Chapter 1 – Before Everything That Came After

My name is Elle.  That’s all I know for sure.  I’m retracing my steps to see how I came to be living in Oklahoma, married to the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in real life, and raising two little girls at home.  I’m not sure I know how it all happened.  You see, I had planned to be a gypsy, trotting the globe, working at little ma and pop bakeries, or giving tours to English-speakers just enough to save the money to trot off somewhere new:  Paris, Bangkok, Vienna, Buenos Aires, everywhere.  Things didn’t go down as I planned.  Somewhere, I took a detour.

I’ll start at my point of origin.  I had just graduated high school in a lovely little beach town north of San Diego.  I was working three part-time jobs:  one at a clothing store in the mall, another as a grocery store bagger, and another doing my own house-keeping business, saving money to do something big (though I had NO idea what).  In the meantime, as my bank account grew, I was fortunate enough to be living in a continental paradise, something I took FULL advantage of.

Most of my family was in Texas, but my parents and I had moved to California when I was six.  We had lived in smog-laden San Bernardino County until one fateful job opportunity for my parents took us to the coast when I was twelve.  It was the first time since we’d left Texas that I felt home.  As soon as I had gotten my own car, I spent the hours between school and my parents coming home, driving Coast Highway with friends (or alone), sipping coffee in other beach villages, tasting my first squid on Coronado Island or driving to the local mountains for some fresh apple-boysenberry pie.  Sometimes, I’d just buy a box of Lemonheads at 7-11 and sit on the sea wall by myself and imagine the vastness of the globe.  I had everything I wanted at seventeen.  And I had no idea what to do next.

The summer after graduation, my parents separated, and seeing me clearly directionless, my mom told me that I needed to either enroll in community college in the fall or start paying rent.  I opted for school.  But as soon as I arrived on campus to enroll, my stomach lurched and everything in me began to feel sick.  I knew something was telling me that this was the wrong choice.  Rent it was!  In October, my church began a 40-day fast, and I decided to give it a shot and eliminate meats, sweets and lunch for 40 days.  Working at a grocery store during this time was absolute torture, but I was determined.  During that time, I began to get the distinct impression that I was to move back to Texas, move in with my sister and her family beginning in January and stay for five months.  Looking back, that “impression” was pretty darn specific.

So after hugging my mom and kissing my best-friend-recently-turned-boyfriend goodbye, and purchasing a $400 cell phone in the early days of cell phones just so I could talk to him, and one Greyhound bus ride later, I was back where I started:  Deep in the heart of Texas.

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Chapter 2 – A Most Bizarre Transition

I’m still dumbfounded by my “adventure” in Texas.  It seems like someone cut out someone else’s life and pasted it back into the middle of mine.  First of all, I hadn’t lived in Texas since I was little, and where my sister lived wasn’t anywhere close to that even.  They lived in a dreadful sounding place called “Saginaw”.  There was nothing for me there, at least, that I knew of.  Even though I was very familiar with Texas, actually living there again was culture shock:  no beach, no coffee houses, no city-life or even a village-square.  I was on my $400 cell phone every night, not just to talk to my boyfriend, but to feel connected to home and everything that I understood.

Besides the discomfort of feeling drastically out of place, my brother-in-law was an ass.  I was extremely tentative about moving in with my sister and her three kids, but it was entirely because of my then-brother-in-law.  For one, he was a racist with some pretty wild theories.  I will say nothing more on the subject.  Second of all, he had a scary temper that made the entire home feel like it was oppressed by the constant threat of a hurricane.  The floor of their home was made up of eggshells that were not to be crunched without severe repercussions.  Third, he persistently joked around at the entire family’s expense:  some were fat, some were stupid, some were fat and stupid, some were the secondary class “Woman”, and some (me) were just like Juanita (my mom; apparently a horrible insult in his opinion.)  Normally, mentioning him wouldn’t be worth my time, but I suppose I have to credit him for being a link in the chain of everything that ensued.

After two weeks at my sister’s, I woke up to the classifieds section of the newspaper lying on my face with several apartments highlighted.  Subtle, he was not.  I had just gotten a job at a large ministry on the grave-yard shift janitor crew and there was NO WAY I was ready to afford my own apartment, especially since I still didn’t even know what I was doing in that town.  It’s one thing to leave your life behind, move in temporarily with someone you know and try to figure things out.  It’s entirely different to sign a lease when you have no idea if you plan to stay or what you’ll be doing in the months ahead.  You don’t move 1,500 miles away from home to be a janitor (I have great respect for the field, but it’s just not one that requires a lot of major relocation).  But I took the hint and packed my bags.  I wasn’t going to deal with him and I wasn’t about to stay where I wasn’t wanted.  I was gone before anyone got home.  My plan?  To sleep on one of the couches of the many offices I cleaned.  It wasn’t a great plan, but I was starting to wonder if the whole move-to-Texas-thing was all that great of a plan itself.  What was sleeping on an office couch by this point?

Fortunately, I didn’t have to do that.  The janitorial crew gathered for the nightly assignments and quick prayer (it was a ministry after all, and even janitors can be ministers, right?).  I asked them to pray about my living situation and briefly filled them in on my dilemma.  I think I even told them I was planning on sleeping at work.  One quiet girl a few years older than me found me later that evening.  Her name was Debra and I barely knew her, but she said I could come and stay with her until I got on my feet, so long as I was okay with living with an infant.  I figured living with an infant would be a step up in maturity of my previous roommate, so I accepted.  I don’t know where Debra is today, but if you ever read this, THANKYOU!  You will just never know…

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Chapter 3 – The Simple Life

I knew nothing about Debra when I got in her car that night.  I found out that the car had been given to her for free.  I found out that it didn’t have enough gas to get home and neither of us had any money.  I found out that if you’re driving in the middle of nowhere at 2 a.m. and you pray hard enough, angels will push you to the closest open gas station, and a friend will just happen to pull up behind you and fill up your tank.  I found out that she’d been an exotic dancer during a tumultuous time in her life, that she’d had a baby by her best friend (whom she was still quietly in love with), and that she became a Christian after her daughter was born (who was now a year and a half).  I also found out that if you’re a struggling, working mom, and you trust God with everything, it’s amazing how He will provide.

