I’m embarrassed as hell to even write this post, because let’s be honest… when I imagine a homeless person, I’m just as judgmental as the rest of you. Sure, I paint over my judgment with concern and an occasional dollar bill. But ultimately, I view homeless people as foreign — other. In other words, they’re not like me. At least that’s what I thought. Read on for a story of millennial homelessness, Becoming Homeless.
I was Mormon for about a decade.
If you know anything about Mormons, you know they aren’t the most sexually liberated folks in the world — and I was no different. I was a technical virgin when I married my Mormon husband. For almost four years, we lived the happily-ever-after dictated by the church’s doctrine.
Sex was routine and boring compared to what I’d always hoped for in a marriage, but otherwise, I thought we were happy.
Not perfect, but happy.
It was around the Fourth of July. We had just closed on our first home and were in the midst of a fertility treatment. Two weeks later, I likely would have been pregnant.
My husband texted to say he was working late, but as the hours ticked on, I wondered just how late they were keeping him. At 2:00 in the morning, I got a call from a police department 45 minutes away. When the person on the other line identified himself as an officer, I knew my husband must be dead.
But he wasn’t dead.
My “good” Mormon husband had been arrested for breaking into a younger, prettier, thinner woman’s home to steal her panties. Why the officer thought that description was necessary is beyond me.
He was held without bail in the county jail.
I didn’t learn anything else about what had happened until two weeks later when I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. My finger and heart stopped when I saw the mug shot for the first time — accompanied by an article shared by a friend.
“Hey @mutualfriend! Is this who I think it is???”
The article’s headline made fun of our last name. The marketer in me respected the craftsmanship of the click-worthy title; the human in me bemoaned the sensational nature of our media.
But it was the man in the photo that turned my body to stone in front of the doorway. Who was he? Everything about his facial structure was my husband, but I didn’t recognize the man I saw.
My brain literally couldn’t reconcile this new reality with the reality I had enjoyed mere weeks before.
I learned what had happened from that and all the other articles published in the next few days. Local articles, national articles — it was everywhere. His foreign eyes stared back at me from the television screen, and I thought about his six-year-old niece. I wondered if kids at school were talking about it — if she’d seen his face on the tv.
The articles told a shocking story. When they searched the car, they found a duffel bag full of baggies labeled with women’s names.
Each bag contained panties, hair, gum, and/or feminine hygiene products.
So, basically all the things that would creep the fuck out of you if someone took them from you and put them in a baggie with your name on it.
Looking back, I wonder which duffel bag it was. Had I seen it before and just assumed it was full of sweaty gym clothes?
I divorced him, though with my Mormon background, it wasn’t as easy as you’d expect. I felt immense guilt for leaving him. Several church leaders even counseled me to stay married to him so that I could help him get better.
Mind you, because of the church’s teachings, it’s assumed that they also wanted me to have kids with him.
So… thankfully, the brainwashing didn’t override my intellect for too long.
I went on with my life and started healing.
I left the Mormon church and found myself — the girl I’d put away all those years before to please God — or at least some man’s idea of him.
I met a wonderful man who helped me see what I had been missing from life all those years. He lovingly put the pieces of me back together, helping me rediscover passions and talents I’d long buried. He gave me courage to explore, take risks, and believe that I could actually do great things in the world.
And then we started doing those great things. We built a business together doing something we loved. We traveled the country — exploring places, food, and people. We got married and settled into our dream cabin on a lake.
Life was good.
Love was real.
We were happy.
The day we moved into the cabin, I sat in the middle of the floor and cried.
I had never imagined that I would live in such a beautiful place. I didn’t realize there were even lakes out there you could live on, and here I was in a peaceful log cabin with a year-round view of water and geese.
When we first moved into the cabin, we were making $180,000 a year. My husband and I had built a successful business. I had a job selling advertising packages to people across the world for a digital publication that I actually cared about.
