“If you’re out there, listen to me.”
My voice, muted in the safety of my little two-door Honda, nearly cracked. The hint of anger radiating from the last syllables had helped me pull my focus back
“There’s no point to this. I can’t keep doing this for no reason at all. Life has been so shitty to me God. If you’re there, I don’t think you’re shitty. I just don’t know why you forgot about me too.”
So much for not letting my voice break.
I had a two hour lunch break, a rarity I wasn’t in need of until that day. It was a warm September afternoon, and wrapped deeply in worry over my new plight, I’d retreated to my car and driven to the corner of the vast lot. My workplace parking lot sat right alongside the city airfield, and as I prayed, encumbered in doubt, I watched a plane begin its descent to land.
“I don’t get why you would have me fight through the shelter, through basic and the Air Force and just let me flounder so much. When is the pain going to stop? I’m done. I’M DONE, GOD!”
I paused my diatribe to think. What did it mean to be done? How could I be done with a god that I was pretty sure didn’t exist anyways?
My eyes settled again on the landing aircraft as it began its final approach. My car, warmed by the sun, had a cold breeze running through the top of the cracked windows. I sighed. I was so tired. I’d been hiking with my roomate, Wendy, the weekend before. She’d snapped a picture of me and we laughed at how absurdly excited I’d been over the time outdoors.
“I don’t know if anyone is listening, but if you are it’s to you and if no one is then I don’t look stupid to anyone.” I reasoned aloud. “If you’re there, you’ve got a week to show me or I’m following through. Not something I can explain away either; you’ve got to show me in a way I can’t explain away.”
My Honda beeped an affirmation as I locked it and walked back into work. I swiped my badge and pulled open the heavy door, stepping through and shuddering in the blast of air conditioning. Weaving through the halls of the call center, I found my cubicle and rolled into my seat. Customer service wasn’t what I had imagined for myself, but the pay was better than most jobs I could get. As I punched my login numbers into the computer, I glanced at my cubicle number and rolled my eyes. I was assigned to #666.
Fifty-eight calls and my shift was finally over. Worn and elated to be leaving, I threw down my headset and squeezed past my supervisor, Joe. Joe was in his late fifties, going through a divorce that would stress him out till he broke out in hives, and had problems keeping personal space. Often packing himself into my half-size cubicle to sit thigh-to-thigh and listen in on my calls, he had just written me a glowing recommendation letter specifically saying he was ‘grooming’. I twisted my shoulder as I passed to make sure to avoid all physical contact with him, stared deeply into my phone and pretended I had music blasting my my earbuds as I hurried past him. I had one thing to look forward to each day: the gracious love and attachment of my rescue dog. Within moments of unlocking my car, I was speeding home to my apartment. I had left my dog far longer than I liked.
A three year old black lab, my dog Drake was the one living thing that I knew would miss my absence if something happened. I’d picked him up on a whim two months earlier from the local shelter after hearing his story. As I smiled warmly and led him out of the shelter, one of the staff mentioned quickly to the floor that Drake was not housebroken. Too smitten with his joyous smile to turn back, I had loaded him into my rental car. As I had brought him home that first day, I panicked and watched helplessly as he lifted his leg against the back of the seat.
Life taking care of Drake was nearly impossible. He bonded quickly to me and became incredibly destructive whenever I was gone, screaming his separation anxiety through every piece of fabric and each window blind.. After destroying the bathroom of my apartment, I’d resorted to keeping him crated while at work. It was only the third day of leaving him for an entire shift and I rushed up to my apartment moments after peeling into my parking space.
Ripping a taped note off my front door, I jammed the key in, threw the door open and hurried to my small bedroom, where Drake wailed his resentment of his long confined wait. Throwing open the crate door, I hustled him outside quickly.
As Drake happily explored the courtyard, I turned my attention to the note still in my hand.
“We LOVE dogs and we are so sorry but yours will not stop barking when you leave. Ever. Please do something. Thanks, Neighbors.”
