Despite graduating summa cum laude as an English and communication double major in 2009, I worked a $10/hour retail job for the last four months. To make the best of a bad situation, I used my creativity and organizational skills to improve the store’s appearance because, pre-me, Google reviews described it as sad, decrepit, and disappointing.
As time wore on, one customer revised her review to say, “[T]he store seems to be changing, its [sic] more clean and organized than I’ve ever seen in a long time,” and the store manager noticed.
After I drew his attention to a project I’d completed during his day off, he texted a picture of the endcap I’d created to the district manager, who instructed him to roll it to the front of the store.
He told his assistant manager, keyholder, and me that a woman from another store had come in shopping, asked who re-did the decor department, and then asked if I could come to her store, to which he said, “No.”
During a mandatory store meeting July 7, he said — in front of everyone — that he’d told the hiring manager I was “a great hire,” and he wasn’t just making me a keyholder as he’d said May 10, he was making me a manager. As a coworker drove me home, she said, “I’m glad he’s making you a manager. He’s been talking about it for a while.”
When I went to work last Tuesday, he revealed he’d given me a bad review while I was off for three days.
“Y’know what I’ve noticed about you, Miranda?” he asked. “You take too long to do your work.” He imitated me straightening a shelf.
What changed between July 7 and July 23, considering he only scheduled me 13 hours per week? I told him I’d become homeless two days before my birthday last year.
Suddenly, in his eyes, something must be wrong with me.
I’d divulged this information because he’d asked what I was going to do on my birthday July 18 and told me a drunk driver had totaled his truck while it was parked on his street two days before his birthday one year. Christians are supposed to build each other up and share their story, so I’d volunteered part of mine, thinking it might start a good conversation since he’d had a number of bad things happen to him in just the few months I’d known him.
I should’ve known my words would be held against me. It isn’t the first time my candor has gotten me into trouble, and that morning I’d read a blog post in which a Christian said he refuses to “waste” money on the “lazy” “welfare bums” he passes on their way to a soup kitchen.
This is someone who’s supposed to be Christlike.
Friday, as I stewed over whether to address the subject of judgmental Christians like the gay, heavily tattooed, and black store manager who wears a crucifix and wouldn’t want people to judge him for any of those things, the following happened:
First, a fellow Cleveland writer shared her Huffington Post article about being rejected for 215 jobs in the past two years even though, like me, she’s qualified for far more than the minimum-wage jobs the so-called gig economy has forced her to work to provide for her child and dog. While offering tips on how to survive being poor, she recommended going to food pantries. “There is a feeling of solidarity at food pantries that is hard to describe,” she said.
People should be able to find that solidarity at church. Instead, they meet judgmental Christians who cherrypick the Bible and claim they have the right to look down upon others even though dozens of scriptures, including the greatest commandments, contradict that assertion and instruct people to be humble.
Second, I checked my email and Joel Osteen’s daily devotion said the following: “The first thing people should notice about us is our love, patience, kindness, gentleness, strength and joy. People are going to know that we’re believers when we’re helping other people, meeting needs, and blessing people with our words and actions. We were created to make a difference in the lives of others through our love for them. True love is seen in our actions — giving our time, our money, an encouraging word. When you show love, you are showing God to the world.”
Third, I watched a Joyce Meyer program that TBN aired on Wednesday.
“Anytime that you take a step to build anything, whether it’s to build your life, to build your faith, to build your marriage — anytime that you’re attempting to make any kind of progress at all in your life, you will get opposition,” she said. “Jesus said, ‘In the world, you will have tribulation.’ That’s a promise just like, ‘Sow and you will reap.’ The enemy is not at all happy that you’re here today, he’s not happy that I’m here today, and honestly it would probably be amazing if we knew how many people fully intended to come but some opposition came their way, and they didn’t know how to press through it.”
Your actions, words, and haughty eyes might be the opposition keeping someone from attending church.
The fact is, you don’t know how people became broke and/or homeless or what God is doing in their life.
Frankly, it’s a miracle that I became a Christian. My father, who’d gone to church all his life, began beating and choking my mom when I was 9.
Unable to concentrate in school after coming home to police cars in the driveway, I brought home bad report cards with comments like “Not working up to potential” because teachers apparently knew that I’d begun scoring high school-level scores on proficiency tests in fifth grade. Instead of considering the fact he was responsible for my grades because he’d pointed a gun at my mom and made her beg for her life and he’d said he wanted to hang her from a deer hook and skin her alive — slowly, my father called me stupid, slapped me, and accused me of taking drugs. While ransacking my dresser drawers for weed or who knows what, he came across a Guns N’ Roses tape and forced me to start going to church with him.
