Bittersweet

Matt is on a plane to Scotland as I type.  He needed to return home for about two weeks to sort some things out, and will be returning after that for a three-month visit (90 days is the longest he is allowed to stay in the U.S. at a stretch, per the visa waiver program currently in place between our respective countries).

I had a nice little breakdown at the airport.  Tried very hard not to cry, and failed miserably – burst out into huge, jagged, red-faced sobs (and Matt was quite a bit moist as well, which I found oddly reassuring).  I think we may have annoyed some innocent bystanders.  Our goodbyes were quite prolonged and punctuated by lots of kisses, hugs, sniffles, caresses, longing gazes, and other similar things that make strangers barf and wish that you would move the hell out of their way so they can get through the security checkpoint to the metal detectors, already.  I finally watched him head up the escalator towards the boarding area, until I lost sight of him.  He turned around many times to catch my eye and wave.  I know he misses and loves me just as much as I do him.  That is something completely new.  I am grateful for it.

Now I’m back at the motel where I will be spending the next few nights (I check out Friday morning and need to return to the trailer at Wal-Mart), and I’m trying to keep myself occupied with random things like surfing the Internet, catching up on “So You Think You Can Dance”, making dinner (ramen noodles), reading books – anything to keep my mind off the gaping hole in my life.  But nothing is working.  You see, it was hard enough being without Matt before he ever actually came out here.  I wanted to be around him in the worst way.  But now that he has been here, it’s about a million times worse.  I’m not only longing for something I’ve never had, I’m now missing something that has been here, filled my life, and is now absent.  It’s a very slight, intangible difference, but it’s there.

The passenger seat of my car feels empty.  My hand feels empty without his to hold.  The bed in the motel feels empty without him to cuddle with.  Everything feels kind of sepia-coloured and there’s a weight on my chest.  Occasionally I think I’m all cried out, but something like a half-finished carton of grape juice or a bag of Doritos he left behind will start me off again.  My pillow smells like him.  There’s still sand on the floor that we tracked in from our day at Newport Beach this weekend (he wanted to see the Pacific Ocean).  Perhaps I’ll feel a little better once I know his flight has landed and he’s arrived safely.  But even then, I know I can’t be completely top-notch again until he’s here with me, and we’re wrapping up all the loose ends to ensure that we won’t have to be parted again.

* * * * *

The “sweet” part of my bittersweet day came after leaving the airport.  I stopped by the post office to check my P.O. box.  Inside – oh, happy day! – sat 6 EDD claim forms.  That’s right, after months of waiting, phone calls, e-mails, and stressing…  I have received the paperwork to file for 12 weeks’ worth of retroactive UI benefits.  I mail them out tomorrow; the resulting checks are *supposed* to be returned to me within 10 business days, which means that soon I could be brandishing $5,700 (normally would be $5,400 but a stimulus program in place provides me an extra $25 per week, which sounds small, but obviously adds up over time).

So… woohoooooooooo!!!!!!  I have to be very careful with the money – hoard it up and get a mortgage all straightened out.  This is a huge step towards Matt and I buying our own home (which is good, since a place I was in love with was just sold to another interested party… I’m awfully torn up about it; I hope I don’t have to experience that kind of disappointment again).  I just have to scrimp and save and not blow it.  I am staying in the trailer for the weeks that Matt is in Scotland; once he returns, we are probably going to stay in a rented motorhome for $450/month.  It will be on the same property Fezzik is being boarded at, so we will be able to be with him full-time, and Matt can take him out for long walks every day and bond with his new dog.  The motorhome will also be hooked up with electricity and water, and we may even have cable TV and internet access included, which is obviously a vast improvement over Wal-Mart, and no facilities/utilities.  The downside is that the ranch is in Norco/Riverside area, so it will be a long drive to work and back for me.  With gas prices on the rise, that obviously isn’t super great.  Still, $450 is so little per month, we should save enough to more than make up for the fuel costs.

Once we are esconced on the ranch, I would like to look into selling the trailer, and into settling with Wachovia and selling my car as well.  That way, I can use the truck that I inherited from Bill, which is currently towing the trailer (and which is completely paid off).  Gas mileage is worse on the truck than on my car, but again, there’s the issue of not having to make any more car payments to Wachovia the crooks.

I think things are finally looking up for us.  I was a bit down this weekend because one of the tires on my car had a blowout, and I had to invest a lot of money in a new one that I hadn’t planned on spending – goodbye, paycheck!  But then my claim forms finally arrived, and it’s a huge weight off my mind.  Now, as long as my baby makes it home in one piece (and also returns to me safely in two weeks) I think things will be well on their way to perfect, or as perfect as imperfect, unpredictable life could ever possibly be for two crazy kids madly in love with one another.

EDD Hatred Level Escalates; Awesome Book; Religious Past

Today was a day that was mainly frustrating and exhausting, for personal reasons.