There was no apartment number. Tossing the note in the trash, I called Drake to follow me back up into the apartment. I had a lot on my mind; Drake’s anxiety was proving to be a major problem, my roommate Wendy was about to get kicked out of the Air Force and it was her turn to pay the bulk of rent- my scanty call center wages covered nothing other than rent, my car and sometimes my food. Wendy and I had had to move into the apartment just a month earlier when our old room mate had shown up drunk with loaded guns and a temper. I’d gotten Drake and my cat, Nyah moved into an all-new apartment the very next day and Wendy followed not far behind with her hateful orange cat.
Grabbing a beer from the fridge, I cracked open the can and took a long draw while scooping dog food into a bowl. It was the most normal thing I could muster, given the worry that screamed silently in my mind. I flipped on the TV and wandered through the living room, sipping my drink and thinking. The room was nicely furnished with a new media center, rug and a secondhand forest green couch. It was cozy but had been a strain to pay for. Glancing into my room, I sniggered at the contrast.
My queen sized inflatable mattress on the floor had deflated, so I grabbed the air pump and topped off the air in the bed. The closet sized room could barely contain the large dog crate positioned at the end of the mattress. My angry-looking cat, cozied up in the torn and dirty blankets on the bed, blinked as I sat next to her and stared into my closet. I needed clothes badly, but it had been a while since I’d been able to afford anything more than what I needed to pay my bills and eat. Drake joyously scooted between my knees, licking my hands in insistence. As I rubbed his ears and played with him, I decided having him, at least in this situation, was worth it. I needed someone to know I existed every day.
The front door to the apartment opened and slammed shut; Wendy was home from the base. I put my hands on my knees and pushed myself back up into a standing position. It was the last week in the month and with rent coming up, I was anxious to make sure she was doing well on duty.
“Hey. How was your day?”
Wendy shrugged out of her uniform blouse and absentmindedly began to make her way to the master bedroom, which she occupied. Her room, even more disastrous than mine, was much larger. She high-fived me as she paused to open her door.
“Good I guess. The usual.”
“The usual” was beginning to mean more and more trouble at work. Always seemingly in a dreamy concussed state, Wendy had a tendency to suddenly snap at exactly the wrong people, including superiors.
“Did you get any more papers?”
“Yeah. The commander had me come see him a couple days ago and he read me this and they gave me a copy.” Wendy paused, trying to remember something and then withdrew a folder from her backpack.
Handing it to me, she began to change out of her uniform. I felt the heavy dark blue folder and knew it meant one thing: a commander’s memorandum. I flipped it open and scanned the first page; it was a discharge notification. Wendy was getting kicked out for minor infractions and her final discharge date, printed irrevocably in bold black type, was in two days.
I stared. Wendy was very worrisome to live with in terms of financial responsibility while she was on military salary; try as I might, I couldn’t imagine her managing to hold down a civilian position paying half as much. I flipped the folder shut and wafted it onto her inflatable mattress bed, deciding how to react.
As it didn’t seem she realized exactly what the discharge notification meant, I didn’t want to be the one to break the seriousness of her situation. If I didn’t say anything, I realized, she would never get a job or know how to navigate getting a much smaller paycheck. I was almost as screwed as she was, I realized. I looked up from the mattress and made eye contact with Wendy as she finished dressing. She knew what was coming.
Wendy’s last day in the military came and went without much ceremony. I left work two days later prepared to spend the evening cheering Wendy up and making the most of the crushing news; I’d been discharged a year earlier and knew how painful it was. Wendy was home when I arrived. Pushing a leaping Drake to the floor and rubbing his ears, I greeted her.
“How was the last day? How does it feel to be free?”
“The same as any other day I guess.”
“I got you lined up for a job at my work if you want it. Just walk in and bring your hiring documents.”
“Actually, they just gave me a huge check. They said it’s for my leave that I didn’t take. I think I’m going to go explore Denver for a few days.”
I stared. I had told Wendy to expect the leave check and explained that she would need it to pay her half of the rent since she wouldn’t be getting paychecks anymore. If she spent all the money in Denver, we wouldn’t be able to afford rent for just our second month on the lease. I tried to contain my worry.
“Sounds good. You know, I’m worried about rent. Can you pay your part before you go?”
It was Tuesday. Rent was due on Friday.
