Rachael’s ‘Sliding Doors’ Moment That Could Happen To Any Of Us
Rachael had it all – the house in the good part of town, and two beautiful children, each attending a different private school. She had a circle of friends who were equal measures supportive and good for a laugh. Holidays were spent on the coast, swimming in lazy circles with a champagne in hand. Rachael had the full package.
When her marriage ended, Rachael thought it was a temporary setback. The love had been lost between them for a while but the sting of being suddenly single took its toll on her self-esteem. Her husband went through the motions of ending everything as clinically and diligently as he worked at his day job – boxes ticked, phone calls made and that was that. He took charge and said he’d arrange everything and Rachael believed him. She always had, after all.
After settling into her new life of a small apartment and shared custody, it quickly became apparent that Rachael had to get a job. There was no way that her share of the dissolved relationship could pay rent, buy food, contribute to the children’s education and pay utilities. Rachael set about looking for work.
Since meeting her husband at uni and getting married soon after, Rachael had spent her time in the home. She raised their children. She threw herself into motherhood, and all that comes with it – but employers aren’t interested in seeing that on a resume. Where she saw years spent nurturing and raising her children, they saw gaps in her employment history. Changes in technology, education and skill sets meant that Rachael was competing for positions with others who were far younger and far more qualified than her.
Weeks became months and soon Rachael struggled to pay her rent. Requests to her husband for help went unanswered or were met with disdain, especially now that he was in a new relationship. How long did he have to support her, he asked. Was she a fit mother? Couldn’t she provide for her children? What kind of woman was she? Had she no pride or self-respect?
The children hated staying at her apartment. When they were with their father they got whatever they wanted and rooms of their own. They started asking to stay with him for longer and longer periods of time. And she let them. Because it made them happy. Because all she ever wanted was for her children to be happy.
Rachael’s lease ended and, with no source of income and a poor rental history due to being in arrears, she was unable to secure a new tenancy anywhere else. She was reluctant to look for emergency accommodation because she was concerned that, if anyone found out, she wouldn’t be able to have access to her children at all. What would people think? Her husband had already implied she wasn’t fit to parent the kids. The enormity of her situation weighed on her so heavily that she felt like she was constantly in a state of anxiety – she ground her teeth, had constant headaches and felt very, very afraid.
Desperate to keep up the appearance of being ‘okay’, in the vain hope that it would lead her back to her children, Rachael faked it. She kept her best clothes in the boot of her car. She kept her shoes, her handbags and her jewellery. She kept the remnants of her former life around her like a memorial to her former self.
Now, Rachael sleeps in her car, constantly terrified of assault or discovery. At this stage, she doesn’t know which would be worse. She spends her days looking for work, any work, and trying to find access to food and medical assistance. Rachael has a pain in her stomach that just won’t go away. She’s cold and she’s alone. All of those friends, who she once thought were so important, wouldn’t even notice her if they passed her on the street.
Rachael has become the invisible woman.
Rachael isn’t one woman experiencing homelessness in Australia, instead Rachael is a “typical homelessness story”. Loss of stable income due to relationship breakdowns, housing affordability/availability and a limited job market are key contributors to homelessness in Australia. Stories like “Rachael’s” can happen to anyone. Please, donate to Share The Dignity to help all the “Rachaels” live a little easier.
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