Two months ago my life was everything I thought it was supposed to be. I had found my dream job as the editor of a feminist publication. I was living happily in a beautiful art deco house-sized apartment in the inner city with my two children and dogs, and planning on a glowing future.
One month ago, in the space of a week, I lost everything. The feminist publication was sold, my job was made redundant, my beautiful apartment was too expensive, and I couldn’t find another one. While landlords are happy giving leases to single women with prestigious employment, they’re not so keen on unemployed single mothers with teenagers and dogs. My debts, while not crushing, were more than I could pay with what little was left, and no-one even answered the job applications I sent out. Desperation has an unmistakable smell.
I had some savings, but not enough. They’d been whittled away by overconfidence, hedonism and lack of foresight. I had often made plans to bring them back up, it was definitely on my list of things to do, but it was something I thought I should do, not something I really believed I had to do.
By the time I realised I was wrong, it was too late. If life is a game of snakes and ladders, I slid all the way to the bottom and all the ladders were taken away. At my lowest point, I was two days away from being homeless. I didn’t know how I was going to care for my children or my dogs. I expected to lose them all, hoped I could find somewhere for them to go, but didn’t think I would ever get them back. After everything I’ve done to hold us together, it was like a hand grenade had exploded in my life and blown us all apart. Even before I lost them, the loss was crushing, like spending days trying to sleep with my chest in a vice.
I couldn’t even plan on sleeping in my car, it was off the road. It needed only minor repairs, but again it had been too far down the to-do list, and not really a necessity when I was working from home, everything was within walking distance and a future without necessities was unimaginable. When needs are only wants, nothing is really necessary. But when I lost everything I wanted, and everything I needed went too, it was difficult to remember the difference between them.
Homeless. Me! It was incomprehensible. I used to write about homelessness from behind my leadlight windows, I would rage about the injustice of it and speak knowledgably, over wine and crudités, about the statistics of it. But I garnered the rage and the knowledge at a safe distance. I forgot how quickly life can turn, how easily everything can change and how many people, just like me, can lose everything, even when they never expected to want for anything.
Jobless. Me! I’ve had a job since I was 14. There have been some weird and wonderful experiences in there: I’ve sold encyclopaedias door to door in far north Queensland; bullshitted my way into roles I couldn’t even define; and helped out in private detective agencies. I’ve made jokes and dined out on stories of the work I’ve done, but a job, whether it was mundane, thrilling or hilarious, was always there for the taking.
Broke. Me! I’ve thrown money around like it’s confetti, run scared enough of it, wasted too much of it, given it away heedlessly, hung onto it desperately, but money has always been there when I needed it.
Choices. I’ve always had them. Crippling anxiety has always comfortably coexisted with unquestioning belief that I could find a way to do whatever was needed. Single mother, two kids under five, get a job, go back to uni, get a degree (with distinction), run five kilometres a day, write, talk, cope, drink, laugh, smoke, sleep, tough it out, win. I always knew I could. For more than 20 years I always had. The arrogance of privilege. One bad week, and all of it was gone.
Luck was never something I believed in. I thought I wove my own from the abilities I was born with and the options that were always open to me, until the day that wasn’t enough and I realised luck is not a thing you can weave out of nothing. Three weeks ago, with only a few days left in the last home I thought I would ever have, when I was sick with fear and disbelief, overwhelmed by a vision of a future I never expected to face, my luck veered around again. A friend offered me a one-bedroom apartment, with affordable rent, space for the dogs, no bond, but only a place for one child.
Again, luck. A safe home found for each of my children a few days each week, and a bed in a corner of my little flat for them to alternate through the rest of the time. I sleep in the kitchen. There’s room for my bed, an armchair and a chest of drawers. Everything else is gone, all the detritus of decades of consumerism has been sold or given away, because there is no space for it in my kitchen that couldn’t be better taken up by food and safety. But it’s cosy and warm, and there’s a door to shut and lock out the rest of the world. I never thought I could be so grateful for what once would have seemed so little.
My kitchen-flat is above a shop, and just outside my door is a treehouse, a tiny room built of wooden offcuts and plastic sheeting, with space for a table, some chairs and a bed for my dogs, which keep me company as I work. I sit here looking out over the treetops, write, as I am paid to do, about injustice, and I think about luck.
I am so very, very lucky. The wall between me and cold nights in the back of a broken car is made of iron, for so many others it is only tissue paper, likely to crumble at the slightest touch.
My mother is still alive, the beneficiary of her own rock-solid determination, intelligence and unrelenting hard work. She is willing to share what she has, she gave a home to my children, a cheque for my mechanic and maintains an unwavering faith in me, even when I can’t. My friends troop endlessly in and out of my treehouse, bringing food, wine, off-colour jokes and comfort.
My children are unsettled but safe, healthy and happy. They are here all the time, they love me, talk to me about their lives and make plans for a future they know will be bright. They have learned something about the uncertainties of life through all this, but it seems to have given them more strength than fear. I didn’t lose them; I realise now that I never could.
Work is coming in, too slowly, fighting past the confidence crash I never thought could happen, but I’m pushing ahead on the strength of others’ belief in me. Luck beyond belief, beyond words.
I am still afraid of what the future will bring, I don’t know if I will come back from this. Am I too old? Is it too late? But the reality of my fear is only that I don’t know if I will able to do it alone, not that I will ever have to.
Midway through what has often been a complicated life, I have learned how much I have when everything is taken away. And even when I am haunted by demons of the future, I am comforted by the angels of the present and I still can’t swallow the lump of gratitude in my throat.
The view from my treehouse is beautiful. The trees are full of colour and it smells like autumn. I can hear the sounds of the community I’ve lived in for decades, and I know they won’t let me fall. I am surrounded by the signs of love and the support I never expected to need. I work on the small things I am still able to do and know that it will be enough, at least for now.
I walk my dogs around our neighbourhood and stare into the faces of all the people going about their lives on my familiar streets. I wonder how many of them have what I have. How many of them have been living for years on the edge of something I have only just discovered? How many do not have the luck I was born with and if they do fall, will become lost and never find their way back? I see the ones who have fallen, and I’m wracked with guilt, because luck is the only difference between them and me, and I cannot share it. The implacable injustice of it is excruciating.
Luck is not something I made for myself, it was made for me, thanks to the efforts of others, and when I least expected a fall, luck was the only thing that caught me. If only everyone could have so much.
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