Wendy paused on her way out of the apartment, packed bag in hand. She was going to Denver right then and there, I realized. She gave me an angry stare before snapping, “I’ll see you Friday.”
And with that, Wendy left for Denver as I remained crouched, still petting Drake. The apartment was eerily silent, with the sounds of Wendy’s forgotten cat clawing at her bedroom door. Sighing, I got up and let the orange hissing creature rush past my legs. The smell of cat excrement filled my nostrils the moment I opened Wendy’s door and I peeked in; the litter box was heaped almost six inches high in uncleaned cat poop. I cringed and shut the door, turning instead to forage for food.
Wendy had left me some Taco Bell, so I grabbed the bag and a couple beers and nestled onto the couch, Drake in hot pursuit. I needed to normalize with a movie before coming up with a way to save my quickly vanishing home.
With “The Matrix” playing on the living room TV and beer in hand, I scrolled through my phone contacts trying to think of a solution. Could I pick up work from someone? No, there wasn’t enough time to make enough money. Could I move before rent was due? Possibly, but no one I knew was looking to move in with a stranger in the next two days. Could I count on Wendy to be able to pay her part of the rent? I snorted at the thought as I sipped, sending beer burning through my nose. I put it down and picked up Drake’s leash. Time for a walk.
As Drake and I wound down the steps from my third floor apartment, I shivered slightly as dusk faded into crisp night; It was getting colder outside already. Though he hadn’t been house trained when I had brought him home for the first time, Drake had quickly learned and trotted off to take care of business. I trudged along the inside of the apartment complex courtyard, calculating Wendy’s check against rent, bills and the lowest possible expenses for her trip. A rock hit the bottom of my stomach as I realized it wasn’t possible for her to go to Denver and pay rent on time.
As usual I was the only body moving around the courtyard, and I was thankful for the solitude. Drake knew the routine well and maintained pace with me as we wove through various paths to the tennis court, where we could always seem to find a ball and play fetch. My mind spun, making my stomach churn. I had been living on too tight of a budget too long for this to not happen eventually, I realized. Still my situation needed to be addressed before rent was due and the slide into homelessness began.
I jammed my chilled hands into my jeans pockets as I arrived at the tennis court and began scanning for a stray ball. My fingers came in contact with cold metal; I carried a knife with me everywhere I went. Pulling it out, I chucked Drake a stick and began to unfold the blade, watching it glint in the full moon. Among the worried and panicked thoughts, memories of my conversation with what I wasn’t sure was God in my car wove into my list of solutions. The despair straining my heart had showed in my voice that day only once, but the darkness sat at my elbow still.
It took Drake very little time to realize I wasn’t up for playing with him, but he was unfazed. I heard the occasional clatter of a stick on the tennis court floor but otherwise, Drake’s fantasy world went unnoticed as I lay on my back in the center of the court, watching for stars through the city light. I’d tried to give up and take my life a few times before, a few times wholeheartedly and a couple times not. There was no rescue from my situation. There was no parent to call, no friend with a couch, nothing.
My ex-boyfriend had been my greatest support, but he had gotten orders and moved away like all my other close military friends. I remembered a time when we lay on his barracks bed, playing video games and talking about our lives. I’d just told him about how I had lost my family and joined the military from the streets, and he had been silent. After a time, he spoke and his words had made me turn to look at him in spite of my player dying.
“I think I would have gone crazy. That’s like, the biggest and worst kind of alone.”
I’d looked over at my boyfriend at the time, suddenly realizing that of all the things I had felt, it hadn’t been alone.
“Whoah. That’s weird, because I was super alone but, well it didn’t feel like it. I mean, God doesn’t exist or any shit like that, but I always had this weird feeling like someone was always there with and for me. I dunno.”
My boyfriend had shivered and we had resumed our game. A second time, the realization ran along my arms with the goosebumps, bringing me back to the tennis court. Drake pattered over and lay beside me, content to break my silence as he happily chomped on his stick. I stared more intently at the moon, looking for my magic sign. If I had made it through so much without feeling so alone, why was it caving in on me now? Whatever thread I’d had, I’d lost.
