The Yearbook Office
Writings on staying alive
 

“I don’t understand this,” I spoke firmly into the phone. “My new debit card came in the mail and it’s not Betty Boop.”

“Excuse me?” the bank customer service representative asked.

“Betty Boop. Betty Boop was on my card before I had to replace it. She’s been everywhere with me. I want another one like the one I had,” I explained.

“Well, I apologize. We no longer offer Betty Boop cards. You can choose another from our site and we can change it for you,” she said.

“But I want Betty Boop,” I whispered and then paused, realizing how silly I must seem.

Even though I must have seemed silly, my heart was actually mourning, mourning my Betty Boop debit card. I shook my head and sank back onto my bed as I realized that I had become emotionally attached to a piece of plastic.

Before I received a notice that someone three states away had been using my debit card number and I was instructed to cancel my card, my Betty Boop and I had gone through so much together. She and I met when I was in the middle of graduate school, clinging to some semblance of hope for my future. Five years later, I am now a different person than I was when I first held her in my hand. I was hoping to some day look down at her and smile, knowing that she represented fruitfulness and prosperity.

That day has yet to come and now she’ll never see it because she’s gone.

I knew her credit card numbers by heart. The security code was scratched off by so much wear and tear and I never signed the back of the card, opting instead to write in “See ID”. Ha! I thought I was so clever. Whenever I pulled her out of my wallet, whoever happened to glance over would smile at her and me. She was a true indication of my wacky nature. When I held Betty Boop, I was her.

But Betty Boop was gone. She is gone. What am I supposed to do with this new, boring, ugly card? This new card doesn’t represent me. It doesn’t let the world know that I am secretly sexy and sassy and cute. What am I now? According to this new card, I’m just some blank faced carbon copy of everyone else. But that’s not me. That’s never been me.

But who am I? You can’t really tell by looking at me but you could probably tell what was important to me by the purchases I make and the habits I indulge in. In that sense, am I merely a record of my transactions on a bank statement, their appearance guided by that red and white card with a picture of Betty Boop on it, whose life has become intrinsically intertwined with mine?

SWIPE — August 2008- North Miami, Florida — $22.99 — Black pants

I just moved out of the most disgusting motel in Miami and into a house with roommates. After working at Denny’s as a waitress for a month and the welcome sight of my student loan check, I could finally afford a pair of new work pants. My days off were Thursday and Friday and I picked up my two sons from their father’s house to spend the night with me on those days. Their dad had just sued me for child support, graduate school was demanding so much of my attention, and I was barely eking by on my tips as a waitress, but I managed to make it through. The beautiful part about those black pants was the fact that they were a size 6. I would pull them up, bend low to stretch’em out straight from the dryer and waltz into Denny’s at least a half hour early because, honestly, in the midst of so much chaos, one of my childhood dreams had finally come true.

Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamt of becoming a waitress. I would have my little brother and sister sit down at the play table and I would serve them bologna and cheese sandwiches and little glasses filled with red Kool-aid, adding a little extra water to make it look like wine. I would tell them to drink it slowly with their pinkies up because they were enjoying the refreshing taste of my special concoction, ‘Pierre De Grande’. It delighted me to bring the food to the table, smile and offer a little bow before walking away.

Many years later, I’m a grown up and I can’t believe that I get to earn money doing what I considered to be play. I worked the graveyard shift at Denny’s in North Miami so the people coming over at 2 a.m. after the club and popping up after the Literary Café poetry night down the street ended made my night. I made sure that everyone was well taken care of, wiping up vomit from drunk customers, singing songs with late night lovers and using my wisdom to counsel lonely hearts looking to drown their sorrows in milkshakes. I did that every night with pride and I loved every minute of it. This was the beginning of my career as a waitress and the first and only job I’ve ever held where I never, ever complained about going in to work, feeling beautiful and lucky to be a waitress in my cute black pants.

SWIPE — June 2011 — Pompano, FL — $5.99 — Pack of Newport Cigarettes

As I swiped Betty Boop through the card machine and input my pin number, my mind was spinning from the events from the night before. Did that really happen? Did I just get out of jail?

Strangely, collecting my belongings and walking out of the Broward County jail, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had been where I had never thought I would have gone before, spending nearly 48 hours locked up after reporting being raped. It wasn’t the incident that caused me to be arrested, it was actually a few traffic tickets that had gone unpaid and uncontested and I had no clue that there was a warrant out for my arrest. So when I went through the ordeal of having a man ignore my request to stop his sexual advances and then decided to report the incident, instead of being sent home so that I could deal with what had happened to me, handcuffs were placed on my wrists and I was sent directly to jail.

I blamed myself. I was in the middle of what I thought would be a defining project for my career. During a dramatic turn of events, I had lost both of my jobs, my car and ended up having to drop out of graduate school just as I was about to finish. I had to think quickly so that I wouldn’t succumb to the despair that loss brings. I decided to turn my tragedy into something useful and I created a project that explored what it was like to face extreme failure head on. Instead of trying to hold onto what I had by any means necessary, I decided to let go. I gave away everything that I owned and became homeless on purpose during what I called The Rebuild Your Life Project — a web series I filmed documenting my journey into and out of homelessness.

I had no idea I would spend four months in the most notorious homeless shelter in South Florida, completely fail at trying to get businesses to participate in a job fair for the homeless and end up seeking solace in the home of a stranger who forced himself upon me, landing me in jail instead of him.

That crisp summer morning, I remember that first cigarette felt so good in between my lips as I thought about the experience from the night before. Surprisingly, jail wasn’t so bad. It sure beat sleeping at the homeless shelter. I puffed away, Betty Boop tucked into my purse, wondering what else life could possibly have in store for me.

August 2014 — Santa Monica, California — $14.87 — Ice cream at Santa Monica Pier

I did it again. I must be Superwoman. I’m actually standing on the Santa Monica pier handing ice cream cones to my two sons. They flew in to Los Angeles from Florida to visit me for a week and I am so proud that I could actually afford to bring them here.

I had moved to Los Angeles two years before all by myself, armed with the survival skills I learned over the years and a bit of blind faith that I could overcome any obstacle. And I had. I moved to Los Angeles with less than $200 and no friends or family here. I survived by becoming a waitress and living in shared housing with strangers all across Los Angeles County. I broke my foot, halting my career as a waitress and I bounced back, as I usually do, by shifting my focus and trying something new.

It worked. At least for the moment my world was perfect as I joked with my sons, who are now taller than I am. We walked along the shore in Santa Monica and I encouraged them to dip their toes in.

“You’ve come a long way,” I reminded them as I thought about how far I had come and how grateful I was to show them a different part of the country. “This is the Pacific Ocean. There’s another world out there.”

That wound up being Betty Boop’s final trip to the beach.

She stood by me through my high hopes and my lowest moments. She carried my secrets, dashing with me to the drugstore to buy a morning-after pill and stopping off at Staples to pick up my first marketing materials for my new business. She’s gone now. It’s the end of an era. Maybe it’s an omen.

I’ve been fighting my way through life with her by my side for many years. It’s time to lay her to rest.