“You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds … the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is.”
— Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1958
I’ve been sweating for the last 21 months, only I do know what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of living in my car. I am a 55-year-old jobless woman, and I am afraid of not recapturing my life. My name is Annabelle Lloyd and I am homeless.
No one would really know that I am in this situation unless he or she were to take a look inside my car that is now marked by hanging clothing, suitcases, tubs of clothes, boxes of books, and miscellaneous items that I am somehow connected to. By the world’s standards, I appear pretty normal; yet I have lived a very turbulent life for nearly two years now. Truthfully, I feel a bit like the no-name cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, who doesn’t belong to anybody.
That’s what happens to you when you lose sight of any form of security. You begin to feel like Holly Golightly’s no-name cat as your confidence begins to wane with every attempt at finding well-being.
It is hard to admit that my confidence has been declining, but I would be lying to say that it has not been somewhat affected. I did not always live so compromised. On the contrary, I was raised in the fine arts, with an opera conductor/composer father and a professional violinist mother, who once played with artists like Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Wayne Newton and Rod Stewart, to name a few. I danced ballet for 22 years, acted in a score of Shakespeare plays, have been awarded as a poet, and I am the mother of two grown children.
After my marriage of 22 years failed, I faced the challenge of survival after divorce. I tried to find a place in the work force but became very disillusioned with the lack of job opportunities, and this was before the economy took a nosedive.
Suddenly, the overwhelming reality of needing to find a way to sustain life began to consume my every thought. In no time at all, there were frequent outbursts of sweat forming at the top of my brow. These attacks of perspiration were completely unrelated to the hormonal insanity that I also experienced as I plummeted into menopause, saying goodbye to my youthful glow. Watching the life I once knew slip away into the unattainable realm left me unsettled and sometimes depressed. Such was my life not long ago. At 47, after 22 years buried in the identity of wife and mother, my world was abruptly altered.
Divorce at any age has a way of uprooting everything known to be real, changing the entire manner in which you live, especially if you were a stay-at-home mother in a long-term relationship, as I was. Finding a place in the work world after spending the bulk of your adult life as a homemaker and mother is an increasing problem with middle-aged, divorced women. There are no degrees or fancy résumés, only the experience of a life lived serving others. You might be able to juggle a Girl Scout troop, curtail the homework activities for three kids, bake five dozen cupcakes at a moment’s notice while multitasking throughout the day, but none of these experiences holds much validity when trying to land a job.
Thinking proactively is the best way to deal with life alterations, and I did precisely that. Even though writing has been a lifelong passion, I decided to go to dental school and become a dental assistant, figuring that it would be a decent job that would provide benefits and a better salary than minimum wage. Three weeks before finishing up the dental assisting program, while pulling into the parking lot of Bryman Dental School in Reseda, Calif., I was rear-ended by a man who was going 65 mph. Naturally, he didn’t have insurance, and this was also the month that my husband and I filed for divorce. I did begin a lawsuit against this irresponsible driver, however he decided to take up residency in one of California’s State Hotels, with a 25-year prison sentence. In short, there was no lawsuit. When it rains, it pours.
It could have been far worse than it was. My MR scan showed three disc herniations, causing compression of my spinal cord at the C2/C3 level. In addition, the impact left my hands with tendon damage; they now have unremitting arthritis and chronic debilitation. When I dropped a couple of instruments on patients because my hands had gone numb, I knew my career as a dental assistant was coming to a quick end.
I was able to work for a few years as a dental assistant after the accident, but with time, the aftermath of these injuries began to surface, and shortly thereafter I was out of that career, again facing the job market with little to no experience.
With a degree from the University of Motherhood, my experiences, which primarily involved cooking, cleaning, raising and taxiing kids, made the job market look pretty bleak. Along with being inexperienced, there was another obstacle. Let’s talk about searching for work here in Southern California! Your opportunities are even more restricted as you notice the word bilingual often listed as a requirement for employment.
Certainly, this can create an issue if English happens to be your first and only language. When it’s time to fill in the blanks of a job application, what does someone without experience write down for employment history? My lack of experience served as a haunting reminder that I was simply unqualified, and this was a stark reality that has made me feel as though the world is closing in on me. It can be near suffocating.
Discrimination is frowned upon in our nation and supposedly there is protection from such injustice. When I tried to branch out and get work in the front office of a dental practice, I was shocked by the discriminatory way I was treated by a dentist. I noticed him staring at my hands as I was filling out the application for employment. “Whoa! You’re sporting some hefty arthritis there, aren’t you?” he said. I didn’t get that job, and after one year of continuous searching, I was not able to find any job. The reality of my plight stared me in the face like a cement wall that wasn’t going away.