“Ok God, if you’re out there, this is your chance. I’m in trouble and I don’t have or know anyone to ask for help, so I’m asking you. Please help me. I don’t want to be alone anymore and I’m tired of being forgotten. Heal my heart if you think there’s enough of it left. If I’m still screwed by the end of this week, I’ll know why.”
It was so hard to hide the bitterness in my voice. There had been a time when I was at least a believer, but it had been a long time. Though I’d been raised Catholic, I’d left the church as quickly as I had been permitted, blaming them for the turn my family had taken for a penchant for what I had dubbed ‘Crazy Cult Catholics’. I’d been through an especially rough Christian home for troubled teens and had sworn off churches solemnly; never would I surround myself like the people I’d been raised around again. Oddly enough, I thought, I’d reluctantly broken that vow the earlier Sunday for the first time.
Buzzed from a couple of beers and wallowing in my loneliness the previous Saturday night, I’d messaged the only Christian person I knew about what church to check out. I hadn’t really wanted to check out churches, rather, I’d just reached out to someone I knew that I wanted to be friends with. The next morning I’d sat up and reached for my work clothes, checking my phone at the same time. I cursed under my breath: I’d agreed to meet this gal at a Christian church downtown. Even though she promised it was a church for people who hated church, I ground my teeth as I read my texts agreeing to meet that same morning. So much for getting overtime. I threw my work clothes to the floor and they were quickly trampled by Drake as he crowded me for breakfast. I ran my fingers through my short dirty hair and stared into my closet again at my ragged clothes. I didn’t have anything besides my work clothes, I realized.
I’d showed up much later intentionally, hoping my friend would not want to disturb service and would want to do something else, but I wasn’t so lucky. She had led me into service and every few rows, someone would stop her to greet her with a hug as I’d waited behind her. Music was blaring, concert lights were flashing and everyone was singing. The sermon had been dedicated to announcing a partnership with a carepoint in some country in Africa with more orphans. The woman at the front babbled happily on about how this and that coincidence were ‘all God’ and ‘we prayed’ and ‘they prayed’. My head spun; mixed in with the sermon before my eyes were flashbacks behind my brow. I felt sick and motioned to my friend that I would wait for the end of service outside. I’d hurried out of the ‘church’ doors built into an inner city warehouse and jammed a cigarette into my lip, lighting it and taking a long draw, finally too preoccupied to feel so vastly out of place. I’d left quickly, electing to not repeat the experience nor to break my vow again. I knew for sure church wasn’t for me.
Another chilly breeze bit at my arms; it was too cold to stay longer. I groaned upright and paused to scratch Drake’s stomach before getting to my feet. I’d moved past solutions to searching for miracles. With the darkness still warming my elbow, comforting me with its call, Drake bounced to my side with a quick whistle and I clipped his leash on. That was it then, I decided. God or bust.
God or bust.
There had been a time months earlier when I’d come close to the same conclusion and had purchased a hose for my car’s exhaust pipe. Rolling it in a duffel behind my driver’s seat with several bottles of pain medications I’d accumulated over the years, I didn’t have much planning left to do for an effective ‘bust’. I’d given God a week starting Monday, I recalled as I arrived back at my apartment. Rent was due Friday and it was already Wednesday. By midnight the coming Sunday, I was free to ‘bust’ in the most scenic place I could park. I rolled onto my air mattress with a dead peace, not bothering to re-inflate it. Drake lay beside me and put his head on my stomach. I needed to find him a new home quickly either way, I realized.
I took a selfie on my back with the smiling dog and posted him for adoption. He needed to be outdoors a lot, I wrote. Needs a dog friend since his separation anxiety is terrible. Flipping the lights off, I was just drifting away to sleep and my phone pinged with a text, then another, then another. Odd; Wendy wouldn’t call me if it would save her life, I thought, reaching for my phone.
“Skye, listen, I know it has been awhile but I’m in trouble. I just broke up with my boyfriend and I really really need a place for my dog and I to stay. I can pay for a room but no one has anything and I’m starting to get really desperate.”
I sat up, mind suddenly alert and assembling pieces of a plan. I thumbed a response quickly.
“Yeah, actually I’m looking for someone to take over my room on a two bedroom lease tomorrow. You would need to chat with Wendy though. She has the other room and I’d want you guys to like each other. When can you move?”
