I closed the door behind me making sure to lock it and turned around looking at our 2001 PT Cruiser. This car would be our home for a short time. Our dog Faith, and both kids, Jason and Paul, were looking back at me with wonder and fear in their eyes. That’s when the tears started.
For 18 years, they looked to me for answers and this time I had none. I made my way to the car and opened the door to the driver’s seat. Together, we drove away from what was our home for over a year. But the eviction due to another lost job left us homeless once again.
Both boys were in college at the Art Institute but dropped out to help with the lack money issue. Jason had recently gotten a job at the local Outback. But, I knew it wouldn’t last because of the bullying he’d received.
Living in the car was challenging more so then ever before. There was no room to do the simplest things like stretching out to sleep or having a private conversation on the phone. And then there was Faith. I tried my best getting the kids where they needed to go, trying to find organizations that could help us out of this car and getting Faith out to the dog park as much as I could. I struggled for gas and other things like hygiene products, even food.
Having to say no to the kids took its toll on all of us.
It’s harder to ask if the answer was always no. Communication starts to break down. Walls were being built in that little car and we stopped talking all together. Fighting was constant and begging became the way to survival.
Soon Jason quit his job, thankfully and found another at a local Chili’s. He was much happier there and paid even more. Paul and I still searched for jobs while maneuvering through this thing called help (aka services). Having to go from here to there and then back to here was mind boggling.
This system we were trying to enter into for help was as broken a mess as we were. I finally gave up. The amount of gas I was using going in and out of Nashville just wasn’t worth it anymore.
We stayed in Hermitage. A laundry mat parking lot was our home as were other parking lots around town. Drive-bys from Metro Police became more unsettling so moving around was more frequent and woke everyone up.
Jason had been working and finally got a paycheck. It wasn’t much but we all agreed a motel room for a few days was the way to go. The first night at the hotel we all slept like 10 hours, exhausted and on each other’s nerves. Finally, a chance to heal a breaking relationship between mother and sons. The time was short in the hotel. Enough time to feel normal again before checkout time.
Packing up the car felt like yet another eviction, more tears, more fighting.
Driving away from the hotel, we went back to job searching and getting Jason to work. The toll of having to financially support your brother and mom soon took its toll on 18-year-old Jason. He began breaking under the pressure. Jason decided to move out into a friend’s house with their family, paying a meager amount for rent. That left Paul and me. Paul missed his brother but found a job that helped keep his mind off Jason.
Tennessee summers are deadly with the high heat, humidity and rains. During severe storms, I found being under the overhang of a local self-service car wash made the perfect protection from torrential rains and high winds while also allowing some fresh air through an open window and allowing us to all stay dry. Being able to open the doors for air and a breeze was wonderful.
Living in a car with a dog, the smell just intensifies. Parking close to where Paul worked just made sense to conserve on gas. Soon Paul’s co-workers caught on to how we were living and would bring food and water out to both Faith and me.
A few weeks later, Paul said the manager would hire me despite my social anxiety and issues with my diverticulitis. I jumped at the chance and went inside to fill out the application. The manager gave me an interview on the spot and hired me. Finally, we were both working.
But it didn’t last long. I lost the job due to calling out sick from my diverticulitis and anxieties working in a fast-paced restaurant. Soon, Paul found a job with a major food chain that paid much better than his $7.50 an hour.
Within five weeks were we calling a hotel our home.
It was close enough for Paul to walk to work and on the bus line for me. It was good timing as the car began having a multitude of problems that we didn’t have the money for. Now we were really stuck. The back-up plan we had was soon towed away. There were times after paying the rent we would have $30 left for food for two weeks.
I found a job with The Contributor, a local street paper out of Nashville. My compensation filled the gap with cash for laundry, bus fare and food. There were times Paul didn’t make enough and my sales from The Contributor would have to make up the difference leaving even less for those essentials.
For three years, every two weeks without fail, Paul would withdraw all his money from the ATM across the street and hand it over to the hotel clerk. $1,200 a month. We could afford an apartment back then on that amount. But, with all my evictions, no one would rent to us. Not approved became a word that was heard all too often. So we stayed at the hotel and I tried to make it a home even though it wasn’t a home. Yet another step on this journey called homelessness.