One morning, I woke up at 3:00 am to have a phone conference with the tourism department of Holland. I sat in the living room in my pajamas while I sold them an advertising package, and then I went back to bed. When I woke up, I was the master of my day, taking breaks to cook and eat and stare at the lake whenever I wanted.
They say that no good deed goes unpunished, and frankly, now I understand what they mean.
Not long after we moved into the cabin, a trusted friend and advisor begged me to come work for a local nonprofit because “the community need[ed me].”
Of course, it was a significant pay cut, but how could a sap like me say no to the community?
Four months into the position, I went in to pick up my monthly paycheck, but they dismissed me instead. I learned that both of their grants were under investigation and had been since I was originally hired.
The kicker? They had hired me without following grant guidelines.
The feds had shown up that day for a surprise visit. They didn’t tell them they had to fire me, but they did give them a strict reprimand to get their shit together. My “friend” stepped down from her role on the board.
Their strategic plan to have me help the organization become financially self-sufficient? It had a lot more to do with saving their asses than creating a self-sustaining program.
So it wasn’t the community that had needed me after all.
As I dug, I uncovered issues with how other grants were handled in the community. The more I fought for justice, the more people ignored my calls. I lost my contract with the school district after calling their attention to the compliance issues with their grants and offering to help them get everything in order. Two contracts breached and no attorney in the county would take the case.
It’s equally enlightening and discouraging when you ask someone to stand against a corrupt organization.
Even when they know they should, most people shrink from the challenge.
I guess it isn’t surprising since the nonprofit’s grant required involvement from leaders in every sector of the community.
But it still washes the rose color from a naive millennial’s glasses.
Everyone said I was getting screwed and that breaching the contract wasn’t legal, but nobody wanted to do anything about it. And I was strongly discouraged from causing a ruckus. Life in our small town changed for us when we started pushing against the corruption.
My husband and I were intimidated by community leaders, school board members, and law enforcement. Several local business deals evaporated, and one of my friends overheard the rumor going around town that I had stolen money from the nonprofit.
It’s a lot easier to blame the whistleblower from out of town than to admit that a “pillar of the community” has done wrong.
My ex-husband got out of prison.
I’d made it very clear to him (and his mother, attorney, and warden) that I wanted no contact from him. It took months for me to get him to stop sending letters — pages and pages of handwritten words that I eventually just stopped reading.
They released him right before Christmas. I know because he posted a picture of a Denny’s hot chocolate to his Facebook on Christmas Eve at midnight — my 30th birthday. The post said something about celebrating a birthday tradition.
It was purposefully vague yet pinpoint-targeted, and his subtle attention triggered something inside of me.
He proceeded to email me and my husband (wishing us well and requesting a meeting). He changed his employment history on LinkedIn, listing that he worked at our company. I received notifications several times a day that he was looking at my LinkedIn profile. Other sites don’t send similar notifications, but I assumed he was digitally stalking me elsewhere.
He even posted a long open letter to his supporters (i.e. our mutual friends who hadn’t unfriended him) that included a line repenting that he and I hadn’t been quite righteous enough (and how that contributed to his decisions and downfall🙄).
And then, a neighbor saw someone looking at our home with binoculars — someone who fit his description.
We lived 3 hours away from him in a secluded area that didn’t see much traffic. The neighbor saw this person on two different occasions. There were reports of someone peeking in windows in our neighborhood.
I didn’t feel safe, and every loud noise startled me out of the coma I walked around in.
I couldn’t get an order of protection because he hadn’t threatened me, and I didn’t have proof that the person stalking our home and neighborhood was him. I wasn’t a victim of his original crimes so I wasn’t afforded the protection that victims receive on a prisoner’s release.
Not a victim — collateral damage, they said.
Eventually, he left us alone — but not until we got his mother involved. She didn’t see a problem with his behavior, but when my husband called her a cunt over the phone for defending her son’s actions, everything finally stopped.
We couldn’t reason with her, but I guess her Mormon ears couldn’t handle such vulgarity. 🤷
But trauma doesn’t end just because the event is over.
