Thanks for the Memories.

Word of the Week – Reminiscence (noun): The recall to mind of a long-forgotten experience or fact. 

Four years ago around this time–in November, if I remember correctly–I was nearly evicted from my apartment after falling behind substantially on my rent.

It was the first time in three years that I had my own place; I’d lived at home during a three-year stint as co-caregiver (with my father) to my ailing mother, and four of my five younger siblings. In May 2014–seven months after my mother’s death–my siblings and I made our way from Alabama to Michigan to join our dad, who had to relocate for his job in January. Moving four teenagers across the country, in the middle of the schoolyear, just months after losing their mother, would have been a horrible decision. Weekend visits and “Hey, listen to your sister” phone calls from my dad were integral to my success as a pseudo-matriarch.

My success with full-time #adulting once I went out on my own, though, was inconsistent. By way of a plug from my father, I was able to secure an administrative assistant position in the athletic department where he worked. Still, I was making minimum wage, and was only allotted 29 hours a week. I couldn’t find a second job to save my life, because I was either slightly underqualified, or grossly overqualified. That’s what tends to happen when you’re 26 years old, and 20-ish credits shy of a college degree.

My bills didn’t care why I couldn’t find a second job, though, so I continued to search for any side hustle possible. Caregiving and writing were–and still are–strengths of mine, so I made profiles on sites used by people seeking in-home caregivers, and freelance writers. Finding my way back to the freelance site is what reminded me of my near-eviction years ago.

Last week, at the suggestion of a friend, I visited the website to make a profile, but quickly remembered that I already had one. After logging in, I went to change my profile information; the growth I had made since that fall of 2014 nearly brought me to tears. At the time, my general professional experience was far from extensive, or impressive; my professional writing and editing experience was relatively limited; and my college education had a start date from 9 years prior, with a note stating that I planned to return to complete my degree in Fall 2015.

Consequently–yep, you guessed it–I received zero booking requests.

The same went for the caregiving site. Most people were searching for nannies, not dementia caregivers; being the oldest of six kids wasn’t exactly a valid credential. With no side hustle money coming in to supplement my primary income, your girl was–to quote American poet J. Cole: “Broke as dishes.”

Thus, #BrokeBMarie found herself at a table in the stuffy basement of the Ann Arbor Salvation Army, equally humbled and horrified by a rapidly approaching payment deadline.

As anxiety took my thoughts into a downward spiral, I could practically hear the Washtenaw County Sheriff banging on my door to enforce a notice to vacate. I could see myself standing helplessly and sobbing uncontrollably, as all of my belongings were tossed to the curb at the entrance to my apartment complex. Thankfully, the fear-filled fantasy I’d entered was broken up by the voice of an older gentleman sitting across from me.

“Excuse me sweetheart; you got a pen?”

I did. The problem was that it was inside of the uppity Vera Bradley bag I carried everywhere at the time. A family friend who worked for the company brought bags for myself and my sisters to my mother’s funeral, as a condolence gift of sorts. No one knew that, though. And even if they had, I’m sure very few people would have cared. In an attempt to avoid potential judgment, I’d quickly placed the bag under the table when I sat down.

However, the other problem at hand was that the spare pen I had in my uppity bag, was also uppity. I’d intentionally chosen a basic ballpoint to fill out the emergency assistance paperwork that had been piled in the center of the set of 8-person tables which made the space look like a lunchroom. My fear–half grounded in reality, and half in anxiety–was that pulling out a stainless steel pen with “University of Michigan” engraved on it was going to make people think I was some bougie girl who thought she was too good to be there, or worse yet, a scammer.

My tablemate either thought neither of those things, or didn’t care. Probably the latter. He grabbed the pen, unfazed, and thanked me; he filled out his paperwork, thanked me again, and returned it. The end.

Nobody in there was stunting me. But because self-conscious and somewhat self-absorbed, I clearly struggled to grasp that concept. Eventually, though, I got out of my head, completed my paperwork, and drove back to what I hoped would continue to be my home.

Confirmation from the leasing office that payment had been received came a couple days later. Over the next six months, I managed to scrape by, due largely in part to being approved for food stamps and utilities assistance. Then, in a series of events that came together faster than I would have ever imagined, I found myself re-enrolled full-time at U of M. No minimum wage, no scraping by; just full scholarship funding and the ability to strictly focus on academics. A blessing.

The life flashback I had last week reminded me of just how far I’ve come. Of course. But it also reminded me of just how little I genuinely sit with my past failures, and reflect on the resulting lessons. The “it was just a setback for a comeback” mentality is real, but it’s also part of a larger, more insidious way of thinking and being in our culture.

We shape life narratives in a way which glosses over failures and setbacks; or treats them as small supplementary items which are really just tied to larger successes. We tell ourselves that deeply reflecting on previous experiences, especially the darker ones, is “dwelling in the past.” The thing is, it’s not inherently bad to dwell there. Genuine, comprehensive self-reflection, self-critique, and personal growth requires you to do just that from time to time.

Furthermore–to get word nerdy on yall–the word “dwell” isn’t just a verb, it’s a noun. To dwell is to linger, yes. But dwell is “a period in a cycle in the operation of a machine or engine during which a given part remains motionless.” There is revitalization in stillness. And as a result, power. 

The dwell I experienced last week reminded me that sometimes I’m so fixated on moving forward that I’m not only forgetting to reflect on the past, I’m not even stopping to appreciate the present. Disregarding messaging that tells me that powering forward with tunnel vision, is the wave, will be hard to shake.

It will be well worth it, though.

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