The Kindness of Strangers

Moving from state to state can be very expensive. Having moved between 4 states, with a short stay in a 5th, I can attest to this fact. Moving costs, finding new housing, finding new employment – it’s all very stressful and difficult to do without support.

The first time I had to ask for help was when I moved from Arizona to Indiana. My lease was up in June, but I wouldn’t be able to afford to begin a new lease in Indiana until August. I had friends from Maine that now lived in Wisconsin, and they offered to play host to my three cats and me. So I slept on an air mattress in their breezeway for a month, keeping careful track of the kitties, and basically paying for my own food. This short stay allowed me to bridge the gap between my masters and doctoral coursework. I drove to Bloomington at the beginning of August, signed a lease for an apartment, and had my classes and teaching assignments ready to go.

The only time I moved without having a job waiting for me was when I ended my doctoral pursuit to move to Florida with the husband to get married and begin our lives together. Neither of us had jobs, but I was already searching for a music ed position, and the husband was still kind of considering finishing his dissertation, which he could do anywhere and still receive student loans to help with the finances.

To do this we had to live with his parents just outside of Orlando. We stayed in his childhood bedroom, and all of our belongings were in storage. Without this kindness, we would not have been able to afford to move, get married, get a new apartment, and have time to search for a job. Granted, it wasn’t ideal, but it was a two month period where we were able to make a life transition at low cost. I found a job in the Tampa Bay area, we located a nice apartment we could afford, we got married, and began the life that would be such a financial struggle from 2010 to now. I have tried to imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t had those rent free months – it doesn’t look pretty to me.

Having been on the receiving end of such kindness, I can speak to all the things I knew I had to be to be a good guest. Clean, kind, paying for what I could, helping with chores or pets – basically bending over backwards to make sure that I did not become more of a burden than my very presence might create on its own. I was lucky, my hosts also were good hosts – they understood that by offering this opportunity they were taking on certain responsibilities too, and it wouldn’t be right to be shitty to a desperate person to whom they have opened their doors. Communication is key, and as long as everyone is ready to make the best of it, and no one takes advantage of anyone else, things should turn out fine.

So when a close friend of mine told me that she had been issued a “6 day notice to vacate” by a friend of a friend who had agreed to house her to ease her transition back to her home state, it struck me how important it is, maybe more important, for a host to know what they are offering. If you are even the smallest bit hesitant, or maybe you are high maintenance, or you’re not good with people, or whatever, it is okay to offer a different kind of support.

If you commit to house someone when they literally have no job and no where else to live, you hold their lives in your hands. You hold all the power. That person will do their best to be a good guest because, 9 times out of 10, they are desperate to keep you happy so you won’t kick them out. If you can’t house someone, DON’T. Help them in other ways or just communicate that you cannot help that way.

For example, in our current rental home, the husband and I do not have room to house guests. I mean, we could make room, but it would be very uncomfortable for everyone. So I probably would not offer up our house as a place to stay unless it was very short term. Like, they are starting a job on one date but they can’t move into their apartment until a week later or something. But if it was a “I’m moving to Tampa and I need a place to stay while I job hunt” I would have to say that our place is not the right place.

So when my friend says that her benefactor is being passive aggressive and attempting to make her life hell until she gets out, I want to ask that “helpful” person what she expected. What did she think would happen when she invited another human into her home to stay for an indeterminate amount of time? When she agreed to share space and resources to help a friend of a friend? Did she think she was getting a servant? Did she think that my friend would just be silently reading in a room, unseen and not messing with any routines? Why would you say yes, only to turn sour and kick her out, knowing she doesn’t have other options?

Granted, I’m taking my friend’s word for it that she wasn’t being a sloppy jerk who left a million dishes in the sink and bogged down the bandwidth, but she’s my friend and I trust her to tell me the truth. She trusted this person to keep her safe while she put down new roots. This person fucked her over. I’m so, so sorry that it happened and I am so, so thankful that it never happened to me. I hope that she has other friends and support in the area so everything turns out okay.

I guess the central point I’m trying to make here is that you should help when and how you can, but be careful not to go outside your comfort/ability zone. You may end up hurting more than you help.