I was homeless for a spell…
It was more like 2 years than a spell really…
I was at the lowest of the low point in my life
I saw no hope…No way out…
Not without swallowing a lead pill at least.
Yeah, I thought about smoking a gun.
I went so far as to wonder if the recoil would knock my teeth out.
I was alone.
I had family that would have probably helped…but I couldn’t ask them.
I wouldn’t ask them…..For fear they would refuse me.
You see…? I still had some pride I guess.
Or WAS it pride?
Was it embarrassment? Was it self-righteousness?
I don’t know what it was.
I was working for a temp company, doing menial work. I was also going to college full time.
I was blind drunk every night.
I slept in dumpsters, big tool boxes, boats in boat dealerships, under trees…my body wrapped in insulation that I had found in construction site dumpsters.
I slept in jails….
I kept my clothes in a locker at the college gym. I took showers there too.
I kept clean, I didn’t miss classes, I did my homework, I kept a 3.0 or higher GPA and worked 2 jobs on campus as a biology department lab assistant and a Computer lab tech.
And when it was all done….I would get drunk, incapacitated drunk and pass out anywhere.
I would often wet my pants while I….slept?
Sometimes I rode the buses around the city until they quit for the day. Then I would stumble around in the alleys until I found a place to hide for the night, or I walked into the street in front of a cop car.
I can’t explain the workings of an alcoholic mind.
I have no idea why I lived the way I did…if you can call it living…
More like dying in slow motion…a slippery slope covered in broken glass and broken promises….
They both cut deep…and to the bone.
I knew I would die if I this kept up.
A man can’t live like this.
A Man? Yeah…right.
I was sitting in the big city library (I didn’t have anywhere else to go) when I saw some homeless men in a far corner of the library reading the paper and some magazines.
I had noticed them before, silently thinking that I was glad I wasn’t that bad off.
It is the doom of man that we forget….
Then I thought “I am worse”
You see…I pretend that there is nothing wrong.
I think that is the worst part of it all.
Pretending to be…whole?
There were 3 men.
I can’t remember their names, which does not surprise me because I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what I studied in college during that time.
I sat down with them and began spilling my guts to them. I didn’t stop for 30 minutes. My words tumbling out of my mouth like dice.
They listened, looked at me a couple of times…looked at each other a few times…nodded their heads, shook their heads and just listened.
Then, when I had been reduced to tears at my own TERRIBLE life, my poor poor pitiful life…I stopped and they began to speak.
One homeless man had a degree in Engineering from the University of Georgia and had been a highly paid executive for Chrysler in Detroit. In one year, the company restructured, whereas he lost his job and his wife and 2 children were murdered in a robbery and he had then lost everything to lawyers and bankers.
Now…he says…he is a drunk that sprays Lysol into a zip-lock bag full of crushed ice, mixes it with Kool-Aid and packets of sugar, and then drinks it. You see, they wouldn’t let him donate plasma anymore, so he couldn’t buy the “good” stuff. His kidneys were failing and he had cirrhosis.
Oh…and he lived in an over-turned peanut trailer beneath an overpass, and half his toes were gone.
The second man was a Viet Nam vet that served 3 tours there as a Ranger.
He said his problem stemmed from the fact that the screaming in his head had never stopped.
The burning smells were always there.
“Everything smells like ‘Nam” he sniffed.
He said the VA gives him dope so he can sleep, but he trades or sells his pills to other people so he can eat. You see, no one will hire him because he doesn’t have a permanent address….and because he’s a bum he says.
The third man had been a teacher. His wife had taken his 3 kids and left him over fallout from the accusations of a 12 year old boy that claimed he had touched him on his “potty place”. The boy was angry over getting a love letter taken away that he had been passing to a girl in class, and had gotten embarrassed and teased by his classmates. The truth came out later, but the damage was done and the teacher taught no more.
“Once a baby fucker…Always a baby fucker”…he said.
I felt shame for bringing these men my plight….My sad story of a story.
“Where are your kids?” I asked.
None of them knew.
I knew where my kids were. I didn’t get to see them as much as I wanted…but I did see them.
I just had to be sober enough, long enough to do so.
That was MY problem.
We talked a little more.
I bought us all a Subway sandwich using my student discount, and we ate outside by the library garden.
The sun was breaking through the clouds now, and the flowers smelled like ‘Nam….
The men finished their sandwiches and began to curse me.
They told me to get my head out of my ass. They told me they would do anything to see their kids again. They told me they would do anything to turn back the clock….
I cursed back “Then why in the hell don’t you change things!?”
Kind of ironic…me asking these poor souls the very question I couldn’t answer for myself.
You know what the Georgia grad that lived in a peanut trailer said?
“It’s too late for us” he said.
“It’s too late” the other two men agreed.
This cut into me….”Too late” they had said. They had given in…and given up.
Had I…given in, and given up too?
They left me there, sitting in the garden….thinking.
They had to be back at the shelter before 6pm to listen to a mandatory church sermon that would allow them to secure a bed for the night and some hot soup. If they were lucky, there might be some fresh bread tonight.
They had told me that there were 150 beds at the shelter, and that sometimes fights broke out in the lines when younger men tried to jump the line.
There were still more people that never got into the shelter…and had to find repose elsewhere.
It was chilly in the garden. How cold would it be after dark?
They invited me to go with them…to see for myself.
I thanked them…..I didn’t want to see that place…those cold, hungry, sleepy people….
I was tired of sleeping in the ditch.
I was tired of drinking all the time.
These 3 men had shown me the dark path that I was beginning to tread.
I looked up at the pink sun as it began its descent behind the mountains.
I drew my coat around me tighter as I stood up and began walking toward a church where I would ask for help.
I believe that those men were sent to me….To save my life.
I knew the sun would rise tomorrow, shining down on the peanut trailer…Viet Nam….a small town in Ohio where 12 year olds would go to class and pass love letters.
And I would rise too….
So HAVE I…..