The Ladder of Life

October 27, 2011
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People always say that change is good. Change is a big word, and the sound of it excites many people. But the sound of change in a cup is much less satisfying. It’s an empty sound, like the empty promises that change brings. The change rattles in the cup and shakes you up, leaving you off guard. That isn’t the problem, however. Change as an idea makes people happy; but as for the material change, there’s little significance. To people who have nothing, though, change is everything. They pray for change so that they can make it through the day with a meal, and they pray for change so that they won’t have to endure one more day of waiting helplessly for things to change.

Change: what a twisted word.

Because there was nothing else for me to do, I spent most of my time thinking. I sat, begged, and thought. There wasn’t much use trying to be productive because there were no jobs, especially not for people as economically unstable as I was at this point.

What happened to me? Things didn’t use to be like this... But I knew the answer very well; I wasn’t fooling myself.

Again, I pictured the scene. It had replayed multiple times in my head, and I wished dearly that I could do it over and change that moment. Images flashed through my brain-- me flipping my old boss’s desk. The hospital, the foreclosure. The divorce. Everything had fallen apart so quickly that I could barely manage to convince myself that it had really happened.

The constant chill and ache that I felt helped to remind me, though, that this was definitely real.

I spent hours watching people--not in a creepy way, just watching as life went on around me. People were always in a hurry-- always trying to get somewhere else. My way of going somewhere else that night was to drink away the pain. I managed enough for some liquor; and as I sat near the alley, I watched the sun set between the skyscrapers. It was a beautiful evening from what I could make out through my blurred vision. I let myself stare at the sun and let the pink ball of fire burn my eyes and blind me.

“What is there that’s worth seeing anyway?” I slurred to myself.

Using the orange brick wall behind me, I steadied myself enough to get to my feet, and I took a walk. I only made it into the alley before my knees gave out, and I blacked out against a pile of rubbish.


**************************


When I awoke, two things felt wrong. First, there was a peculiar ladder perched on the other side of the alley. I had only passed out for what felt like a few minutes, and I couldn’t imagine who would’ve put it there and then deserted it. Second, there was a large bump on my head that I didn’t remember getting. Go figure. It didn't help that my head was already spinning. I paused a second to think about where I was and what I should do. My mouth hung stupidly, half-open. I shook off my stupor and crossed the piles of trash to the ladder. Its sides were cold, smooth, and sturdy. I took a short breath and began my ascent. Not knowing where I was going, I moved slowly and peeked through the window. On the first floor, there were cots filled with ragged bodies, all struggling to keep warm. I glimpsed a sign that read PADS and immediately cringed. All of these people had to rely on the kindness of others in every aspect of their life. They were completely dependent. They were weak. And I was just like them.

I turned my head in shame at the thought that that was what I was to the world. That was my image. I stepped up another two rungs and peered in the window of the next floor. I processed the following scene: a group of inner city kids sat together in a circle on folding chairs. The room was completely outdated; the carpets were shabby, the walls stained with water. A young woman held a Bible in her hands; and as she read, the kids stared at her with wonder in their eyes. They didn’t have much, but it was clear that they had their faith. The joy written on their faces while they listened to those Bible stories was undeniable. I started to worry I would be noticed, so I trudged on to the next floor, curious what lay ahead.

In the next window, I saw a group of moms eating egg salad and making small talk. The chorus of forced laughter somehow didn’t bother them because they tried to pretend it was real. The fakeness of the entire room struck me. These women screamed botox, knock-off purses, and hair extentions. Even I could see that, not to mention they reeked of tension and cheap perfume. These were the real blue collar housewives, and I wanted absolutely nothing to do with them.


Something about the blonde woman sitting farthest away from me reminded me of Rebecca. I think it was the way she tilted her head and gazed deeply at you when you were speaking that struck me. She was much like the Rebecca I had first known, the one with whom I had fallen in love. I tore my gaze away from her thinking how that didn’t last. I didn’t want to get too attached to anything now like I had to Rebecca. So I moved on.

I was nearing the top. At the next window, I saw a middle-aged couple sitting at the dinner table that was completely covered with neat piles of receipts. “Wow,” I said to myself. “It’s time most people have to do their taxes. Man, I’m completely oblivious.” The woman’s forehead was deeply creased, and her face was down to business. The man had his feet on the table and his hands intertwined behind his head. I start to pull away from the glass when the wife snapped at her husband. She pushed herself from the table and stalked over to the man with anger quivering her body.

I scampered up a rung and nearly toppled over as I was up so high. On the last floor, I peered into the windows and could barely see through the bars on the inside layer. From what I could make out, beyond the bars, I was looking into a safe. There were bags and bags of money just sitting there. And all I did was look. I surprised myself by not really wanting it anymore. For the first time, I felt completely neutral. Money wouldn’t solve my problems. Sure, I might be able to have a better place to land; but that wasn’t what was really bothering me. There were always homeless shelters if I needed them. What was bothering me was that I had let Rebecca slip through my fingers. I had been so focused on work that I hadn’t paid her any attention.

It was too late for her now, though. She had changed, too; and some things can never go back to how they used to be. But I decided that I would take this as an opportunity to move forward. It was time for me to start a new chapter in my life now that I had my priorities straight.

I numbly climbed down the ladder, thinking, reassessing my life. I reached the bottom again, and walked toward the doors of the shelter. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.

I’m homeless. That’s where I’m at right now, and that’s something that I’ll have to accept if I want to move forward with my life. There are definitely struggles, being homeless; but when I put it into perspective, not as many as there were when I had money. I just have to decide which struggles are worth it. Right now, I don’t have a choice. But I know that when I do, I’ll make the choice to lead a very minimalist life, because the small things in life are what make it worth it.





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