Once I paid Debra rent and put some money in my savings account, there was nothing left; no grocery money, no gas money, nothing.  After eating the last refried bean sandwich, we were out of food and had to choose between buying the gas to get to work, or buying groceries.  We went to work.  When we got there, a banquet was wrapping up and there were trays and trays of unopened veggies, croissant sandwiches, fruit and cheese.  We refused to look beggarly, but when the hostesses asked us if we wanted to take it all home, we crammed as many trays as would fit in the trunk of the car.  We laughed and praised God all the way home and we feasted for a good couple of weeks.

The entire time I stayed at Debra’s was like that; a sweet simplicity of living, of trusting God for everything, and learning what is truly necessary in life.  I liked it there, it was peaceful, and though we didn’t ever really become friends (she had a very reserved personality), I think we quietly enjoyed each other’s company.  But I told her that I’d only put her out temporarily, and my inter-office ad for a place to rent yielded an offer from another family.  So, after a few weeks at Debra’s, I was moving into yet another place, and another entirely bizarre situation that had a purpose all its own.

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Chapter 4 – It Only Gets WeIrDeR

“You’re going to be just like family, so make yourself at home,” the mom said.  That’s a line that you can almost always be sure is going to turn out to be a big, fat lie.  I had my own room, for which I paid rent, I had my cell phone, but the home phone bill was constantly scoured for my portion, I had my own shelf of groceries in the fridge, and yet paying my own way did not offer me the privacy and independence of a paying boarder.  My clothes were borrowed without permission, my cell phone used, and I was expected to “keep an eye” on the girls.  The mom worked in the accounting department at the ministry where I cleaned and had two teenage daughters who were home-schooled, and they lived in a mobile home park not far from my sister.  So as the mom worked all day, and I was home all day and worked late at night, her daughters were at home all day (with me) supposedly “home-schooling”.  In fact, they were sneaking my clothes and wearing them to go wrestle in the grass with the delinquent neighbor boys.  I was the one who had to fetch them away from their hormonal frenzies in the boy’s bedrooms when their mom called to check in.  In fact, I was the only one studying in that household.

I had decided to take my SAT’s.  I didn’t know what I’d do or where I’d go to school, but I at least wanted to know what my SAT score could do for me.  I spent my days teaching myself the algebra I never learned how to do in school, and taking reading comprehension quizzes in a test prep book.  I studied during work breaks and during my carpool ride, and for the first time since grade school, I found myself enjoying academia again.  But algebra remained a struggle and I had no one to help me.  Taking what I’d learned from Debra, I asked God for help with my math.  I remember the problem I was working on and how nothing seemed to click.  I’d been over it and over it on paper and couldn’t make sense of anything.  Finally, I prayed and asked God to help me (Him being pretty brilliant in math and all).  When my eyes returned to the problem, I immediately knew the answer and why “z” equaled “0”.  My practice quizzes immediately began to improve.  Go figure (pun intended).

In the meantime, my landlady decided to take her girls to an ORU College Weekend, and if I wanted to pay the $25, I could go with them.  Even though the idea of traveling with this dysfunctional family of girls for four hours up to Tulsa and back didn’t thrill me, neither did staying in an out of the way trailer park with no transportation all weekend.  I decided to go.

I had never really heard of ORU and had no expectations of the weekend, but somewhere between the sumo-suit wrestling matches I consistently won, the cafeteria pizza, and the physics class I didn’t understand, I knew that was where I was supposed to be and that everything I’d been through in the last several months had led up to this.  I was also able to get some distance from my boy-crazed companions and meet some girls, who like me, were interested in everything else going on in the world besides just guys.

The place just made sense to me, with the exception of their tuition costs.  I didn’t know how in the world I’d pay for school.  I’d almost completely blown off trying in high school, so no chance of scholarship there.  My mom was still in California, just paying her own bills.  My dad was in Washington State and I hadn’t spoken to him in about a year.  I was on my own, but I knew that if that was where I was supposed to be, it would happen.  I applied and took the SAT’s as soon as I got home.

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Chapter 5 – Irony

When we got back to Texas, I called my mom and told her all about the school and that I really wanted to go there.  She said, “It’s funny that you should mention that because..…I was talking with my good friend, Betty, who lives there, and I’ve already decided to move there too!”  Hmm, coincidence?  She then reminded me of a Mrs. Eads who had told me a few years ago that she thought I should look into ORU because she saw me going there.  I had blown her off the moment “Tulsa, Oklahoma” rolled off her tongue.  Now things weren’t starting to sound so coincidental.

“There’s something else I should tell you,” my mom said. “Your dad was driving from Washington to Florida to look for work when he got caught in some tornado weather.  He’s been staying at Roger and Betty’s.  He’s in Tulsa.”  Now that’s definitely not coincidence – that’s irony.  I hadn’t spoken to my dad in almost a year, I didn’t even have his phone number, and now we were going to be living in the same town, my mom included?

So…a family reunion, eh?  This, of course, didn’t mean much to me at the time, being absorbed with my own newfound independence.  But I’d come to appreciate it later.

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