I put the misappropriated toy gun back on the shelf. Feigning patience, I corrected my son’s impulsiveness. “No, John. Ask first.” At three years old, he should know better than to put things into the grocery cart without my permission. Then, I continued my grocery shopping wishing for a miracle, to forget, at least for one day, that I was destitute.

A divorced, unemployed mother of three pre-school children, I believed, until that morning, I had already sunk to the bottom. The mail brought with it an eviction notice. Now I faced homelessness on top of despair. I’d achieved the impossible, a new depth from which to wallow.  

Self pity filled me. What had I done to deserve these troubles?

I’d been a model tenant, paying my rent on time, my home spotless. I even waxed my floors on a weekly basis. My landlady claimed she needed the apartment for a family member who would be moving to town and assured me the eviction was due to no fault on my part. No fault except that I lived in space she thought she needed more than I did.

Humiliation pricked me like a thousand sewing needles. I didn’t blame my landlady, at least not intellectually. If in her shoes, I’d have done the same. And I’d have gone on my merry way believing my good tenant should have no problems in finding another place to rent. And, like her, I’d have given that tenant a letter of reference. But finding an affordable apartment with my limited resources in a safe neighborhood posed challenges beyond my scope of solvability.

Tomorrow lay before me like an unwritten movie script, but I knew the logline: A divorced woman and her three children huddle together in a cardboard box.  

I’d despised my life as a welfare Mom, but held some gratitude that the subsidy check had arrived the same day as the eviction notice. At least we’d hit the streets well fed.

I shrugged my shoulders and prayed that God would somehow work a miracle on my behalf. But my sour mood trenched in, disbelief my war buddy.

The luxury of a babysitter was not in my budget. I bundled up my brood and headed to the supermarket, mentally checking my list and laboring over which items I might be able to scratch off – my resources insufficient to cover the long list of needs. I could forego the floor polish. I wouldn’t be able to wash and wax the street.  

Putting the baby in one cart, I lifted the other two children into another and pulled it behind me. I choo-chooed my way through the supermarket, a maternal steam engine with a trailing caboose. Engrossed in my immediate labors, I’d examine an item, look at my list, and put it in the cart only to take it back out and in again. How could I decipher if toilet paper were more critical than toothpaste?

Steeped in my depressive state, I hadn’t given a thought how the sight might appear to someone else. I unglued my eyes from the list just in time to witness John lean over his cart and dump a handful of candy bars into mine.

My howls echoed through the store like canyon winds. “What are you doing! Don’t even think you’re getting candy.”

 Feeling like Snow White’s evil step-mother, I heaved the treats back on the shelf with one huge huff of indignation, letting my anger dam the flood of tears ready to burst through my steeled exterior. Even so, wet trickles slid down my cheeks as John’s little face turned from rosy innocence to gray fright, his wails even louder than my reprimands.

As if pulled out of myself I could see myself screaming. I caught the elongated, disapproving glance of the woman five feet down our aisle. I saw myself in frozen ugliness, the reactions of nearby customer’s disapprovals flickering like flashes from a B-rated horror film.  I wondered if this was what a nervous breakdown looked like.