What does it mean to be homeless? It means to be without a home. It means you grab a space to sleep on the street, under the bridge, in a shelter on another person’s couch, or in a friend’s spare bedroom. It means to be without the dearest possession that is the final puzzle piece in realizing the American Dream, it means to exist without a space that you can call your own.
Becoming homeless and being homeless provokes a plethora of emotions. Panic, distress, anger, sorrow. You blame yourself for allowing things to spin out of control, even when you realized your grasp slipped away long before you notice. Your place in a power-relationship is easily defined, you are below everything and everyone else, because you lack definition, you lack ownership of space and therefore of self. You are beholden to everyone because they have the power to help you because you no longer have the power to help yourself. You must take every insult, every refusal, every admonishment, because you are in no position to judge. You can never stand up to a reprimand from a aunt even if her brother’s tendency towards domestic abuse, is the reason your mother now has to take refuge in her ex-sister-in law’s house, because of your aunt’s feeble attempt to assuage any small feeling of guilt. You cannot hide yourself from the social worker’s penetrating state as they look at you, then past you, placing you into a type of mold that you will that you must fit into, because you’re just another case that they’ve seen a thousand of. You cannot rebut the taunts of others when they find out you have dreams and aspirations to move past this.
My family has been homeless twice. Once was when my father, who has a history of abuse, beat my mother to the point that she was almost unconscious and my brother and I had to call the police to arrest our father. When they released him back to the house, we had fled to a family friend’s where we stayed for a month and a half. No one knew this. It was our dirty family secret. I was a straight A student bound for the Ivy League. My mother was a housewife with beautiful children. Those types of things don’t happen to these types of people. The second time was when my mother had to move herself and the rest of my brothers and sisters to Baltimore to stay with my father’s sister because she could no longer afford to make house payments with her barely above minimum wage job. No child support. No nothing. Overtime. 60-75 hours a week. 6 children at home. 1 in college. Believe me, she was working hard, it wasn’t for lack of that that she lost her home.
My mother is from Malaysia. She was a published novelist before coming to the United States. Before her divorce from my father she was a stay at home mum with no American work experience. After the divorce, there were only two things in constant supply: more problems and an endless amount of patience.
What do you do in that situation? Do you keep working to try to keep a roof over your children’s heads that might be taken away everyday? If it is taken away, do you put up with the taunts and admonishments of your ex-husband’s sister to make sure your children have a place to live? My mother would give me only one answer: you do. You look after your family. If you can’t provide a home for your children, you allow someone else to, no matter what the cost to your sense of pride, no matter how much your provider insults you; you swallow each and every insult and remember that things will and must get better.
Things have gotten better. With some help from friends, my mum has been able to move into a small townhouse with my brothers and sisters and things look okay. Better than okay actually.
I believe that when one person turns away from you a hundred more offer their love and support. I believe that it is possible to build another home after you have lost one. I believe in love and in self-sacrifice and patience. I believe in the impossible. This…this is what I believe.
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