I had a job interview yesterday.
I’d applied for a position in my preferred field, and even though the job was located about a hundred miles away (yuuuuup) from where I’m currently staying, I was cautiously optimistic. Since I nailed the brief telephone interview, I felt pretty confident that it’d be worth taking a trip to meet with them in-person and dazzle them with my Mad Skillz.
As mentioned previously, I’m eschewing traditionally low-paying grunt jobs because I’m too old for that shit and can’t deal with it and I’m done talking about it. Judge me all you want, everybody does, don’t care. This position is a keyboard-wrangling one that would have me wearing many hats, which is what I’m accustomed to. Salary unknown but clearly on a par with my last job, which would be enough to keep me comfortable.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t excited.
See, I knew that if I were offered this job, I would have to immediately become full-on homeless again. I couldn’t possibly drive two hundred miles a day plus tolls just for the dubious comfort of the free roof currently over my head. There’s no way I could afford the gas, not to mention the extreme wear and tear on my car. Least attractive of all: the insane-making drudge of a two-hour drive EACH WAY, every day. I’d have no choice but to pack up and start living out of my car again, somewhere closer to work.
And make no mistake, it would take MONTHS of paychecks to save up enough for first-last-security on a rental. That’s IF I could find someone willing to overlook the black marks on my credit record. We’re talking a MINIMUM ninety days camping out behind a big-box store at night (the better to hijack their WiFi), showering at the gym, and parking far enough away from my co-workers that they don’t notice all my clothes piled up in the back seat.
That’s my best-case scenario if I got hired by this company. No, homeless shelters aren’t an option for me (been there, done that, not doing it again, maybe I’ll write a separate post about why someday). A roommate or house-share situation isn’t something I’ve completely ruled out, but recorded history indicates that me plus other humans under the same roof does not go well in spite of my lawful behavior. Plus, I’m pretty badly scarred and paranoid about trusting strangers with my safety and security at this point. And in any event, I still wouldn’t have the money for quite some time.
So yeah, not excited about this job prospect for those reasons.
But still cautiously optimistic.
I hit the road early in the morning, giving myself plenty of extra time to account for rush hour traffic. I stopped at a Walmart close to my destination to change clothes in the bathroom, not wanting to arrive with two hours worth of rumples in my interview outfit. Freshly attired in my nicest blouse and only pair of slacks that fit, I got back behind the wheel to drive the last couple of miles to what I hoped would be my new job.
The car wouldn’t start.
I’ve had this car for more than two years. Certified pre-owned from the dealership. Good gas mileage, nice hands-free features, large trunk, dual climate controls, leather seats, Bluetooth, plenty of comfort and reliability. I’m still paying for it. Never had a problem with it before.
On this day I had a job interview, the ONLY job interview I’ve been offered in MONTHS, I’ve got about twenty bucks to my name, had to sign up for food stamps and a free Obamaphone because I couldn’t pay my own bills anymore, and with ten minutes to go before my scheduled meeting with a potential new boss, the car won’t start.
“Praise You Anyway”
There’s a song we used to sing at my old church, back when I was a new Christian on the praise team and I still thought I could fit in. The song was called “Praise You Anyway” and it doesn’t come up when you Google it. No, not that one. I’m fairly certain it was written by the sweet little man and his wife who were leading the worship (not the “music pastor” who begrudged my very existence). It was a very cute, peppy little song about how it’s easy to praise God when we’re on top of things, when our fires are burning bright, however we need to also praise him when we’re down, when nobody’s cheering for us, and the fires are burning low. I wish I had a recording of it, but the sweet little man and his wife left that church the same year I did (gee I wonder why) and we lost touch.
Sitting in the Walmart parking lot, baking in the Florida heat while my engine refused to turn over and the sweat started gushing in buckets over my nice clean interview clothes (I have a neurological condition that makes me sweat extra-profusely, yes really), I thought of that song. I tried very, very hard to NOT START CURSING, and failed, but I apologized and tried again to speak to God with gratitude. I tried to laugh, and failed at that too, choking on tears. “Praise You Anyway,” I thought. Remembering the lyrics as I scrambled with what to do next. “Praise you in the darkest night….Teach me to trust you….When the river doesn’t flow….”
I let the interviewer know what was happening, with a forced show of cheer that I did not remotely feel. I then discovered that this particular Walmart did not contain an auto service center. Panicking now and desperate, I started pathetically asking passers-by if they could give me a jumpstart. Eventually I found one who spoke English (don’t look at me like that, it’s FLORIDA and I met with no fewer than three “no Ingles” responses in the course of fifteen minutes) and was willing. Half an hour later than scheduled, and wearing a different, very rumpled blouse that I luckily had in my back seat to replace the sweat-drenched one I’d intended to wear, I finally pulled up at the prospective employer’s office.
