Saturday, September 13, 2008

When I Was Homeless

I alluded to this story in this morning's post. If you are my father, you should not read this. My Dad does not like to hear about this phase of my life; I suspect he feels guilty about it. He shouldn't. This whole experience never upset me. My memories of it are not crystal-clear. My journals don't go into much detail about it all, so I have to recreate this from fuzzy recollections.

When i was eighteen, my parents decided to make their second attempt at escaping the sucking hopeless black-hole gravity of southern California. Their first attempt was moving to Hicksville in southeastern Arizona, back in 1984 (note that Hicksville is a satirical name, not the real place). Arizona failed, but not before inflicting a few humdingers of emotional damage on me. Attempt number two involved moving to Cottage Grove, Oregon in early 1993. I had been to Cottage Grove once before; it was a lovely town, but it was not the kind of place that the eighteen-year-old me wanted to be in. So, as an utterly self-centered person, I stayed in California. I had already been out of high school for two years, was in college, and i had a job at a frozen yogurt shop, so I was cool, right?

Mom, Christine (age 16), Matt (age 15) and Adam (age 11) moved to Oregon. Dad had to stay in Chino and run the shop while Mom tried to get a job and get everything established up there. At first, I had the house to myself, and it immediately became Colleen's Home for Wayward Teens. Nicole and Chau moved in. We ate a lot of potato soup, because i was feeding everybody on minimum wage and that was the only thing i really knew how to cook. Christine was there for a while, but soon went up to Oregon, which was good because I think she and Chau were going to kill each other. Eventually Mom and Dad rented out the house to some people Dad knew, with the provision that I got a room. I must confess that i was so self-centered that I don't remember where my Dad stayed. Nikki and Chau had to vacate, leaving me with the tenants.

The tenants were... lackluster. Bordering on low-class. Not obnoxious, not mean. They just made me feel sad about the human race (I developed a keen sense of snobbery at an early age). Occasionally my food would be eaten by somebody other than me. Nothing horrific or Dickensian, I just didn't like it. I stopped sleeping there. I stopped keeping my very, very meager possessions there and began keeping them in the trunk of my car (Tim - a gold 1979 Mazda 626 with a moon roof and super-bouncy back seat). My dad got me a better-paying job through one of his customers, paying $10 an hour! I still couldn't get an apartment and couldn't find a suitable roommate. I began sleeping at friends' houses, on their couches. I was dating Scott Costello then, so I spent a lot of time at his father's house and slept there, or in Scott's van. Scott was good to me, I'll always remember him with gratitude and fondness. I slept at Kristen Davis' house a lot too (Tricia, I blush to think of our vulgar regular Thursday nights there). I occasionally slept in my car, sometimes in the Institute of Religion parking lot or in the parking lot at work.

This wasn't a bad arrangement, really. It was actually by my own choice, and being a naturally restless and unsettled person, I think I kind of thrived a little bit. I had to quit school because my job hours changed and i could no longer work nights. If I had really wanted to, i could have called my Dad for help, although the Oregon Experiment was going badly and Mom actually had to get food stamps for a while there. I could have gone to my aunts and uncles. I had a saftey net, so in a sense it's kind of dishonest to even refer to it as my homeless period. When i was on Win Ben Stein's Money (yet another story for another time), i offered it up as one of the interesting things about me, and it really hurt my Dad to hear it on TV. I'll always feel bad about that.

Oregon failed. Mom and my siblings came home. I moved back in. I went on being completely self-centered and I'm sad to say I still know very little of what went on with my family during this period. I'm not sure i ever wrote to my mother while she was 1,000 miles away and struggling. I don't know why i always had to distance myself so much. It was certainly a contributing factor to the humongous nervous breakdown i had back in 1999. My, my, so many more stories to tell!


Beulahboy1 said...

So I forgive myself for being such a rotten tomato back then, but I must admit just reading about you making potato soup for Chau and Nikki makes me a little nostalgic for those simple days (and by simple days, I mean days that did not involve calculus or thoughtfulness towards others).

Funny that Chau and Christine didn't get along. I can hazard a guess that he was thoroughly mean to her in ways too numerous to mention.

All this and 'Win Ben Steins Money'? You have led a fulfilling life my friend. No sarcasm intended.

Stephanie said...

"All these things shall give thee experience," was going through my head while I was reading this.

Was I so self-centered that I didn't realize this was going on? I remember visiting you, Nikki and Chau in your folks house and telling my mother that nobody had beds and you didn't have a fridge. Why didn't I think that was strange?

I wish I wasn't so clueless. I probably ate your food (but gracious you probably offered). I think part of really becoming an adult is learning to be thoughtful. I had just as much learning to do as you did (and I didn't have to worry about where my next meal was coming from).

colleeeen said...

Chau was a pain in multiple ways. I loved him, but he was an even more spoiled and self-centered brat than i was. It was his complaining that really drove Christine over the edge. As the only one in the bunch with a job, I of course felt morally superior.

Steph, that is an excellent point. a big part of adulthood is learning to think about what goes on around you. we didn't even have beds? oh yeah, we had a mattress and an army cot. and really, if i had ever been in real trouble, i had lots of people to feed me. I confess it was very exciting to feel like i was 100% taking care of myself, although of course I've already admitted that others helped me. And i didn't even mention the ridiculous house party we threw!

Stephen ,you went to that, didn't you? I think we were already feuding by then, but you came anyway.

Aunt Christine said...

Until you wrote this I had forgotten that I stayed in CA with you for awhile! You didn't miss much in Oregon, we'll talk sometime.

Casey said...

Colleen, You always amaze me. What a life you have led. I am going to have to keep reading your blog to find out more of your life experiences. What an autobiography you could write. Did I know you then? I am sure I was just as self centered - trying not to be, but I just think that was all part of growing up.

Ken said...

You were on "Win Ben Stein's Money"?! (I'm now a bigger colleeeen fan than I was before.)

All this stuff makes you who you are, and I think you're pretty cool. Always have. Dan too.

Robb, Rhonda and girls said...

This is redundant, but "you were on Ben Stein's?!!!"
BTW-I liked your "concrete encased river" comment.

liannallama said...

oh--don't be so hard on yourself. I think it's a stage we all have to go through at that age. I cringe when I think how self-centered and snobbish and elitist I was at that age. (((HUGS))) to you!

Anonymous said...


Um, yeah. I cringe whenever I think about our sleepovers at Kristen's house. And, why oh why did I never realize you were semi-homeless? I vaguely remember Chau and Nikki living at your parent's house, but for the life of me cannot remember that your parents were gone. I think most teenagers and new young adults are pretty self-centered, so don't be so hard on yourself. Our family was watching old family videos the other day, and it is so embarassing being caught on film being so selfish and self-centered for all posterity (or lack thereof in my case) to see forever and ever.

I think learning how to be a thoughtful adult means that you have finally matured and woken up to the world around you. Some would say it even means you have grown up. (O: