I go back and forth, sometimes I feel proud that it happened, and others very much ashamed.
But the fact of the matter is- it happened.
One year ago, one evening after a long, exhausting day of work, my future ex-husband randomly let the kids and I keep the van (he had possession of it and was always our chauffeur) overnight. Feeling the cramping and stress we were placing on the friend we were staying with, and realizing that although I had just started a new job, I wouldn't be able to secure a place to live and afford it before her lease was up, I made a big decision that night.
After I got the kids all a super quick supper of poptarts, yogurt, and juice, I quickly collected items I thought we might need, not really knowing at all what to expect, put them in bags, and when the kids were finished, I dressed them and explained that we were going to go somewhere else to sleep that night and have s slumber party.
I was on auto pilot as soon as the decision was made, really. I had heard that the shelter was filling super fast and there was no guarantee beyond that night that there would be a family room available for the four of us. I realized it was now or never. I had to swallow my pride and my fear knowing that there was no looking back (in my mind) if I wanted to be self-sufficient. The director there I had talked to earlier in the week had said if we came there, they could point me in directions of people to help me during the allotted month we could stay.
So, terrified of the unknown, broken in spirit and trying my damnedest to put on an excited face for my babies, we went.
I graduated with a bachelors degree in social work. I never imagined that I would ever live at a shelter and need the programs I had once worked to provide others. But, when my marriage crumbled and my husband honestly didn't care what happened to us, that's where I landed. Carrying two of my three babies in the frigid cold across the parking lot to what were supposed to be welcoming doors. However, they seemed stale and terrifying.
The shelter was packed with single men and women who looked at me, holding a toddler and an infant, my preschooler hugging his stuffed animal beside me, and just stared. I assumed they wondered how the hell we ended up there, much like I wondered, and much like they likely wondered of themselves.
The staff was welcoming and friendly to the kids and I, moreso than many other people checking in. My children were brave and friendly. And after some paperwork and rifling through our things, we were escorted to a room with two beds and a pack and play. There was a chair, desk, dresser, and bathroom. The ceilings were huge. It was empty and overwhelming and the kids voices echoed so loudly.
We weren't allowed to bring much into the room. They sterilized our clothes f stuffed animals, and we were allowed to keep a couple toys, books, hygiene items, diapers, wipes, and baby formula and bottles.
It wasn't until the middle of the night, after the kids were sleeping (though they woke crying frequently), that my auto pilot turned off and I smothered my sobs into a pillow.
I felt so ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like my friend would take it as a sign I was ungrateful that she let us stay a while, or that we hated her. But really, I felt it best for us all, even though I also felt it the worst choice I had made in a while. She needed her space and I needed a push into help or it could have been worse come April. But I had the van that night, a surprise for sure, and we went.
My husband, who couldn't have cared less up until this point, was mad. He didn't want to have to come and get us super early when everyone had to leave at 6:45am every day, weekends included.
God saved us. He worked miracles, and we were given a chance to rent a transitional housing apartment that fit into my measly budget. And living there, I was able to work hard, budget and save, and find a real apartment for us. It's hard to get by on just my paycheck, paying all the rent and bills and providing what we need, and there's admittedly a constant fear I suppress in my mind that if the kids or I are sick that I won't make enough and we will be homeless again.
But, for the first time in my marriage, rent has been on time every month, we haven't had water or electricity shut off because I trusted too deeply in someone, I loved blindly and with every fiber of my being, who betrayed us. Looking back I feel like a naive, ignorant, love struck moron. And it's all so cumbersome and liberating all at the same time.
I can't believe this is my story. I still feel the raw emotions when I flashback to the night we checked into the shelter.
It's not okay that it happened, but it's totally okay that it happened. I grapple with both sides still.