Life's unexpected journeys

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

By LeaJay Harper

Without warning your life can turn completely upside down. Since the age of seventeen, I’ve been independent: living outside my mother’s home and learning how to survive and figure things out for myself, which takes a lot of trial and error. A few years ago, I finally found something that I enjoyed doing, something to which I could dedicate all of my effort and passion. Working for five years to support young women who were going through the very things I once had to figure out alone was what kept my faith alive in our judgemental culture and society. Unfortunately, my time to move on from that position came quicker than I expected or wanted.

This shift marked the moment that my life flipped.

Despite having been a single mother of two little girls for the last nine years, I never had to worry about their safety. Following my termination, I was faced with explaining to my girls that it was going to be hard for us for awhile, but we had each other and we would stay strong. We packed up a suitcase with our clothes and boxed everything else to take to our storage unit. We said goodbye to a place that we called our home for so long and the memories we created together as a family.

Here I was, the formal "resource queen for young moms," now forced to reach out for resources. Having been homeless once before, I was aware of the places to get hot meals and where to access other resources such as showers and shelters. Thankfully, it was still early August so I had close to a month to figure things out before my girls started the new school year. I was thankful for my friends that immediately stepped up and supported us in any way that they could. My only request to them was that they let my kids spend the night whenever possible and I would make sure they had food, clean clothes, and whatever else they needed to make it as simple as possible for the overnight. Although we were now house-less we still had each other and that was one of the things that we talked about as a family before we transitioned into our new life. I recall my daughter saying, "Mommy, we got your back” and the other echoing, "Yeah mommy!" It is said that misery loves company, but like our own personal values, who is the judge of what is miserable or not.
With the comparatively abundant services for the homeless population in Berkeley, California, we were still able to do what we needed to keep ourselves happy and healthy. I was amazed at how well my daughters adjusted to the fact that we were living out of our trunk. Living in hotels (some nights when I could afford it) was fun to them, but, again, I was forced to feel like I was not being the "good" mother I should be because I didn't have a place for my kids to call home. But deep down inside I was challenged with this thought because my kids who were used to having a room full of toys and a refrigerator constantly filled with food were now learning how to be appreciative of the things they once took for granted. They were now breaking down for themselves the stereotype of what a "homeless" person looks like and how that stigma doesn't make you any less of a person. From the first night we left our house to the last day I saw my oldest daughter, they slept in the car a total of three times. I've always wondered who decided that having a mobile home wasn't sufficient for children. While it wasn’t ideal, I realized that we could live on the road with the support of friends. It made me want to escape and take the girls on the road to see the country in a mobile home.

Despite my dreams of going on the road, I had a reality to face. At the risk of the consequences that might come later, I made the decision to prioritize my immediate schedule and the important things that I needed to do in the moment and skip my follow-up court date in San Jose. I knew that eventually I would have to face the music and address the bench warrant that was issued for me.

The saying “when it rains it pours” is an understatement in my case. I think it should be “when you see it start sprinkling, LeaJay, you better jump in a boat, buckle your life jacket and prepare for the hurricane.” I did not realize the hurricane that was coming, but soon would find out...

LeaJay is a guest blogger in the Strong Families' Black Women's Media Collective.