In addition, yesterday I gasped with joy as I opened my P.O. box.  A beaming, glowing ray of light fell upon the envelope from California EDD.  The angelic chorus sounded.  For a brief moment, the world was so very lovely.  Finally, finally after hours of fruitless phone calls trying to get through, several e-mails begging for a response, with only maddeningly robotic (and clearly deceptive) “we will get back to you within 48 hours” automatons to appease me…  FINALLY!!!!!!!  My claim forms for my extended benefits had arrived (in case you haven’t yet read my previous post on this subject, I am now owed several months’ worth of retroactive extended unemployment benefits, prior to my getting a job.  Sat down recently and tallied up the amount owed from the day that I filed.  Turns out I’m owed in the vicinity of a little over $5K at this point, which would take me 1/4 of the way towards accummulating the $20K I recently found out I need to pull out of my bum to get this house so that I can then start the whole fun part of seeing what’s involved to use it for transitional housing purposes to take in other homeless women/children (that’s a story for another post, but soon, I promise).

Ripped open the envelope to find… a (second) “approval” notice letting me know that yes, I am eligible for extended unemployment benefits (well, duh, same exact notice I already received waaaaaaaay back when this crap saga started)…

There were no claims forms included.

None.

Zilch.

Aaaaaaaaaand………… yeah.

Seriously.  I know they’re backed up because CA is now like the poster child mascot of insanely skyrocketing unemployment rate states (OK, besides Michigan), but what the eff?!?!?!?!?!

WHERE are my UI benefits?  With those I could at least start the process, combine those with the money I have on me now and I’d be $6K down, only $14K to go.

* * * * *

In other news, stumbled upon this book called I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed, by Kyria Abrahams.  She was raised in the same religion/cult/whateveryouwannacallit as I was (won’t reference it here, you’re welcome to look it up if you like, but if you’re a reader and a devoted member of this religion, I’d really appreciate you skipping the part where you leave me comments telling me how wrong I am about the organization, wrong for leaving, assuming you know everything about me, assuming you know everything about your own religion/cult/whatever, assuming you know everything period, etc.)

I read the first couple of pages and identified so strongly with it (plus it’s hysterically funny – the chick has mad sarcasm skills, which is kind of my M.O. too, so I liked her right off the bat) that I had to stay up all night reading it.

It really brought back waves of memories for me – I left the organization at 18 when I moved out of my parents’ house, although while staying with them they insisted on dragging me back, which I put up with to the best of my ability… zoning out, which I’ve perfected the art of.

Kyria really got the language and syntax and feel of what it’s like growing up as a member spot on.  Many of our experiences were alike – particularly the one where she swallowed a bottle full of pills in a failed suicide attempt and her parents ignored it, didn’t drive her to the hospital, nothing.  Left her to either get over it or else face the consequences of her actions and die.  That struck me so because I had such an eerily similar experience – at 14, in a fit of hopelessness, I impulsively swallowed a jumbo bottle of Tylenol (yeah, go ahead and laugh – but ODing on Tylenol causes liver failure, it turns out!)  My family’s tenant found me in the bathroom and called my mother, who blithely told him “have her stick her finger down her throat”, hung up and drove to Palm Springs with my sister for the week, leaving me to be sick and/or die while said tenant, also a member of this religion, shrugged his shoulders and went back to bed (turned out I was just in agony all night and the next morning.  Nothing major.  I was lucky.)

Now, clearly I got over the whole idea of death after that… agony like that made me decide it really wasn’t in the cards for me.  Nope, never trying that again *shudder*.  But still, it was scary.  And finding out that there was someone with a childhood so similar to mine – let alone her writing a book that is breaking into mainstream literature! – was kind of an eye-opener for me.

The last part of the book is the darkest.  This is where our life experiences varied more (and Kyria admits she has some medical/mental issues such as OCD, etc. that didn’t help with some of the more naive/destructive choices she made in her desperation).  She married super-young to someone she had nothing in common with, as children with our upbringing are wont to do (no premarital sex, and no secular “dating”.  “Dating” = “Marriage”).  She was, unsurprisingly, miserable, and started cutting, using drugs, and sleeping around to escape her marriage (adultery is the only valid and accepted reason to divorce, in this religion).

OK, slightly different from me – I never dated boys from my congregation.  I didn’t want to.  Was never interested.  There were, as she points out in the book, very few prospects, and I never felt like settling for a pale shadow of the real thing, just so that I could have sex or play house.  I knew even then that I wasn’t wholly and completely invested in my religion.  I think to some degree, I was always looking for the time when I could bolt.  I was attracted to men and dating and life outside of my super-narrow, controlled little world.  I saw hypocrisy and abuse everywhere I turned; not only in my own family, but in others in the congregation.  To have admitted so would certainly have meant trouble for me – even complete shunning from all I knew, including my own family.  So, when I turned 18, I simply disappeared.  I didn’t take any of the complicated channels that the heads of the congregation, or “elders” pretend are mandatory.  I refused to be labeled, refused to be shunned, I simply up and left and nobody ever questioned it.  Nobody ever really wondered where I’d gone or why, or what I was doing.  Nobody cared to investigate, they just made their assumptions and moved on with their lives, zealously preaching to anybody who would listen.  One more fallen angel.  Oh, well.

