I honestly don't know how long I sat in my car, thinking what I was going to do next. I reclined my chair as far as it could go, which was probably about an inch (I still had four huge boxes in my backseat), and closed my eyes. My car shook with every car that sped by and I remember, for a split second, thinking how I wouldn't care, and kind of hoped, if one of those cars smashed into mine. But then I thought of the one thing that drives me and pushes me to succeed and endure all the crap that I've been going through: my family.
Everything I'm doing is in hopes to make a better life for them. To give a little background, 50% of marriages end in divorce and my parents were no exception, ending theirs my sophomore year in college. When it ended, my mother just wanted to get away so she opted for the quick and easy settlement: biweekly custody of the kids and not taking half. Needless to say, my mother's stubbornness turned out to be a good deal for my father. Shitty thing is, my parents weren't making much money in the first place, so on her own, I knew my mom was going to have a hard time. We didn't live in poverty, but we weren't rich either. Growing up, I remember on rare special occasions, we'd eat out at Sizzlers and that was always so exciting and upscale to me because to me, that was my idea of "fine dining". I remember how surprised I was when I went to college, met my first Punahou person, and them teasing me, saying "YOU like Sizzlers?!" Yes, dick! Sizzlers is the bomb! In fact, when I got into the University of Washington, my family got into a huge argument because my dad didn't want me to go since there would be no way to pay for it, while my mother thought otherwise. I'd be the first person in my family to go to college and my mother said she'd be willing to cosign on student loans if that's what we had to do to get me there.
After the divorce, she had to get two jobs just to make ends meat and still wasn't making it and eventually she had to move in with my grandmother. I had always hated when people attribute their comfortable upbringing to "Because my parent's work hard" as if the rest of our parents didn't, but at that point, I swear, if I heard anyone say that again, I was going to punch them in the esophagus. What made it worse, from what I was hearing from my siblings, my father wasn't helping in paying for clothes, school supplies, etc. and left it up to my mom to take care of. But to me, the worst of all, was that since the time I moved down to Cali, my income had been so inconsistent that I wasn't able to keep up with my student loan payments. So now, since my mom had cosigned on them, they were calling her, and these late payments were affecting her credit. On numerous occasions, she had depleted her savings to pay MY student loans, forcing her, for a while, to live off of credit cards. The loans that I'M supposed to be paying back, SHE was paying for and I felt incredibly guilty, ashamed, and useless. She even had to forgo her plans of going back to school to take night classes in hopes increasing her income just so that she could find a third job because my sorry ass wasn't making any money.
As for my dad, he retired from the Navy around 2002-2003 and I never really knew what he did after that. In fact, to this day, I don't know what he does. We were never really close and our relationship is your typical as I got older, we grew apart (even though there wasn't much to grow apart from). He was one of those fathers that was a provider and that's how he showed his love. You never really got the affection or approval, but him providing was his way to show that he cared. And that's all he knew.
One of my most dominant memories with him, however, was when we'd play chess. He taught me how to play the game when I was really young, probably around Kindergarten or in the 1st grade. I became obsessed with it and I'd ask him to play every night. There was something about seeing your plan come to fruition over time and through a series of small moves that amazed me. I loved seeing the other person's reaction when you hit them with a good counter move or one of those moves that made them say, "I didn't see that." It felt as if the better I got, the more psychic I became. In many ways, I get my outlook on life through this game. That's why if you've been around me long enough, you've probably heard me say something like "Nah, no worries. Can." or "Got this. No worries." or something a kin to that to an otherwise impossible feat. I guess to some it's being cocky and often times in jokes and fun, but mostly it's because I honestly feel that you can accomplish anything as long as you take the necessary little steps towards your goal. It's all about the little things. One thing that I tell my siblings is that you don't set out to build the best and greatest wall ever because it's easy to lose sight of something that big. Instead, set out everyday thinking, "Today, I'm going to lay this ONE brick as perfect and as straight as I can." If you do that everyday, before you know it, you WILL have the best and greatest wall ever.
