And This Bird You Cannot Change

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.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Writing, Who I am and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to And This Bird You Cannot Change

  1. kingmidget says:

    I wish you would talk to my kids. They have, as most teenagers do, an uncompromising view that everything will always be OK. Nothing could possibly go wrong. They’ll always get what they want. Their lack of effort, as a result, disgusts and disappoints me. They are one wrong move away from seeing the other side of the world and they don’t realize it.

  2. kingmidget says:

    Congrats, by the way!

  3. Wow. That was just lovely. And I can relate to all of that. A big chunk of my life was filled with psych wards and pawn shops, drunken fear and rage and overwhelming sadness. It hit me the other day that it has been years since I had to borrow money. Since I had to borrow five dollars so I could eat, or have bus fare. And you are so right about how, when you live that kind of existence, day to day, it is so expansive and pervasive you can’t imagine a way out. But I did. And yes, to have enough of everything I need, good credit and a savings account, and plans for the future, all those things are so wonderful. Happy fourth of July.

  4. LindaGHill says:

    Nope, I’ve never been there, but I’ve lived with people who have. I’m observant enough to understand, at least on an intellectual level if not an experiential one, What you’ve achieved is indeed commendable. I understand your awe in it; I’m a little in awe of my own life, at times. It’s great to live in a country that allows second chances, but it’s the only the strong and the wise who take advantage of the opportunity.

  5. Very well said. I was homeless on several occassions as a kid, and that compounded with a million other roadblocks made it very unlikely that I would become a solid citizen, but I have done so also. I am so thankful every day for what I’ve accomplished and attained, and struggle with how to instill that appreciation in the kids. I think this kind of honest revelation is probably a good start.

  6. Great blog. It’s important that people know there is always a second chance. I work with people every day who think that people are beyond redemption. This is so nice to hear.

  7. I have always had a safety net. I’ve been disabled now for 24 years, and the net is sometimes grudging (people tend to just ignore you when you can’t do things with them), but it’s there. I have never done anything truly wrong in my life – well, except…

    But I think often of the people who don’t have the options. The kids turning 18 and aging out of a Child Protective Services system with a couple months rent on an apartment, and no way to go to college. The person with bad luck which never seems to run out. The mom too exhausted to do much beyond TV watching at the end of another day living in a church basement and moving every week. The person trying to make due with a minimum wage job that refuses to provide enough hours – they’re working way more than 40 hours, but neither job gets close to real benefits. The homeless person on the street. The cab driver from Russia who used to be an obstetrician.

    It is hard to pull yourself out of deep holes. I battle despair at this stupid illness – which now has added mobility problems, just for fun, so I can’t even do the cleaning you’re talking about.

    It’s good for fiction – novels don’t come from happy people – but I would rather have had the other life. Glad you have some of it – excellent reflective post.

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