The alarm on my cell phone jolted me from REM cycle to reality. Sitting fully upright, I frantically reached for my phone lying on the carpet next to me. It seemed that with each millisecond that you didn’t shut it off, the alarm grew louder and more frequent. I viciously tapped my phone screen, urgently seeking to shut the thing up.
Ahhh…tranquility. I exhaled as my sleep-laden eyes struggled to fully open. I grasped for my phone, checking to see if I had any notifications awaiting my perusal. As I nonchalantly glanced down at my illuminated phone screen, the day’s date registered in my foggy brain. It was September 25th! The day I would get my first paycheck! I couldn’t log into my Chase Bank app quick enough.
After mistyping my credentials a few times due to my still foggy brain, I successfully accessed my account. I blinked. Something must be wrong. There was still only $0.21 in my account. The same number that had remained for the past 3 weeks. Maybe it was too early and the money wouldn’t process until the banks opened their doors at 9:00. I mean there had to be some explanation for my lack of finances. I had been working for a month and a half…I certainly earned my check.
I was in dire need of some funds and had a page long list of items that required my financial attention. I HAD to get my money today. I had not budgeted for getting paid a day later than the 25th. I would be in some serious trouble if that was the case. But paycheck or no paycheck, I needed to get up and get ready for the day. But most importantly, I required some coffee. Way too much had gone on for 6:30 AM.
I had checked my bank account 5 times so far; and it was only lunch time. Every hour on the hour, and still zilch. Nothing! How was this possible? Did I misinterpret the payment date? Did the 25thmean at midnight that night? Maybe the funds wouldn’t disperse until 12:00 AM. Distraught on how the rest of my day would play out, I tried to shift my focus. Just make it through the day, and I could figure something out later.
A text message from my best friend Jess commanded my attention. Jess was a teacher also. She worked in a school district just outside of Fort Worth. It was her first-year teaching too. So she understood my struggle…kind of. I quickly typed up a message to her asking if she had gotten paid yet. I went in to vague detail about how tight my situation had been with having a new apartment and not having any furniture, “not even a bed yet lol,” I tried to downplay my desperation.
Moments later, my phone was vibrating. Jess was calling me.
“Hey! What’s up?” I playfully answered.
“Sarah, you don’t have a mattress?” She cut to the chase.
A long pause. “No. My parents didn’t bring mine. And the air mattress they did give me has a hole in it and won’t stay inflated.” I barely managed to choke out.
“Umm…why am I just now hearing about this? Why didn’t you say anything?” she questioned.
“I don’t know. I just figured I could make it a month or so and then once I got paid, I could buy a mattress. It’s no big deal.” Embarrassment laced through my tone.
“Well, I have a mattress that I’ve been storing in Longview from my old apartment. I haven’t needed it, but didn’t want to sell it. It’s at Coach T’s house in his storage shed. I’ll text him right now and let him know that you’re coming over to get it later today. It’s a mattress, box spring and bed frame. You can have it.” The kindness in her voice brought tears to my eyes.
“…are you sure…?” I fought hard to get out.
“Dude, of course. Take it, it’s just sitting in storage collecting dust,” she assured me. “I feel awful that this whole time you could’ve been using it. I can’t believe I didn’t know, Sarah.”
“I could have said something. But it’s not the most exciting topic to bring up,” I responded honestly. “Being so broke that you have to sleep on the floor isn’t the first thing I dying to tell you, you know?”
“I get it, but you still should have said something,” Jess replied. “But, you shouldn’t have that problem anymore, we got our first paycheck today. Finally, right?”
“See, I thought so, but the direct deposit hasn’t posted in my account. I’ve been checking all day!” frustration dripping.
“No, our first check is a physical check. Direct deposit won’t kick in until the next pay period. At least, it’s that way for my school.”
My jaw dropped. How had I neglected to remember that? “Duh! I completely forgot about that. I remember them saying that…now.” I exclaimed.
“So you better go check your mailbox, girl!” she teased. “And, I’ll text Coach and shoot you the details later about picking up the mattress.”
We said our goodbyes, and I thanked her what felt like 100 times, yet somehow still not enough. And then I bee-lined it for my school mailbox. My heart was thumping so violently that I was sure others could hear it. I flung open the teacher’s lounge door and scanned for the box with my last name. There it was. Moment of truth. Did I have an envelope with a check?
I grabbed the stack of papers in my mail box and shuffled through them, searching for one very important item. And then, my fingers felt it. The edge of an envelope. This was it. My golden ticket. I dropped the stack of papers on the counter next to the mailboxes, and gave the envelope my full and undivided attention. Slicing into the top fold with a key from my lanyard so as not to damage any of the precious contents. My fingers grasped hold of the slim slip of paper. Gripping it gently, I shimmied the contents free from their casing. I unhinged the tri-folded piece of paper and let my eyes devour the contents. Tears quickly engulfed my eyes as the realization sunk in that this was, in my hands, my first adult paycheck.
The money that I had worked tirelessly for. The money that was fueling my race towards independence. The funds that were supporting me establishing a brand-new life for myself wholly on my own. Relief echoed through every fiber of my being. Resonating through my heart and into my spirit. Water welled in my eyes as I forced the lump down my throat. Trying to hold it together so I wouldn’t have a complete break-down in the teacher’s lounge at 11:23 in the afternoon.
I sniffled a few times before collecting myself and taking the plunge out into the hallway. Briskly walking with my eyes averted downward on the papers in my hand. This way I’ll look preoccupied, not rude.
Unloading Jess’s mattress into my apartment that afternoon made me feel like I had just won the lottery. I had been lying to myself about sleeping on the floor. It wasn’t helping my back stretch out. I was not able to get a sound night’s sleep. And I was waking up to muscle spasms at 2:45 in the morning, because my muscular quads and a hard, flat surface did not coincide.
After the frame was assembled and the mattress was in place, I drank it all in. My first piece of furniture. And my first paycheck. This hollow shell had just begun to feel like home. A glimpse of light penetrated the darkness.
This photo was captured by my generous, artsy, talented and adventurous friend, Jess. The very same soul, who gifted me her bed four years ago. Who still to this exact day helps me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be helped. Slow to judge, quick to give and open to adventure, always.
We set out to take some pictures a few Sunday’s back. I got all dressed up, decked out and was ready to shoot. Jess being incredibly generous offered to come with and take photos for me. On her one off-day as she is a high school coach and works all the time.
So we show up to this picture perfect location and it starts to rain after five minutes. My hair instantly poodle-izes and my dress gets wet as I slip trying to duck and cover. Hoping to salvage all the hard work I put into getting ready.
But instead of worry and chalk the day up as a loss, I decided not to simply splash in the puddles, but embrace the mess. I stripped off my shoes, got my hair wet and waded into the water. The water was cold, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes, my hair remained a frizzy mess, but I reveled in it. We had the most fun by simply stepping out into the water. An experience I would have truly missed out on had I only been willing to stick to my original plan.
I feel like this photo captured a facet I rarely see in myself. A glimpse seldom caught in my own reflection: adventurous. A quality I hope to pursue more.