I stare at my hands in the passenger side. Dad’s driving my car through the streets of Dallas. Do I tell him now? Or do I wait until I can have them both together? This is really a family discussion. Maybe I should tell them all at once?
I’m angry. I want to hurt them so bad.
“Did you have a nice time with Aaron today?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“What did you get up to?”
I’d rather not say. “We signed on a rental property today,” I blurt out.
Well, guess I ripped that band-aid off.
“I understand,” he says before he goes silent.
I know he doesn’t. He never will.
2 years earlier
“She’s not a very Christian lady,” Daddy says. His fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel, his knuckles white, and the color in his cheeks is red. “How dare she ask you to pay three month’s rent!”
I’m crying in the backseat with Momma quiet in the front.
But… She said you hadn’t paid her any since you’ve been here. I’ve only been here a month.
“She knew my sales business was struggling. I promised to pay as soon as I got my commission check.”
Which will never come if you don’t actually make a sell.
“We’ll use your first pay to get bond on an apartment,” Dad says.
No… no that’s mine. To save for college. Absolutely not!
“Okay,” I say meekly. We’re homeless. I can’t just say no…
1 month earlier
“You’ll like the place we’re staying at,” Dad says to me. “She’s a good Christian woman. We have the entire house upstairs to ourselves. In a few months, we’ll be able to afford to move into our own place too.”
“That’s good,” I say, listening to Pink Floyd more than his words.
“Your mother is getting paid to clean some lovely Christian homes. My sales business is going well.”
That’s the only reason I’m here.
I study my nails for a moment, wondering if it’s too early to say what needs to be said.
“UNT has let me wait another semester before starting. My scholarship money too. I have to use it first semester, though, or I’ll lose it forever. So this is only temporary.”
“I’m so proud of you. Everyone takes a little time off school anyway.”
I didn’t have much of a choice.
3 months earlier
“We have something to tell you,” Dad says as I settle in the backseat of the car.
The worry lines on Mom’s face are more pronounced than usual; her nose redder and cheeks puffier as well. I swallow and clutch my backpack.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
I’m not ready for this. I haven’t even processed the tragedy of the Twin Tower attacks.
“We’ve lost the house.”
The words crash into me with all the force of a football player.
Why did you say that? You heard it. You stupid girl.
I think back to May when August was to be the start of my life. University of North Texas. Film school. I was going to be a screenwriter. A movie critic. Something awesome. Something not here.
“I don’t have any money left,” I offer.
You took everything last time with the promise to pay it back and some.
Mom turns to me and shakes her head, “It’s too late for that. We have two weeks to vacate.”
What did you expect? This was always going to happen.
A queasiness overcomes me. I went back to community college this semester. Am I going to be able to finish? I’m going to be homeless!
The world is muted. I look down at my hands and flex my fingers to make sure my brain was still connected to my body.
Life has to get better than this.
4 months earlier
They’re sitting in the car. Little brother and Mom. Excited, I enter the car. I just got the promotion I’d been after for so long. Now I will earn a whole extra dollar more an hour and get a guaranteed 35+ hours a week. With no regard for either, I start telling about how great it is and how much money I can save for August. I have all these amazing plans. Live on campus. Work at the movie theatre as a manager every night, and go for a run around the campus every morning because I’ve always wanted to do that.
I look at their faces.
“Mel,” brother says, tilting his head to Mom.
Mom’s lips are pursed. She never did have a very good poker face.
“We owe three months to the bank,” she admits.
“How much?” I ask.
Only a month ago, I had decided to not buy a car for $1500 because it didn’t fit into my plan of having enough for my first year of university life. But this… this was almost all of my savings.
“Your tax check?”
“Won’t be here in time. If we don’t pay by next week, they’re going to foreclose.”
I stay quiet for the rest of the car ride home. She doesn’t directly ask me yet. That’ll come later. Life definitely has to get better than this.