This article is part of a special collaboration between Michigan in Color and Groundcover News. Read the rest of the joint issue here.
I don’t wish I had never been homeless. How else would I have discovered my impeccable Scottish accent? Or how to make cheese and off-brand Ritz crackers feel gourmet? Or that the back door in the local library never got locked so you could sneak in to use Wi-Fi even in the dead of winter?
That being said, waking up the morning of your 16th birthday to put on a wrinkled, hand-washed AP Environmental Science t-shirt you got for free is not ideal. Neither is the cold.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is why I have such a good Scottish accent, by the way. I snuck back to my house (not my house) after school one day and squatted in the backyard with the clunky old laptop I had borrowed from an uncle. I connected to the Wi-Fi and held the Dell out of the snow for the 23 minutes and 16 seconds it took to download the movie. That night, I told my younger siblings, “Now we have a movie we can watch without the internet, how fun!*”
In “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” the squid-faced pirate (Davy Jones, apparently) spoke in a Scottish accent. I brazenly mimicked that same inflection to make my family laugh. Every time we’d watch the scene with the hordes of crabs running around every which way, I’d take in a deep breath and, channeling every single one of my Scottish ancestors (of which there are none), yell out accented, improvised dialogue. I’d shout, “What have you done to my brethren!” as they scuttled about my warped screen, rolling my r’s like any self-respecting Scotsman. My siblings would collapse in heaps of giggles, sprawled out in glee. I’d pull the shared blanket back over them to conserve heat. I cannot count how many times I’ve seen that movie.
I was homeless and it’s fine because it happened but also it’s not fine because what did we do to deserve that? Why did that have to happen to us? Why does that have to happen to anyone? In what world is that an acceptable reality?
After some time, your brain starts to warp your perception of reality to reconcile the cognitive dissonance brought on by the whole situation. The human brain is made deeply uncomfortable by conflicting information. “I was homeless,” you reason, “because I deserved to be. I must be a truly terrible person deep down inside. I believe I have good intentions but that must be my deceptive evil subconscious, so evil that it lies even to me. I must be a bad person and that is my explanation and now I move on with my life knowing I am, at the end of the day, no good at all. It all makes sense.”
If you believe you are a bad person for long enough, you become one. There is no use in not stealing, telling the truth or sharing a smile because you are constantly told that you are fundamentally bad and will be treated as such. Engaging in bad behavior is not just a possibility but an eventuality. So of course you stole that pen. You are bad and that is what bad people do. It’s what you always would have done even if you want to be good because, at the end of the day, your true nature will always win out. A bad person has no business trying to be good because they will always be bad. Being good is a fruitless effort. You will always be bad because it’s the only thing that makes sense. Such is the nature of self-fulfilling prophecy.
I was never able to fully convince myself of my badness. My intentions are good and my actions minimize harm and I would rather not hand all my agency to a self-fulfilling prophecy like that.
Some classmates make me wish I was bad, though. The righteous anger of a good person just isn’t enough for someone who claims “poor people don’t work hard enough” while their parents pay their tuition and connect them to cushy internship opportunities. I want to tell them working three jobs isn’t laziness and that existing in poverty is costly and time-consuming, racking up more expenses than any well-off person could ever imagine having to deal with. There are no bootstraps to pull yourself up by when the world is designed to make you fail.
It’s fine most times but some days I think I should kick everyone’s walls in and see how they like it.
Sometimes I wish I had never been homeless. If only to rewatch “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”
*[I hope you’re not traumatized. I hope you’re not traumatized. God, I hope all you remember from this is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and nothing else.]
This piece is being published anonymously due to personal reasons.