When the stupid Tetris knockoff I was playing gave me a left-handed squiggle block for the fourth time in a row, I decided it was time to climb down from the tree I was hiding in and face reality. I felt embarrassed, and exhausted, and angry - I’d been an adult for seven months and had done everything I was supposed to do and now it felt like all my work was down the drain.
If I had wanted to live on the streets and steal food I’d have just done that. I’ve done it before - hell, I once lived in an abandoned office for the better part of a year. But no, I was going to be responsible. I was going to stop breaking the law. I was going to be a normal productive member of society and hold down a job and all that shit. And then Adrian ruined everything and I… well, I hadn't handled it well.
I kept my cool when he didn’t pick me up from work despite the fact that I’d paid for his gas (not to mention the toilet paper, the milk, and most of the other shared resources in the apartment) under the specific agreement that he would drive me home from Harlan’s Hardware. I also kept my cool when I found the notice on the door of our apartment, and calmly went to the office to discuss things even though what I really wanted to do was break in through a window and go to sleep.
But then I had a panic attack. First one in seven months.
Right there in the office of the Desert Oasis apartments, clutching my head in my hands while the property manager tried to explain to me why the locks had been changed and what needed to happen for that to be fixed. I mean, I think that's what he was talking about. There's no real way to be sure. In addition to my vision going blurry around the edges and my heart beating really fast, when I have a panic attack I can't process what anyone is saying. I can hear them, even individual words, but then they just refuse to go together into a coherent sentence. Pretty much everything after "Miss Smith, unfortunately..." might as well have been in another language.
The property manager clearly didn't understand that, so he just kept talking.
It didn’t matter, there wasn’t anything I could have done. The money was gone, probably to pay for the hideously ugly tattoo Adrian had just had scribbled over his whole chest, and even if it hadn't been that would just be my half. Adrian's half may not have existed in the first place. I’ve had a few state-assigned therapists during my time in the foster care system, most of which were fairly useless. But there had been one in particular that seemed cool, and in an attempt to salvage the situation I tried to remember what she had told me.
Count five things around the room that you can see. So, sure. There's... that really ugly lamp on the manager's desk. One. There's a trash can, with some takeout containers in it. Two. There's that little holder for the stack of business cards with the apartment complex info on them, as if anyone uses business cards anymore. Three. This is working. Okay, two more. There's a painting on the wall, some generic print of mountains. Four. There's my backpack.
Yup. The trigger for the panic attack in the first place, and like a moron I picked it as one of the things in the room to count.
So that was it, I gave up and shoved past some other office staff that had clearly noted my distress and was trying to bring me a bottle of water. I couldn't head to my apartment of course, so the only other way was across the parking lot, over the low wall into another parking lot, and then around the back of the Circle K. There was this big twisted mesquite tree back there looming over the dumpsters, super easy to climb up since the trunk was nearly horizontal. Big trees have always had a calming effect on me, so I guess it's extra dumb that I lived in Phoenix, Arizona. I blame my mom, and some well-meaning politicians.
Once I was up there, I tried that counting thing again and it went a little better. The dumpster with the rusted-out corner was one. A shitty pickup with a faded bumper sticker from the 2008 election, two. A chair, probably for the employees to sit on while they take their smoke break. Three. A diaper someone had just left in the parking lot after changing their kid, four. A mop head laying below me in the dirt that looked like it was being slowly reclaimed by nature, five.
So I’d played the stupid Tetris ripoff and zoned out while I tried to plan. Part of the problem was that it had been a high empathy day. My broken brain had always swung around from sociopath to bleeding heart with no warning, and I dealt with sudden upsets way better when I wasn’t feeling so much emotion. Getting kicked out of my apartment on one of the days where I also cried too easily was just my luck.
I tried to think about what I would do if I wasn’t a mess, and settled on making a very uncomfortable phone call. "Hey, it's Callie. Calliope Smith. My uh... my roommate was stealing the rent I guess, and now I'm locked out of the apartment. I was wondering if... yeah. No, I know. Yeah I know I'm an adult now, but it's not like I fucked this up. I worked my ass off to get that rent money, and... yeah. Okay. No, I get it. Rules are rules, yeah. Well do you think you could help me talk to the apartment manager? I tried but I... no I know, but I'm not saying it's your job. I'm asking, just, for a favor. Please. Okay, fuck you too." I hung up and wiped my face since I was back to crying. Of course. It had been stupidly optimistic of me to call that douche, he barely even helped when he was still my case worker. Bill had been the only good one, and I couldn't call him.