When it came to games of chess, my father and I would play for hours and one night when I was 11 or 12, I finally beat him. I never lost since; to any other family members or to any of my friends whom I've played with. I remember Freshman year in high school, killing time until being picked up and walking around the campus halls. I passed by the room where the chess club was "practicing" and I poked my head in. I ended up playing one of the upperclassmen, who was pretty cocky, teasing me that I was just a stupid Freshman and a jock at best. Needless to say, the look on his face when I beat him was priceless.
But with everything, what broke my heart the most was what I felt I was in danger of becoming. That's what made me so ashamed. That's what makes me work so hard. I'M the one my that went to a private school out of all my siblings. I'M the one who went to college out of everyone. I'M the one who's supposed to be the "breadwinner" and take care of them. But now I'M the biggest contribution to the problem? That broke my heart. I can't be that. I can't be a waste. I'd talk to my brother and he'd say how he wished he was old enough to get a job so that he could pay for his own food and clothes. A 14yr old kid isn't supposed to be thinking about that!
My siblings are like my kids. Growing up, every summer, instead of sending everyone to summer fun/camp, I'd take care of my siblings. I've been cooking, clothing, and changing their diapers since I was 8 years old. They're like my own. So I hated the idea that I couldn't help them and the possibility that I was doing more harm then good. I couldn't even send them $20 if I wanted to.
The thing is, I don't care what happens to me. At that point, I didn't care if my credit got messed up, if I was bunking with an ex con, living off a loaf of bread, sleeping in my car, showering at 24 Hour Fitness, negative $100 in my account, whatever. I didn't care. But the moment it starts affecting the people that I care about, that's when it got to me. My eyes start to well up everytime I think about this.
So with the vibration of the umpteenth car rushing by me, my eyes shot open and I thought, "I can't be that guy." My family is counting on me and so there HAD to be a next move. I had to MAKE a next move. And if there's one thing that I've learned from playing chess, it's that there's ALWAYS a next move, I just gotta look harder.
That's when it hit me: I could call my aunt (my mom's sister) who was in town for the weekend, the one who I was supposed to meet up with after the Virgin Air interview and just see what happens from there.
And that's what I did.
And like a guardian angel with perfect timing, she drove the two hours through traffic from Long Beach to come and meet me. We used her AAA card to tow my car down to her mechanic in Long Beach and we called my grandma and used her credit card to fix it.
"I have an interview in Pasadena at 4pm tomorrow," I told the mechanic when we got there. "You think I'll be able to make that?" "Yeah," he replied. "Don't worry about it. It should be ready by lunch." "That was perfect," I thought, knowing that with LA traffic, it would take me around two hours to get from Long Beach to Pasadena.
And that was that. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as I sat in the passenger seat of my aunt's car, and headed back to her dogsitter's house where she was staying for the weekend. Since I didn't know them, I couldn't stay there, so my friend from college, Jon, picked me up and I crashed at his place for the night. Jon had moved to LA for work I honestly don't know what I'd do if he wasn't here. I owe that guy my life.
The following day, I called the mechanic around 11:30am to see if I should start heading over to pick up my car. He hesitated at first, then replied, "Um, it's not ready yet."
"What? You said it would be ready today by lunch," I told him growing more agitated. "I have a job interview at 4pm."
"Sorry, man," he apologized ever so insincerely, "I thought it would be ready today but it looks like we won't be able to get it back to you till tomorrow."
What the f*ck?! So not only did I miss my Virgin Air interview but now, I'm gonna miss this Gamestop interview?! The last and only hope I have to generate any type of income, with three days left in the Shady House to either pay for another month's rent or get out and be homeless. I kind of chuckled cynically and thought how, at this point, I should've expected that to happen.