On the few occasions my family dragged me back this year, I was generally regarded with unease and suspicion, which amused me more than anything else.  You could tell it was in everybody’s mind that I must have turned into some little Satanic whore (paranoia and fear are big there).  Nobody knew anything for sure, and I didn’t volunteer any information on that score, neither confirmation nor denial, even when prodded, but some form of “sexual misconduct” was widely assumed, it was quite obvious.  After spending several years away, I had come more to grips with the knowledge that these people didn’t truly have any claim to me or sway over my life (in stark contrast to the certainty I had held in my childhood, that they could ruin me – or rather, that they could have God ruin me).  Now, to a degree, I enjoyed being the boogeyman, responding cheerfully yet bluntly when I spoke at all and seeing the awkward shifting and furtive glances at my outspokenness, my complete and utter lack of “spiritual” thoughts and goals, at least as far as they define such.  I had always been something of an oddball, even when a child.  I was disarmingly perceptive and never quite took things at face value as much as I “should” have.  I had opinions and ideas of my own, questions even about things in the Bible that made me uncomfortable or curious.  I was mildly bothered by the idea of “proving” a scripture by reading another scripture.  To some degree, I wanted to look at and hear all points of view before coming to my own conclusions.  This was highly frowned upon in the organization – looking at outside points of view was considered falling prey to Satan.  We were only to accept what we were told at face value by the heads of the organization, all mere men who were supposedly being “inspired” by God.  Chastised often for this moral failing, I did what I could to sublimate it, bury it, bend my will and conform.  It was embarrassing to be scrutinized and looked down upon.  It was embarrassing to be different within the organization, and also to be different outside of it – in school, and at work.  But, when it comes down to it, I was never the conforming type.  Now, I can find humor in my role as fallen, sinful, devious skank-ho; even relish it a little.

It wasn’t always like this.  It took a lot of struggling and therapy.  And reading Kyria’s book brought a lot of it back in a flood; despite the barbed humor which had me laughing my arse off, the feelings and pain beneath it were refreshed.  I don’t think anybody who breaks free from that kind of past ever fully gets over it.

Anyway, it was just kind of crazy and surreal seeing that there was someone else like me; someone who fought back (although sometimes in different ways) and got up the courage to leave.  We both had to learn to live in the real world – you’re not prepared for it at all when you come from that background.  You’re taught to fear the world, flee from it, dangers lurk everywhere ready to pounce on you.  In an interview, Kyria made a point that struck me as all too true – you are told by your family, your friends, your fellow congregation members that life isn’t worth living outside the organization.  That if you leave, everything will go horribly for you because you’re defying God, slapping him in the face, and being punished for it.  The irony, of course, is that initially that does often happen, your life does go sort of wonky – but not for those reasons.  It’s not difficult so much because the real world makes it difficult and you are being punished.  It is difficult because, never having lived in the real world, you have no idea to go about it, and have to start from scratch, teaching yourself and painstakingly learning through trial and error.

Six years later, and I’m still nowhere near done learning to adjust.  I don’t think I completely ever will be.  But… it’s a start.

Interview-ness

Well, I had my interview this morning.

Sigh.

You know, within a week of being laid off from work, I got a job offer from an investment banker. At the time, the economy had started to crumble, but I don’t think anyone quite realized the severity of the situation. I turned the job offer down. It paid slightly better than my former position, but the folks I had interviewed with were like corpses in business suits. I couldn’t get… well, anything out of them. I kept searching for a sign of humanity, a smile or something. Desperate to make some kind of human connection with them, I even threw out a couple of jokes. Nothing. I had assumed that I completely bombed the interview, so it was definitely a surprise to receive the job offer.

I should have jumped on it. I should have. But all I kept thinking about were those interviewers who seemed so miserable, so completely deathlike, and I imagined the job sucking away any last vestige of spirit, individuality, creativity, and silliness that I retained. I was positive that a job like that would drain my soul bone-dry.

My boyfriend at the time thought I was crazy. And I suppose, in a way, he was right. But it’s hard to describe the complete and utter panic that clawed at me when I visualized myself being swallowed up by that company. I wanted to be me, not a bad carbon copy of myself, a vague humorless imprint.

If I was offered that job again today, would I take it? Hell, yes. Would I stay there once the economy righted itself? I doubt it.

I felt the same kind of panic today at my interview, for different reasons. It wasn’t a high-end financial firm this time, just a little chintzy office run by a quack of a guy who invents “health” aids that don’t actually do anything, that nobody actually needs or uses except really paranoid/OCD people who buy everything they see in airplane catalogues (i.e., oxygen bars, personal UV lights to kill bacteria, et cetera). He was a bit of a pompous, insensitive ass, but I suppose not intolerable. The overwhelming, pervasive feeling of the office though… it was one of depressing resignation. Four or five people in one room, sitting at their computers, ignoring one another, keyboards clacking as they processed orders and data. When I walked in, no one looked up. No one spoke. Just clacking keyboards.

I suppose I should feel good that I even got in to interview – the owner told me that he had received over 1,000 resumés for the position. He is looking to make a decision by tomorrow, so at least by then I will know, no dangling and wondering here. I tried to muster up enthusiasm and put on my “interview face”, but I don’t know how well I did. I’m not much of an actor, and from the moment I entered the door, I felt heavy and overwhelmed with sadness. Everything just seemed grey. Somehow, I managed to keep the interview going for about a half an hour – asking my pre-selected questions, specifically chosen to maximize the appearance of my interest in the company.