“Skye are you serious? YES. Please, let’s meet her! What’s her number? I’ll call her! I can meet you on Friday at lunch to sign papers but can I start moving things tomorrow? If it’s less than $600/month, I’m in!”
I assured her it was and promptly sent Wendy’s information. Within an hour, I received a text from Wendy:
“She likes Star Wars too! Yeah I’m so cool with her. She can replace you.”
With my rent problem solved, I frowned. Half the issue was fixed, but I needed to find a place to live by Friday and I didn’t have enough money for even a deposit. I settled back into my blankets, sunken into my mostly deflated bed and put my hands on my chest. Closing my eyes, I smiled. There was a freedom in putting it on God to solve my problem. If it was still the way I expected and no miracles popped out of nowhere, I had everything I needed to quit assuredly and peacefully. I don’t play pointless games, I thought to myself as I drifted off.
My already long call center shift weighed more heavily than usual on my limbs as I slid into my cubicle, logged on and settled my headset over my ears. One of the top reps and known for never having been marked down, I’d applied for a promotion the month before. Having interviewed and heard nothing back week after week, I’d given up and had been making plans for other work. On time before 6am, I was taking my tenth call when my creepy pitiful supervisor showed up pushing a cart of bagels for my team. He started at the far end of my row, listening to calls and giving a bagel along with his feedback to each rep. I didn’t need to guess if he would try to pack his unshowered self next to me in my cubicle; history told me to expect it. Call after call, I watched out of the corner of my eye as I activated phones, explained bills and changed phone plans for people. As he got to the rep next to me, I finished a call and jumped in surprise as an arm shot out from my other side and put my work status into ‘meeting’. It was one of the senior managers.
“I listened to your call. Come with me.”
As I followed her to the private offices, I was acutely aware of my oversized, torn gray tee and shredded brown pants. I looked homeless, I thought. Heck, I looked more homeless than when I was actually homeless.
Kayla. The manager’s name was Kayla, I remembered as we entered her office and she gestured for me to take a seat across the small executive’s desk. I sat, cold. I was always cold and I had left my jacket at my seat.
“So what did you think of that call you just had?”
Kayla’s voice cut through my distractedness.
“Uh. The plan change? Or the old lady who thought her desktop was a tablet?” I scrambled to think of any call that could have possibly gone south.
“Let me play some of your call survey feedback.” Kayla’s long manicured nails tapped away at her mouse and keyboard and with a couple crackles, the speakers atop the desk began to speak.
One positive review after another played and as Kayla’s face transformed into a mischievous grin, the quality management department crowded around me, congratulating me on my new promotion to one of them.
“Was it good? Were you fooled?” Kayla was giddy with pride at her initiation.
Stunned, I asked to use the bathroom.
In the privacy of the management section bathroom, I paced around the handicapped stall. A groggy morning person, my promotion was sinking in at the same time as the events of the night before.
“If that’s you, you’re not doing bad. I’ve had crazier though.” I half-prayed, half-reasoned aloud. Smirking at myself for challenging the air again, I shook my head, paced some more and snuck outside to smoke.
Leaning against the building wall, I let my lit cigarette hang from my lips as I logged in and rifled through my unread messages. My friend had texted me.
“Hey Skye! My friend has decided to rent out one more of her rooms in her house. I know you were worried about your apartment a month ago so in case you haven’t found anything, she said she won’t even charge you a deposit for the room.”
I reread the text over and over, but the words were clear on the screen. Barking a short laugh I dropped my phone slightly away from myself. This was beginning to scare me a little. What was I dealing with? Mental illness? Had I cracked?
I paced around the massive parking lot, watching an aircraft begins its takeoff run down the airfield. The wind blew my short hair back and I squinted as dust kicked into my tired eyes. There was nothing else to do but to return inside, meet my new team and clear out cubicle #666.
The rest of my workday was short; after ordering pizza and having a team luncheon, I was given a supervisor’s desk and a list of computer programs to learn. MY head buzzed loudly and I retained nothing, but I figured I would be ok. There was no way everything would go through before the last day of the business month ended the next day. Still, after a few short texts with my friend, it was settled: I would be moving into the room in the upper class suburbs on Saturday. It hadn’t happened yet, I cautioned myself.
