Rusk promised a great career in visual merchandising and an amazing paycheck with fabulous benefits. Even though my probationary salary was barely above minimum wage, I was fueled by their beautiful promises. I quit Nordstrom and jumped at the chance. I really thought everything would change.
And it did. For the worst. Now…now I’m hurrying past the people on Sutter Street on the verge of a panic attack. Every person’s face is a blank blur and my vision occasionally clouds over as tears swarm my eyes, hot and potent. They never fall, though. That has to mean something. That I’m a trooper. That I will get past this.
I will find another job. I will find another chance.
Sometimes I feel life is just one episode after another of trying to find another way. I wonder what happens when you discover there is no other way this time.
I make my way down Leavenworth as the streets become a little less clean and the people a little less friendly. Or too friendly, depending on how you look at it. The same man with his toothless smile asks me for change outside a liquor store, but today I don’t spare him a cent. I just keep my head down and brush through the riff raff of the neighborhood, a place I’ve resented ever since it became my only option in this high-priced city until I’m unlocking the door into the lobby of the apartment building.
Pausing, I stare at the door just as I’m about to close it behind me. The door is glass and there are long vertical bars on the windows, indicative of the neighborhood. I remember when Phil moved out and I lost my job at the online retailer, how I could no longer afford to live in Noe Valley, a gorgeous neighborhood next to the Castro. That apartment was everything to me but there was no way I could afford to live there on my own while supporting Ava. The two of us bounced from apartment to apartment, the standards of living slipping each time, until I found myself staring up at the bruised façade of this building, both hoping I could get an apartment and promising myself I’d move us out of there the first chance I got.
It looked like that chance wasn’t going to happen for quite some time.
I sigh, my heart a stone in my chest, and make my way up to the second floor. My mom usually babysits during the day on Thursdays and Fridays and I pay Lisa, my usual sitter, to watch Ava the rest of the time. I’ve been trying to get her into some affordable daycare but that shit is hard to come by in the city. The waiting lists are epic and you really have to be wary of where you put your kid. Before I had Ava, I had no idea how difficult it could be to keep your child secure and safe. I thought daycare and babysitters and education and healthcare would be easy, maybe because I had it easy growing up (or maybe as a child, you just don’t pay attention to those things). But now I know better.
No one is looking out for you or your child but you.
I slip my keys in the door and quietly open it just in case Ava is down for a nap. The apartment is a one-bedroom but only about 550 square feet. I made it as beautiful as possible, though, and in my opinion it looks just as good as my fancier place in Noe Valley did. To be honest, it’s pretty much an Anthropologie showroom. I couldn’t afford to shop there anymore so I held onto my old stuff like it was gold, gluing back coffee cups if the handles fell off or sewing curtains back together if Ava tugged on them too hard (which has happened more than once).
Ava and Lisa are playing with dolls on the shag carpet and the moment I step in, Ava smiles that big, gorgeous bright smile of hers and gets up, running over to me. She wraps her arms around my leg and before I can even shut the door behind me, I crouch down to her level and envelope her in a giant hug. Just being around my daughter elevates my mood and increases my heart rate. It makes things both hard and easy at the same time, something I have a hard time figuring out myself. I think sometimes when you love something too much, you’re that much more aware of how much you have to lose. Holding my little girl in my arms brings me peace but makes me realize that I’m going to have to do everything in my power to make sure she’s okay in the end.