Everyone’s Days are Numbered

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.

What do you get with 3 attorneys and 13 shaved heads?

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.

 

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!

 

Living with Strangers on my Birthday

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We’re each given a canvas at the start of the day. Sometimes it’s dirty and sometimes it’s clean. It’s all ours for 24 hours.

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.

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!

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.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 12.27.14 PM.pngFriday, 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.

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Washing hands helps. When others touch your food with contaminated hands, you could get ill.

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.

Cameron still suffers withdrawals from his friends, which is only to be expected. The school he’d left behind is the only real group of friends he’d associated with, but the adjustment is necessary. He’s trying to find some resonance with reality, but it’s hard.

The resilience of Nikki beams out of every pore of her body whenever school studies are mentioned. It’s fun to watch her boast about her typing scores, but we have discussed the importance of humility. I’m happy to see her excited.

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.Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 12.36.56 PM.png

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.

Meanwhile, I’m working on an interesting story that’s a bit off the beaten track of what I normally write. Could it be the position in which I find myself? There’s some blood and death—maybe because my dreams are a bit askew at the moment.

My goals for my next birthday include living in a separate dwelling, barbecuing, and the three of us going out to an incredible play after we eat. Time to pull out the blank canvas and start on those plans for the future.  

My memory will always hold this birthday as the learning experience of a lifetime.

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Nikki’s crow on a dead tree has no idea it’s about to become the owl’s dinner in the light of the rising sun; Cameron’s is a tree with the sun setting behind it; mine is cherry blossoms by a still lake on the mountain front after a long and prosperous day.

 

Teaching my Children what I Never Learned from my Parents

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.

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In Coming to America, the princess reveals her favorites are the same as the prince; whatever he likes she likes.

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.

Kids with Cpt Elliott and Maj Workman

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!

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 7.59.41 AMWhen 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?”

“Thirty, please.”

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.

Kids in UMA Jeep

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.

Brand New Nikki with Big Brother Cameron