Occasionally, my mom and brain-damaged, diabetic, and epileptic brother came with us. My father pressured my mom to get saved because she’d cheated on him sometime after her ob-gyn turned my brother’s birth into medical malpractice, but a priest had molested her during confirmation classes when she was a kid, so she balked and then downright refused after women from the church turned their nose up at her in the grocery store.
After retreating to my bedroom for a decade of solitude the night my father punched her in the face, knocking her out, I ventured into the world in search of the love and attention I hadn’t received at home. In short order, I attracted:
- a Marine who threatened suicide and then threatened to kill me when I asked him to stop calling;
- an alcoholic who fell asleep in restaurants, glamorized the movie “Leaving Las Vegas,” and guilted me into staying with him by intimating that he’d kill himself if I broke up with him;
- a porn addict who fled to his mother’s arms anytime I confronted him and, after nearly three years of living together, moved to Columbus while I was at work one day, leaving me with rent and utilities I couldn’t afford on my own;
- a player who took another woman to a work-related dinner-dance because he couldn’t take his secretary — i.e., me — and deliberately blindsided me with lipstick-stained wine glasses on his kitchen counter; and
- a lawyer who looked at me like no man has ever looked at me but told me he couldn’t date me as long as we worked together and waited until the last day of my two weeks’ notice to tell me he was moving to Chicago.
Three weeks before my 25th birthday, upon the invitation to a Depeche Mode concert, I resigned myself to playing mama bird to a guy who’d called me “the gold” since we met six years earlier. From a male teacher who’d molested him to a woman who’d conned him into marriage by telling him she was pregnant with his child to a genetic test that showed the baby hadn’t gotten a disease that runs in his family because she wasn’t even his, he’d been through a lot. And now that he was caring for his father, who was dying from that disease in a first-floor room of the house he still shared with his mom and a brother at age 34, I figured he could use someone taking care of him for a change.
It wasn’t until he became unreachable on his birthday July 7 that I learned he was bipolar and schizophrenic, had a tendency to check himself into a psych ward when he got stressed out, and took nine meds, including lithium.
A week before Thanksgiving, he stopped taking all nine at once, began trembling, refused to go home and take them, and, after several hours of public and private drama and tears, asked me why I couldn’t have loved him before he got this bad.
Those words would wake me up each morning for years.
When he told me that my face was melting and he could see bone, I stood up from his lap, extended my hand, and asked for the set of keys I’d given him to my apartment.
He asked for a hug. He was 6’5″ and built like a linebacker, so I refused, afraid of what he might do to me since my mom had been giving me newspaper articles about schizophrenics. One guy had kidnapped a local woman and driven her to Texas, where police found her esophagus in his shirt pocket.
The second he left, I called his mom. Then, I faxed his social worker from the library.
I emailed him a few times over the next few days, but he eventually cut me off, saying it was too hard to keep in touch. Twelve years later, he would resurface like no time had passed and tell me his grandfather had died and left him a house where he’d planted me a tulip garden, knowing those were my favorite flowers.
The summer after his meltdown, I tried dating a newly separated patent attorney I’d worked with years earlier, but he’d turned into a 37-year-old hypochondriac who thought a three-month stint in Japan had given him mad cow disease. It became impossible not to make jokes like, “Got milk?” or to feel like I was just a placeholder between his wife and a waitress he had a crush on but playing Mario Kart and watching WWE with him distracted me from thinking about my ex and my mom.
By then, after 15 years of abuse, she’d fled from my father and moved into a coworker’s loft with my brother, but she’d become so accustomed to fighting all the time that she created rifts with me, totally disregarding the fact I’d devoted my adulthood to worrying about her and staying in Cleveland in case she needed me.
December 2, 2002, at age 27, my gynecologist said I needed to have surgery as soon as possible to remove cervical cells that looked cancerous. Stunned, I took the pamphlets she handed me but didn’t hear a word she said.
As I drove to work, I broke down crying and couldn’t stop. Something told me I wasn’t going to be able to stop, so I drove to Lutheran Hospital and went to my primary physician’s office. Two years earlier, he’d prescribed Zoloft after I’d stupidly gotten back together with the porn addict, endured another year of BS, and sobbed so hard the day he broke things off by phone to pursue someone else that it scared a friend/coworker into telling HR we had to leave so she could take me to her shrink, who diagnosed me with PTSD and said I’d probably had it since childhood.
I figured my doctor would prescribe another antidepressant and send me on my way, but he asked whether I had a family history of suicide and whether I’d ever considered killing myself, and a “yes” to both prompted him to walk me down to the emergency room where a nurse asked me to point to the emoji I felt like most as I continued to cry.
