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She's packed, she's all ready to go. Everything she owns is in her car. She's all set for a life, a future, that she isn't sure of, that was planned, destroyed, adjusted, and given new hope, that she has every reason to be at least a little afraid of. She's on a journey. She's always going somewhere, with everything packed and ready, this girl who lives out of her car, but she has nowhere to go. She has no home. Her future has been uprooted, like tearing a seedling, green with new life and sunlight, out of the ground. She's running in place.
She's in the real world now, although in a way she has been in the real world for a long time. She graduated from high school. Too bad she couldn't graduate from the misery in her life, from her schizophrenic, alcoholic father, from her angry, selfish mother, from her mildly crazy, selfish older sisters. These things are a part of her. One can't be separated from a childhood of troubles, not completely. One can't simply graduate from inconsistency, pain, homelessness. Blood ties are hard to sever.
She always moves a lot. Her mother didn't want her anymore or her father didn't, or this or that relative, they just couldn't take care of her. She learned not to expect or ask for help from anyone. By the time she was 15, she was basically living by herself, in the old house her mother was trying to sell, in borrowed space. Nothing permanent, don't make a mess, don't ruin the walls, she does want to eventually sell this house, after all. Everyone had their own lives. They were too busy for her, some girl, their daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece. Someone else was sure to take her in, right? They wouldn't let their own family, their daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, go homeless. They wouldn't leave her in the cold. Would they?
She loves history and her teachers and the close friends she has and allows into her sad world. She's generous and sweet, but awkward, unsure, motherless, raised without proper boundaries, with no boundaries, too many. Her friends become her family, brothers, sisters, cousins. Her teachers become mentors, friends, protectors—awkward, silhouette, stand-in parents, doing what they can. She must have been inspired by that, their help, their dedication, their advice, their sense of humor, because suddenly she wants to be one of them. She's especially influenced by her history teacher. She wants to study history and perhaps become a teacher, probably to help someone else like her, someday.
So she got ready. Young as she was, in high school, a sophomore, kicked out of her house, a junior, a senior, homeless off and on, living with friends and family, anywhere. She was ready. But she wasn't really ready at all. She wasn't ready to realize she couldn't go to her top choice school because she couldn't afford it. She wasn't ready to leave the safety of the high school. She wasn't ready to stop running in place. She was like a broken compass, lacking direction, running herself into rocks as she tried to get out of the familiar storm that was her life.
She lives on a couch. It's something she's gotten used to. She comes to my house for a meal and I give her a bed. She stays for two nights. She's a normal person in most ways. She jokes and laughs and can hold a conversation. She makes small, angry comments about her family here and there, out of habit, but she doesn't really talk about it unless someone asks. I offer her food and drinks and comfort and options, and she doesn't care, doesn't care, whatever is easiest, she doesn't care. She's not used to it, that much is obvious. She's trying to let me be her friend. This is just how things are for her. Take what you can get and don't ask for anything.
She sits in my room, on the bed my sister dragged upstairs for her, another borrowed space, and she talks about her family. She tells me about her mother, the neglect, the selfishness, boyfriends, therapy, fighting.
“I have to fight with her,” she says. “It's for my protection. One time she was fighting with her boyfriend and she stayed with me in her old house. We did things together, we got along. She was my mother for two weeks. Then she just left. She just does that. I can't let her get to me. She thinks it's just the big things, the big events, that matter, that going to birthdays and graduation and all that makes you a mother. It doesn't. It's the little, everyday things that matter. That's what you remember. And she just wasn't around for that.”
She's so distant, like she's telling a story and at the end can close the book and forget it, like it's not her family, her story, her life. It's a dry-eyed coldness that apparently astounds therapists. How could she talk about these horrible things without any emotion?
“There's no point crying,” she says. “If I cried every time there was a problem with my family, I'd never stop.”
But it becomes obvious that she is always crying, always bleeding and hurt. Packing, being ready, going and stopping, running in place, living—these are her tears, her scars.
She keeps it up, this living in place, through the summer. She's used to this. She's been doing it for 18 years in some form or another. It starts as a rainy, dreary summer, a sunless June. She's struggling with two jobs, with meetings and possible court dates with her parents about money. She's trying to get out of Maine as soon as possible. Nothing against ocean and pine trees, her family's just clinically insane, for the most part, and she wants to forget. She wants to move to a college in Rhode Island, a beautiful campus, right on the ocean, a great history program, absolute perfection, until it comes to the bill. She can't possibly afford it. She has to stay in Maine, where they'll believe her situation, then transfer when she's established herself as homeless, poor, alone, a hermit, a nomad. Oh, this college believed you, I guess we can, too. Welcome!
Get through the summer, just get through. Run in place a little longer, and hope your feet don't fall off. But she has direction now. She just has to survive one more year in this state, this place of bad memories and part time jobs and living on couches. One year of borrowed space. Then she can run to Rhode Island, to live on the ocean. Then she can go down to the beach of her beautiful, perfect campus, near her excellent education, funded by grants that are set up for unfortunate cases like her. She can stand still and give herself time to breathe. That's when the real running begins.