It did not go the way I had hoped.
While the interviewer was quite pleasant and engaged with me for more than an hour, I found myself thinking that I’m probably not quite what they’re looking for, and the interviewer gave somewhat of that impression as well when requesting examples of my previous work. I was left very much feeling that my own skills are somewhat lacking for what they’re trying to do. Nevertheless, I agreed to follow up via email with some more information and we parted amicably.
And then I had to walk back inside and ask them for another jumpstart.
The phrase “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is cliche for a reason. It’s sad but true. The owner of the company pulled his massive pickup truck alongside my dirty, cluttered little sedan full of clothes and soda bottles and juiced me up, and I went on my way more discouraged than ever.
I had just enough fuel to make it the hundred miles back to my current digs, and I stopped at the gas station where I have reward points that give me discounts at the pump. Inside, I used my EBT card to grab some soda (and if you have a problem with that, take it up with your elected Representative because it would take a literal Act of Congress to change the way the food stamp program is administered, and good luck with that). After gassing up using my rewards points, I tried to start the car again, and course it refused. I found another kind soul to give me yet another jump, and…it didn’t work.
The Story So Far
So yeah, I scored an interview for a good job at a company far away but probably willing to pay. Drove aaaalllll the way up there only to have the car break down. Got a jumpstart and made it to the interview late only to be discouraged by the vibe, and then the added humiliation of having to ask them for another jump. Drove all the way back to home base and broke down yet again in the gas station, and this time even a jump wouldn’t help.
My car insurance, which is about to get canceled for non-payment anyway, does not include emergency roadside assistance. I do not have AAA and am not friends with anyone who has a tow truck.
Up until yesterday, I’d thought that as long as I at least have my car to get around and sleep in, I still have a slim chance at getting through this. I know I’ll be fully homeless again soon, but I’ve done it before. I’ve found ways to make it work. There are a few sources I’ve got for loose change to keep small amounts of gas in my tank. I’ve got two library cards to cover me for the area where I’m currently located, so I can always use their computers. My EBT card will keep me fed for the next few months. I’ve got the Obamaphone, even though it’s barely-functional and doesn’t hold a charge for more than half a day or so, but it was free and it works. I can pass for a functional human being for the most part, and the car is my shelter and transport.
I of course let my friend-former-landlord know about all these shenanigans as soon as they occurred. She has attempted to be encouraging, but her demeanor (and that of her husband) has been grim lately — my presence in their home isn’t easy, though I’m careful to pick up after myself and stay out of the way. Yesterday as I told her the most recent development (broken down at the gas station, jumpstart no longer effective), she graciously said that she and her husband would spot me the money for a new battery. Since they both work, there were several hours of back-and-forth coordination about who was buying the battery and when he could make it to the gas station. While installing it, he made sure to point out that I should have the alternator checked because if the alternator’s bad it can ruin even a brand-new battery and if that’s the case, I’m “boned” (his word).
The grace and patience shown to me by these people is far beyond what I have any right to expect or even hope for. In spite of their frustration with the choices I have made, they have shown me more kindness than anyone else in many years. (By the way, they’re not born-again Christians; more on that in a future post.) But even saints don’t have bottomless patience. I feel horrible about the imposition I’ve created in their family, and I have no tools at my disposal for accurately measuring how much of that is The Enemy whispering in my ear.
Yesterday, I thought I might still have a chance. Now, I’m pretty much fully convinced that I’m not going to survive this and should stop flailing and just let my broken, bloated body sink. I’m supposed to send some follow-up information to the employer with whom I interviewed, and I’m wondering if I should even bother. I also need to take my car, assuming it will start today, over to the auto parts place where they’ll supposedly test my alternator for free.
I can barely move.
This morning as I lay in my friend’s absent son’s loft bed surrounded by Spider-Man sheets and stuffed dinosaurs, I found myself pleading with God again. In the dark, eyes shut, for a couple of hours straight, I begged him over and over, “Help me, please help me, please God please help me.”
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.(KJV)
Matthew 6:7 is one of those passages that I tend to remember when I think about my former Catholic life, and the endless recitation of rosaries and prefab prayers we were ordered to perform. I thought about it again this morning after finally forcing my eyes open, miserably accepting the fact that God wasn’t going to let me remain unconscious today. I briefly wondered if my wee-hours litany would be considered “vain repetitions” in this context. I’ve decided that no, it’s not vain (as in useless) because it’s not something I’m doing for show, and it’s not something I’m doing because I was ordered to, and it’s not something I’m doing so that I can say I did it twenty times and that’s my penance and now I’m done.
I do it, still, because in the stillness and darkness of the morning when I’m alone and terrified, those are the only words I have. Unfortunately I’m beginning to believe that they have less worth than the rest of the worthless things in my life.