About an hour after I took a urine test, changed into a hospital gown, sat at the foot of my gurney to get away from the wind whipping through the brick wall behind me, and downed three Ativan pills, a woman maybe 10 feet away began crying hysterically. As my tears shut off and my brain fogged up, her husband arrived, a priest walked in to read the patient his last rites, and the guy flatlined. I stared at the curtain someone had yanked shut, unable to believe any of this was happening.
Eight hours later, at 6 p.m., a woman told me that I had two options: sign a form to admit myself to the psych ward overnight or the hospital would have me committed for three days. I signed the form and called my mom to tell her what happened, beginning with the cancer conversation. She cried and apologized, blaming herself, while I uncovered and quickly re-covered a foul-smelling slab of meat the cafeteria had delivered.
“I can’t do this right now,” I told her.
After hanging up and wolfing down the brownie that had accompanied the Salisbury steak, I called the 37-year-old hypochondriac to let him know I wouldn’t be able to hang out because I was in the hospital.
“Okay, well, call me when you get out,” he said.
I never called him again.
Thanks to the Ativan, I fell asleep by 7 p.m. but woke up briefly in the middle of the night when orderlies brought an obese black woman into my room and strapped her to a bed because she clearly hadn’t signed herself in voluntarily.
Like Robin Williams shouting, “Gooooood morning, Vietnam,” a speaker above my headboard woke me up the next morning when someone ordered everyone to line up in the hall for a blood-pressure test.
Pancakes and pills came next. We filed into a glass-enclosed conference room for breakfast and back-to-back episodes of “Behind the Music.” I wouldn’t become a Christian for another 12 years, but I couldn’t help but think, “Very funny, God,” as VH1 played episodes about Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, who’d suffered her own breakdown a year earlier.
“What happens now?” I eventually asked a guy who’d burned down his house and reminded me of the 50-year-old guy I’d played wingman for in gay bars when I was 19.
“We pretty much watch TV all day,” he said. “If you smoke, they let you go out for smoke breaks.”
As we talked, the biggest, broadest white guy I’ve ever seen watched us from a couch before interrupting with, “Hey, Miranda. If I was president, I’d let women castrate men who raped them,” for no reason at all.
During art therapy, he went on a tirade about how stupid art therapy is and had to be restrained by several people. The old guy I’d talked to all day made me a coin purse and put a pink heart-shaped mosaic tile inside of it.
“You don’t belong here,” he said.
The doctor who discharged me basically said the same thing but for a different reason — like my father, he thought I was on drugs because my pee tested positive for amphetamines from the diet pills I’d taken to combat my binge eating disorder since a coworker introduced me to Mini Thins eight years earlier.
I didn’t care. I got to go home, unlike everyone else I’d encountered that day. Armed with a Celexa prescription that would incapacitate me to the point I’d have to take a two-week leave of absence from work, I went home thinking, “This will never happen again.”
It didn’t. But I did buy three boxes of sleeping pills on my way home from the player’s house Christmas morning. After shopping, laughing over pizza as we had the first night we’d spent together, and listening to him read the book “Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd” aloud all night, it seemed like a nice note to go out on.
I didn’t take them for three reasons:
- The blue-green pills reminded me that I hadn’t seen the Caribbean yet;
- I was afraid of what would happen to my mom if I weren’t around; and
- Three years after we’d started our on-off relationship-turned-friendship, I still held out hope that the player would reflect on the fun we always had together and stop philandering.
Four months later, a former coworker mentioned his impending move to Tokyo via email.
“What?” I asked.
“He didn’t tell you?” he replied.
I spent the rest of the afternoon crying in my cubicle. When an attorney I’d been exchanging life histories and song lyrics with via email for months saw my face, he cajoled me into going out for drinks after work to cheer me up … and date rape me.
And this is how desperate I was to be loved: I continued to converse with him via email at work, went on a date with him, and had sex with him. When he left at 4 a.m., saying he needed to get home to walk his hound dog, I wrote a one-page story about him, applied to college, and swore off men — and antidepressants.
My first day on campus, I started dating an Italian/Egyptian guy who’d grown up in Dubai and offered to tutor me in math after he graded my proficiency test and teased me for testing out of English 101 but bombing basic algebra. We never touched a book. But he did get me over my post-9/11 anger at Muslims. He was the kindest, most chivalrous guy I’d ever met and, unlike the guy who hadn’t shown one ounce of concern when I was in the hospital, dropped everything he was doing at school downtown to pick me up from a mechanic in Westlake when my convertible broke down.
