I have a paid day off today.
My roommate has gone out for a road trip–she made a lunch date with a friend who lives across the state. She does things like that, drives a couple of hours, has lunch, drives back. The highway soothes her soul.
Me, I think I’ll clean house and write–the cleaning house is my reward for the writing, BTW, not the reverse. Cleaning soothes my soul.
This morning I went out to get some birdseed out of my roommate’s trunk to fill the birdfeeder–yes, it’s July and there is plenty of forage for the birds and squirrels, but’s not for the local wildlife. It’s for the cats. The birdfeeder is just outside the living room window, and filling it with seed provides hours of entertainment for Butch and Flynt.
My car was parked on the driveway in front of my roommate’s car. It’s fairly new, and I own the title, it’s properly insured, it has current Missouri license plates. The name and address on the title, the insurance card, my driver’s license, and the check I wrote to the DMV are all the same, and is the same one on the front of my house.
My rent for July is paid, and my bills are current. The yard has been freshly mowed. I have white plastic lawn furniture in my back yard.
There is a police station/firehouse/town hall (I live in a small town) across the street from me, and I don’t flinch when I drive past it. I hardly notice that it’s there any more.
My money is in a credit union, under my own name, my own address. I have direct deposit, so I hardly ever go there in person, but when I do I show them my ID and they call me “sir”.
I have keys for the office where I work. Heck, I make the keys for the office where I work. I have a shop with personal pictures and training certificates with my real name on them on the wall. As I said above, they are paying me for a full day today, even though I’m not there. In fact, I have 29 hours of vacation time that I need to use up before the end of September, and after that three weeks of vacation to use up next year.
Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, I became a solid citizen.
Now, maybe you take all these things for granted. Maybe you’re reading this and wondering why I’m making a big deal about having a home and a job.
Trust me, it is a big deal. It’s a big deal because I live in a country where a person can fall off the edge of the world and come back.
I don’t know if I can explain adequately what it’s like to live on the outside of the social contract. It’s a different world, a shadow world, unnoticed by most people except for the sanitized human interest stories in the news and the occasional unpleasant intersection of crimes against property; theft, vandalism, fraud, and separated from the world of solid citizens by a great chasm of custom, habit, and state of mind.
It’s one of those things that is so big that you don’t see it, like standing in the cyclopean footprint of some mad god and not recognizing it for what it is.
You can fix your mind on details–being unable to call the police when a neighbor starts shooting out his window because you have outstanding warrants. Doing construction work at night to avoid inspectors and getting paid in chain store gift cards.
Needing secure places to hide cash from the people you live with. Knowing where all the payphones are and which ones work. Using, “Where are you staying now?” as a common greeting. Having people drift into and out of your life, never knowing when a meeting will be a last one.
Learning how long you can stay at store before security comes to move you along. Wolfing every meal because your next one is pure conjecture. Knowing who has a clean identity to use to buy things that require an address and knowing how much using it will cost you. Keeping track of a dense web of obligations, favors owed, relationships, who is lying for whom, what this person told that person, the need for keeping the story straight so prominent in your mind that the idea of telling the truth simply never occurs to you as an option.
I don’t live in that world any more.
I have sat in front of my computer for the time it takes to smoke three cigarettes trying to find some way to give that sentence the emphasis that it deserves. I give up. All of the analogies that come to mind–coming back from the dead, having an amputated limb reattached, being reprieved from a life sentence–are so hyperbolic as to rob them of emotional impact. If you haven’t ever looked at life from the wrong side of the bulletproof glass you just won’t understand.
That’s a pity. It’s a pity because people don’t understand the value of what they don’t know can be lost and regained. What they wake up to every day is taken as normal and they don’t–they can’t–grasp how artificial and how precious it is and how much work it takes so many people to maintain.
America is important. It is important because it is the Land Of Second Chances.