This morning I sit sipping my strong (late night) coffee, feet propped up for the next hour as my two youngest nap. I look to my right and I see trees being blown around by the wind through three rather large windows. I have the blinds pulled all the way up so that the sunlight can spill all over the room. I don’t want to clean it up. How lucky I am to have a room and a view such as this. I truly know how lucky I am. There was a time when I had none of these things, and it is not a pleasant memory for me. Again, I am going to face fears and share some of these memories with all of you. so.. here goes
I was 18 and to me, thought I was on the edge of freedom. ( It seems quite like the start of a Charles Dickens novel no?) It was my birthday and I was waking up in a strange house with strange people all around me. I think it was a pull out couch with a bar jammed into my lower back. One of the guys who had woken up came into the room with a cake and started singing “Happy Birthday” to me. The fog in my head had a momentary clearing and I remembered I had been drinking and smoking weed with these people last night and I kept telling everyone “tomorrow is my birthday!” I must have been something to see, because it got me a cake from a stranger. I half smiled and checked to see where my cigarettes were. I felt the crumpled pack of Marlboro Reds, fumbled with it and pulled out a cigarette. I asked for a light, lit my cigarette, inhaled a slow, long draw, and blew out the candle on the cake as I exhaled. I thanked him and then stood up and noticed my pants were not on. I was instantly aware that a lot more had happened here to me than I was remembering. I then began throwing my eyes around the room to see where the door was. I saw the front door (and my pants) put them back on then asked where the bathroom was. I went into the bathroom, shut the door, locked it, and slid, back against the door all the way to the floor and started to cry silently. I was in shock. A few minutes (that seemed like hours) later I exited the bathroom and began saying my goodbyes. I felt as if I needed to get out of this house as quickly as I could. I needed to get home. I had not gone home and now had to go face my Aunt and Uncle.
The frigid February air stung my cheeks as tears began to half freeze on my chin. I recognized the neighborhood and then began walking home. I was frantically in my mind trying to come up with a story to tell. By the time I got home, I was calm and ready to put on the performance of my life. My aunt and uncle were sitting on the couch as I came in. I tried to act normal and even attempted to just walk right past them, but that did not work. A very heated, yet calm conversation took place. It was calm until I was given an ultimatum and I stubbornly decided that being kicked out of the house was the better of the two options I was given. I threw some clothes, and cigarettes into a garbage bag and left.
This was day one of four long months of me being homeless. I greatly overestimated my ability to stand the cold, and one night a few weeks in, after running out of friends couches to crash on I found myself with nowhere to sleep. I kept telling myself that if I just kept walking I would not feel so cold. It was February, in Detroit…Michigan. I was so cold my feet felt like tiny needles where stabbing them. My face felt like it burned with each wind gust. I walked for hours and found myself in a very familiar place, my grandpa’s house.
I had lived with my grandpa from age 11-16. When he retired and was moving to Florida I went to live with his youngest daughter and husband (my aunt and uncle). So, it was no big surprise that I was pulled towards this place. My grandpa still owned the house, but he was in Florida for the winter. I walked to the front door, it was locked. Each door I passed I jiggled the handle to see if it had, by some miracle, been left unlocked. No such luck. I walked around the back and took shelter on the open porch. Huddling in the corner I looked around for anything to make a fire with. There was a pile of red bricks on the side of the house and so I grabbed a few, fashioned a fire circle, placed an old newspaper in the middle and pulled out my lighter. The fire burned for only a few minutes. It was more smoke than anything else. I had run out of things to burn. I began to panic. “I am going to freeze to death out here!” I thought to myself. I looked down and saw the red bricks, sides slightly blackened by the fire. I picked one up as my mind burned with panic. I walked, brick in hand to the side of the house. There was the breakfast nook window. I knew it well. I kept glancing over my shoulder, paranoid that someone was watching me and would see what I was about to do. I took the red brick and threw it through the window. The crash, to me, was so loud I actually fell to the ground, face down and waited a few minutes before slowly standing up and crawling though the window.
I stood inside the kitchen and felt a sense of relief. “I can sleep here” I thought. I went over to the sliding glass window, opened it, grabbed my garbage bag and came back inside. The house was cold, but nothing compared to outside. I walked down the small hallway near the front door, took a left and went up the stairs. It was a strange feeling. Breaking into a house that used to be my home. Each step I took, I began to feel dirty. I felt ugly, unwanted, unloved, and honestly, like a horrible person. I got to the top of the stairs and went left, first door on the left was my old room. I pushed the door open. The door let out the tiniest of squeaks as I entered my old room. It was as if it was saying to me “hello old friend.” There was my old room, furniture still there. My bed in the corner. Blanket on top. I immediately went to the bed, laid down, pulled the blanket over me and shook with cold for the night. Even though I was inside, my body was still shaking from cold. Even having a blanket over me did not help. As my body began to slowly thaw out a little the shaking became more intense before finally stopping and I fell asleep.
I woke up and light was spilling into the room. I laid under the blanket and listened to the silence. I glanced around and saw tape still on the wall from where I had hung my posters. You could see a faint outline of dust, as if what hung there was haunting me. I began to ache, not from the cold, but from deep inside of me. I got up, wrapped the blanket around me and was about to go out of the room when I heard voices. They were familiar. It was my uncle I had lived with and another uncle. The voices were getting louder, and I realized they were coming upstairs. I quickly dropped the blanket and hid in the closet. I could hear my heart beating in my ears. They opened the door of my old room. I held my breath and hoped they would not open the closet door. They did. There I stood, but not for long…my pride got ahold of me and I stormed past them, spewed profanities and fled the scene of the crime.
As I left the house, I realized I had left my garbage bag and the blanket back in my old room. It was too late to go back for it now. So, I kept walking, and for almost three months after, I walked, slept in abandoned houses, unlocked cars, and stayed inside an old Donut shop on Michigan Avenue. It is not my fondest of memories, yet it is such a big part of what shaped me into who I am today. I am and I am not that same young girl of 18. I still sometimes break windows to get into places I used to be. I find myself throwing bricks through the window of insecurity, anger, loneliness’ house. I crawl in, go to my old room, cover myself up and hide, hoping no-one comes inside to discover me. It’s not something I am proud of.. but it is something I will be honest about because that is right where I want to be.. willing to not hide anymore. Willing to be vulnerable enough to share it and hope that someone else who is hiding too at times, may realize that we don’t have to keep throwing bricks and breaking windows.