Lest you think that I am picky and a whiny, selfish, spoiled brat – believe me, if I am offered the job, I will take it. And I will smile every day that I walk in there, no matter how much of a dead end I feel it is. I am under no illusions about the precariousness of my situation, or the likelihood that I will be offered another position anytime soon. Yes, I will take it.

I post my personal feelings and fears only so that you can see that I am human and imperfect too. I am not always able to look at the bright side, or find the silver lining in everything. I am no Pollyanna.

But… this is what it is. Sometimes, to get by, we just have to suck it up and take the most readily available option, until we can move up to something better.

Just don’t do drugs or prostitution, kids! (By the way, I’m now a guest writer for Street Voices, how cool is that? After depressing interviews like this, at least I can head over to Starbucks and make believe, a little, that I’m a “writer”, haha. So, there’s still a little fun out there for me. Thanks, Matt!)

Mental Health

It’s a heartache. Bonnie Tyler told me so.

* * * * *

So, I’ve had to scale back on a lot of expenses since this ordeal began, and I’m sure I’ll find a lot more that I have to cut back on. Yet, I’ve kept my therapist. Only in California, right?

Therapy always made me really nervous. I looked askance at the idea for many years, due to a bad childhood experience. My parents had dubbed me a “problem child” and dragged me to a shrink at the age of 9, when I suddenly dropped from an A+ GATE student to a D below-average. She seemed nice and asked me some questions. I wasn’t completely sure why I was there, but I answered them. She asked my parents some questions. I ate the cookies she gave me. To sum up her opinion rather succinctly, she thought my parents were a bit crazy, and had more of a hand in my decline than they were letting on. They dragged me out of there and that night I was screamed at and beaten for “answering the questions wrong”.

Since then, I was leery of this psychiatry thing. Certainly, if I ever went back, someone would blame me again for something.

I was a relatively good kid/teenager. I got excellent grades through high school, never even experimented with a single drug, didn’t drink until I turned 21 and then only socially, never been drunk, never snuck out or partied… you get the picture. But a few months ago, it became clear that several issues in my past were coming out of the woodwork and affecting my day-to-day life, and even my sleeping habits. The fact that I had just lost my job to layoffs didn’t help matters, and I started spiraling downwards into depression. A friend who recently got her human services degree referred me to a local mental health hotline (211 Orange County) that could set me up with a therapist on a sliding scale. I decided I’d go once, so I could prove to myself that therapy was as I remembered it.

I was set up with the most fantastic counselor. She is an incredibly wise woman, and I realized that there was someone out there who would listen to me unconditionally. I could pour out all of my “crazy” to this woman, and she didn’t find it crazy at all. The fact that my life sounded like a twisted soap opera didn’t seem to faze her. She believed me! Finally, after years of hearing that I was a deviant and a lost cause, that I was impossible to love, someone found me intelligent and capable; saw good qualities in me that even I didn’t know were there. I am not perfect, and I still have plenty of flaws, to be sure, but when we discuss them it is always calmly and rationally, and she gently guides me towards new ideas/perspectives/conclusions without blaming, or being harsh and judgmental.

Now, more than ever, I need this kind of support. It is so easy to fall into depression just in regular, everyday life, especially with the current state of the world. When you are homeless, it is about twelve jillion times worse. You can find yourself dwelling on how you got here, how it might have been different, will you ever get out of this… The hours seem long and you can lose all concept of time and days of the week, because there’s nothing to measure them by but this stretching, lonely ennui. I’ve been homeless for about a week, and I already know this. I can only imagine it gets worse the longer and more hopeless your situation seems. After therapy, I feel lighter, like I’ve just unloaded all the worry and fear that I was carrying around with me. Life always seems easier to face after I leave that office. No matter how tight for money I get, I will always set aside that small amount for my weekly therapist visit – I wish that I had caved and gone to therapy years ago. I wasted a lot of time that could have been put towards becoming a better version of myself.

If you’re homeless and feel the need for counseling, there are free/cheap programs and resources available to you. If you’re in the Orange County area, you can dial 2-1-1 and be connected to the hotline I mentioned above. A national directory of mental health resources and services can be found here and here. Need resources outside of the U.S.? Google “mental health” and the name of your country/province. If one particular therapist doesn’t work for you, you don’t like their approach, whatever, you can ask for another until you find someone you click with. Compatibility is key, just as it would be in any other relationship based on trust and confidentiality. I would recommend that everyone try it at least once anyway, but particularly if you are in this kind of life-changing circumstance. Your mental health is so important, and is just another resource that you should do everything possible to protect. It’s your mind that will go the furthest in transitioning you out of homelessness. Take care of it. You are not as alone as you think.

Road Trip and General Thoughts on Police

I spent my first official homeless morning watching the sun rise over the Colorado River.

It’s a beautiful day.

I know I’m not a hopeless case (Thank you, Bono).

* * * * *

So, I am officially a gypsy, a nomad, a wanderer, whatever romantic crap I need to tell myself to get through this. Sometimes that’s the only way to deal with stuff. Homelessness is serious business, but if you don’t laugh about serious business, or find the romantic/fun/noble in it, then you will just break down and cry and feel dejected and hopeless, thus wasting valuable time that could otherwise be used working towards getting back into a house. Sarcasm and humor are my weapons.

