My eyes hurt right now from crying.
Not from being sad, but from being unbelievably happy. It is amazing, even to me, that I can say these things regardless of the situation I'm in. Just like everyone, some days are harder than others. But unlike everyone, I feel so lucky to have any of these days. It could sound melodramatic, but it isn't. It's the life I'm living right now. Right now.
I'm sitting on an old recliner in a weekly rate motel trying not to imagine what people living here before me have done on it. A spider, at least I think it was a spider, just crawled out of the crevice and onto my arm. Yes, I swatted it away. The carpet is worn and stained with what my imagination demands is blood, and the mattress on my side has an indentation like a crater. I sleep inside the crater every night despite the strong coils that push into my back. It's like my nest.
I wake up every morning and iron George's pants on a round, towel-covered table and the iron that someone lovingly bought me months ago from my Amazon wishlist. I wash our clothes in the sink in the bathroom with free, chalky body soap the motel provides. Hot water goes on, a few t-shirts go in, some soap, and then I rinse and hang them up on the shower door. Socks, underwear follow. I walk in every so often and squeeze the water that collects on the bottom of the clothes, hoping they dry faster.
When I was younger, I wanted things with an insatiable thirst. I wanted everything and everything--and I usually got what I wanted. Alongside the feeling of need, I also clung to a passionate desire for success. I plotted my goals in life when I was eight and nine. They all placed me at eighteen and wildly successful. A book written, a career in music, a famous artist--a famous anything. In the bottom of my mind, way behind the shallow of my day-to-day existence, I thought to myself, "Everyone who is anyone has come from nothing. People who are spoiled like I am, people who are given everything as I have been given--they don't have anything to work for. They don't have anything to provoke them to be better people, to be smarter people, to be more successful people." These thoughts started as early as eleven years old.
Last year, my life of wanting and receiving ended. A lot of things ended last year. For the first time in my life, I felt what it was to desperately need, and even then, I wasn't needing the right things. I envision my decline like on the edge of a dark pit with my fingers dug into the ground, clawing, while something clung to my legs and pulled me into the darkness. I hadn't realized my decline wasn't caused by the shitty economy, but it was caused by my life of wants and gets. It finally caught up to me, all of those years of assuming everything would be there.
After dozens upon dozen of people donated their money, their time and their passion to help keep me afloat--essentially holding on to my arms while I was falling into a pit--there wasn't any use any longer. I slid into that dark hole.
That year I lost my apartment, stopped paying my credit card bills, didn't have the money to make my car payments, and lost years of valuable items in my first storage unit. I ran out of my apartment in a frenzy. I left behind my furniture, my plates, my forks, my clothes. I left a lot of things behind--I left everything behind. My storage unit was auctioned with my entire childhood collection of everything being sold to some stranger. I'll never know what happened to my entire Nancy Drew collection. I'll probably rebuy it back on eBay one day and not even know it.
I took out a second storage somewhere else to throw in all of the rest I could drag out of the apartment while running with one shoe on and one in hand. And then I fled. George and I fled. We were taken in, we were fed, we were loved. And then the opportunity didn't exist any longer, and we fled again. Chasing dreams, chasing grandeur, chasing a past we desperately wanted back. What we got was a whole lot of self-slaps to the face and a confrontation with reality. To us, sleeping in the living room on an air mattress in a place that cost so little to live was a dream. I learned to cook and fed us well on the meager allowance we had. It would not last. We pretended and played make-believe as though it would manifest if we fooled ourselves into believing it would. It didn't, the dream faded and a final realization greeted us with a grim smile. I think it was a smile. And so we fled again, fled back to where it began with the hope that we learned everything we needed to survive.
You know where the story is going now, don't you?
I lost my second storage last week, despite the efforts that went into save it. Diaries, artwork, junk paper and credit card statements. Clothes, books and stacks of old bills. It was the last fragment of my life I was hanging onto--these things were auctioned to a stranger who will probably see me as a crazy pack rat and feel absurd for the twenty dollars they spent. As disappointed and sad as I was, maybe it was a sign of something I was meant to let go.
I am not the same person I was a year ago. A year ago, I took my money and flung it in every direction. I thought that helping people with my abundance of money and flinging around gifts like I was amazing automatically gave me a pass--it meant that I didn't take things for granted.
Just because you know other people have it worse than you, doesn't mean that you don't take things for granted. It just means you aren't being a shallow asshole about it.
I helped wherever I could, whenever I could. Random acts of kindness was a standard I lived by, and it continued to make me believe that "Hey, I'm helping out people in need! That means I know the value of money, and I'm compassionate." I never claimed to understand any situation anyone went through, but I didn't realize until much later that my perspective of what was the 'worst' situation was only backed up by my own experience. I didn't get it. I couldn't get it.
We eat once a day--it's all we can afford. It isn't much, but it's enough. We bought some bananas and went through the little cart that has stuff on sale that's about to spoil and bought 29 cent pudding pies. We don't have a refrigerator, we don't have a microwave, so our options are limited, but we still manage.
Today, we had three dollars left with no foreseeable income. After living on money from my commissions, we finally ran dry.
What was my first thought? My first feeling? "How am I going to earn money to survive?" and sadness. Not pity, not anger, not blame, shame or depression. Just sadness. Something so simple and so pure. Something so uncomplicated that I felt a sort of relief. It was an emotion I didn't have to sort through or figure out. There wasn't any tangled explanation to sort through or a mind-altering journey to figure out why I felt that way.
I was rescued. As I am rescued countless times by many, many people right when things look the most bleak. Right when I'm on the cusp of surviving. In those moments, I get it. I realize that I owe it to everyone who has helped me, everyone who has told me things will get better, everyone who has held my hand or listened to me cry, I owe it to them to make it and succeed far beyond anyone's wildest dreams. I now have my reasons to provoke me into being a better person--my reason to push me further and farther than I've ever known. It isn't because of my situation. It isn't because you can label me as poor or say I've lost almost everything. It isn't because I finaly know the RIGHT things to want and receive. It's because of all of the people who have said, "Juli, this will pass, things will get better--you were meant for greater things." I feel guilty sometimes because I don't think I can measure up to anyone's expectations. Some days I'm a little less optimistic than others and have to take each day as it comes.
But I'm happy. I am so happy and so lucky to have a place to live, someone to love me and so many people out there still grasping my hand, determined not to let me fall.
I've become fearless.