Drake had destroyed his metal crate by the time I got home. Standing in the pieces of what had been a large metal cage that morning, I stared at the pleased black dog in defeat. I’d gone hungry for a week to afford it and it hadn’t lasted a workweek. Wendy still wasn’t back and with the exception of her approval text, she had been utterly silent. Beginning to worry, I stopped myself and refocused. It didn’t matter; God or bust.
Except I was beginning to wonder if my game had truly been intended as a challenge for God. I flopped onto my bed and winced as my hips made contact with the floor; I’d let it deflate too much. Rubbing my side, I ran the pump and picked up my phone. I had a missed call and a text from an unknown number.
“Hi this is Jonathan. I saw your listing for Drake, the dog. We have a ranch an hour north and two other black labs. They live in the heated barn so it doesn’t matter if he is housebroken and he will have friends!”
“When can you come get him? Can I meet you and the other two dogs?” My response was swift.
“If you send your address we will come now.”
I lay back and cradled Drakes head in my arms. I loved him. No matter what happened, he needed a better home. They would be here soon, I realized. I’m moving in two days and I need to pack, I thought. Shoot. I sprang to my feet, seizing upon activity as the perfect distraction.
Tears welled in my eyes as I waved until the truck Drake was riding in disappeared around the corner; I was alone again. The young couple were very kind and showed a deep care for their dogs. I turned and walked back into my apartment. Time to get myself moved.
Sometime in the night I fell asleep among the small cluster of boxes that contained most of my belongings. As I groaned, stiff from sleeping on the hard floor in the cold apartment, I reached for my phone, thought better and got up. My friend would be here at noon to sign the lease and if Wendy didn’t return to sign her portion, I would still be on the hook for rent with the two of them.
It didn’t take me long to load my small car with my few belongings; I hadn’t talked to my friend who had coordinated the new room I was renting about when and where I should show up. I met my friend during her lunch at the leasing office, nervously checking my phone to see if Wendy had replied to any of my texts imploring her to give an update on her return. The leasing office closed early on Fridays, the agent reminded me as I stared out the window. God or bust. With everything I owned in my car and my destination unknown even to me, it would be all the easier to vanish, I thought.
Wendy’s Chevy Malibu nearly ran over the flowered divider in front of the leasing office as she screeched into the visitor’s spot. Just in time, I thought as I checked the clock above the agent’s head. This was surreal.
Blowing in the door in her usual confused and slightly frantic fashion, Wendy looked around for us and scurried over. She signed me off the lease, not reading the paper, scurried back out the door and disappeared; my friend and I stared at each other. The deed was done.
I slept over at my friend’s house that night, leaving my loaded car parked in the street. I was comfortable in her home and felt useful most of the time, but tonight my gut was riddled in nerves and I opted instead to go for a walk, reaching for Drake’s leash and then remembering he was gone.
My friend’s neighborhood was rickety at best and news reports had screamed about a boy who had been shot on the street earlier that week, but I was comfortable. I trudged along the sidewalk, realizing slowly that the bust hadn’t happened; God had.
My mind spun. I wasn’t alone; there was no way. My phone pinged and I silenced it; I needed to think through my decision. Was I copping out too soon? The week, I realized, just couldn’t be explained away.
I found a private gazebo in a neighborhood park absently, mind turning slowly through thoughts of my exhaust pipe hose, my plea in the car and the sudden realization that I’d lost a challenge I hadn’t been prepared to be wrong for. It would be ludicrous to go out knowing there was a solution I didn’t pursue, I thought. That left me with a humbling thought: ask for help.
Intending to sit at a park bench, I found myself on my knees.
“Very funny.” My voice was nervous, much more self conscious. “So I’ve got a new job, a new and better place, Drake got the same thing and you have GOT to be kidding me. You’re out there and I get it, but you must know me and how I like to forget. I’ll walk with you, but please don’t let me forget for a second, ever, that you’re here.”
A warm breeze rippled through the darkened park, calming the chills that had plagued me throughout the week. I knelt, unaware of my knees on the concrete, and surrendered.