So far, towing a trailer is not as difficult as I expected, which is excellent! I’ve only taken it about 6 miles, though. I’m stopped at the local Starbucks recharging my phone and posting on my laptop. It is going to take me considerably longer to get back to Orange County than it took to get to Blythe (which was about 2 hours, 45 minutes). I’m looking at a 4-5 hour return ride. My trusty mastiff Fezzik is with me, so at least I have company. Poor thing, I think he’s mildly confused about what’s going on. But he likes the car ride and being around me, so he’s pretty happy.

Trailer smells funky (like fat, greasy man and dead animals/fish – the dude apparently did a lot of hunting and fishing) and has a lot of junk in it that I’ll have to dump today so that I can fit my own boxes and Fezzik’s crate in there. I’m less bothered by the smell and the mess than by the idea that I’ll be sleeping on the bed that my pervert, drug-addict sperm donor used to jack off in, before he blew his brains out with a Remington 12-gauge. Ew. But, c’est la vie, have to roll with the punches, Oedipal/Electral undertones aside. First thing though, I’m stripping those bed linens and putting my own blankets on.

Was stopped by a police officer 5 miles outside of Blythe for speeding. Argh. Anyway, I know that I just spent the entire last blog telling all of the homeless women out there to come off as strong and independent and fearless, for protection. However, there are times when a general air of innocence and naïveté can serve you well. Learn when those times are. One of them is while dealing with police, which is likely to happen at some point.

Police officers can be assholes, I think most people will agree. But when it boils down to it, they are usually just doing their job, have a quota to fill, and all that jazz. They could possibly be more sympathetic, it’s true. But you will not earn their sympathy if you give them attitude. Know your rights, and assert them if necessary, but always remain calm and sound appreciative, even if you aren’t.

If you are pulled over by a police officer, the first thing that you should do is roll down your window and put your hands on the frame so that they can see them. The most dangerous moment for a police officer is first approaching a vehicle. They don’t know if you are armed, so this is always when they are the most nervous. Putting your hands clearly in view so that they can see you do not have a weapon is a very reassuring gesture, and more than once a police officer has let me off with a warning based upon that alone. Don’t cry, either. Officers HATE it when women cry. Not only does it make them feel a little bit like jerks, they also feel like you’re manipulating them.

Pick your battles. If you do get a ticket, don’t argue or get angry/defensive. This will not help you. Many officers have control issues, and enter the police force at least in part so that they get to exercise that aspect of their personality often. You can always go to court to try to argue the ticket (half the time, officers don’t even show up and the ticket is automatically dismissed). If an officer catches you sleeping in your car and asks you to move along, either go (you can always find another parking lot) or, if you are parking at Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club, politely say “Thank you for your concern, officer. Wal-Mart management has given me permission to park here overnight, as it is a private parking lot and that is their national policy. I would really appreciate it if you could check with them to verify that, before you ask me to move”. It is important that you keep a sincere and humble tone here. Don’t be snarky or triumphant. Always be sure to let them know that you realize they are doing their job and are grateful for the job they do to keep the community safe. It is OK to assert your rights, but if you’re a jerk about it, they may ask you to move on, anyway. If politeness doesn’t work and they ask you to leave anyway, just do it. It’s not worth it to piss off a cop and end up in jail, or having your car impounded.

Being articulate and well-groomed always helps. It’s sad, but officers are more likely to respond well to you if you don’t seem like the stereotypical vagrant. This is unfortunate, since the less articulate/educated, more despondent homeless are the ones who really need the kindness and understanding most. But, it is the way it is. Use your intelligence and coherence to your advantage.

Naïveté will also work wonders for you. People, especially men, generally want to do whatever they can for a helpless female (even more so if you’re cute!) It’s a chivalry thing. Don’t overdo it, just learn to be a little wide-eyed and lost, ask for help/advice because you’ve never done _______ before and you don’t quite understand the process. Sometimes you can use this to explain away a traffic violation or other mistake. Or, you can use it like I did today – getting park rangers to help me hitch up the trailer to my truck, and connect the turn signal wires (because I sure as hell didn’t know how). Learn when to be independent and when to use your natural feminine wiles a little (for good, not evil!!! Don’t be Machiavellian, and try to stick with innocence and sweetness and cuteness, NOT sex – which is another post in itself… maybe I’ll go into that tomorrow, but now I have to hit the road and get back to Orange County).

Safety

The towing of the trailer was put off today by a couple of issues that cropped up (including unwanted meddling from a family member, needing to find a pin for the tow hitch, and the hours of the campground in Blythe). Blegh, but you have to learn to roll with the punches and make adjustments when you’re in this kind of situation. Flexibility is your friend. So, I will be making the drive early tomorrow morning, around 3 a.m. That should give me time to get there and back and still have time to load up my belongings and my dog, and then head over to “my” parking lot by evening.

Anyway, today’s topic is going to be safety. Resources are important when you’re homeless, you learn to make the most of what you have. I am lucky, I have more than many – a vehicle/camper, a laptop, a phone, a little bit of money. You may not have these things (yet). But you do have what we all have: yourself.

