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I was so worried we would get caught. If we got caught, I would be so embarrassed, so mortified. We got caught.
My then-husband and I were living in Virginia where we had no friends or family. We were in a rural area because I was hiding from someone that wanted to cause me harm, someone that was aggressive and violent toward me because I didn’t want to date him. We packed up and left home to make a new life in a county with only one traffic light, somewhere that I could live without fear.
I was working as a dog groomer. My husband was working for a wholesale greenhouse. I paid for groceries, our car, medical bills and my student loans with my meager earnings every two weeks. My husband paid the rent with his monthly check and put gas in the car. Things were super tight financially, but we were squeaking by, sometimes even having enough to go to the dollar movie theater and Taco Bell for a date night.
We shared one car. My husband was waiting for me when I walked out of the grooming shop, which was unusual. Typically, I had to sit on the sidewalk and wait for him since his job was far away, but not this day.
I opened the passenger door, and when I climbed in, he didn’t say “hello.” He stared straight ahead and finally said, “I won’t be getting my paycheck tomorrow. They closed the greenhouse today and filed for bankruptcy.”
We had no savings. We were living paycheck to paycheck, and if tomorrow’s paycheck didn’t come, we wouldn’t have our rent money.
The landlord was ridiculously unforgiving. He told us to get out right away. Nowadays, I know he couldn’t put us out in the street like that immediately, but I didn’t know then. We had nowhere to go. We packed up what would fit in the car and drove away from the things that wouldn’t fit, like our bed and our few pieces of thrift store furniture.
Photo courtesy of Lucas McDaniel
I called my husband’s mother in another state from a pay phone outside a grocery store, hoping and praying that maybe she might loan us some money. She suggested we go to a homeless shelter. I hung up on her, and I cried, resting my head against the dirty public phone.
The only place I could think to go was to the grooming shop where I worked. I had a key, so I let us into the back room and we slept on towels on the floor, creeping around in the dark so no one driving by would notice any lights. The tile floor was cold and hard with little bits of dog hair here and there, and I was terrified the owner would catch us, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her or any of my coworkers that we had no home.
We woke up super early so we could wash up in the bathroom and be long gone before the owner arrived for the workday. We’d eat the cheapest fast food breakfast we could find, and my husband would drop me off at work like it was a normal day. I’d leave at the end of my shift and we would come back after dark. We did this for weeks while my husband looked for work and even after he found a job because we didn’t have enough money for a deposit plus first month’s rent.
One night, we had just laid down on the tile floor on our towels. I had covered myself with more towels and had a sweatshirt balled up for a pillow. I heard the bells on the shop’s front door jingle and suddenly the lights came on. There was the owner, and there we were on our makeshift beds, caught. I was so ashamed. I felt like a failure as an adult, like such a loser. I cried and explained that we needed a place to sleep for a handful of days until my husband got another paycheck. I begged for her to let us stay there a few more nights.
The grooming shop owner said no, we couldn’t stay there. I cried even harder, wailing, so she had to raise her voice to tell me that we couldn’t stay on the shop floor but we could sleep on the sofa bed in her living room until my husband got his paycheck.
Later that night while my husband took a shower, the shop owner asked me why I hadn’t asked her for help. I told her I knew she didn’t have money to help us since she owned a small, sometimes struggling, business, and I didn’t want to be any trouble to anyone.
She shook her head at me and told me something I still remember nearly eighteen years later:
I didn’t understand what she said at the time because I was the one in need of a helping hand and saw myself as a burden.
Later in life, buying Christmas presents for a co-worker’s son because she couldn’t be Santa and pay their rent in the same month, I felt so happy and full of love putting the things on his wish list in my cart, and I remembered what the shop owner had said. I finally got it, finally understood: it was a gift to have a life so abundant that I could finally help someone else.
The shop owner didn’t have money to loan us all those years ago, but she had a sofa bed, spare pillows and extra blankets when we had no bed at all. She had a hot shower when we had nothing but sink baths in the grooming shop’s bathroom. She had an abundance of kindness as well, because she never criticized us for not having money in savings for just such an emergency.
Abundance and prosperity aren’t always financial. A helping hand up is not a handout.
Maybe you’re feeling a little down and out right now. Maybe money is tight, but I bet if you think hard about it, you have some kind of abundance that you could share with someone else: perhaps you have an abundance of patience so you could be a listening ear, or perhaps you have an abundance of produce growing on your patio that you could share. Maybe you have an abundance of strength compared to your elderly neighbor so you could carry her groceries up the steps for her. Even an abundance of smiles can go a long way in brightening the day of others in your path.
What do you have in abundance that you could share? I look forward to your comments.
Katie Craig is a writer, speaker, coach and karaoke mic hog in Asheville, NC. Her book Truth and Fiction in Ashevegas is available here. Learn more about coaching opportunities at www.KatieMotivates.com. Follow her on Twitter.
Featured image courtesy of Cory Doctorow.