Not everyone gets it. Why I’m still in a car. It’s been three cold months, since I lost my job. Shouldn’t I have been able to get work by now? Shouldn’t I? Maybe if I was you, but I’m me and me doesn’t know how to get back in the game. I had a plan. I worked hard to be part of the team, to learn. I was on my way. Twice I was tripped up by another guy who said I was white trash, shouldn’t be around the rest of them, skilled workers, tradesmen. I’m a man. I was learning a trade. Why can’t I be here? Leave me alone to pull myself up from my bootstraps. I’m not asking for a thing from you. Just let me keep the place I’ve won by hard work and proving I have it in me. But it doesn’t happen like that for guys like me, does it? Once down, always down. Why even lift my head and try again? Third time was my fault. Should know better then to drink until I couldn’t stand. That was Dad’s way, Mom with her pills, not my way. Should have known better then to show up to work next morning. Would have been better to go missing a day. Almost killed Dan and he is a decent person. If it had been Jarrod, different story. I might not be so depressed if I gave him the fright of his life and lost my job over it. So here I am. I should try harder, consider flipping burgers rather than beg for one at the end of the shift when I know they’ll toss them anyway. I’ll figure it out, just not today.
I don’t want to get old. It’s not grey hair and wrinkles that I fear. It’s hobbling instead of walking. The one thing I have that no one can take away from me is my strength. If I have to run, I can run. If I don’t sleep, I’m okay, not a big deal. I can climb the side of a building if I have to. Did it once, up a drain pipe. I can pry open windows. Did I say run? Comes in handy if maybe there’s a mammoth sized guy who’s convinced you stole his machete in the night. He doesn’t need a weapon. His hands are like oars. He could sweep me off the face of the earth with one swing. He has to have some prehistoric DNA in him, legs like a dinosaur, five of my longest strides in one of his.
If he catches me I’m toast, skewered and crisped ready for dinner for T-Rex. Even though he is hot on my trail, I’m sure that stealth and speed will save me. I leap over a fence and he plows right through it, stepping over the sagging steel. How is that possible? Am I in a nightmare where every way of escape is booby trapped with another horror? He’s stomping toward me and this time I face an iron fence, with spikes at the top, I’m not sure I can scale it without snagging some critical goods that I’m not ready to sacrifice, another part that freaks me out to lose to age. My hesitation is too long. He pins me against the fence.
“Hey man, I didn’t take your knife. Who told you it was me?”
“Birdie said so. He saw your skinny ass take it.”
“He’s the biggest liar around. You know that hat he wears?”
“Used to be Jo-Jo’s. Ask him. He’ll tell you. Did you check Birdie’s cart?”
“No man, he said it was you. I saw you walking by.”
“But you can see I don’t have it.”
He’s confused. Must be how long it takes blood to pump up to his brain.
“Go find Birdie.”
He likes this idea and releases me. I don’t wait around but get over the fence, carefully, then I step on the nail on the other side.
If someone says they love you but they’re not around to give you that love, do the words mean anything?”
First off, I never said I loved her. Second, I had to leave. Couldn’t stay. Needed a trade, a future. She could have come with me but the unknown scared her. I knew when she found someone else. Her voice was different. She didn’t complain. She listened to my rant about Jarrod, how he set me up to take the blame for his mistake. She didn’t interrupt, or tell me that she didn’t want to hear about my stupid job and when was I coming back to work in town. I stopped mid-sentence, told her good bye and that’s the last I heard from her. I don’t really miss her. I miss what I thought I had. The meaning of the days hanging by the river, sitting on the rocks, the noise of the water giving us privacy to talk about everything. How we rolled into the water making out and she lost her phone. She would have been in a world of trouble but I gave her the money for a new one. It just meant I’d have to wait a little longer, work a little harder to buy a car. She didn’t know then that the car was my ticket to get out of town, take the job Gary offered me. She probably would have thrown the new phone in the river if she knew that. I guess it all worked out anyway. We didn’t break up. She gave up. If it happened then, it could happen even if we were together, right? Maybe or maybe I’m just being too hard on her. We were just kids with lots of dreams. She dreamed of marriage. I dreamed of a house. Bet she has her dream. I’m living in my car.
There are very few things a person needs to have with him. Some cash or a debit card tied to an account that actually has money in it, a good pair of socks in the winter, a good pair of sandals in summer, a knife. I’m not talking about a switch blade. A utility knife or better a Swiss Army knife with all kinds of gadgets in one simple object that slides easily into the pocket and if you can handle it, an old fashioned handkerchief and a bit of duct tape rolled up on a nail. What’s that all about? Well, you can use the handkerchief for any number of things not the least being impressing a girl who happens to tell you a teary eyed story about how some guy treated her like trash. Pull out that handkerchief and hand it to her and I can promise you she’ll think you’re a saint, might even ask you over for dinner. It’s a meal ticket. Other than that, if ever you have the unfortunate experience of slicing your hand open on a sharp gutter, you can wrap the wound with the handkerchief and secure it with the tape. And the nail? It’s the one I pulled out of my foot. It went clean through the sole and into my heel. I had to limp my way into a clinic when it became infected. For awhile I wore the blood stained nail on a string around my neck to remind me danger lurks in unexpected places plus it’s a good place to keep a bit of tape.
