I was taking a desert walk with Ming, thinking about when I was homeless. Thought I would tell you about it, reader, if you don’t mind.
I have a lot of friends who have been homeless, way more homeless than me. But sometimes they mention it, and I feel super-sad. I get a punched in the gut feeling, that this person I treasure so dearly was without safe shelter. Did they suffer? Was it bad? How long? How painfully?
Once we were headed to feed hungry people at the soupline. I asked a visiting friend if he was ever homeless, and he said, “Well, only when I was a kid.”
He sounded like his being a kid made it ok or less terrible? But I thought the opposite and imagined my friend as his child-self, vulnerable on the street.
My heart was broken, but I acted ok. His answer was more than I bargained for. Part of me wanted to cry, scream, hold his hands, tell him, “I’m so sorry for the pain of your life.” But I was like, “Wow, ok,” and we moved along with our day.
I have a friend who fled an abusive relationship with nothing but the clothes she was wearing. Sleeping at a rest stop–getting help from strangers. She was blessed by a hummingbird. Please read this post, Hummingbird, one of my favorite things I’ve ever read.
I have a friend who recently told me she lived at an abandoned farmstead in Canada and learned how to do without, in so many ways, and with no electricity. Her homeless times taught her so much. She has a house now and has done a fuckton of good for me in my life, over the past dozen years. I praise Mother God for the survival of my friends.
How many of us have been homeless? There’s living under a bush, eating out of gas station garbage cans, doing work that we really really don’t want to do. And then there’s insecure couchsurfing, staying with friends who get progressively more grumpy, and everything in between. Living in cars, shelters, squatting, a closet at a print shop. Urban, rural, vanished. Weird situations we make do with.
Well, I was homeless for only a short time. It was after I left my ex-husband and before Ming and I had found an apartment. We only slept outdoors a little bit. Luckily, we had my old beat up 1985 Chevy Blazer: BOB, short for Bucket of Bolts. Ming drove us from Sacramento where we lived, to Reno to visit a friend I had never met in person before.
We stopped in this forest and camped there, not a campground, but a place Ming knew from before. We carried some stuff into the woods, and I felt worried hicks were going to see our truck parked there and come kill us in the night. It was a hard time.
Then we stayed a few days in Reno. Where did we sleep? One visit, we slept at my friend’s sister’s house, in her living room. But I’m not sure it was that trip.
When we returned to Sacramento, we stayed at Ming’s friend’s house for a few nights. I made cornmeal pancakes with loquat syrup for dinner one night, as a gift.
Ming and I harvested loquats in the backyard of the place he was staying. Yes, Ming had his own housing he paid rent for, but he was living as homeless, caring for me. His housemate didn’t let me stay there–she said no. Yet her boyfriend could sleep over whenever he wanted.
I remember that with anger still, all these years later. Good job setting boundaries to take care of yourself! When I was at my most vulnerable and needed safety, she handed me a piece of paper about a women’s shelter in town.
But I smile to remember that loquat syrup, which took way longer to make than I’d predicted. I remember standing in that kitchen, taking the shiny, dark seeds out of loquats, the huge pile of seeds!
Takes a while, to boil down loquats. The syrup was good–I wish I could eat some now. And those kind people, eating weird pancakes for dinner, like it was a normal day. I will always be grateful to them.
Then we stayed in the house of another friend of Ming’s in a nearby town. The house was being foreclosed. We slept on yoga mats on the living room, on the hardwood floor, guarding the house from thieves who might steal the copper? I still can’t tell if we were really guarding the house, or is was just a ruse.
That’s where I started having pain from the pinched nerve in my neck. So it’s been nine and a half years, that’s been hurting me, which has taught me a great deal about physical pain.
when I was homeless
That’s mostly it–the story of when I was homeless. What do you think? Around three weeks of partial insecurity, moving around. Some fear and pain, but mostly ok. Then we landed in North Oak Park.
You could say that’s not so bad–I was very lucky. You could say I was brave or not brave. Probably depends on what you’ve experienced yourself, and how compassionate you are.
My parents were quite alive then and could have taken me in. I could have taken the train to stay with them? But I was freaking out emotionally, and my ex had called them to say I was having a manic episode, as of course, I must have been crazy for leaving him.
So things were tense for me socially, and Ming’s love and support were keeping me afloat. I needed Ming more than anything, and he was up for that, with style.
If you ever have some extra gratefulness to spare, you could always give it to Ming, for being a quietly amazing, helpful person. He’s low-drama, so he might get ignored. But he’s one of the kindest beings in the world, trying to see the best in people, giving a lot, and defaulting to generosity. I’m crying now, to think how good he is.
Looking back, I see we could have done things differently. I probably had a credit card at that time–maybe we could have stayed at a hotel for some weeks, accumulating debt. Or at least we could have bought an air mattress for that hardwood floor, to save my shoulder. (Or maybe it was just a matter of time. An MRI says the space is too small, where the nerve is passing through.)
Maybe we just should not have asked–I should have stayed in Ming’s bedroom with him, housemate anger be damned. I could have peed in a jar, emerged only twice a day? We were so damn considerate and moral, to our detriment.
Here we are now, and I’m almost a different person, having learned so much. I have faith now, believe in myself and Mother God, can speak my truth. My parents are both dead, and I almost died from that stomach ulcer two and a half years ago.
I’m an ecstatic dancer, I like to rap, and I make visual art almost every day. I facilitate meetings–this lady who went years not really talking. My values are similar, but I’m older and know a lot more about myself and the world.
The glowing caterpillar ember glow inside of me that I see as my soul is the same soul I knew, as the kid I was. Sitting at my desk at school, feeling the red and white caterpillar of life glow in me. Third and fourth grade, learning who I was.
That girl in a dress, with her hair in a braid, wearing tights, a strong reader–that’s still me. My hair is graying now, and I would not wear tights for anything. But that’s me.