Unfortunately, like his predecessors, there was a problem. He never spent the night at my place and never invited me to his, causing me to wonder whether he was married. After finals that semester, I questioned him, got vague answers, and ended the relationship.
I also submitted the story I’d written about the date rapist to a journal in Hawaii that Writer’s Digest had listed in its top 30 short story markets. September 7, 2004, as a professor told one of my writing classes that we’d get a lot of rejection letters before we ever got published, the editor emailed me to say she was publishing it that winter.
Overjoyed, I swore off men again to focus on school and my writing career but kept running into a coworker four floors above mine day after day. I could go months without seeing someone on the opposite end of my own floor, but no matter what time we arrived in the morning or what time we left for the day, we wound up in the same elevator.
“Okay, God. What do you want me to learn this time?” I asked.
As the guy and I got to know each other via email, I learned he was a Libra.
The hypochondriac who’d thought he had mad cow disease was a Libra.
The guy who’d date raped me was a Libra.
And the probably married guy from Dubai was a Libra.
“I can’t date another Libra,” I told him.
He sent back: *kicks computer,* which made me laugh and date him anyway because I needed to laugh more. But over the next year and three-quarters, I spent more time depressed than laughing as our relationship rehashed everything I’d gone through with the porn addict/mama’s boy. This time, the porn addict/mama’s boy smoked weed, spent holidays with his parents, and traveled with his mom to Amsterdam, where he may or may not have had sex with a hooker.
After breaking up with him dozens of times, I became single again at age 31 when he dumped me via email because he couldn’t deal with “all the bad things that seem to plague” me. In fairness, I’ve always said that if it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck — for example, I got laid off along with 40 other people while he and I were in the Bahamas, but he came home to a job — but he meant my family. My mom and brother had moved out of the loft and into their own place, but my brother broke his hip and then fell in the hospital bathroom, bending the rod in his leg, making it inches shorter than the other. If that weren’t bad enough, home healthcare aides kept screwing up his catheter, causing pain. When we visited my mom and brother at the hospital, she told my boyfriend, “When he goes, I go,” meaning she’d kill herself when my brother died. Then she began telling me that my father was giving him too many shots and refusing to let him use his wheelchair during their weekends together. Then she had to put her 14-year-old dog to sleep. It was always something. But my now-ex didn’t have room to talk. His drug-addict brother had broken into his parents’ house, totaled a car, and gone to prison.
“This is what I get for dating someone five years younger than me,” I thought, Xing out of the email.
Eight months later, I began dating someone 18 years older than me, hoping he’d be more mature than all the other men I’d dated who were nine, seven, and four years older than me. He was also another “What do you want me to learn this time, God?” thing. That morning, I’d stopped in my boss’s doorway to say “good morning,” and she’d complained about the guy she was dating.
“Men are only good for carrying your groceries up three flights of stairs,” I’d said, having lived on the third floor of my apartment building for six years.
After work, I went to the grocery store, bought 30 boxes of Lean Cuisine fettuccine alfredo because it was on sale for 5 boxes for $10, and drove home. As I opened my trunk to drape half a dozen blue plastic bags over my wrists, the 50-year-old appeared and asked if I needed help.
We’d met three months earlier when a pre-Valentine’s Day blizzard forced me to park next to his front stoop because every other spot was taken. February 15, as I shoveled three feet of snow away from my tires with an ice scraper, he’d grabbed his own and helped. I hadn’t seen him since, but he’d been watching a “Frazier” episode with a character named Miranda when he saw me pull in, so he ran downstairs.
Instead of helping me haul groceries up to my apartment, he walked my dog with me and dropped two red flags. First, he spent a great deal of time talking about his boss’s blonde, twenty-something-year-old (or so he thought) wife. Second, he told me his daughters, who lived with his ex-wife, weren’t as interested in spending time with him now that they were teenagers, and the older one, a 19-year-old Libra, stopped speaking to him anytime she didn’t get her way. The fact that I hadn’t spoken to my father since the day I moved out 11 years earlier lorded over our relationship because he didn’t want to suffer the same fate. For the next seven years, his fear and her manipulation fed each other, creating the sickest relationship I had ever been involved in — literally. My cervical dysplasia came back, I developed lumps in both breasts, and then I woke up to a forehead tumor that sent me running to God for help.
For the next four years, God took everything — a cat, my car, my gym membership, and my ability to travel, which I’d been doing solo since 2011. July 15, 2018, on my father’s birthday and the 11th anniversary of my mom’s death, I became homeless, and God sent me running to my father for help. This year, I gave him the following card:
… because, by that point, it was true.