,” she reminded me. That’s when I explained my name was Michelle Zehendner. Her face softened for a second and then she said to the speaker, “Here she comes.” You’d think she’d remember me after that – but she didn’t. That’s okay because we moved a few months later.
I have a feeling my parents moved so much to dodge the bills. You can’t do that as easily now. Yep, those were the Good Ol’ Days. It finally occurred to me one Sunday after church. My mom had already run away from home to “find herself.” I don’t think she ever did, but I’m certain she had more fun searching than sticking it out at the “Zehendner’s Funny Farm.” So my father and five kids get home from church. I was the new mom at 14-years-old and four siblings remaining. My dad jumps from the car and runs up to grab a paper from our front door. He comes back to the car and announces, “We’re going to play a game, okay?” I was old enough to understand anytime my dad said there was going to be a game, you definitely didn’t want to be the loser.
But we loved games, so we were chomping at the bit. Perhaps that’s where my competitive edge stems from – everything was a competition. “Who can eat their liver first?” was always a game I lost at. But this game was to see who could pack their things the fastest. The amazing part was how many of the toys we’d been fighting over the day before were lost in the name of winning the game. For us, winning was everything!
I believe I won that time. My brothers were only six and four, so they still didn’t have their bearings straight. They packed all their toys. Clothes weren’t that important. Then again, they would have been happier naked with an excuse to remain that way. But it figured their toys were always first because they were never taken out of the box. They stayed in the bottom of the closet with the flaps tucked inside like big toy boxes. But if they ever got tired of their toy box, they’d simply stomp on it so they could have a new one to decorate with markers. They actually became pretty good at styling their boxes.
My sisters who were about 3 years younger than me were about eleven months apart. A lot of times my parents would dress them as twins, although one was blond the other brunette, and they were absolutely nothing alike. Still, the real fun came when only one outfit was packed and when we unpacked, they fought over who actually left their outfit behind. They became so engulfed in winning, they’d rip the outfit to shreds fighting over it. Needless to say, my family participated in cheap family entertainment. Perhaps I’ll share some later.
But we did something that day that I bet 98% of American families could never do. We moved within 5 hours – in my favorite white church dress and heels. So you can guess where my tenacity of being a single parent with a university degree, and standing up to fight rather than running comes from. I may have been born in the depths, but I’ll be damned if I don’t rise to the top!
Being thankful for what we have shouldn’t be reserved for one holiday per year, the gratitude should run through our bodies every second of every day – yes, even for the experiences we coin as ‘negative.’ Believe me, when it comes to curve balls bombarding you on the pitcher’s mound, no one appears more like Charlie Brown than I do – guaranteed. Today, I’m sharing my latest experience of how nothing seemed to line up appropriately and how we’re coping with it if you want to even consider it “coping.”
In one month’s time, I discovered I was not getting the promotion I was counting on at work as well as my ex deciding he wasn’t going to pay child support. And yes, he did decide it as a “giggling in the back of the classroom little boy.” But these points are not my focus. My focus is on breathing. That’s right, breathing.
You see, sometimes that’s the only option you may feel you have to fall back on. While some people opt to cease breathing and give up altogether, I thank God I’m not to that point. Do I have a game plan? No. Do I have a religion? Not really. I believe in living the Golden Rule. Then, you may ask yourself, what makes me so sure everything will work out? That’s a great question because I am not. But I’m also not ready to quit.
Meanwhile, I’ve had a couple of friends step up to the plate and do what they can to help. See, when the child support ceased to come in, my promotion was the backup plan that would have me prepared. I even had inside coaching on the skills and education it would take to get that promotion from within the company. However, at the last minute, the rules changed and I was denied. Unfortunately, due to my age, my options for gaining employment are limited. Have you seen the way offices are set up now? People have their dogs running around while they all sit around a community table brainstorming. Not that I wouldn’t like that, because I would, but they want someone working with them that has the same commonalities. They’re thinking about flying to the Alps for an expedition next week, while I’m wondering if my kids will want to watch a replay of Moana or if I’m bold enough to put a new spin on my bean casserole.
A month behind on my rent, I continued to make car payments so I would have a way to work, but the late fees began piling up. As it was initially, we were barely scraping by. In fact, I was using the knowledge that I had to be careful financially to spur me forward in my career. But with the late fees, there was no way to regain my financial footing. Even with the donations my friends managed to gather, it wasn’t one-fourth of what was necessary to climb out. Still, if it hadn’t been for their efforts and what was garnered, we wouldn’t have made it at all. It makes me truly grateful for them sticking their necks out to assist me. You know they say that when hard times come into play is when you discover who your real friends are and realize you didn’t have as many as you thought — but again, you may be surprised at the ones who surface.
So, what’s the real story, MJ? Where are you today? On August 2nd, I have taken the day from work to represent myself in court to combat an eviction. I know, I know, there are state-appointed attorneys provided for those who cannot afford their own. But think about it, if they were any good, wouldn’t they be working for paying clients? Many of them are so overworked they don’t know or care about the slightest facts of the case – only that it’s another notch in their belt of “accomplishments.” Besides, their entire lives aren’t riding on the judge’s decision. If they lose, they can shrug and move onto the next one after lunch. I’m already having my mail forwarded to a P.O. Box.
So, with my flying high college degree in hand (and yes, they also want their money) and my tail between my legs, I will force my head upward and search for the answers. Until then, my daughter’s 12th birthday is today. On that note, I will leave you to your own devices and begin our family celebration which I have worked extraordinarily hard to make a special day despite our living room being jam-packed with filled cardboard boxes. Having Nikki realize she is extraordinary today is my number one goal.
Until you check in again, I will continue breathing deeply and saying to myself, “Breathe in your future and blow out your past.” For there’s nothing being gained by holding onto the past or not contemplating the future. And doing this in four deep breaths always makes me gain my mental faculties a little better. Being a single parent means you’ve accepted the responsibility that no matter what, you will not quit.
Please read next week to see if any solutions mysteriously appear.