When I was sixteen years old, my parents moved away to a different town and left me with a neighbor.
Now, this is not one of those pitiful stories where I blame my parents for everything bad that happened to me in life. Nor do I wish to start a family feud (for those of you who are reading this who may actually be in my family.)
But the point is, I was on my own.
I was a senior in high school, college-bound, with a future in my pocket and a bright smile on my face, but I was penniless. I owned a car, but it was in my dad's name, and since I could not afford insurance, and the car was not legally able to be driven, my dad took possession of the car. I suppose he was protecting me somehow from my own stupidity, because I would have driven that car around, legal or not. A girl's just gotta have some wheels, ya know.
I ended up riding a ten-speed bicycle everywhere. (one nice side effect: I was in great shape.)
I painted a few pictures and sold them for about thirty bucks each, which seemed like a lot of money at the time.
I worked as a sometimes hostess/sometimes dishwasher at a local restaurant making a little bit more than minimum wage.
One thing led to another. I moved out of the neighbor's house into my older sister's garage apartment. Bad things happened there, so I moved into my boss's spare bedroom for a while. (Don't worry, his girlfriend was always there keeping an eye on things.) That was a very temporary situation until I found a roommate to help me split the rent on a little apartment. He was a cowboy, and after a couple of months, he decided he wanted me to be his cowgirl. I decided NOT! So I moved out of there and into a house with a couple of co-workers from the restaurant who were brothers sharing a house with a third brother who did not work at the restaurant.
(Are you following all this? You can go back and read it again if you're confused. Don't worry, I'll wait right here...........)
Anyhoo...by that time, I had dropped out of school so that I could work overtime so that I could pay rent and provide for myself because my parents were not helping me with that part of my life. Or any other part of my life. They had their own things going on. I would have been just one more hassle in their already stress-riddled lives.
I was seventeen when I became pregnant with my daughter. The father was one of the three roommates. The youngest one. I knew even then that I didn't love him, and that he was not "the one", but my self-esteem was shot to hell by that point, and I was lonely for company.
Teenagers do the stupidest things. Seventeen is synonymous with stupid.
I was eighteen when Sara was born, nineteen when David was born, twenty-one when Jacob was born, and twenty-two when when Matthew was born.
That's four kids in five years, people.
So, it turns out that roommate number three was a woman-beating heroin addict. He didn't start out that way. He evolved into it over the course of the six and a half years we spent together. To top it off, the heroin addiction kick-started his schizophrenia.
It was a violent chapter of my life that I will probably never tell you about.
I left him three times before it finally stuck.
I stayed in a shelter for battered women for six weeks. I went to group therapy. I applied for financial assistance. I got a new job. The kids got lice.
Then we stayed with my grandma for three months until I could afford an apartment with the help of a government program that helps stupid girls like me pay their rent.
When we moved into that apartment, we did not have anything but the clothes on our backs and a swirly chair that I bought for five dollars at my best friend's garage sale.
We did not have beds. We did not have blankets. We did not have food or dishes.
At that point in my life I was a pathetic, fat, single mom with a part-time job, no formal education, no money, and no food.
I cried ALL THE TIME!!!
But because I worked with some of the most wonderful people in the entire world with hearts as big as Texas, we didn't go hungry, and we didn't freeze, and I managed to get through that first rough year without throwing myself off the top of the tallest building in town or stepping in front of a moving train, or drowning myself in the bathtub.
I remember one of my co-workers, Sandy, came over in the middle of a snowstorm, swathed in a big red scarf and donning knee-high snow boots, carrying a box of things she thought we "might could use."
The kids were so little then. David was four. Sandy (whom the children immediately dubbed "Sandy Claus") laughed and laughed at my little guy when he plucked a four-pack of toilet paper from her box and danced across the hand-me-down sofa holding it high over his head like a Golden Cup Trophy.
"We Got Toilet Paper! We Got Toilet Paper!" he sang his little song, while his younger brothers cheered him on, excited over the idea that we were now the proud owners of an entire package of brand new toilet paper.
Fourteen years later, I still work for the same company, albeit, in a different city, and we have never, not once, not ever been out of toilet paper.