Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Low Point

What has been your low point so far?

Here's one of my favorite low points:

I'm 22, pregnant, living in Austin, Texas, in what used to be an addition to an old single-wide trailer, now long rusted away, barely making it from one of my husband's Air Force beginner pay checks to the next. This so soon after graduating cum laude from the University of Oregon, the former goal of graduate school fading, partly through my partnership with an Air Force Airman who didn't get to decide where he might live, but mostly through my own ambivalence to the final product - a PhD in psychology that I wasn't sure I wanted.

We had just moved into The Cottage (my euphemistic word for our rental "house") after the last affordable apartments in town went "condo." When the gas company came to do their pre-service check before turning on the gas, they "red flagged" the water heater, meaning that it was too old and decrepit to use safely. So until the old couple that rented The Cottage to us could replace the water heater, we lived there without hot water. This was less of a hardship than it might have been since it was summer, and the temperature and humidity were both over 90, and The Cottage had no air conditioning. We merely changed our shower time to the afternoon when we could do nothing other than stand under the cold water for relief.

Oregonians have long been called webfoots for a reason; the main weather system out here is rain. When forecasters say there will be a ten percent chance of showers, they really mean there is a one hundred percent surety of rain - they just want to give us a little hope. We are used to weather that requires our regional dress code: flannel, wool, and gortex. We are not used to day after day of 95 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

I was unable to move in the heavy, hot air. It was like a really uncomfortably hot extra gravity blanket. That is, until the tornado watches started. That got my heart moving like nothing else. I can still recall the tones we would hear on the TV as the Tornado warning would scroll across the bottom of the screen. For an Oregonian, this was like waiting for death to come - it was like seeing a crawl at the bottom of your TV that said, "Death is roaming the area southwest of Austin, moving in an easterly direction. Take precautions." Our Cottage was a square, cut into four squares with a small square in the middle that was our bathroom (no kidding - architects, take note), so during the closer tornado warnings, I would huddle in the bathroom, since it had no windows to blow in and stab me to death, although unsafe from the fact that The Cottage had, at one time, been associated with a trailer - that trailer scent that tornadoes are particularly drawn to - and could have chosen to squash the flimsy structure with a huff and a puff.

Where were we? Oh, yes, I was 22, pregnant, wearing one of two ugly maternity frocks (whichever one was not dirty), and scratching for change in the mattress cushions of the couch that we were buying on credit at usurious rates from the weasely furniture dealer who preyed on underpaid Airmen strapped for cash, and hoping I didn't pull out one of those big Texas cockroaches instead. I still shudder when I think of watching those cockroaches scuttle under the kitchen cabinets.

This day, I was feeling particularly pregnant and depressed (I can't imagine why), so I had taken money I couldn't afford to waste and bought a pack of those special School Boy (or something) cookies. They are those little rectangles of shortbread with a rectangle, just as thick as the shortbread, of pure milk chocolate on top. Oh, perfection.

I can remember sitting on the bed in my red plaid maternity frock, eating my first cookie out of the package and feeling a little better about the sticky, hot day, noticing the wind pick up a little bit in the landlord's cow pasture outside, and then opening the package a little more to get to the next cookie, and seeing movement inside the package, then looking a little closer, and realizing that the whole package is actually infested with tiny moth-like insects.

I cried and cried. Drew was sympathetic, but a little puzzled that a spoiled package of cookies could send me into such a fit of despair. But of course, it wasn't the cookies. It was everything. The Cottage. The hot water heater. The tornado of doom. The cockroaches. The heat. The humidity. The distance between me and my family. The fear that I would be a terrible mother. The fear that I would never amount to anything now that I was jobless, PhD-less, pregnant, and so damn afraid.

I guess this is where I say that I may have not amounted to much, but I'm no longer afraid, but that's not really true. I'm still afraid of lots of things. But at least I'm not afraid that I won't amount to much. I'm not much, but it's enough. My baby grew up without too much emotional scarring, and for the most part, outside of Texas.

So if you're at a low point, try to remember that it's a low point. And there's nowhere to go but up.

1 comment:

Charlie Quimby said...

Glad to see you still at it. You've done the trailer park proud.