Feeling as though I had nowhere to turn, and realizing that my disability might pose a problem to a potential employer, I decided to focus on what I could do. After spending about a year working with the California State Department of Rehabilitation (CSDR), looking for a way to reenter the work force, I returned to college to finish my education. Despite California’s near bankrupt state, CSDR still provides some funding for those who want to rehabilitate. My plan was to graduate and continue my studies in graduate school, with the intent of teaching college English/writing courses, but my life was once again about to be altered.
By 2008, the economy had claimed the jobs of many, and my ex-husband became a part of that statistic. In no time flat, I had no more alimony support coming in. Practically overnight I went from being financially sustained to having no income. I remember thinking I would never handle the stress of finishing my last year of college, carrying 15-18 units, trying to plow through 300 pages of Shakespeare, and writing papers filled with analytical theory and critical thinking. I honestly don’t know how I did it.
While juggling school fulltime, I worked as a freelance copywriter for a prestigious magazine based out of Pebble Beach, but the marketing-driven publication did not survive the changes in our economy. Once again, I faced having no income.
During my senior year, I was forced out of my home and was taken in by a girlfriend who wanted to see me finish school. On Christmas Eve, I was not roasting chestnuts or enjoying a hot cup of eggnog. I literally gave 90 percent of my furniture and stuff away, put the remainder in storage and moved into my girlfriend’s house for the next six months. In May of 2008, I happily received my bachelor of arts in English.
I suppose it was the hope that as soon as I had my degree, I would be able to get a job that gave me the tenacity to press forward. I had great expectations, but had no idea the economy would go belly-up and create this kind of insanity. Given the monetary strain, it’s no surprise that many of my friends and family have been affected by the recession.
My son just recently spent six months searching for work, and ended up having to short-sell his home to avoid a foreclosure. Fortunately, he recently found a job and is now living with a couple of buddies. My daughter was in college, and on the honor roll, but when her father lost his job the financial support for school also stopped. She is now juggling a couple of classes and work at the same time, which is not easy.
It is so easy to assume that a person in this kind of situation will be taken care of by the government. This is not always the case. I receive $400 a month from Social Security, and when I decided to actually apply for welfare assistance, she was staggered to find out that I earn too much income! The harsh reality is that welfare is primarily set up for struggling mothers who have children in the home.
I cannot believe how ignorant I was about government assistance for those who are truly in need. I was told that my $400 exceeds the amount allowed for a single person, and that is not just for welfare assistance, it also includes food stamps.
Dumbfounded, I sat in the office of the welfare department and said to the social worker, who offered nothing more than a blank stare, “Hmm, is this possibly the reason there are so many senior citizens on the streets? Perhaps it really isn’t just about drugs and alcohol at all.”
For more than 21 months now, I have avidly been seeking employment. Daily, I comb Web sites like Craigslist, Yahoo Hot Jobs, government sites and local and statewide job sites. I lost count after sending out about 3,000 résumés. One of my girlfriends, whom I have known since I was 18, recently told me that she, too, has been looking for work for more than a year now. A former Los Angeles schoolteacher, she was one of the first teachers to be cut. She has a bachelor of arts in Italian and French, and a master’s degree in education and still has not found a job. The only difference between our circumstances is that she is married and her husband’s income sustains her life, or else she would be facing what I am enduring.
It is doubtful that anyone wakes up one morning with the desire to become homeless. The reasons that anyone ends up turn out to be numerous and often complicated, but it is certain that I am not the only person with this kind of story.
There are scores of people who once lived respectable lives, who did not plan for life to take such a downbeat turn — a turn that has undoubtedly increased with our stormy economy.
Last summer, I stayed in a garage on a futon, and then got some independent work that sustained me for a few months, but it was temporary. Currently, some friends are keeping my dog, and I have been driving up and down the coast sleeping on various friends’ couches and house-sitting while persistently looking for work. One of my passions in life is scriptwriting, and perhaps it is ironic that I recently completed writing an original screenplay about a homeless girl who gets a second chance at life. The screenplay is in the hands of some influential Hollywood producers and is being shopped around.
It is pretty strange that I am somewhat living out what I recently wrote about. Perhaps my next screenplay should be about a woman winning the lottery, and then this no-name cat will get a second chance at life again! In the meantime, I continue to hope and watch for the rain to stop coming down.