When I was eighteen I moved out of my parent's house for the first time into an apartment with two other girls in what could be described as the shadiest part of town.
In the apartment on South 3rd Ave in Taftville, Connecticut, otherwise known as T-Ville or “The Ville” to people who live close by, my room was actually the closed-in front porch that was surrounded by windows on three sides and lay a sidewalk’s distance from the edge of the street.
It was freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer, it took months to get used to the noise from the street: the cars passing, the police and ambulance sirens, the fighting and screaming from neighbors all around us… but at the time, I loved it.
It was my first foray into independence, and being that I shared it with two other girls I was only paying around $300 a month for rent and utilities combined back in 2001, while simultaneously making more money than I ever have before or since as a third shift waitress at IHOP.
I worked hard for four nights in a row, slept during the day, and partied all the time.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
But, looking back, it was the worst of places and also the best of places to be.
The neighborhood was a total shithole of run-down houses that had been split into apartments and a block away lived one of the most notorious drug dealers in the area (we found this out when he finally got arrested).
Trash filled the streets, the sounds of domestic violence echoed through them day and night, along with the occasional gunshot.
It was the last place I ever should have been living, but for the time that I lived there, it was also the best place I could be.
It taught me about personal safety.
Specifically, never walk anywhere alone in the neighborhood at night, because you’re liable to get mugged, or much worse.
This is also when I learned to keep my keys splayed out between my fingers while walking to my car, to use them as a weapon to stab anyone in the eye or about the face if they try to attack me.
There was a little convenience store two blocks away that we walked to often for little things, but we knew to go in pairs and only in bright daylight, usually the early morning when no one was out.
The neighborhood was really that bad. Looking back, I can’t believe I even lived there.
Once, there was a domestic violence incident happening outside my bedroom window. A man and woman were fighting in the street in the middle of the night, and I peeked out my windows watching and saw him deck her right in the face and knock her out cold on the ground.
I ran to my roommate and told her what happened, and we both decided it was too dangerous to call the police because we didn’t want that guy suspecting it was us who called and ratted him out.
By the time I went back to look for the girl outside, she was gone, and I still regret not doing anything, at the same time I think we made the right choice.
It taught me how to live poor.
Which, unfortunately, is a skill I’ve needed to have for the rest of my life so far.
Rent was cheap, but I was on my own when it came to food and amenities, and there were definitely times that I ate Ramen noodles to buy toilet paper instead.
I got used to buying Suave body wash at the dollar store, shopping at the day-old section of the bakery at the grocery store, and not eating fresh food unless it was at work.
Learning to live with living poor is different from just learning to live poor, but I mastered both of those things spectacularly.
I took pride in living with less, and started looking down on people who lived well above their means and drove themselves into debt to do it, all for the sake of having things that they didn’t need.
I still have mixed, complicated feelings about money in general because of the times I lived dirt poor in my twenties, but I know that going through that was for the best and made me a more understanding, compassionate person towards others who live with so much less.
It taught me to appreciate everything I had.
Living poor on the trashy side of town with a beater of a car and a porch for a bedroom, I didn’t have much to brag about, but it was still one of the happiest times of my life.
I learned to live independently, I learned how to have confidence in myself in being out in the world alone and adulting, and it made me very grateful for all that I had.
Specifically, it made me grateful for the people I had in my life and the experiences I had with them.
It turns out, even now, I am a girl who loves cheap thrills, and I’d rather just hang out with friends and chit chat than go out and spend money on drinking or clubbing.
Back then, I did a lot of hiking and a lot more going to the beach and to parks, and that’s something I’d like to get back into now that I am trying to be more mindful of the money I spend and also trying to lose weight.
Overall, living there taught me that I didn’t need much to be happy, and that’s a lesson I’ve carried with me throughout my life and have tried to instill in my daughter the best I can as she grows up and learns the value of money herself.
Maybe one day I’ll end up on the trashy side of town again.
It wouldn’t be surprising considering how unaffordable housing is in Southeastern Connecticut for single moms who are trying to make a living writing…
But I wouldn’t mind a few more sirens blaring through my windows.
The truth is, I kind of miss that sometimes.