“Am I really homeless?”
That’s what I often asked myself during the months I was sleeping on my ex-husband’s floor, my clothes crammed into a suitcase next to my head.
When I thought of the word homeless, I pictured someone sitting on the sidewalk asking for spare change. I saw layers of dirty clothes, missing teeth, body odour. I imagined an old lady with a shopping cart, ranting unintelligibly.
I wasn’t sleeping on the street. I wasn’t begging for money. But through three whole seasons – from Halloween to Easter – I didn’t have a home address.
Most of my stuff was still at my ex-boyfriend’s house. I’d walked out on him the night he went on a particularly bad bender and squeezed my wrist so hard I thought it was going to snap. I’d go back to his place to pack and he’d stand over me, yelling that I was a loser, a bitch, a whore. I’d cry, he’d apologise, and I’d end up staying over. Not much got packed, but on those nights, at least I slept in a bed and not on the floor.
Most days I’d camp out at my local coffee shop, plugging away at freelance assignments. A woman used to have meetings there almost every morning, talking loudly about the book she was writing. Her voice was like a knife hacking its way right into my brain, leaving me struggling to string words into sentences. I’d grit my teeth and shove my headphones into my ears when I saw her coming.
Months later, when I had a new apartment and her book was published, I read a review of it, and the memory of those long days at the coffee shop came rushing back. I remembered sun glinting off the windows as icicles dripped on the sidewalk out front and people hurried past; I always wondered where they were going and wished I had somewhere to go. I remembered the banter of the old men who came in each day at the same time, and the smell of the toasted bagel with butter I ordered every afternoon when I was starting to fade.
Author Nikki McWatters talks about pulling her family out of poverty, and what it’s like living in a tent with four hungry mouths to feed. Post continues after audio.
It’s funny, but looking back at it now, that whole time is painted with a rosy glow. It wasn’t so bad, I think to myself. I’ve never been much of a homebody, anyway – never wanted to stay home if I could go out instead. I spent my childhood bouncing between my divorced parents’ houses, never quite feeling at home at either place. Maybe that’s why I’ve never let myself get too comfortable anywhere.