The Stranger's Journal
Not a journal, not a stranger. A true story that's over, now.
Feb. 14, 20—
A person doesn't fall on hard times—hard times fall on a person. Hard times fall on a person like a drunk falls on a sober person at a party: without thought, escaping injury, and with little memory of it the next day. Meanwhile, the person on whom the drunk fell has a bruised hip, a broken finger, and a shirt that has to be thrown away because the stains can't be washed out of it.
When hard times fell on me, his drunker cousin came to see what was going on, and also fell on me. Then the hostess of the party, who hadn't been monitoring her intake of champagne punch throughout the course of the evening, tried to sort things out between me and the drunk and his drunker cousin, and she fell on me, too.
Hard times came close to suffocating me, damn near killed me.
Being poor but free is exactly like being poor and being in jail: unbelievably monotonous, with very little happiness and lots of desperation.
Every once in a while you might wake up on a Saturday morning and realize that the electricity will be on for another month, that you don't have to worry for another couple weeks about whether you're actually going to scrape together your rent money, that you don't have to worry about going to work or getting dressed or even taking a shower if you don't feel like it.
More often than not, though, you are happier with a routine of chores and tasks like washing clothes, cleaning the bathroom, going grocery shopping at the cheapest store in town with a budget of maybe twenty or twenty-five dollars that cannot be breached without inciting a financial catastrophe later in the week.
Routine is a form of consolation, proof that there are pockets of your fucked up existence that still command and receive effort that only a sane person could perform on a regular basis.
And every now and then, you welcome a lazy Sunday when you will make one big, delicious meal, the leftovers of which you hope you can stretch out over the next seven days, and the dreadful place where you live will be warm from the oven and will smell like food cooking, and these small things make you content to have the Out of Africa soundtrack on repeat for most of the day because it's familiar and soothing and makes you feel as young and free of your current burdens as you were when you saw the movie for the first time, never imagining that your life would turn out the way it did.
The way it turned out is full of nights lying awake because your rent is late and payday is a week away and the electricity bill is due soon and the amount of it will be so much crazier this time because the ancient baseboard heaters in your drafty, cold apartment run constantly without actually making you any warmer but to turn them off would reduce your living space to the status of a walk-in meat market cooler.
And there is hunger, and when there isn't actual hunger, there is boredom to the point of screaming that you will probably have to eat buttered angel hair pasta or kidney beans on toast for the third, fourth, maybe fifth night in a row. You don't have any furniture except a footstool and a lawn chair, and this makes lying on the couch and watching TV to escape your hunger and boredom impossible because you have no couch and you have no TV.
And even though you distract yourself from sorrow and rumination by dusting every day and sweeping the floors every evening, you still find yourself noticing a certain film of dinginess from the permanent mist of despair that escapes your pores and settles on the walls and light fixtures and book spines surrounding you.
All of this is a thousand times worse when you can trace your being in such a situation to each and every bad decision you've ever made in your life, the most recent of which was that you fell in love with another person so deeply and so completely that you had called her The One, then sold all your furniture to move in with her and used every bit of your scant income to help with the expenses of cohabitation, and eventually found out that you were not her One and that it was time to move on with nothing but your books and footstool and lawn chair to show for the years you thought everyone was very happy but nobody really was.
So all the nights you lie awake worrying about how you're going to survive your current situation are made even more terrible by the sharp edges of your broken heart trying to poke their way out of your chest and through your night shirt so that when you get out of bed for the third time to go to the bathroom because it's so goddamn late, you will then step on those shards of broken heart and bleed, bleed, bleed without the blessed release of crying out or falling into what would be the mercy of unconsciousness.