THE INVISIBLE LIFESTYLE:
FOR BATTERED WOMEN,
ADVENTURERS, JOB HUNTERS,
AND A “NEST IN THE STORM”
It’s been a busy winter and spring: more and more people out of jobs which were expected to last until retirement with pensions, and more women who were longtime homemakers are now trying to survive on whatever Social Security their partners left for them. Health care is an impossible mess with higher prices (despite the government’s insistence that it is more affordable), super-high utilities make people lose their homes if some criminal lender or other felon hasn’t forced a foreclosure, and crimes of all kinds are overlooked by every politician from the local level to our senators. Some of the presidential contenders are senators who didn’t pay any attention to the problems in their own states and now promise to correct everyone’s problems!!!!!!
Lots of RVers, truckers, van and SUV owners are now in transit as they follow the weather pattern which they choose. Those who wish to remain in one area with friends who may or may not know of the undetectable homeless lifestyle are cleaning vehicles and boats for a summer of whatever may happen. My contacts have increased across the country and there are few states without anyone to call when a woman (or man, these days) is in “trouble” of some kind. I’m looking forward to the summer travel to see what changes, if any, have popped-up.
I have been haunted by three (current) women’s stories of being either stalked or threatened by spouses or ex-partners. If anyone believes that the piece of paper usually called a Temporary Restraining Order creates safety for a battered woman, then that person is more stupid than the piece of paper. Here is a typical scenario that exemplifies what some women have to go through to avoid being found:
(Please do remember that three elipses (…) means that I have left out parts of a sentence or more, and four elipses (….) means that I have REALLY left out a lot and moved on to something relevant – or not! I DO leave out the very annoying “hmmm,” “uh,” and varying forms of continuous idiosyncratic expressions that make reading very difficult, such as “Okay,” “Geez,” “Well,” and “I mean.” That means that sometimes the stories sound like “one person” has told all. It’s my fault for just trying to make this readable! I want the essence of the rationale for being in an undetectable homeless situation along with suggestions for solutions to be understood.)
HELENNA is 59 and shares an old, well-used RV with two little four-legged companions who wouldn’t scare a toddler. Considering her situation, I’d think about pit bulls (for a moment, anyway). I met her in a book store, reading about places where she might try for awhile.
“…and after the divorce, he said I’d be dead for the publicity I caused him and his job. He’d show up at night and sit in front of my apartment with his lights on. He knew I saw him, waiting….I worked for years getting him through law school, and I wasn’t cut out to be a waitress. I wanted to go to grad school myself, but he said it was my place to be at home and be ready for him when I wasn’t working part-time as a waitress….Why didn’t I leave him? [She shrugged.] I had lots of excuses, but I guess that I was both afraid to leave and he had all of my money. I just got an allowance for groceries and stuff….
The final blow was just that. He slugged me so hard that I lost my front teeth and have permanent jaw problems. I went to the police and they came and questioned him at work. Bad mistake. Everyone heard the questions. His boss -- and he was management himself -- told him if it ever happened again, he’d be fired….It did happen again since I couldn’t get out of bed to leave even if I’d had the money to do it. He hit me in the stomach and everywhere that a bruise wouldn’t show under clothing, and I bled so badly that a neighbor called for an ambulance….I had no place to go after the hospital, so I stayed with friends for a few weeks and then knew I’d have to go since he knew my friends and sat in his car at night and watched me….I found a note on the front door that I was as good as a dead person. I escaped and begged for a loan for a van from a banking pal, and he couldn’t do it. I had no collateral, so what could I do?....I saw a dealer who sells RVs and asked what I could do to get an old one. All that time I was living in hotel lobbies and a medical center, and I knew I had to have some kind of plan to leave the area. I needed a new identity, too. THAT was the only way he wouldn’t be able to trace me. I’d need a traveling job with a new name and address and pretend that I chose being a travel writer….The RV dealer said if I worked for him as a bookkeeper for a month, he’d let me have a very old and obviously never gonna be sold little RV. It was moldy and smelly and was sitting in the way back of the lot. He used it as a storage place and he was probably feeling like God giving it to me. He didn’t say anything about registering it or having new license plates or anything. Just put me in it and wished me good luck…. I had worked and cleaned the RV and finally took off two months later. Oh, I kept living in the hospital center while I was working….
I did a lot of reading about where I could park, how to take care of an RV, and how to make a makeshift toilet and use bottled water for everything. Don’t think I bought brand name bottled water! I filled gallon jugs every day from the hose….I decided that I could lose myself in PA, where I knew some of the cities. But I wanted to be away from a real city where I could find some peace of mind. No noise, and I could see people coming with no surprises….I found a big park where I could park most of the day and went to a bad part of a big city and asked around for a forged Social Security card and driver’s license to go along with the RV with what was probably a stolen license plate. It was so old that I doubted if anyone would notice. And I spread some mud on the sticker. I know I shouldn’t have done those things, but didn’t the judge know I wouldn’t have any chance of survival without any help from her?
