Back in 2006, I was getting ready to make the biggest life-altering decision of -well – my life. 25 and in love for the first time, everything was taking a whole new meaning to me. The decision to move to the other side of the world was an easy one, somehow. I was in a dead-end job. Sure, I had friends and family, but we could talk over the internet. I didn’t have anything specifically holding me down. I was pretty happy to leave it all behind.
At the start of 2001, I was still living at home and going to college. I was two years in. The plan was to finish the spring semester at Junior College and then go to a real university in August/September that year. I was Dean’s list, so I was accepted into University of North Texas’s Film school.
My dream – to be a screenwriter – was that much closer to coming to fruition. It joined my two passions. It made sense to aim for it.
I had roughly $3k saved for my first year and a $2k scholarship that I had earned from high school. It would have barely gotten me by, but I was going to keep saving and working for that dream. I worked at a movie theater. After four years moving the ranks, I was finally an assistant manager, which meant I had more chance of being transferred when the time came.
In March, though, my parents were sent a letter. The bank was going to foreclose. We were going to lose our home. Of the three kids, I was the only one with a job, and of the three kids, I was the only one with a buttload of cash just sitting in the bank. The exact amount that they needed to pay to keep the house.
It was a no-brainer… actually, it wasn’t. It was life-altering, but I didn’t know it at the time. I gave them everything I had. The promise was that when they received their tax return, it would be all mine.
But when that came, there was nothing left for them to give. In June, I made the next life-altering decision. I decided to stay at home for another semester to save the money (again) to go to UNT in the spring. They agreed to let me wait another semester, so I went back to Junior college. I started saving my money again and got some credit cards to try and help improve my credit rating just in case I needed student loans.
In September 2001 – actually, I remember it vividly – on September 12, 2001, while my mind was still reeling with the rest of the country about the Twin Towers, my parents dropped the line again. “Foreclosure.” Only this time, it was too much for me or them to handle. I honestly… I’ve never asked them how it happened so soon after. I’ve known my whole life my father (God rest his soul) was not good with money. He saw a big stack of cash in his hand, and he spent it. Sometimes on bills, sometimes on booze, but he never… ever spent it well.
The house was gone less than a month later. My manager at the movie theater happily took me in, while my parents packed up everything and put it in storage, then moved to Dallas. My brother went to uni, my sister went to uni, and I was stuck in junior college with no money, two credit cards, and suddenly out living on my own.
My savings went pretty fast. I wasn’t as prepared as I had imagined to live the single life. I had rent of $100/wk, and I was earning a movie theater manager wage of $6.15/hr. I worked 50+ hours a week but only got paid for 30-40, went to college, and had nothing to show for it in the end. I started going into debt too. And the cycle was certain to continue.
In December, my parents tell me that they’re doing well in Dallas. Dad’s got a job, they’re renting a couple of rooms in a friend’s place, and they are in a good place. I wasn’t. I was feeling trapped and all I wanted was to spend six months working and saving my butt off so I could go to UNT. I couldn’t go in January, after all. I had nothing.
So they agreed to let me come live with them and I would save money to get back to uni. I requested for a transfer and was promised the opportunity so…
That’s what I did. I moved away from my hometown to Dallas to live in the upstairs bedroom of some old lady’s house that I’d never met. The transfer didn’t happen, because the manager that had been so great to me tried to save her own skin and blamed me for things that she was doing.
But worst of all…
Daddy didn’t have a job. Not a full-time one. He had a sales job. But I never saw him selling anything. So out of four adults living under one roof, only one had a job, and that was the landlady…
I got a job less than two weeks later, and things seem to be going well. I helped pay rent as a once-off, under the condition Dad work on selling whatever software it was he was selling. I come home after getting my second paycheck and discovered… they hadn’t paid rent. The landlady while we were out changed all of the locks. I offered her my paycheck. Pleaded. I had no idea.
She saw the truth in it, and let us in to take our things to leave.
I’m 21, and homeless. Again. For the second time.
We got a room for the night and searched rentals. We found a place to rent, and I started paying rent to help them get back on their feet.
Two years later, they still hadn’t found full-time jobs. Just occasional temporary and part-time jobs. I was the bread winner of the family.
Less than six months after all this began, my brother was kicked out of uni and moved in with us. And my sister did the same a year later when she fell pregnant. Five people lived under a two bedroom apartment that I was fully paying for.
At the end of that second year, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I moved out and got my own place with a roommate. I left them to fend for themselves, and you know what happened? They fended for themselves…
Granted, I left them the car I was paying for. I kept paying for it. And the electricity stayed in my name for some reason, so whenever they forgot to pay it and it got cut off, I was suddenly held responsible to pay it.
I think back on it now, and I’ll tell you. I still do not see it with rose-coloured glasses. I have a lot of pent up rage about it sometimes. But then I put myself in their shoes.
You have to be in a pretty dark place to have to go to your child for money. I was a last resort. My mom, who had really only worked in one job during my childhood, had no marketable skills. She struggled in a place like Dallas to find work, because highly qualified people were struggling to find work. My father was fantastic with IT, network engineering, and fibre optics. He really knew his stuff on his junior college degree. But so did every other bachelor and master degree person that was looking for work at that time. 9/11 happened during an economic low-point, and it thrust everything down with it. The biggest area that was hit was IT.
I’d like to think they were lazy. And a lot of that would be true. But I always wonder (because I never ask these kinds of things) how much of what happened they stayed up at night thinking about.
A year after I moved to Australia Daddy had a heart attack and died. His heart doubled in size. He had hepatitis of the liver, and he had yellow bones. He basically had drank himself to death. A lifetime of misuse. His demons came early.
This all brings me to the bus ride analogy. I came up with it in 2006, when my life was taking a turn towards happier times. Because my parents had my car and I was living on my own, I rode the bus to and from work.
Every day I rode it, and every day there were nearly always different people on it. There may be one or two that were the same, but mostly I was looking at different faces every day. I used to make up stories in my head about each person. Sometimes in great detail.
But then, as soon as I walked off the bus, that person was gone and so was their story. It’s a bit sad, really.
But life is sorta like that. You meet people along the way. Some are there forever like family. While others are just there for a few minutes or parts of your life. They come and go. Some might leave a lasting impression while others just fade completely from memory.
I have friends that I still stay in contact with, while there are others that have moved on. In this day and age of social media, our buses are getting pretty full with familiar faces, but seeing a status or a photo doesn’t really tell you what’s going on in their life. It’s all just footnotes, really.
Nevertheless, my bus ride analogy… I think I might expand upon it someday. Even if it isn’t all that original anymore.