You are the most important resource that you’ve got. Your body and your mind. As long as you’re alive and healthy and physically/mentally capable of coming up with a plan and executing it, you will be OK. The situation that you’re in may indeed be one of mind-boggling suckage. But you’re alive. There is always another avenue, another option, another choice, another route, another door to pursue if one is closed off to you (and often, that door is reopened later on – check back on it after trying a few other options first). It is easy to panic when life throws up an unexpected obstacle. It may be a huge one, and it seems even huger when you panic over it. Learn to let the panic run its course, then calm down and look at the situation objectively. There is another approach, you just haven’t thought of it yet.

Since you are your most valuable asset, take care of yourself. Anything material that you have/had/lost? It can be replaced, or at least reasonably substituted. You cannot be. It goes without saying that bad things happen to everyone, but you are in a far more vulnerable position living on the streets, and that goes double (quadruple!!!) if you are female. Women and children are thought of as easy prey and are most likely to be targeted by an attacker. So follow several tips to keep yourself safe:

1) Try to find a nicer part of town, with less of a reputation for crime. Become familiar with it and keep to that area as much as possible.

2) Keep to public, well-lit places as much as you can, especially at night. You are less likely to be attacked if you are surrounded by potential witnesses. Isolating yourself is a very, very bad idea. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where no one will be around to hear you scream. Avoid alleyways, deserted parking lots, stairways/stairwells (use an elevator if there is one). In parking lots, don’t park next to vans if you can avoid it. Vans have sliding doors and no windows. They are the ideal choice for a predator to hide out and pull unsuspecting women in as they park.

3) Arm yourself. I don’t necessarily mean with a gun (they can be illegal to own without a permit anyway, and they are pretty easy to abuse or accidentally misuse). Get some mace from Wal-Mart (usually in the sporting goods section – huh?!) It will probably be locked up, but an employee can get it for you. You can get mace on unobtrusive little keychains, too. I have the largest legal pocket knife I could find (I used to need it for various utilitarian purposes back when I owned a horse, but now it doubles as a backup method of personal protection). If you can afford it, they even sell purse-sized Tasers now for women. You can even order them in girly colors like pink, if you’re into that. They run about $300, but it’s probably worth the splurge to have 50,000 volts of electricity at your disposal. In fact, I’m making a mental note on my checklist right now to pick one up for myself.

4) Be constantly aware of your surroundings. There’s a difference between paranoia and healthy suspicion. Always be healthily suspicious (that’s probably really bad grammar, but oh well). Stay away from drugs and alcohol (I have nothing against a little social drinking, but when you’re homeless you will need all of your faculties, don’t dull them with mind-altering substances). Always watch what’s going on in your general vicinity. Attackers tend to look for women with long hair worn down or in a ponytail, it gives them something to grab onto (most difficult to grab is a tight bun). If you often wear your hair this way, be wary of people who come within a couple of armlengths of you, just in case. Also, if you are walking in an isolated area (say, to your vehicle at night through a deserted parking lot, or something similar), hold your keys in your fist with the pointy ends sticking out, kind of like a set of pointy knuckles. If you are attacked, you can punch as hard as you can and gouge with the keys (aim for the eyes or other sensitive areas such as the groin, throat, nose, knees, or abdomen). Don’t be squeamish. You must hit as forcefully as you are physically capable, to achieve maximum incapacitation.

5) Always resist. If you are attacked, fight. Scream – even if your attacker says you will be hurt/killed if you scream. He is planning to hurt/kill you anyway and you have a better chance of survival if you do scream. Something about a woman’s scream really disarms men. It’s bloodcurdling and it has the power to freeze them in their tracks for a split second (which could be all you need to escape), and then it generally sends them running, out of fear that someone will hear and come to help. Do not scream “HELP”. Tests have been done and many bystanders within earshot will not respond to this word (either out of fear of being drawn into danger themselves, or because they think it’s just some kids messing around – overuse of the word has made it lose much of its power). Instead, scream “FIRE” or “NO” or “TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF ME” or “DON’T TOUCH ME”. Good Samaritans are more likely to respond to these words. If someone has a gun and threatens to shoot you, run anyway if you are not physically under his control. Even within a close range (under 10 feet), he is only 40% likely to hit you, and if he does, it is still unlikely to be a vital organ. The farther away you get, the lower the percentage gets. If you stay and submit, your odds of being shot and killed are waaaaaaaaay closer to 100%.

6) If you are mugged, give the mugger your wallet, or phone, or whatever he’s asking for. It sucks to lose a valuable resource, I know. But again, your life is irreplaceable. If he’s only looking for material items, remain calm and let him have them. He may leave after this, and not attempt to physically harm or kidnap you. Let him run away, run in the opposite direction, and find a police officer. If your attacker attempts to physically harm you after you have given him your valuables, revert to #5 (fight). Do not, under any circumstances, let him take you from Point A to Point B. Point B is where you get raped and/or shot in the head.

7) Project an aura of confidence. Predators look for victims who seem weak, shy, nervous, helpless. Stand up straight. Swing your arms as you walk. Don’t look at the ground. If another person makes eye contact with you, gaze levelly right back. Don’t break eye contact until they walk by. Bad guys latch onto potential victims who look away. They are more likely to cooperate and submit out of fear. Look fearless. So much of life in general depends upon how you carry yourself. Carry yourself like a woman who can kick ass, and will, if anyone tries to lay a finger on her against her will.

