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In the Riverview Gardens apartment complex, roused by the sounds of her neighbors waking, Janet Foy stepped over the anatomy-and-physiology textbook she fell asleep reading and vowed to herself that today would be the day she finally came back to life. That today she could start reclaiming some of the confidence she once felt when she stood onstage at church and sang about forgiveness and redemption and You who make all things new. At 56, Foy was broke, jobless and living with her older sister in public housing in Kansas City, Mo., and she didn’t feel much like singing anymore.

Recently, she had been told by a manager at a Victoria’s Secret that there was no need to leave her résumé. But not too long ago, she wanted me to know, she was pulling in $1,000 a week at a Merle Norman makeup store, helping other people look and feel their best. But then she took in her brother to try to help him overcome an addiction, and soon she was pulled under financially as he spiraled out of control. She would show up to work too overwhelmed and exhausted to make any sales, and had to dip into her savings until that was gone. She begged to borrow against her next paycheck but eventually lost her apartment and moved into a friend’s spare room.

How are you holding up? people would ask. I’m good, girl, she would say. Praise the Lord! But inside, she felt like the sci-fi movies she had seen in which “a person becomes encapsulated,” suspended between consciousness and oblivion.

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NY Times Magazine

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