Once again, I was on my own. I started walking, the long way around so I could think about what to say. Apologize for running out of course, explain that I had no idea my roommate wasn't paying and tell them I always had my half on time... but then what? I knew I couldn't afford the place on my own. Mainly I was hoping I could get them to let me inside to get my things. I finally had things - more than would fit in a single bag.
But of course I had already fucked that up too. With the time wasted up in that tree and the walk around the complex I had taken too long; I got to the office it was all closed up, with the last employee (that lady that had tried to get me a water) walking to her car. I slumped down on the curb and sat there feeling sorry for myself for a bit, then realized that I could have stopped that woman and asked her to get me my backpack from inside the office.
Once again I was tempted to just break in. I’m an amateur at lockpicks and didn’t have any handy anyway, but breaking into places rarely required a lot of work in my experience. But if I smashed a window they would know it was me, and anyway I had been trying so hard to not get in trouble with the law since I’d become a legal adult.
In the hopes of somehow working it out the next day, I used the last of my cash to get an unreasonably huge burrito and a large soda at some shitty little taco shop and then just started walking. I'd slept in abandoned buildings before but they're hit or miss, between the squatters and security guards and whatever else. So I wandered at random until I found a park, squeezed into the little space between some bushes and a cinderblock wall next to the parking lot, and tried to get comfortable. The ground was... not great... but the bushes actually smelled nice and at least it's not cold at night in Phoenix. I wasn’t sure I would be able to fall asleep, but the second I closed my eyes I dropped right into a nightmare. That wasn’t a big deal, it was pretty much the one I was expecting.
I was in the apartment complex office, with the manager replaced by my mother. She was telling me my apartment was - much like her bedroom - off limits and I wasn't allowed in. In addition to being the apartment office it was also somehow my most recent group home, the one I aged out of seven months ago, and my backpack had of course been replaced with the standard black trash bag. Once my brain got all this out of the way it morphed into a less stressful but much harder to decipher dream, involving me following someone wearing a mask of my face while I tried to herd a bunch of baby ducks onto a school bus for some reason.
I woke up at the crack of dawn to flashing red and blue lights, and the loud WHOOP WHOOP sound the cops make their car do when they want to get your attention but don't feel like actually kicking the siren on. My back was killing me as I sat up and saw that, yeah, they were out of the car and looking right at me. I figured I'd make some excuse and then try to head to work, but -
"Keep your hands where I can see them!"
I'm not sure what they were expecting. Did they think I was an escaped fugitive? It seemed impossible that they would bother trying to arrest a teenage girl over sleeping in the park, but I didn't want to risk anything so I lifted my arms up over the tops of the bushes and then did my best to stand up without using my hands. It probably made me look drunk, which didn't help.
The police started asking me questions, at first with a tone of concern but almost immediately shifting into hostility. "No sir, I'm not on any drugs. I got locked out of my apartment and - no, they wouldn't let me in because - no, I'm trying to tell you - I'm not arguing, I'm trying to explain." The pounding was back, along with that lightheaded feeling. Why do the cops always get so aggressive and try to escalate things? I was sure they were going to arrest me and throw me in jail, and that would mean missing work, and so I would lose my job, and then they'd let me go, but without a job I wouldn't be able to get a new apartment and without a new apartment I'd have to keep sleeping in the park, and then they'd arrest me again, and... that did it, the tunnel vision was back and my attempt to look around and count things I could see started with a fucking police officer with his hand on his gun. So, yeah, I passed out.
Everything was silent and I felt... weightless. Honestly it was lovely. I should pass out more often. I couldn't feel my body... but I felt this need to... reach out...
I was still in the park, falling. But I was also on a snowy mountainside, or maybe floating over it somehow. And I was in a strange room surrounded by gears and tubes and bright glowing lights like neon signs, though I couldn't see the actual source of the light. And I was in a forest clearing, surrounded by huge boulders covered in strange writing. Everything was frozen in place, overlapping. And then the universe seemed to pick one and I slammed down into the snow.
There was a piercing, horrible pain in my head - I've never felt anything this terrible. My skull literally felt like it was going to explode. My ears were transmitting only a sharp ringing sound along with more pain, and I was dimly aware of blood running down the sides of my head as well as gushing out of my nose. Did someone stab me in the ears? Had I been shot? Did the police shoot me in the head and then... wait... what about the snow? My vision was getting blurry, and before I could decide what was real and what wasn't everything went black.