whatever weather or future awaits us

The new apartment finally passed inspection today. We turned in the keys to the previous shelter on Monday; I hauled off the last stack of boxes to recycling this afternoon. Although there is still much to do in terms of moving in, the move itself is over. Last night was the first night that we were able to sleep in the new place.

It occurred to me today that the terrific and terrifying odyssey of homelessness that began on January 2, 2010– the day it snowed, the day we found a pink eviction notice taped to our door– is almost over. Technically, we are legally homeless; the new apartment is now a shelter, according to the HATC program at HUD– we will not “graduate” this program until April 2014. Which means the government still has a solid fist up in all my tender private places, and social service visits will continue. But this move marks many differences.

For example? We chose this place to live. In the shelter system, you are told where and how you will live, typically with a day or less notice. We were transferred from 3 different shelters, each with their own respective social workers, rules, and requirements, many of which followed us from shelter to shelter. This place we chose on our own.

And, we don’t live exclusively with other homeless people. Although predominantly low-income, this apartment complex is not the projects, nor is it strictly a shelter or reserved for low income people. Which means that not everyone we live with is as traumatized and triggery as we are. Which means that, in ways small and dense and complicated, prickly and a little hurtful, I feel more human, more not-homeless.

I used to scrutinize my appearance and compare that to the appearance of other homeless people, the ones who were visibly homeless and often on the street. I became extremely stringent in attending to my child’s appearance and behavior. I did not want to look homeless, I did not want him to look homeless. Even in the emergency shelter, we brushed our teeth and wore pajamas when we laid on the mats on the floor to sleep. Somehow, not-looking-homeless became innately connected to one-day-not-being-homeless. It was the power I had, the ledge I fiercely gripped to, so as to never find out how much farther we might fall. A toothbrush, a comb, clothes that mostly matched. When possible, clean socks and tea tree scented body wipes. These were my arsenal against the uncertainty of whatever weather or future awaited us.

I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to find words to frame the devastation of these last few years. Today, however, is the first day that it seems actually over, or nearly over. From the rape in 2007, to the failing of my mental and physical health, to the lay-off, eviction, and consequential homelessness, the cross-country odyssey for a safe school for my kid, the rats and bears and shelters, the snow and mold and bone-biting cold, I could count each link, each antecendent and consequence; I saw how each bitter peeling back of safety and skin had exposed us, raw, opened us, barely able to catch our breaths, to the next bitter coming.

And now, it feels almost over. We chose a safe place to live. D. is in a good school, my mother lives here, my mother lives, L. and I somehow survived through it and are better, now, although living seperately, than ever before. I do not speak to or hear from the vast majority of my family. We have friends and community. I am back in college, writing again, and in my body, happy in my body, with less nightmares and moments of terror.

I still sometimes forget where I live. In moments I will think I’m in Atlanta, I will write down my address as Townsend, Georgia; I give the wrong area or zip code. Sometimes I see my step-father and my heart stops, until his face passes from a shadow to emerge as a stranger’s face in a foreign city, a city where I live, a city where I have a home. Sometimes still I yearn to be near my grandmother’s ashes, my grandmother’s bones; to oak trees and spanish moss and fiddler crabs. Savannah passes through my mind like a fever dream; I smell the ocean, the body of the shark that night on the pier, fierce and limp and cold.

I still sometimes forget who I am. I still sometimes feel terrified that I have forgotten something, that I am in the wrong time and place, that I am caught in the parallax of a dream while horror rushes headlong towards us.

But I wake up. My child attends a good school. My mother lives. I have friends, community, and love. I wake up; for years I ceased to sleep, ceased to wake. How I lived at all.

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