It was horrible for the first few weeks. I was scared that someone would recognize me and tell my ex. I was scared that he knew so many people that he could trace me….I got credit card offers that were just plain dumb. I didn’t have any money! I used a friend’s address and made up a cell number for applications for jobs. It didn’t work. I had no resume for the last 14 years….My greatest break came when I met a man who had lost his longtime job and we chatted for days about how to exist. We were in a bookstore, looking for places to go, and just started talking. I thought everything was gonna be alright.
And then my ex found me. He had tracked me to the RV dealer and beat him until he told what I had done. My ex is really insane, and I’m his reason to live….I had been sitting in a restaurant filling out an application for a job and suddenly there he was, looming over me. I panicked. He took a knife out of his pocket and whispered that no one would hire me after he got through with destroying my face….The restaurant waiter was watching and told the manager, and he called the police. They arrested him, but he said I was a nut case who had escaped from a rehab place and he was going to take me back. He had papers made up that said he had that authority….
I ran from the restaurant while they were all talking and drove for over a day and over the state line. If the police were looking for me, they didn’t find me….
I just kept driving and ran out of gas and money. The tiny town where I was trapped had a job opening sign in the window of a dress shop and I got it. I don’t want you to mention where we are – even the state. I like it here and there are some other small towns where I can find a job and I hope to get back to college and become a teacher. I keep looking for grants….I’ve changed my name, have a postal box where my mail is sent, have a credit card with a low limit, and have found a better forged driver’s license and all I care about is staying alive. If it hadn’t been for this old RV, I’d be dead….
When will our court systems work to make women safe from crazy husbands? I even had a woman judge and she was just as uncaring as a man. Do you think I WANT a forged anything? The judge made that a necessity….”
THIS IS NOT AN ISOLATED CASE. I HEAR SIMILAR DETAILS ON A REGULAR BASIS. WHY ARE OUR “LEADERS” SO STUPID ABOUT WHAT THEY KNOW IS COMMON PRACTICE?
ON ANOTHER TOPIC: ADVENTURER
MARTHA is 62 and awaiting her Social Security check and then her Medicare health insurance. We went to eat at a mall food court after we had chatted in the ladies room where she was washing a blouse. As usual, I showed her my book and card and asked if she would like to tell me HER story.
“I’ve been living in this and another mall for about 4 months now. You’d think I’d be tired of this routine, but it really isn’t. I can go to the library, or walk through fancy grocery stores and sample things, or do just about anything that is almost free….
I worked for 22 years as a supervisor in a clothing manufacturer’s factory. We didn’t call if a factory, though. It was “home” for all of us….When the company changed hands – a big surprise – they laid us all off and sent our jobs to India and Mexico. Even the top manager was left without a life….I tried to get other employment, but don’t let the news fool you. If you are over 55, you might get a below minimum wage job at a Wal-Mart type, but that’s it….
I went to live with my son for awhile but I never did get along well with his wife, so I traded my almost new Chevy for a used converted van with some amenities….I traveled for maybe 2 months and decided that I would be a Snowbird and go with the weather. Hate snow and hate hot and humid….I’ve lived on university campuses and almost decided to stay and try for a degree in archeology, but couldn’t get a fellowship. My B.A. is in Art History. Just try to find a job with that degree!....I still want to try for an M.A., but my attempts to find a proper grant have not been successful….
I’m heading for Western MA for the summer. I have a friend who does flea markets and she says if I can get some good things, she’ll share her circuit spots. So, now I’m ready to travel and find a new life. With the Social Security check from my husband’s benefits, I think I’ll be OK. Right now I’m down to [she looked in her purse] about $100, and that’s for gas!...I’ve found a few very nice little items that are worth more and I know I can find more before I get to MA….
I keep finding other women doing what I do to keep clean and wear make-up so I am presentable at all times.
It’s all pretending, you know. I’m like an actress 24-7. I’ve talked myself into believing that if poor people can make it out of inner cities, with my background, I can do just as well….”
IT’S A TOUGH WORLD OUT THERE IF YOU AREN’T ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES WITH A JOB THAT YOU CANNOT LOSE OR A HOMEMAKER WHO HAS BANK ACCOUNTS AND A HEFTY SOCIAL SECURITY CHECK.
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MORE TO COME IN THE COMING MONTHS REGARDING THE UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS AND HOW TO LIVE HAPPILY IN AN ALTERNATIVE “HOME.” IT MIGHT JUST BE THE WAY TO LIVE AN INTERESTING LIFESTYLE IF ALL DOESN’T COME UP ROSES! Marjorie Bard
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