8 ) Don’t look homeless. There’s a reason you hear all of those news stories about homeless
women and prostitutes being murdered. A predator assumes – wrongly – that you wouldn’t be in that position unless no one out there cared about your welfare. A criminal would usually rather harm someone that will not have concerned family or friends looking for them. If they attack someone that no one will miss, they are less likely to be caught early, if at all. So try to remain clean and neat, and somewhat well-dressed. Attempt to look like just another Jane on the way home to her family (who are naturally waiting up for her).

9) By the same token, don’t look too rich – you don’t want to be mugged for valuables. If you own any precious jewelry or designer clothes, on the street probably isn’t the place to be wearing them. You can look presentable, and even professional, without flashing a giant neon sign saying “I’M RICH!!!!!!” Pass as middle-class. It’s safer than appearing either homeless or incredibly wealthy.

10) If you have a cell phone, carry it in your hand, or even hold it up to your ear and pretend to talk/listen into it as you walk. No one wants to attack a woman when someone might be listening on the other end, ready to alert police. If you don’t have a cell phone, try to find one – if you can’t afford it, fine. Just get a free one off Craigslist (many people give away old phones, or sell them dirt-cheap, we’re talking $5 or $10 here). If you can’t activate it and pay for a phone plan, at least have it as a prop, especially if you’re in a dark, isolated, or crummy area.

11) Turn down requests for help. It sounds horrible, I know. Yes, you may be sympathetic and want to help someone find their lost puppy, or help that broken-down motorist jump his car battery, or help that handicapped man who seems like he may be stuck and need physical assistance. DON’T. You are a good person for wanting to help. But you are also vulnerable, and this is a tactic used by many predators to lure women and children. If you want to help, remain at a safe distance and tell the individual that you will find someone who can help him. Use a cell phone to call police or locate a trustworthy nearby citizen and request that they provide assistance instead.

12) If you are ever overpowered and shoved into the trunk of a car, kick out the tail lights. You may be able to achieve this even if you are tied up. Head-butt them, if you must. Just find some way to kick them out so that you can shove your arms or legs through the hole and wave them. The driver of the vehicle likely won’t be able to see this, but random motorists on the road will, and can alert police.

These are survival skills that are good for all women to cultivate, even those who are not homeless. Study up on them and put them into practice. It could save your life, and likely will at some point, whether you realize it or not. There are a lot more crazy people out there than you may realize, and many of them come across as very innocent and even kind, helpful people. The vast majority of serial killers out there went undiscovered for so long because they had reputations as quiet, friendly, good men – or even pillars of their community. I don’t say this to make you paranoid, but to make you aware. Take care of yourself out there. You can always find food, you can always find a new home, you can always come up with a way to bathe yourself, clothe yourself, access the Internet, whatever. But you cannot bring yourself back to life. You will need everything you’ve got to get through this. Be careful.

Initiation

In three days, I will be homeless.

This is not by choice (although many individuals before me have chosen this lifestyle and enjoyed the freedoms that it can offer, and if that is what works for them, kudos!) Personally, I enjoy having a permanent residence and the sense of stability and security that it gives me. I look forward to living in an actual house again. However, it is what it is – in three days, I will be homeless. There are no caveats here, no “maybe” or “unless” or “possibly I can come up with something before then”. Come Thursday, February 26, I will be making my way on the streets of Orange County as best I can, and I will be considered that most stigmatized of people – a homeless woman.

Initially, the idea of this terrified me. Here is a summary of the commentary that first ran through my head: This would never happen to me. I am not the kind of person that lives on the street. I have a life, I have friends, I have a dog, I have stable employment and residential history, references, education, skills, talents – I have worked hard all of my life to ensure stability for myself. How did this happen, HOW CAN I DO THIS?!?!?!?!

So, I cried for a few hours. I cried and I let the panic run its course. Then, I started planning.

I wonder how many other people like me are out there. People who had the stereotypical idea of a homeless man or woman, who believed that it would not, could not, happen to them. The truth is, we never know the whole story. We don’t know other people’s circumstances. You can speculate that the wino sitting outside the 7-11 begging for change is there because he’s too lazy or stupid or uneducated or selfish or mentally ill. But will we ever truly know? Look at me. I’ve worked hard for all of my adult life (and all of my adolescence), sought out a college education, worked for corporations and executives, built a life and a “secure” foundation to fall back upon. Yet, here I am. So, now what?

You may wonder how I got here. I will give you a summed-up, generic background on me:

I grew up in Orange County, CA. I got excellent grades and tested in top percentiles at school. I was considered a precocious student and skipped a grade. I taught myself to read at 2 years of age, and I read newspapers, novels, anything I could get my hands on. My family situation was never the best (I have a mentally ill parent who has rejected consistent diagnoses, medication, and advice from various friends, doctors and therapists. It all boils down to the fact that you can’t help someone who refuses to admit that they have a problem). I was subjected to various physical/mental/emotional abuse for the majority of my life, and sexual abuse from an estranged family member while a toddler. Despite all of this, I strove to rise above my personal situation. I created a mental image of who I wanted to be. I fought, and continue to fight, to live up to that image and resolve some of the less savory tendencies that I have, whether they are biological or learned from the examples that I witnessed growing up. I am proud of the progress that I have made and the life that I have built. I am proud of who I am, as well as who I am evolving into.