Courage isn’t worn on a person’s sleeve. It goes unnoticed like nice ears. Who ever notices if ears are perfectly symmetrical; not too big, not to small, lobes just right? It’s not like a pretty face or a high forehead that makes someone look smart. Everyone can appreciate those features. I’m not sure I even know what my own ears look like. Yet people are walking around with perfect ears.
Why is that like courage? Courage is not obvious and it’s often confused with admirable actions. Like for instance, handing a blanket to an old lady sitting on a park bench, snow under her feet, night stretching from trees behind her, arms and legs thin, fragile like glass, is that courage? Or is courage to sit on the other end of the bench and not move, listening to her mutter the name Fred, nodding as she turns to you and tells you he was a kind man. Knowing that every minute with her means you’re out in the cold longer and didn’t you feel a sore throat coming on? Won’t you lose a spot at FOS shelter? Miss the dinner hour?
Is it courage to make a phone call to social services and report that she may need help or is courage bringing her a cup of tea, because you guess she drinks tea and she does, and so did Fred. When she talks about how they would sit in the kitchen and drink tea, you take that window of opportunity to encourage her to go home but she wants you to walk with her because you remind her of her Fred. Is that courage? Is it courage to say hello every single morning when you pass her by or is it courage to ring her bell, visit, look at pictures of Fred and little Bobby who lives in California and Maggie who died of cancer ten years ago? Courage isn’t obvious. It goes about in a person and no one may notice yet it’s still there, beautiful, kind of like perfect ears. Have you looked in the mirror lately? What kind of ears do you have?
They say nutrition is more important than sleep. Okay so maybe only Betty says that, but let’s just start with that being a fact. I know this much when I don’t have decent food, my skin gets dry and itchy. It could be from exposure. I’m so unlucky to end up living in my car in the winter. Actually it’s not being in the car that’s the problem, I have a subzero sleeping bag. It’s walking around outside during the day. If I was smart, I would stay in the library, my home away from home but fresh air calls me and sometimes I pick up odd jobs to bring in some cash. That’s how I met Betty. I was parked in front of her building for a couple of days. She came rapping her bony hand on the window one morning saying she needed help with groceries. I wasn’t even awake. She waved five dollars so I figured it was worth my while to get out of my cocoon and help her. I carried her bags up two flights of stairs. She sprinted right past me! Crazy old lady. She made me wait while she unpacked her stuff. There was a cup of coffee and a biscuit in it for me, so when she took out a bunch of spinach and started saying how nutritious food was more important than sleep, I nodded. “Everyone thinks spinach can’t be tasty because it looks like a weed. But all you need to do is put some pepper on it, sprinkle it with salt, a little sesame oil, and it’s the bomb.” Which totally cracked me up.
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It’s chasing me, talons glinting in my peripheral vision, ready to rip off my scalp, expose my brain and turn it into mush so I’m blind and go about groping, lashing out to find my way. My shield against this attack is paper thin. Though I try to bulk it up with the kindness of others, there are not many entries on that page, not much to cover the wounds festering in my soul that call the enemy to stalk me.
Solace is hard to come by when on my darkest days, I’m surrounded by the beast’s minions, picking at my scabs with small jabs of judgement, giving me sideways looks of disdain. Is it my hair naturally messy or maybe greasy flat? Is it my backpack looking like it’s brought me through a jungle? It has and it does. It could just be that I’m obviously not with someone, collapsed into a vinyl cushioned chair, nose in a book, not making eye contact with another human.
I don’t know but there it is, the great shadow hovering over me, and the flock of his helpers badgering me, breaking down my defenses so I can be eaten alive by bitterness.
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I’m starting this blog from my ‘not personal’ computer at the public library. I don’t have a personal anything. Except my car, a 2008 Toyota Corolla, the one thing I saved up for before I ended up on my own. I’m not looking for tears here, just want you to know, where I’m speaking from. See my About page for more on that.
I sit in a place filled with books, knowledge, rows and rows of words, the salt of the earth. Yet right beside me is a guy who feels the need to talk on his phone though the whole world knows, libraries should be a place of peace. Now he is surfing the Internet ocean for porn sites, all of which are blocked by the library’s security settings. He actually slams his hand on the desk and lets out some choice words, saying his rights are being violated. Now that’s a fresh idea. Let’s wave that flag over everyone’s demands. I have the right for you to be silent buddy. The world is crowded. The least anyone can do when we’re thrown together is be decent. Try. Is that too much to ask?