A month ago I got the keys to this apartment. It’s mine. This is still unbelievable to me.
The only neighbors I have are downstairs. The apartment is at the top floor of this place, and it’s pretty much an attic divided into three rooms. My roof’s slanted, and that’s alright because it means I don’t have neighbors next to me. Just the people downstairs, and they’re quiet people who mostly keep to themselves. Kinda like me.
Half a year ago I was homeless.
Now I live here.
You can see how this can be overwhelming, right? This is an incredibly rapid transition.
Still, every week there’s one night where I just simply cannot sleep. Thoughts and things come up from six months ago. Sometimes things from the time before that even bubble up. It’s been a painful road to get back on my feet again. Painful enough for me to nearly black out entire parts of it up until now. And now it’s all coming back to the surface. All of it.
After my time in England. My return to the Netherlands. Everything that happened with my family after that. The escape to Ireland. The scramble to leave Ireland again. And then the long, painful period of being stuck in a shitty situation with no ending in sight while the pressure of a full year of everything blowing up left and right followed by that moment where becoming homeless felt like a weight having been lifted from my shoulders. Only to go through the ordeal of the homeless shelter.
Sure, if it wasn’t for the homeless shelter, I wouldn’t have gotten back on my feet anywhere nearly as fast as I have now. But that’s because, in order to get the help needed to get back on your feet, you have to stay there. The shelter itself was a painful obstacle. Painful enough to make sleeping outside somewhere feel like the better alternative to almost everyone in there.
Sometimes I still run into people I met in there. A short, awkward exchange is made.
Hey. How’s things? You got out too? No? Oh. Hang in there, man.
It never gets any less awkward or painful to talk to them. After half a year’s distance, it’s only gotten worse. Not because it’s from a part of my life I want to get as far away from as I possibly can. No, I might be inherently selfish to a point even I can recognize it, but even that goes too far for me. What pains me most is that they were in the homeless shelter for months before I even set foot into it. After just a month, I was out. Half a year later and I have my own proper place again. While they are still in there. And most of them aren’t bad people to be around at all. What doesn’t help is that I know that the awkwardness is mutual. They’re happy to see that I am out, that I’m doing fine, but a the same time, I can tell they feel shitty about still being in the same spot as before. Neither side puts it to words, but when you’ve been in a tight spot together like that for a month, you don’t need them.
Back in the homeless shelter, there were three main living rooms. Although maybe I should explain the daily structure to more detail before getting into that.
See, the homeless shelter opened at 3PM. If you didn’t get in asap, you wouldn’t be able to get in if you didn’t have a reservation. And if you did have a reservation, someone might reserve your bed for the next night if they’d think of doing that and got in before you. So you show up at 3PM and immediately reserve your bed for the following night to ensure you wouldn’t get one of the worse beds. The sleeping halls don’t open until 7PM, so from 3PM to 7PM, you were stuck inside with fuck-all to do. There were three seperate living rooms you could spend your day doing fuck-all in.
The first room was where most of the foreigners who either didn’t speak the language, or barely spoke the language stayed in. I’m not in favor of segregation between natives and foreigners or anything, but they really did mostly stick to one single room together. There wasn’t a rule to force this on them, but it’s just something that must have happened naturally somehow.
The second room was the room that you could most easily identify as the room that always had the TV on Comedy Central. I’ll get back to that one in a bit, because this is the room I stayed in most of the time.
The third room is harder to describe. The TV would go back and forth between sports, the news, politics, and very *ahem* manly *ahem* action movies. This room was also the home to the people who by and large considered as leading figures. They’d discuss politics, the news, and other important topics with an air that suggested they knew what they were talking about. They’d also complain about everything and everyone in the building non-stop.
You can see why I stayed at the second room now.
One of the things that I ended up appreciating from the second room was that there was this unspoken rule in it. We didn’t talk about our lives before we got to the homeless shelter. Nobody complained about the system. We didn’t bring up what just went wrong for us. No talking about that person you cannot stand, unless you’re willing to stand up to him and ask him if he can stop doing a thing that bothers you. It was a much more friendly room. A room that in a sense silently understood that we’re all going through shit right now in our own way.
Someone taught me the basics of chess in that room. I also ended up reading through somewhere between 5 and 10 books in that room. And somewhere along the line, I gained a lot of respect for the people that were there.
Or rather, are still there.
The stress of my stay there pretty much beat every inch of self-confidence and security in who I am out of me. It made me melt down to a point where I just couldn’t see myself get out of it. Where I didn’t believe in life ever meaning anything again. It broke me. This is still something that I have to live with to this day. This knowledge that it came to a point that I gave up on myself so completely. Half a year later, in a situation where I can heal and am trying to learn to be okay with myself again, the memories of that situation still pain me.
I was only there for a month.
These people have been there for much, much longer. And they’re still enduring it now.
I cannot, for the life of me, imagine what that must be like.
Although, actually, I think I can. Kind of. I just really do not want to. I don’t think I’m strong enough to stomach that. It makes me feel weak. Not in the vulnerable sense, but in the pathetic sense.
In the meantime, I have my own place again. I actually have proper clothing of my own again. Not hand-me-downs. Not second-hand stuff that doesn’t really fit that I only bought because I was given a gift certificate to get some clothing because I really didn’t have any of my own and I really did need something to wear. Not one set of clothing I’ll have to do with for a month because I can’t carry much more with me. Not the clothing of a person I can still remember trying to choke my mom, who had his hands around my throat more than once…
But actual clothing bought from a store with my own money that is actually mine that I earned. Clothing that fits my own style, and actually is my size. Clothing that is mine.
Then that feeling hits me. That this is how I looked three years ago. This is how my clothing felt before all of this started. This kind of confidence that I’m starting to build up again is just like the confidence that I had in myself before all my possesions where taken from me.
And then, even if just for a moment, all confidence fades again and I don’t know what to do with myself for a moment. A short moment. The feeling goes away as quickly as it comes. But the knowledge of having had that moment stays.
It’s going to take time to get over all of this. And I’ve already made more progress than I’d even thought I would. But it doesn’t stop me from wondering, where the hell in my life am I right now?
I really don’t know.