I started working “under the table” at 10, as I knew how to pass for older than I actually was. I got a legal work permit at 12 years old and went to work full-time in addition to schooling (how many 8th grade students do you know with two secular jobs after school lets out?) I supported my parent and younger sister from ages 12 – 18. At two points as a teenager, I was physically thrown out of the house while my parent was in the throes of a bipolar depressive episode. Both times, I was on my own for a couple of months, until said parent tracked me down through school, reported me as a runaway and sent police to retrieve me from the friends’ house where I was staying.

At 18 I left for good and got a roommate. Over the next several years, I enrolled myself into college and worked my way from entry-level, minimum-wage jobs into administrative and legal secretary positions, then onwards up to an Executive Assistant at a major corporation. For a long time, I always had at least two jobs, sometimes three. When I landed my Exec. Asst. gig, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had arrived, I could concentrate on only one job, I was earning the means to live on my own, in my own house, sans roommates. I rented a cute cottage towards the beach area and enjoyed the little life that I had built for myself. I got myself a dog. I dated. I loved. I worked. I had fun. Even with the occasional disappointment or blip that happens to everyone, life was good.

In July of 2008, my corporation had mass layoffs. The economy was beginning to crumble, and the auto industry was the first to be affected due to the skyrocketing prices of gas. Over 280 out of 500 employees were laid off, and I was among them. The company that I worked for was enormously kind and fair to each and every one of us, and compensated us well with a severance package, so I was OK for a while. I did some temp-to-hire work for an environmental engineering company for a few months, but they ended up having layoffs right before Christmas 2008 and again I was out of a job. Since then, I have been searching for employment without success. I am on extended unemployment benefits, but I prefer actual work. Salaries have been slashed by at least 20% (often more) so I have no hope of making what I used to, but that is to be expected – I’m in good company, at the moment it’s a status symbol simply to have a job at all.

In the past three months I have sent out several hundred resumés and applications, some as far away as Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Whereas it used to take me a matter of days to find employment, it is now rare for me to even receive calls for interviews – there are simply too many people out there responding to every advertisement. I do all that I can to make my application stand out, but when it comes down to it, hiring managers must sift through hundreds of resumés for every single position. My chances are severely handicapped at this point, but all I can do is forage on.

Against my better judgment, I moved out of my cottage and in with my bipolar parent at her suggestion. I figured that it would be relatively temporary and would cut my living costs dramatically while I continued to search for unemployment. For just over two months, somehow I made it work. Until two days ago. On a downward bipolar cycle, my parent attacked me and ordered me out of the house. I have been told to leave immediately, but police informed me that I could require a 30-day notice, which I waived as long as I had five days to find other arrangements.

Could I ask friends for help? Possibly. However, my closest friends have so many problems of their own right now – many of them are out of work, or live in small apartments, or have various other personal problems and I am certain that I would be a burden and an imposition on them. There is also the problem of my (very large) mastiff, who I would not dream of selfishly dragging with me into someone else’s home.

So, here I am.

Luckily for me (and my dog!), I recently inherited a truck and travel trailer. Around New Year’s Eve, my biological father committed suicide. I had not seen or had any form of contact with him in over 20 years. There was no suicide note, and it fell to me as the eldest child to divy up his assets (of which there were few) among his four surviving children (my sister and I, and two half-sisters from a second marriage, whom I had never met before). This successfully accomplished, I was left with the aforementioned truck and travel trailer, both of which have registration and insurance paid up through July.

If you are an individual in a similar situation (especially a single, vulnerable woman), I hope that by detailing my experiences in this blog, I may help you come up with tips and ideas for survival and safety for however long your present circumstances may last. Perhaps you didn’t choose for this to happen, but it is what it is. It is happening and you must stay strong and level-headed, so that you can make opportunities happen for yourself and dig yourself out of this hole.

Perhaps you’re not homeless, have never been homeless, and are currently not faced with the threat of becoming homeless. Maybe you are reading this because homelessness is a topic close to your heart, or maybe you just feel that you should cultivate some knowledge on survival skills, because with the economy the way it is right now, who knows what will happen in the future? In any event, I hope that my postings will give you something to think about and/or something to laugh about, for humor can be mined from even the most dire of circumstances.

I have just over $300 cash to my name, in addition to various personal belongings. I have three days to take my plans for the coming weeks/months and put them into motion. I have never been homeless before and I will not deny that I am afraid, but I plan to face this with humor and dignity. I can do this. I can do this without becoming a casualty or a stereotype. I can be homeless and still clean, nourished, confident, well-dressed, dry in the rain, and warm at night. I can make wise and preventive decisions that will help protect me and keep me safe in tenuous circumstances. I can and will continue to bring in revenue, interview, and locate permanent employment. I can be a tall woman with flaming red hair, a jowly and imposing Neapolitan mastiff, and a 30-foot RV in tow and still manage to remain inconspicuous and under the radar (…right?). I think that if a wussy chick like me can do all of this, then anybody can.