One hundred ten days, 17 hours, 44 minutes-11 days short of one-third of a year. This is the longest I've gone living a "normal" life since that cold November night in 2006 when the feces hit the four-bladed rotating air circulation device and this odyssey of homelessness began. There have been periods where I have spent extended time in someone else's home, on their floor or recliner, but always with them, their families, pets, drama, and baggage.
This time at the place I was pet/apartment-sitting, once it became clear that the gig would be a matter of months rather than weeks, and the cat and I progressed from co-habitants to companions, and the furniture and fixtures of the space began to fit themselves around me like a favorite old bathrobe, for the first time in recent memory I felt a semblance of "home," of belonging to, in, and of a place. It became so comfortable and, more importantly, comforting that I felt a certain amount of disconnection and guilt in writing my blog and this column, both called "Homelesscide." The need to get up and out and deal with the day-to-day trials and fears of street living were temporarily gone, as were opportunities for observation and interaction.
I also was able to have my almost-9-year-old daughter, Rachel, come and spend multiple days and nights on several occasions. We were able to cook and share meals together, go to the Disney on Ice show without major logistical and travel arrangements, and just spend time watching movies or TV and doing all the little inconsequential things fathers and daughters do. Those things that most people may never consider in their normal day-to-day lives, but which I miss dearly.
I was able to get to HCH (Health Care for the Homeless) without having to lug all my baggage and bedding with me, and it was only one easily accessed bus ride away, with stops almost right outside the door. I connected with caseworkers and specialists and medical personnel regarding filing housing assistance and SSA claims, and started in with a psychiatric evaluation and exam leading toward treatment. I'm still following through but now have to lug two big bags and myself on the buses and trains, taking up two or three spaces, and having to deal with the glares, comments, and sometimes actions of other riders and drivers, depending on time of day. It takes a toll mentally and emotionally, and the desire to bail out and avoid the hassle and confrontations and just the pure physical effort of carrying around all that weight is almost overwhelming at times.
Of course, now that I am back to sleeping on the street (sidewalk actually), the "normal" anxiety has returned not only in full force but with an increased level of perceived misery. It takes a long time to get acclimated to the idea, and the ways, means, and tricks of the trade of "sleeping rough" to get to the point where it becomes just another way of life. It takes very, very little time to get used to having a roof over one's head. It also takes only a short amount of time for one's ability to deal with all the social negativity that living homeless requires to atrophy. Things that just "were" are again embarrassing; tasks and deeds that became rote are now an effort; and the change from early fall to mid-winter can be a killer, literally as well as figuratively!
Things that seem little can be the most difficult: I was and again am forced to lay out and pack up my sleeping gear every night and every morning. And while it's simple to say and sounds like nothing, it is a time-consuming pain in the ass.
This habit and attitude of packing my bags and living out of a suitcase followed me into the cat-sitting apartment, and it took about a month to get to the point where I did not pack up all my clothes and possessions every morning. Also, the street food-safety code of never having more than three days' worth of food-for both safety and health reasons-took a good while to fade before I could allow myself to stock the refrigerator with more than a three-day supply, knowing I would be there for at least a month.
And in reverse, the first time I slept outside the library, it took me three times as long to get up and out of the bag and pack up. (I'm requested to not still be lying there after about 8:00 A.M., because the old folks at the senior center tend to freak out a bit.) The first time I went into the Giant after my stash of leftover and unused food from the apartment was gone I got to the register and had to turn around and put most of it back on the shelf.
I am back to where I was when I first got settled on the street, after I realized that there was no sense in going back to the shelters every night. I have been spending pretty much every day from open to close in the library, unless I have appointments, because I seriously dislike traveling the buses and trains with so much (physical) baggage. Friday and Saturday with 5:30 P.M. closing times-instead of 9:00 P.M.-are a real bitch, with nowhere close to hang out until it's time to sleep and it being too cold to sit out and watch TV or read. This time, being older if not wiser, and just so damn tired of it all, the adventure has lost its luster.
All because of three and a half months of living in a way that most people take for granted, but which to me had become a forgotten memory. And because of depression, I'm stuck with a steadily decreasing sense of hope due to continued negative replies and increased alienation. It's funny in a sick sort of way that my American Dream had slipped from a piece of property with a house somewhere in the woods or on a beach or a high-rise condo in the city, to my own little corner in my own little room somewhere in an area of the city that I wouldn't have more than a 40 percent chance of getting mugged upon leaving the building. And the sickest thing: I was OK with that.
Dave blogs about life on the street at homlesscide.blogspot.com