November 24, 2015 by poverty2professional
This is perhaps the hardest entry for me to describe, so I’m glad my sixteen-year-old self did most of the grunt work. I think it’s hard, mostly because of the loss involved. They say pieces of our souls never quite leave the first space we’ve inhabited. It stands to reason that being forcibly removed from the only home I had ever known would leave a pretty hollow feeling. As if I lost a big chunk of something I wasn’t ready to part with yet.
The laconic version of how my family got to the point of eviction is this: The Recession happened, my father couldn’t find work for nearly a year, and we could no longer pay the rent.
The layered version is more complex. My mother’s mental illness held back much of my father’s professional development in architecture during a technological tide change. By the time the divorce was settled and my father returned to work, he was a dinosaur. With the advent of digital drafting, firms simply didn’t do hand-drawn drafting anymore. My dad was able to land some steady, then some temp positions for a while. But nothing was ever guaranteed.
Then the housing bubble collapsed. Construction and architecture fields were the first areas hit. And given our precarious situation, work for my dad soon evaporated. He worked briefly at a supermarket, busing carts and stocking produce. Then borrowed. Then budgeted. Then the pink notices on our door appeared.
PAY OR QUIT.
Another week in, we knew we didn’t have money for upcoming attorney fees (would’ve paid the rent with that!). So, my dad took precautions. We got a P.O. box, so we could still receive mail. We used what money we had to secure a small storage unit for our clothes and some belongings. At the time, a storage company was offering a $1-for-the-first-month promotional. Maybe it was a sign that we weren’t the only people losing our homes or having to downsize. This was November 2007 and the following year would ring in the worst economic downturn since my grandmother was a little girl.
And I got to live it.
Edited Journal Notes from Nov. 2007
I stared dumbly at the barren room. Our dining table was dismantled, its accompanying chairs lined up against walls devoid of family pictures and once-beloved bookcases. This year, there would be no handmade stuffing to prepare and no friends to have over.
Each instinct I possessed screamed this wasn’t right. How could they still tell me I wasn’t dreaming?
“Well, don’t just stand there like a friggin’ three-year-old! Grab a box, bonehead!” Dad barked around his cigarette and loaded a record-packed case into my hands. My dad loves his music. I had the bragging rights of “growing up in a giant iPod with primordial CDs (records).” But not anymore. Just last week, Dad’s Victrola, his favorite fixture, had been given away with some accompanying Blue Jay records. I don’t think he’s ready to part with the forty-fives or LPs yet. So, completely on autopilot, I trotted after him out of the apartment and down to the garage.
How could he be so nonchalant about it? I wondered. Doesn’t this faze him?
I tried to put the situation on the fringes of my mind. We weren’t getting evicted, not this close to the holiday season. Packing boxes? Who me? Nah, these were early Christmas gifts or donations. Dad had just gotten a public storage unit to hold them. Some of them. The books on magic and the music and bits of his collection my dad didn’t want to see thrown away like junk.
Even when I was packing all my possessions into box after box, it didn’t feel like it was happening to us. Or happening to me. It was a surreal experience, like I was storing away all these belongings for some pharaoh’s afterlife or for someone who had passed away. I was packing for anyone other than myself.
“Okay, I think that’s all ol’ Betsy can handle in her trunk,” Dad announced as he locked up the car and we marched back upstairs. “Go lie down.”
It was one o’clock in the afternoon and finally the adrenaline rush of the past twenty-four hours was draining. I fell asleep on my father’s bed, like I used to when I was three, spittle and snot finding undignified ways out of my face.
I won’t forget that whole hectic month leading up to our eviction. I would walk home from school almost every day, and I’d try to memorize every step. Every crack in the concrete, the little dog prints by the bridge pavement, the L.A. river I’d cross, the hideous tonka-toy construct next to my friend’s apartment, even the short-lived dandelions. I had to remember it all; all six corners of my room, each hue in the old, gnarled tree and blue, blue sky my window looked out to, the hills and townhouses. When this was finished memories would be all I could claim of home.
Because really you end up missing the littlest things. I’d never get to walk home with my friends again after school. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll being going to the same school. I’ll never get that same view from my window. I had to trash my glow-in-the-dark stars and handmade mobile. I remember pacing the short fifteen feet from the television to the end of the dining area, declaring that so long as this was my home I would not forget any sensation of it. These were little things, but they were mine.
At least until the afternoon on our last day.
At one o’clock, my adrenaline gave out after a whole morning of worrying and just a few hours’ sleep. So, on Dad’s orders, I lay down on the bed to close my eyes for a bit.
The slamming of a fist on the door made my eyes snap open wide and I found a damp spot of drool. The clock read one-fifteen. The pounding sounded louder. My father opened the door to two police officers. “What are you still doing here?” the first cop asked. I wanted to say we live here, but according to the paper with the bright red print in his hand we didn’t.
“Sir, you have to leave,” the other officer said as politely as possible.
“Sure, just a sec,” Dad panted, running back to the bedroom to grab the phone.
“Now,” the policeman insisted, trying to squeeze past me. “Excuse me, ma’am.”
Ma’am? I wanted to echo incredulously. Ma’am? I’m only sixteen! I’m not even legal yet. I can’t even vote to change the stupid law that says I have to leave the only home I’ve known! Ma’am?
In less than a minute, we didn’t belong anywhere. Our locks changed right there, we were tossed out into the world. It was a brisk, bright, sunny Southern California day. I counted my blessings that it wasn’t raining because besides that exchange with the officers, there’s one more thing about all this that I won’t forget. My dad’s reaction as we drove off in ol’ Betsy.
“Feels good to be free, doesn’t it?”
I laughed. I found it hilarious that he was talking about freedom when we didn’t have much choice in getting to go or stay. But, as Dad further observed, “In these situations, you can laugh or you can cry.”
It feels pretty good to laugh.