Walking forward through hell.
That is what I am doing.
I live in a boarding house with crack addicts, alcoholics and God knows what else.
And yet my therapist is asking me to walk backwards in hell. This is what folks who have no idea what life in these circumstances truly means…my therapist tells me to put my things in storage and move into shelter in order to qualify for a housing voucher. She says this will get me out of my current situation. I am living in building with crack addicts, drunks and God knows what else. Two months ago, someone took a shit in the parking lot, next to my car…it could have been a dog – but rarely do dogs take shits in between parked cars, besides that I have never seen a stray dog in this neighborhood – not even once.
My therapist with her small brown eyes and always a wisp of hair escaping her ponytail, is asking me to return to where I left, ignorant this fresh hell is my haven. The place I have claimed as my own since leaving the stink of the shelter.
I can close the door behind me, eat when I want to, and have more than three pairs of shoes beneath of my bed.
I remember being on my knees in the shelter and praying for a door to close behind me.
God, I have realized takes prayers literally.
I should have prayed for a door, a private bathroom, and a kitchen.
I have a door to close behind me and room with a refrigerator and microwave but I share the bathroom with eight people in building that boasts a sign on the front porch that says, “Wishes are granted here”
I don’t know what wishes are being made in this building, nor is it any of my business. I think selfishly of only my prayers, my wishes, my needs. Still, my therapist suggests I return to the before that existed before this after.
I feel betrayed.
Most of our sessions have been me crying over the circumstances that have led me here. The ruined marriage, the fire that consumed my home, the department of social services taking my child, the men and most of all, me living here… in this place. It is hard to not get caught up in the before.
I live in the after now.
After the marriage.
After I lost my child.
After the fire.
After living in the shelter.
The after photo is always supposed to be the better photo, the happily ever after. The story always ends with After and yet, it begins there. Truly after, is the beginning.
And this is where I write from the After which is in essence, a beginning. I am confused at this beginning. I don’t know where this beginning leads to and remember in the before I was fearless. I didn’t fear the outside of the door nor did I lay awake at night with fear slowly mounting for what came with sunrise.
In the before I was independent of anxiety. There was no time for it. Failures were mere bumps in the road. Joblessness was a brief interval between the next job and hunger was a transcendental experience between evening and morning, somehow a meal would somehow come together.
Then I was Jesus with a fish and loaf of bread. I could make it happen.
In the before anything was possible.
In the after, anything was possible to fail. The impossible became real and instead of growing into a lioness, weather worn by experience. I just became worn. I am tired.
I rise in mornings with anxiety trapped in between my throat and chest. I dry swallow Xanax and lay in bed with cartoons playing continuously. I set goals to get out of bed. I negotiate with the time. Check the cell phone and count the minutes down until the time I have designated for myself.
This is my luxury.
The ability to unravel at my leisure.
I did not have this in the after. There were always demands. The demands of motherhood, being a wife, and then finally, the demands of being homeless.
There are demands to belonging nowhere.
Lights on by 530 am.
Make your bed.
Get a shower before the cold water runs out.
Complete the designated chores as assigned by the women’s shelter manager.
Negotiate breakfast. Please, no eggs instead extra toast? Is there anymore coffee? May I have another fruit cup? The last one the strawberries had turned dark red and pulpy from rot.
Be out of the shelter by the required 730 am.
Look for a job and pretend that you are not without stability. Pretend that you belong. That there is a space that speaks intimately of you. The bed sheets whisper your scent, the pillows have memory of your head.
Meet with social workers who are experts at the delicate dance of offering hope and simultaneously pulling it away before you can let it rest neatly in your needy palms.
And there were the classes…trying to make it to classes at Massachusetts School of Law with nothing. Literally nothing. Sneaking on the train to make it to the class and keeping my colleagues the fact that I had less than nothing.
It is not hard to hide nothing. Most people look through each other each other and fail to recognize any part of the person in front of them. They don’t notice a mole or lazy eye and homelessness…they push that stark obviousness from their intuitive selves. They know.
How the fuck do you hide being in purgatory?
The place in between there and nowhere.
At 6pm there is the line for dinner and once again you negotiate a meal. Less potatoes please, more green beans, no salad, is there any bottled water?
Finally at 9 pm there is mandatory lights out.
So I am walking forward in hell. I am afraid to even look back and my therapist is asking me to go back. Walk backwards into hell just for a fucking housing voucher that I may or may not receive.