It’s not where I thought I’d be at the age of 30, renting a trailer in a “mobile home community” in the plains of the Mississippi Delta, waiting tables on the graveyard shift at an all-night diner.
But here I am, and actually, it’s not that bad.
Our trailer is spacious, clean, and there’s not an inch of paneling to be seen. The community is gated, with a big open field where we can walk the dog, maintenance staff that keep the lawns in nice shape, mostly-quiet neighbors, and beautiful views of the Delta. I finally have a walk-in closet, my boyfriend and I each have our own bathroom for the first time, and unlike our last place, there’s a bathtub big enough to actually bathe in.
But best of all, it’s mine, and it took a long time to get here.
I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a place I love more in memory than I did when I lived there. I always dreamed of moving away to a big city –- New York, or Chicago, or somewhere overseas. After high school, I got a scholarship to a private Christian college a few hours from home. I made a few friends, but often felt uncomfortable because I didn’t share their values. Instead of socializing, I spent the first three years of college mostly immersed in an online world of fantasy.
Finally, at the end of my junior year, I made a few friendships that looked promising. spent the summer break going out and partying with friends from home, and surrounded by the bar lights and fueled by the mostly false self-confidence of alcohol, I finally started to come out of my shell. I returned to school that fall with a promise that I would participate fully –- no more turning down invitations just to hide in my dorm on a laptop.
I never imagined what would happen next. Hurricane Katrina decimated my hometown. It took days for me to hear from some of my family members. Even several hours from shore, the storm knocked out power to my school for weeks. Although I’d always wanted to leave, the loss of my safety net was devastating. Depression turned into drinking, and I barely passed the semester, getting a bare-minimum D in the senior seminar required for an English degree.
Over Christmas break, I moved into a friend-of-a-friend’s apartment, where I secluded myself in my bedroom as if I still lived in a dorm. Soon drinking turned into drugs. I failed all of my classes that spring, and lost my scholarships. I wasn’t going to graduate.
Around that time, I met my now-boyfriend Eric. I found in him a kindred spirit, and he moved in with me after only six weeks. We partied, fought, and made up with equal abandon. Soon we moved in with a friend of Eric’s in Memphis – but a month after moving in, she and her boyfriend moved out. We stayed, saddled by rent we could barely afford, until the lease was up. We had a revolving door of roommates who partied as hard as we did, and the under-furnished Memphis house never felt like home. Eric’s job required him to work out of town for weeks at a time -- and I traveled with him –- so our house usually was just another temporary stop between locations.
After the lease was finally up, we moved to north Mississippi to live with Eric’s parents “until we got on our feet.” We stayed there for six years.
Although I will forever be grateful that they gave us a place to live, I never felt at home there either -- even after his parents moved into their RV to travel for work. The first few years there were the hardest. An injury at work left Eric with a dependence on prescription pain pills and he was unable to hold down a job.
There was no magic moment when things suddenly got better; instead, it was a long series of realizations and choices about wanting to have a different life. I worked for years in a part-time, minimum-wage retail job. Eventually I went back to school, taking online courses until I finished my English degree -– from the same school I’d attended originally. Eric battled his demons and finally landed a good job as the head of network security for a company in Memphis. I left my retail job for a marginally better full-time job waiting tables, with a little freelance writing on the side. We got a dog, then a few cats, and spent most of our evenings hanging out at home with each other.
Things were looking up, but the struggles had taken a toll on our relationship, and both of us were dreaming of a fresh start. We began to discuss moving out –- and then Eric’s parents found a buyer for the property where we lived.
We found ourselves scrambling to find a new home. Years of bad credit -– plus our pets –- ruled out most local apartments, and rental housing in the area was surprisingly expensive. Finally, just a few days before we had to be out, I remembered hearing about a nearby trailer park. We called, and the manager told us that she had a nice two-bedroom, two-bath trailer that was well within our budget.
We moved in on a snowy day in February, and I was surprised by how new and clean the trailer was -– and by how quickly I began to feel at home in our new surroundings.
I still dream that we’ll move away some day, to a place without a past and with more opportunities. And life is definitely not perfect -– as it turns out, there’s kind of a steep learning curve to responsibility. But it’s good more days than it isn’t.
One of the most unexpected perks of our new place has come from our cat Mia. In our old house, Mia was always anti-social. She rarely came into the common areas of the house and avoided interactions with the other animals. She had a skin condition from nervous over-grooming, and she tended to pick a spot she felt was safe and hang out there for days or even weeks.
I expected her to be a nervous wreck adjusting to a new home. But almost as soon as I brought her into the new trailer, Mia ran into the center of the living room and threw herself down onto the carpet, rolling around on her back. She swiped playfully at our other cat Bacon anytime he got close and roamed confidently from room to room.
Since then, Mia has blossomed into a confident, happy cat. She regularly perches on the arm of my chair for a nap. There is no trace of her old skin condition (although flea season is coming up, so I am a little nervous about that). She has even allowed herself to be seen by company -– something so rare at our old house that I used to joke that Mia stood for “My Imaginary Animal.” As I write this, she’s racing around the living room taunting the dog, diving under a blanket on the floor and attacking invisible bugs.
I’m not sure what has made her decide that this is a good place to be safe and happy.
All I know is that I feel the same way.