On the edge. Burnt out. Nowhere to go. Why bother? Feeling lower than I’ve ever felt, I force myself to look up from the bitter, black coffee I hold in my shaking hands. Black because I can’t afford cream or sugar. Still drinking it, because it’s the last. After this, there’s only water.
I look up, not wanting to see the recrimination in Joel’s eyes. I know I’m imagining it. Joel is three. He has no idea Mommy has lost her job. Again. No idea we’re about to be evicted. No idea that I have no idea how I’m going to feed him or myself.
Joel sits on the floor playing with his tiny dump truck. He loves that truck, endlessly filling it up with little rocks he has lovingly collected outside. Filling it and dumping it out again. Kind of like my attempts to keep us afloat.
How have we gotten here? I tried so hard to pull us out of poverty. We had been a family, in the beginning. But when Joel had been diagnosed with autism at eighteen months, Marty had taken that as his cue to leave. No forwarding address. No child support.
Pregnant at seventeen. I dropped out of school and got married. I knew things would be tough. Marty could only find construction work, and I worked nights at a bakery. We got by. But then the diagnosis…
Mom tries to help as much as she can. Joel sleeps at her house when I work. I can only work night jobs, because I can’t afford a babysitter and Mom can’t handle Joel when he’s awake. The problem with those night jobs is the hands.
I’ve had three supervisors now who think a single mom working nights means the candy store is open for business. I have two choices. Not three. Only two. I won’t accept it. Not even if I have to starve. Not even if Joel and I have to move into Mom’s tiny, cramped one-bedroom apartment. Again.
No, my choices are to complain and get fired, or quit. I tried the first option the first time a supervisor got handsy. He called me a liar and a troublemaker. I got fired. He still works at the bakery. So the last two times I quit.
I’m not going to lie. I’m scared shitless. I don’t have many options. Maybe only one. Am I up to it? I have no idea. I take a swallow of my now cold coffee. I look at Joel, still filling and dumping his rocks. I steel my nerve.
Lifting the lid of my rickety, barely functioning laptop, I sign into the internet Mrs. Jenner next door is kind enough to share with me. The tabs are already open in my Chrome browser: Premed program at Western U. I was headed there once. Could I be again? There would be student loans. And subsidized daycare. Joel and I could manage. It wouldn’t be pretty, but Mom said she’d still help at night. She even offered to go halves on a two-bedroom apartment.
The idea is terrifying. Once upon a time, I had dared to dream, to believe it possible. But now? I turn my eyes from the screen to Joel, blissfully playing, unaware of this new, scary thing about to enter our lives. I love him so much. And he will need so much. Turning back to the screen, I hear the strains of an old Eagles song coming through the thin wall separating my apartment from Mrs. Jenner’s.
So put me on a highway and show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time.
One more time. I can try one more time. For Joel. For me. For our future. I open the application and start to type.