So in hopes of being able to reschedule my interview, I call Gamestop to tell them that I'm having car trouble and won't be able to make it that day. Luckily, they were understanding and I was able to reschedule to Sunday, the following day. I thanked them and when the interview arrived, I killed it. I'm usually really confident whenever I get an interview, and I know it's only Gamestop, but to this day, I'm 100% when it comes to job interviews. From Microsoft to Genie to Gamestop, everytime I've ever had an interview, I've gotten the job. I don't know, I guess I make a good first impression.
So I had my first interview on Sunday, my second interview on Monday, and that's when they hired me on the spot. To my pleasant surprise, I was hired as one of the lower managers and had a key to the store. That was awesome because initially I went in thinking that I was just gonna be one of their regular sales reps, but in being a key holder, I was now guaranteed 40hrs a week. Finally, I get a break!
My last day in the Shady House was that Tuesday and all that was left was to tell Bob of my situation and convince him to let me stay until I got my first paycheck to where I'd be able to pay him. So upon arriving back at the Shady House after my second interview that Monday night, I track Bob down to tell him what's going on.
"Look," I tell him, "I just got a full time job today but I won't be able to get you the $500 for another month until I get my first paycheck. Is it cool if I stayed here for a couple of weeks and pay you when I get paid?"
He didn't even take his eyes off the television, "It's $30 a day or $180 a week."
"I don't think you understood what I said," I said getting frustrated, "I GOT a job. I'm probably THE only one here who has a full time job. I just don't get my first paycheck until a couple of weeks."
"I understand what you said," he replied, still unfazed, "but it's $30 a day, or $180 a week."
"Fine," I said and walked back to my "room". That weekend, after hearing that I had been living off of a loaf of bread, my aunt went to Costco and bought me a bunch of Spam and Vienna sausage. Enough to hold me off for a couple of months. On top of that, she gave me $60 for groceries. After the conversation with Bob, I went to my "room", grabbed that $60 and gave it to him. "I'll stay til Thursday," I told him as I handed him the money, buying myself another two days. I walked away thinking, "What the f*ck am I gonna do now?"
Two days to find a place and still negative $100 in my bank account. How do I keep ending up with these effed up time limits to find a place to live?! Although, this time I smiled. "At least I have a job now," I thought.
So those last two days in the Shady House I called the few people I knew and met in LA. I knew I couldn't stay with Jon, because his place was way to small and I'd just get in the way. I tried calling a couple of guys I had met through Jon. They were his high school buddies who were ballin' and had a huge condo and more than enough room for me to crash on their couch for a couple of weeks. I even told them I'd pay them. However, the mother of one of the guys was the owner. So that guy called his mom and asked her if it was cool (don't know why he did that, but yeah) and of course, she said no. Which, I guess kinda made sense. Even though we'd gone out, drank, and had a bunch of jam sessions those first six months I was there, they were still Jon's friends and not necessarily MY friends.
Thursday morning came around and I still had no place to go. I was thinking how I wish I at least had a place to store the boxes in my back seat so that I could just sleep in my car and shower at 24 Hour Fitness. And that's when I got the call from the Brooklyn, the actor who's brother was staying in the tool shed here at the Shady House. If you recall in part 3, he had stopped by and threw around the notion of turning his house into a legit version of the Shady House. That day, he was calling to tell me that his house was almost ready and ask if I was still interested.
"Yes!" I exclaimed with relief. "Can I move in right now?!"
He told me that everything was ready except the beds were not going to come in until that weekend, but the house should be ready to move in by Monday. "I don't care," I told him. "I could sleep on the floor." He then explained that his girlfriend and her kid was staying in the house that weekend and it wouldn't be a good idea. "That's cool," I said. "Could I at throw my stuff in the garage?" "Sure," he said. And within an hour, I packed up all my stuff, gave everyone in the house a huge "Peace!" and headed over to Brooklyn's place which was actually five minutes down the street.
