Sometimes, I think I've lived a thousand different lives, as a thousand different people.
Some of those lives were capable of bravery, and heroism. Others, I try to forget.
Today, I had one of those bumps with the past, that nasty jolt, and it all comes back. 2004 was one of the years I started over, broken heart fragments clinging to everything I touched. In hindsight, I was begging for a bad relationship. I had no trouble finding it.
In the aftermath of all that not-so-interesting domestic abuse, I found myself standing outside of a women's shelter, a ripped trash bag with a few of my things, wearing pajamas.
I stood outside, looking at the door and realized how much a home matters. A home matters, especially when all you have in the world is a trash bag, filled with uninteresting shit.
I think I might've stood out there all night, trying to talk myself into crawling back to the life that I had before. I might have to beg a little (or a lot), and while I was mulling it over, one of the workers welcomed me in.
I felt like a fraud. Most of the women had a string of abusive boyfriends, or abusive parents. I wanted to tell them that I chose this asshole who put his hands on me, because I was grieving the man I loved. I wanted to tell them that this was my punishment for losing the one good thing I had been given. Instead, I said nothing.
The problem with saying nothing is everyone assumes the worst. It must be so bad that words can’t even cover the horror.
Part of me was so disconnected from everything, almost like I was watching the bad choices of someone else, someone who should know better, but still kept on fucking up.
Tori was was the first person I met there. We shared a room. She had a fargoesque accent that completely clashed with her California upbringing. She was the first person who treated me like a person, and showed me around. Neither one of us had anyone or anything to go back to. Her family lived in California, and other than sending her money from time to time, they wanted nothing to do with her.
Living in the shelter was comforting, at first, with the structure and chores and days of bland nothing. One day, Tori told me about a place she’d heard about, a women’s shelter in a prominent part of town She would have to pay $125 a week, but it was a house. Almost a home.
When she asked me if I wanted to come, I said yes. I was just waiting to be asked.
Some of the decisions I’ve made were bad, some stupid, but this was one of the worst I’ve ever made. It all just kind of spiraled out of control from that one yes.
Part of me knew better. I had a bad feeling about the whole thing. Having to pay to stay in a shelter? It seemed wrong to me, and I couldn’t fit the pieces of why together in a way to say it out loud, so instead, I said nothing.
The house was beautiful. Four bedrooms, a huge basement area, two bathrooms and a lovely kitchen. I felt my heart lift a little, and thought my gut instinct was wrong. I wanted to be wrong, and find something good for once.
I worried most about how I was going to come up with that $125/week. I wasn’t working, and had no job prospects. Luckily, Janey (the head of the house) had a way for us to earn that money. We were expected to work for an organization called “Save a life, give a phone.” The premise of it was that we called people, scheduled drop off boxes so cell phones could be donated, reprogrammed, and given to women in domestic violence situations, pretty much like the shoes I was now standing in.
The premise sounds pretty amazing, right? It was, at first, considering that we got to work, live in a nice house, and help other women in our situation.
I got blindsided by the shiny wrapping that this particular dog turd was wrapped in. First, we only worked a few hours a day. I later figured out, it was exactly enough hours to pay for that $125/week rent, with nothing left over. Talk about going from one abusive situation to another. Second, since I had a lot of computer experience, the head guy, Domingo, decided I could be his secretary. I really enjoyed that work, getting to be his right hand, typing out invoices, scheduling press releases to get as many phones as possible donated to our organization.
That gnawing feeling of unease never really left me, and I felt like the bottom would drop out of my situation at any time. Every night I’d go to sleep, and dream I was falling.
Me being me, I couldn’t leave it alone. On this particular Monday morning, Domingo had left his computer with me. I was supposed to compose a couple of memos to the rest of the staff, but as soon as he was out of my sight, I started going through the files on his computer. I checked his email, sent, trash, documents, hard drive. I found a big old nothing. Part of me felt a little relieved. I wanted him to be legit, even though my gut told me he was a douche. I started composing his memos, when that little devil on my shoulder whispered, “Check his recycle bin. Couldn’t hurt.”
Everything I’d felt in my stomach for weeks, was in that folder. Emails, documents, all the things he didn’t want anyone to see. He’d been selling the high end phones to buyers. There were negotiations on price, a complete list of email addresses of the various buyers who were making him rich. I forwarded all the information to my email address. Then, I did a little internet research and found out that this kind of thing wasn’t new to him. He was a scam artist.
I shouldn’t have said anything; I should’ve just moved out and went on about my life. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
The girl I told ended up telling him everything. He was waiting for me when I got home. He told me that I needed to get out, because I was spreading gossip. I just smiled at him and said ok. Watching his face when I told him I’d found his special folder made my day. I think he wanted to try to negotiate with me, or maybe bribe me, but I ran out of that house, into another life.
It was cold, and the wind was blowing through the sweatshirt I was wearing. I had only the clothes on my back and nothing in my pockets, but that feeling of dread and unease was gone. Maybe I didn’t know what my next move was, and maybe I had to sleep under a bridge, but I’d make it.
Survival was always part of who I am.