On an early summer morning in 2016, I was sitting in a friend’s home when I had an epiphany: I had never in fifty years of life, lived alone.
By September 2017, the feel of keys in my hand was a security I had forgotten. No, not forgotten, to say so would be a lie. I had forced myself to try to forget that feeling of security during the seven and a half years without it.
Shivers down my spine, I grasped the collection of keys that the apartment complex’s assistant manager handed me tighter in my hand, then the goosebumps traveled over the rest of my body as I tried to hide my quivering chin from the woman oblivious to my emotions.
Four keys, two brass, one large and one small, two chrome keys of similar larger sizes made up the keys the redheaded woman handed me. I photographed them on the dark table outside of the manager’s office. They included not only a key to my apartment, but also a key to a mailbox where people could send mail TO ME at MY HOME.
I was also given a key to the cabana which included a small exercise room, an inoperative hot tub, a sauna and an outside pool that was open a few months in the summer. The pool had closed a few weeks before my September 20th move-in, but from my apartment I could watch the mallard ducks use it as a pseudo-pond.
Last year, I was editing a photo essay about homelessness, and struggling. I put the entire project on hold for several weeks, telling myself it isn’t important. I thought, “No one wants to look at all of that, they see it every day.”
Then I remembered the feeling of the keys.
I remembered the tears that nobody saw but my dogs. I remembered their pure joy when we toured our new home together long after the assistant manager had left.
It was a home not without sacrifice. So much sacrifice that I was not willing to give for so long.
When people characterize those without a roof as lazy or addicts, I cringe. To be a public news agency and come out with a piece of video journalism that blatantly states a city is dying due to drug use is irresponsible and harmful to those they should be trying to serve. But, I wonder, is it our humanity that is dying?
During trips in various vehicles over the seven years since I left my first husband, I would sleep in my car. It was the closest I had been to living alone.
After leaving my husband of over 20 years, I stayed with friends. I didn’t have enough income through my disability to afford anything else. I looked at what was available, and the choices were slim. I could afford to rent a room from an acquaintance, but that would leave me in a dark wet winter with no transportation, and the risk of me slipping into a deeper depression was something I feared greatly.
Depression in my family is fatal. Well, the brain injury that is post-traumatic stress disorder has greatly exacerbated depressive acting out in my family, so it would be more accurate to say that PTSD is fatal in my family. I was first diagnosed with it in my thirties, after a lifetime of symptoms.
October 10, 2010, at 10:10 am was a very binary moment for me.
Instead of paying for a room in dreary grey winter that would seem like a cell in the rain, my measly disability pension financed the miles I put between the state that held the memories of my trauma and myself.
I began a journey I didn’t know where would go or when would end. I became “intentionally homeless.”
At the time I thought it was an adventure, yet I struggled with intense episodes of anxiety and depression that would overtake me and I overshared on my social media accounts.
Invited by social media friends across the country to visit, I employed trains, buses, planes, then my own car to visit them. Some for an afternoon, others for a night, some longer. Friends would share their homes and meals and much more with me, but it was always time to leave before too long, leaving me searching for another place to keep dry and warm, or cool.
Never a place to call my own. With my mental illness getting worse with my circumstances, I wore out my welcome faster than my friends could anticipate.
My most important answer began to manifest when I took a wrong turn on the way to a friend’s home in Twin Falls, Idaho. I parked in front of a structure I could feel. The building was a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Temple, and it was May 2011.
Two years later, on March 6, 2013, I would find myself on my knees in prayer, and the answers would lead me to membership of my own in that worldwide church.
I remained homeless, renting a room for a couple of months at a time before journeying on.
The travels I embarked upon after my conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were decidedly different than my previous journeys.
Instead of being highlighted by breakdowns broadcast by my fingertips through my phone to Facebook, each week I would look up the local meetinghouse on my LDS Tools app for the address and meeting times to fill my proverbial lamp. Once my spiritual lamp was filled with oil of my faith in Jesus Christ, it was easier to deal with unexpected events without them becoming crises.
In 2015, two years after I was baptized, I craved more.
I wanted to write the stories I had lived and observed, but I was not confident in my community-college drop-out education. My daughter had researched and started to finish her college education online, then encouraged me to apply.
In spite of the fact I was living with no running water and only the sparsely-available electricity of a small solar panel in a fifth-wheel I called ‘home’ with a husband as temporary as the broken-down RV, I applied to Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
I may not have a home or a place to be alone, but I could escape my surroundings in my studies.
By February 2017, I was living in a 1983 Volvo sedan with two large dogs. I had learned over the last seven years I was better off with dogs than with people. They made sure I got my exercise, reminded me to eat and soothed the anxiety that was always near.
There’s something to be said for the therapy provided by an afternoon of watching a puppy chase a butterfly in a field in the middle of nowhere.
On September 20, 2017, after seven years of being “homeless.” I signed a lease on an apartment of my own. The rent alone was and still is, almost 75% of my disability income.
As I prepared to shop for groceries, I was taken aback at the pressure to decide what I wanted to cook for myself to eat. The choices overwhelmed me.
Six months after I moved in, I found myself dressing on my own toilet. It had become a habit while living in the Volvo. I don’t think you realize what you have until you don’t, but then again, I have never had this until now. The closest I had was a vehicle, and I knew that was a treasure.
The month that I found my apartment, I also connected with a therapist. Three years of intensive therapy is critical for all of my mental health needs. Many more years will be needed.
The apartment complex transferred me into another one-bedroom with the exact same floorplan. It is without stairs, so my power chair can get into the front door.
In this housing market, I’m blessed to be inside and I know it.
On September 20, 2020, it will be three years that I’ve had a roof over my head.
Each and every day I thank God for my home, alone.