Well today is it, it is my 48th birthday and the first one I am out to the world as who I am (a girl). You think that would be what I was focused on today but it isn’t. I woke up thinking about my 15th birthday in 1986.
We had been living in our car at this time for about six or seven months. Having left Lake Stevens, a contract out on my family we had to leave everything behind. My dad sold what he could, got a car (a 1978 Cadillac El Dorado I believe, a baby blue color).
We had gone down to Lake Tahoe in late January/early February and had just gotten back up from there at the end of June. He had to sell the Cadillac for money for food and by this time we were in a 1970s Gran Torino. From that point we had lived in the rest stops between Everett and Bellingham, camping out when my father could get enough cash for a park camp space.
By August though we were living in Birch Bay state park. We had a tent, the car, and we had made an occasional impromptu shelter under the park bench with plastic. Yes we were truly homeless like you see in the movies or in Seattle now. Eventually we got a hold of a tent at least.
It was the five of us, my sister, brother, mom and dad along with our dog “Thirty Eight”.
I remember that we didn’t have money for presents, the last gift of any sort I had gotten was when we were just becoming homeless and before we left Everett in February. I think it was from Catholic Community Services actually, that I had gotten a set of grey sweats and it was something I wore a lot when trying to sleep.
I learned a lot being homeless, how many people out there who would want to help… and sadly how many people pointed, stared or made comments. After all, no matter how clean we were, and how often we would dig money up for a laundromat, you always have this smell. It isn’t dirty, greasy, but it is a homeless smell no matter what you do.
I remember I was reading “The Exorcist” while we lived in that state park. This was the last full blown homeless location. After several weeks at Birch Bay state park my parents got enough momentum that we weren’t homeless in the fact that we got ourselves a tent, and eventually moved from apartment and shelter to apartment and shelter, but we were out of the car at least (and out from under the park bench).
The two things I remember from my birthday. The first is that my parents were sober most of the time we were full blown homeless (except when we were living in motels). When we were in the car, or in a state park they kept sober. So it was a sober birthday they gave me, which at the time (and maybe even now) made me incredibly happy.
The second thing I remember was my dad scraping what he could to get me a cake. It was one of those small, single layer, pie pan size cakes and when divided among five people it was a pretty small piece, but it tasted really good (I believe carrot cake, and to this day carrot cakes and spice cakes are my favorite). I remember thinking how grateful I was to have it, and to have family and a sleeping bag to lay on, under the plastic sheets covering the park bench.
It is funny, I am in a good place now. We might have a ton of debt, but they can’t repo my face or who I am. We eat well, we can afford to replace a tv when it goes out. I was less anxiety ridden though when I was homeless, I found happiness in smaller things (like a cheap grocery store single layer pie pan size cake).
Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all romanticizing being homeless, it fucking sucks. You are cold all the time, tired all the time and people treat you like shit. Sometimes though for me it is worse being tied to obligations, worrying about my job schedule and not getting to see the day pass by.
I suspect my childhood gave me a lot of fucked up coping mechanisms, and broke my mental health. That being said, it doesn’t change that I find myself today thinking about being 15 and living in a state park… under a piece of plastic and a park bench instead of what is happening now on my 48th birthday.