It paralyzed me, and when I lost my job due to all that other bullshit, I just didn’t have the strength to get up off the ground.
I was hospitalized for self-harm.
I daydreamed about suicide.
And I spent the vast majority of my time in a strange dissociative state.
I was diagnosed with severe PTSD and sleep apnea (which are surprisingly co-morbid).
I tried to get better, but even the simple things like taking my medicine and getting to the doctor on time seemed impossible.
The powerful woman making transcontinental advertising sales was replaced with a shell of a person.
You can only imagine the dramatic impact this had on my husband and my life.
Not only was I no longer productive, but his productivity was severely diminished as well. Gone were the days when he could go work for a couple of hours without worrying about my well-being.
I tried to convince him that I was okay — but the call of the cold lake water was hard to combat, and my voice wasn’t strong enough to convince even me.
I didn’t have much of a voice for words anyway. I shriveled into myself — disappearing from my writing, words, and people.
It wasn’t until 8 months later that I finally started waking up.
I felt life returning to my brain. I still couldn’t think or function like I wanted to — like I used to, but I was learning to work around my illness. I established strong routines in my day to be more productive.
I started cleaning and putting the house in order — something I’d neglected to do since we’d moved in. First, because we were too busy. And then because I didn’t remember how to function.
I started working again. I knew it would take a few months to get income flowing in like it had before, but I felt optimistic that I could make it happen. We pulled an idea off the backburner and went to work on a new strategic plan — a big one that we’d been planning for long before I’d heard of that stupid nonprofit – back when my ex-husband hadn’t even been sentenced yet.
I started finding my voice again, and my husband patiently coaxed the words from my locked-up brain and heart. We spent hours talking on the dock under the stars, working through the pain.
But ultimately, it was too little too late.
“Once, I lived a life of a millionaire…”
The words scatter out from my husband’s guitar strings, echoing off the water and into the night sky. The crickets and cicadas sing with him.
“No — no — nobody loves you when you’re down and out.”
I see a shooting star and make a wish that we’ll be able to keep the house. It’s the third one I’ve seen tonight, and Grandma always said good things come in threes.
But bad things come in threes too.
The day we lost the house was terrible.
Bad enough I can’t even bring myself to write about it.
But there have been plenty of terrible days since. Although we’ve managed to make quite a bit of money, we’ve been unable to set any aside. Being homeless is more expensive than you’d expect. Even cheap hotels add up to more than twice what we paid for our home.
And overstaying your welcome to avoid sleeping in your car is the most humiliating thing you’ll ever experience.
I’ve had wonderful moments with my husband in the midst of it all. “Makin’ memories,” my grandpa would say. But I’ve also learned that memories and love and all that goodness don’t keep you warm or put food in your stomach.
It’s heartbreaking to watch my husband suffer when he has stood by my side so loyally through the bullshit we’ve been through. And again through the subsequent bullshit I’ve put him through — in our first year of marriage, no less.
But what’s more heartbreaking…
is the utter loneliness of being homeless. Everyone else just goes on living — averting their eyes and hearts and minds, while you spend hours at a time trying to figure out where you’re going to sleep for the night.
I wish I knew how to end this, but it feels like it needs a happy ending, and that’s just not the reality of the situation. So I’ll leave it with this:
It turns out homeless people are no different than I am.
And as much as you’d like to avert your eyes, if you’ve read this far… you must recognize that even the top of the world isn’t very far from the bottom.
I hope you never end up here.
A Note About Millennial Homelessness
Millennial homelessness often goes unreported. The cliche of the basement-dwelling millennial leeching off of his or her parents – often while being married and/or having children – is something we laugh about rather than working to change. Millennials struggle with mental health issues, terrible health insurance, job insecurity, decreased worker protections due to freelancing (often used to miscategorize young professionals as contractors rather than employees), and extensive debt that keeps us from securing traditional home loans that would afford us protections.
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