By Takiya Smith
Just a few weeks ago, I read an article regarding the statistics of homelessness right here in Beaufort County. The numbers of this increasing epidemic were astounding and showed that it had almost tripled over a seven-year span. I couldn’t help but tear up as I thought of what it could possibly feel like to be without anything, much less a home to call your own, a dry roof over your head or a safe haven of protection for your children. My tears then turned to cries as I remembered so emphatically exactly what it felt like, as I myself was homeless just five short years ago.
I can vividly remember the dark dirt road that I traveled to get to a place that I called home. The dusty path ran alongside a now defunct railroad which sat parallel to a small graveyard. Beyond the graveyard was an open field that marked the stopping point of my trip. At the end, near the far right of the field, sat an old green
“barn” as my children and I called it. The barn housed two beautiful horses, two dogs, a pond with an alligator, a snake, and my children and myself. Inside the barn were four horse stables, two feed rooms and a tack room. Prior to this, I had never even known what a tack room was, let alone seen one. Yet, due to my current circumstance, this tack room, along with a silver horse trailer situated across from the barn, was now my only place to call home.
By day, the children and I prepared and ate meals at a small outdoor sink at the entrance of the tack room and by night we trekked out into the eerie darkness to crawl into the horse trailer to sleep. Thinking back on it, to be honest, I couldn’t tell you which was scarier: the ants and spiders that continuously crawled in and out of the trailer while we slept; the creeks, howls and cracks of unknown things outside the trailer at night; or the lump of fear that rose up in my chest each time we had to wake as a group and exit the trailer to use the bathroom so that no one was alone. It was high summer and nearly every day the sweltering heat drove a water moccasin in through the pipes that lead to the one toilet in the tack room. It actually became quite usual to find it resting peacefully in the bottom of the commode.
Of all things, the toughest of times are my memories of rainy days when the roof leaked and forced us out of the tack room and forced ants into the trailer, our only place of retreat. Looking back now, the rain seemed to show up at just the right time, washing my tears away and allowing me to cover up my hidden emotions from my son and daughter.
We lost so much that year in 2008 — our house, my cars, our clothes, our shoes and the children’s toys. Yet, through all this, ironically, we found a sense of peace. My homelessness was the forgone option of escaping an abusive relationship. Many days I cried at the place we were but most days I smiled at the rejoicing of freedom that I heard in my children’s voices. To them, that field was a huge playground. To them, that barn was a farm. To them, those horses were our pets. To them, mommy was OK, we were together and they were
God has an uncanny way of testing us with the very things we don’t want to deal with. It was never a secret that I was homeless, yet I never told a soul. I didn’t want my children to be taken from me and I didn’t want anyone to pity me. I had spent all my life struggling and fighting the world and everyone in it. I didn’t want a hand up or a hand out but what I did want was for God to prove that He would get me out. As time went on and friends found out, I kept my faith and focus but never intended to share this part of my story. To date, not only have I written about my story in a book but this past week, my children and I revisited that barn.
Through a photographer’s eye, my children and I were captured in the very place that I never wanted to be but have come to never want to forget. Before this, the last time my children and I took family photos was just months before we found ourselves homeless and living at the barn. The minute I was asked about a location to shoot our photos, it was without thought or hesitation that I said “the barn.” There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t remember that place nor is there a minute that I am not humbled at each waking moment of this life I have been given. It’s as if my secret has turned into the very heartbeat of who I am. I write about my life, I talk about my life, I blog about my life — I can’t seem to get enough of telling people about my life. Isaiah 61:3 says that God would “give unto them beauty for ashes.” It seems rightfully fitting to say that He has traded my ashes for beauty in which to share with you.
I have found it to be so true that a picture can speak a thousand words. It echoes the past, whispers the present and shouts out the future. I have heard, I’m listening and I hear.
Thank you to the phenomenal talent of Kristi James Photography (www.kristijamesphotography.com) for capturing this place that I never want my children to forget but to always remember.
Takiya La’Shaune Smith, licensed cosmetologist, mentor and owner of Beautique Lash & Brow, is an author and beauty columnist promoting inner and outer beauty, self-esteem, preservation and awareness. Follow her blog at www.blb¬boutiques.com find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TakiyaLSmith, email her at Takiya@Takiya-LaShaune.com or contact her at 843-263-0426.