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The Freedom of a Blank Canvas

By Edited Jun 7, 2016 0 0

On the first page of the New York Time this morning I saw an article about me. Despite signs that the economy is turning, many underemployed and unemployed people have sunk to a new low. Specifically the article mentioned middle class people turning to social services for the first time in their lives, and the possibility that we may never make it back into the middle class. Ouch.

A scant four years ago my electrician husband and I were doing rather well. I liked our lives. We owned vehicles, at least one or two outright. He had a motorcycle for fun. We had a mortgage, but the house was not a rental. Life was nice. I liked it. Little did I know he had a secret agenda that did not include me. For some time he had been mysterious about his bad financial decisions. Normally a goofy man, with a great sense of humor, he was cagey about his odd ways with our money. Defensive. Spending less and less time with me. Spending less and less time working.

Let me preface this by saying, the man had spent a lifetime in the construction industry. While it pays very well, it can be hard on a person physically. He had suffered two substantial injuries many years before he had met me. Once he had fallen off of a roof and shattered his wrist in his dominant arm. In a separate incident he had been burned so badly by an electrical current that his infected finger on his dominant hand had to be amputated. Whether these two injuries were actually "accidents" I sometimes wonder in retrospect. The injuries, plus stress he claimed he felt in his back caused him to seek prescription pain medication which he ultimately got addicted to.

Although he never broke an laws per se, by the end of the time we were together, he was as awful and damaging as any addict you can image. Diverting funds from our joint account, while making up crazy stories to deflect me, became his major past time. Crashing our vehicles as he passed out while driving was another. Convincing me he was possibly suffering strokes was a third. When finally outed as the drug addict he was, he chose to leave me rather than get sober. So, as the economy crashed around me I found myself alone at 41.

I started paring down by selling the vehicles, leaving myself with only one. I rented a room in my house. I took two part time jobs. I attempted to avoid commuting. I listed all the books and movies in the house on Half.com and Ebay. I sold my nicer clothes. Still, he had left me with such debt. I wasn't getting out of it fast enough to establish any sort of savings or investments. In the meantime new and unexpected expenses arose. Pipe froze and burst in the winter. Heating costs went up. The price of gas frightened me. I cut out TV and slashed my grocery bill to $20 a week, subsisting mostly on lentils and rice.

The second year after Howard left, I thought rather proudly I would make it, but then the bottom dropped out of one of my part time jobs. I began diligently job hunting in the summer of 2009. I posted my resume on numerous websites. I told my friends and my friends' friends and my customers at my other part time job that I was looking. While every one agreed I was articulate and pleasant, no interviews came. I scored a perfect score, twice on the census test. Once when I was in Virginia job hunting, and again, when I returned home. . . .

Unable to stomach the thought of losing my pristine credit I had sought all my life to protect I rented my house to a rather nice family and moved myself into a room in a house. It was an all time low in my radar. I attended, briefly, a single mother seminar put on at the welfare office in my area, only to realize they were encouraging those women to sign up for community college. I am ineligible for a Pell grant, having already completed a four year BA, with distinction from the University of Hawai'i. Clearly their services were not designed for someone like me.

For a while I suffered from a depression. I found myself unable to go to church. It seemed everywhere I looked I saw loss: my husband, my income, my house, my beloved dog - who passed away two months ago. But, no one will hire a sad person. So I had to turn it around. Clearly. I had to decide what to do with the "blank canvas." Was I truly semi-retired at 44? How many people can achieve that? My two mile commute to my last remaining part time job was pleasant enough. And certainly saved the wear and tear on the last remaining vehicle.

The abundance of free time enabled me to hike in the Los Padres Forest soaking up the energy of nature. I took up writing again. I entered poetry contests. I found old friends on Facebook. I read books on changing careers. I still apply to jobs when I see them, listing my cell phone as a contact number and my PO Box as an address. The internet has made the new "homeless" a lot more savvy than in generations past. I traveled from California to Florida looking for work, and I never even had to change my contact information.

Any way, I am not "homeless" as I still own the house. I am not hungry. My much reduced lifestyle actually puts me in the black every month. So I continue to pay off my debt as I wonder what will happen to me. Will the recession ever end? Will we admit, as a country, in the media, that its a "depression"? How many, like me, will just hit the road like new and improved Dharma Bums? The world (and the census) may never know.



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