I could relate to that song really well when I was sleeping on wooden crates and scavenging on the scraps of Wal-Mart rotisserie chickens passed for actual meals.
Don’t worry, it got worse from there.
My “rock bottom” moment occurred over the course of a couple of chilly days in December of 2007. That June, I had moved from Sumter, SC to Houston with four of my friends on two days notice without telling my family, roommate, or even my live-in girlfriend at the time (well, I told my girl and roommate that I was going to Houston for a week or two.). This was two years removed from blowing my scholarship at Rutgers and being unceremoniously shipped back to Sumter from New Jersey via Greyhound, so I was essentially the black sheep of my family. I would’ve preferred to be anywhere on the planet besides near my family at the time, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in Sumter forever, especially after being able to escape ever briefly.
It wasn’t going well. The car that we used to move eventually broke down, and our patience with each other was breaking along with it. Our initial living arrangement was a one bedroom, 500 sq. ft apartment that was supposed to fit six grown adults (us five and the apartment’s owner), so we were probably doomed to resent each from the start. After several altercations with neighbors, police and each other, the owner of the apartment decided that it was best for everyone to part ways. He made that known with his pistol.
I started a stint as a seasonal employee for Target at the time, and I was approved for my own apartment, but I needed money for the deposit, there was a three week gap before getting my first check, and I needed shelter until then. The night of being kicked out, I contacted my childhood best friend, who lived on the other side of town at the time, and asked if she would let me stay with her until I could move into my apartment. She agreed, so I packed all of my worldly possessions, which fit into one piece of luggage, and anxiously waited for her to pick me up.
She was supposed to arrive at 7:00 pm, so I waited outside of the apartment complex at 6:00, in hopes of not missing her in the event that she arrived early.
I texted her to ensure that she was still coming. Nothing.
7:00 came and passed without any signs of her.
I called her. Then called again. Then called again. Then cursed a bunch. Then called again. Nothing.
7:15 came, but she didn’t. It was fairly cold (especially for Houston’s standards), and I didn’t own a coat, so the hunt for shelter was becoming increasingly important, and I was starting to worry that something really bad happened to my best friend, since she’s never late for anything.
At 7:30, a red SUV pulled up to the complex, but it wasn’t my best friend. It was a lady that I had only previously spoken to in passing, checking if I was alright, since I was standing by myself with nothing but luggage. I told her that I was fine, but needed to warm up in her car until my ride came.
At 7:34, I received a text. It was from my best friend. It said the following:
“I’m not coming to get you and you can’t stay with me. I’m sorry, but this whole situation is too weird and I think that you and my ex are up to something sneaky (her ex was the one who owned the apartment), so I can’t trust you.”
As much as I would’ve enjoyed cursing out my best friend until I lost my voice, I still had the pressing issue of finding somewhere to sleep with no money for that night, God forbid trying to figure out a solution for the next 20 days. Miraculously, the lady with the SUV had a voucher for a local hotel, and she agreed to let me use it then drop me off at a homeless shelter the following morning.
For those fortunate enough to not know the process of staying at a homeless shelter, it’s not as easy as going in and out of a building at leisure. You have to fill out an application similar to the one you would use for a job or a regular apartment. The main difference in this application was that the “address” portion was helpfully filled out for you. It said, simply, HOMELESS.
As I was filling out this lovely and not dehumanizing application, I got a phone call. It was from my best friend. She called to let me know that I was exaggerating my situation and that I had some sort of ulterior motive in mind that involved her ex, while I’m still processing the fact that my official address was now HOMELESS. When I assured her that my situation was indeed this dire, she asked why I didn’t just go back home. “You tried your best, Shawn. It didn’t work out. Just go back to Sumter. Give up. What are you even doing out here?” (spoiler: rock bottom) At that point, I would’ve silently starved to death in an alleyway with a dirty syringe in my arm and deemed it a preferable fate to going back home with my tail between my legs because I was too much of a fuck up to survive without them for five months.
I couldn’t stay at the shelter because I would only be able to reserve a bed at 6:30 pm, and that conflicted with my work schedule, which was from 3:30-10:30. I decided to have the nice lady with SUV drop me off in the exact spot she found me 16 hours earlier. Nowhere else to go from here. Time to sink or swim.
Fast forward about eight years to last night, and my most severe form of stress stress (outside of wife/unborn child/etc.) came from hosting a successful Taco Tuesday for my squadron somewhere in Central America. It would have felt like the end of the world as I knew it if nobody came out for it on consecutive weeks. I would’ve felt like I could relate to that song all over again. I guess everything is relative.