That place was HEAVEN compared to every place I've stayed thus far. It was the first clean place and since I was the first one there, I got to claim my bed. It was a bit more expensive than the Shady House but it was a really nice house and everything was included just like the Shady House. The key difference from the Shady House was the two person limit to each room. Thank you!
That weekend I stayed at Jon's and on Monday I moved into my place of salvation! "March is gonna be a pretty good month," I thought to myself. A new job, a new place. Why shouldn't it be? I had told Brooklyn my situation with the job and not being able to pay him for a couple of weeks and he was cool about it.
And that's all I did: work, go home, eat Spam, sleep, work, go home, eat Vienna sausage, sleep, rinse and repeat. So a couple of weeks go by and my first paycheck comes in and it's SMALL. I hate how that first check at a job is always so small. The last time I remember getting paid that little was when I worked part time in the cafeteria at the dorms Freshman year of college.
So I give him what I could and tell him I'd get him the rest of the money come next paycheck. Next check comes in and it's not that much bigger than the last. "What the hell is up with the tax in California?!", I'm wondering. I pay Brooklyn the remaining balance and the rest goes to student loans. But somewhere in trying to balance catching up with rent and my student loans, something went wrong and I ended up having to do the same thing for April, paying Brooklyn most of the rent during the first paycheck and the remainder from the second.
Towards the end of April, with May's rent right around the corner, Brooklyn takes me aside to have a talk and explains to me that I can't be playing catch up again. I tell him that I completely understand because hey, the man's got bills and a mortgage to pay and he can't keep on depending on the hopes that MAYBE I'll have all the money on time. I knew it wasn't personal and it was only business and if I couldn't pay the rent on time then he'd have to find someone who could. I totally understood where he was coming from so there was no hard feelings walking away from that conversation. Luckily, I told him, in doing my taxes, I saw that I'd be getting a little over $1000 back and that would be more than enough to catch me up with rent and keep me afloat so that I wouldn't fall behind again. "Cool," he said. And that was settled. All I had to do was wait for the check to come in (which would be within the week), a check I had been anxiously awaiting being that that would be the most money I would have since being at Microsoft.
The date that the check should have arrived came and went and I still hadn't received the money. With a couple of days left until rent is due, the envelope came in the mail. I rushed to my room and opened it, excited as if it were Christmas morning. As I tore open the envelope I thought, "Finally! I have a little leeway with my money!" But when I took out what's inside, it wasn't a check at all. It was a letter. The letter stated that because I had fallen so far behind on my student loans, and because it was a federal student loan, my WHOLE tax return went to paying it and I would receive NOTHING. Not a cent.
I put the letter down and just stared at the wall. I wasn't even mad. I wasn't sad or depressed. I accepted it as if it were another Monday and a part of me even expected it. I immediately began packing my things and began thinking of my next move. "Life is like a chess move..."
By this time, my aunt had completed her move down from Oregon, however, the last time I spoke to her, she was still staying with her dogsitters and was looking for a house to buy. After I packed my stuff, I gave her a call and told her about my situation. She informed me that she had just bought a house in Long Beach but was still staying with her dogsitters because it was unfurnished and the plumbing wasn't finished yet. I told her I didn't mind that since I was gonna be homeless in a day and that I'd sleep on the floor and shower at 24 Hour Fitness until the plumbing was fixed. As long as I had a roof over my head, I didn't even mind the idea of driving the two hours, one way, to work everyday. She even said that I could stay with her for several months completely free of charge so that I could save up all the money I could to get on my feet.
Within a couple of days, I was living in Long Beach and making the 2 hour commute to work. "Finally! Some real salvation!" I thought. Little did I know how soon I had spoken as these following months would prove to be the toughest months that I would ever have to endure thus far.
..To Be Continued...
Part 1: Where's the Love?
Part 2: Moving Day
Part 3: The Shady House
Part 4: False Salvation
Part 5: Four Star Hotel
Part 6: Do Unto Others
Part 7: So Close, Yet So Far
Part 8: Dent of Hope