9/1/2017: Dirty bum

It wasn’t so bad, not having a home. I never particularly enjoyed staying confined to one place anyways. But I can’t say I’ve gotten used to the pitiful stares people direct my way when they pass me on the street. Little kids won’t even come near me when they see me. They think I’m some sort of crouching beast waiting to pounce on them when they approach the sidewalk to enter the store, or a dark lurking creature they see hidden in an alleyway. And their parents aren’t any better.

Sure, I looked pretty dirty and didn’t smell very pleasant either… but I was nothing to be afraid of. Not all homeless people fit the stereotype. Regardless of whatever preconceived notions you may have of the homeless population before actually bothering to get to know them individually, we’re not all dangerous psychos who yell profanities and act indecent. We’re not all living on the street because we’re lazy and stupid. For some of us, life just took a bad turn. Some of us are college-educated. Some of us were business owners. Some of us actually prefer to live this way, believe it or not.

Being homeless doesn’t mean I don’t understand English or that I can’t participate in an intellectually stimulating conversation, and it doesn’t give you an excuse to reduce me to a worthless animal that you can abuse. Just because I look like garbage doesn’t mean you can treat me like it. I am not inferior simply because I don’t live like you or according to your standards.

I wish you didn’t automatically affix that sympathetic look on your face when you make eye contact with me. Don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault this is the only place I have to go. You have no idea what happened in my life to land me here, and if you’re being honest with yourself, you don’t really care so don’t pretend you do.

You should probably also know that I don’t wish I was in your shoes instead, or that I even had shoes for that matter. I don’t wish for anything anymore.

I keep to myself out here on the edge of town so I don’t burden you. Far be it for my presence to remind you that your life could just as easily take a bad turn, too. Anyways, I sleep better at night out here knowing that you don’t have to bother contemplating whether or not I look like I’m worth giving some pocket change to when you pass by.

Being homeless is basically everything you’d assume it is – it’s lonely and sad and unhygienic and frightening. However, in my case, it also felt liberating.

I hadn’t showered, shaved, or eaten an actual meal in six months, and I hadn’t had a real conversation with anyone since I found myself in this predicament back in September.

Most days I catch myself thinking that I didn’t really need anyone else anyways. Yes, I felt lonely a lot, but then I always remembered I was the only person who could ever be responsible for my own happiness. Growing up, the only person I could ever count on was myself… so I never let other people get close to me because they just kept letting me down.

At a young age, I learned I was alone in this life. I know, it sounds pretty heartbreaking for a child to have to discover, but learning that lesson early on in life always made me feel superior to other kids – because I knew something they didn’t yet. Still I wonder when most people discover that revolutionizing truth for themselves. Probably once it’s too late, I’m assuming.

At night, sometimes I wake up screaming because even on a deep subconscious level I knew I actually couldn’t count on myself anymore… and that was scary. I lost my job, and as a result, I lost my home, possessions, and what little family contact I had left. How could I rely on myself now when I let my life spiral out of control like that so quickly?

I’m living on the street now because I couldn’t keep myself financially afloat. I’m the only thing I have left, and sometimes that sad truth gives me nightmares.

But at least the only person left to disappoint me is me. And I’m okay with that, because the element of surprise is no longer a factor.

I lost my job because the company I worked for went bankrupt and then I lost my home because I really had no money saved up yet. At only 24 years-old, there hadn’t been much time or opportunity to start saving. I worked hard and was responsible, but it wasn’t enough. I still had always lived paycheck to paycheck and could barely scrape together enough money to make ends meet each month even when I did have a job, so there was literally nothing to cushion my fall when I was no longer employed. Things started to unravel quickly and there was no one to help me.

I was never close with my family, so they weren’t an option I could depend on when my life started to fall apart after unemployment hit. In fact, I didn’t even have any friends because I knew I couldn’t trust them.

And, thinking back, I swear it feels like everything fell apart within a matter of a couple of weeks. There was no time to save myself or my home. Once I had no source of income, I couldn’t afford to pay for anything. I remember getting phone calls and emails every day reminding me that I had overdue bill payments for everything. I couldn’t even buy myself groceries, so how was I supposed to pay for luxuries like shelter or transportation?

And then things eventually went quiet; the phone calls and emails stopped because I didn’t have money to pay the phone bill so they shut off my service, and I had to sell my computer for what little money it was even worth so I could pay for food.

I remember thinking the silence was nice, actually.

Soon enough, my credit cards were cut off, my bank account was depleted, and my car was repossessed. I think I had $4 cash in my wallet. Financially speaking, I was worth nothing.

My life was in shambles, but at least there was no one left to bother me and constantly remind me that I was a failure.

Might sound crazy, but I remember feeling as if a peaceful wave washed over me for a moment and that brief feeling allowed me to accept what was happening.

And the next week my landlord finally kicked me out. I packed only what I could carry because I had nowhere else to store my belongings, and I left.

I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I walked until I found myself nearing the wooded outskirts of the town I used to call my home. I laid a thin blanket down in a grass field where it seemed nobody would ever find me, and I slept. I slept for what felt like days. When I woke up, the first thing I thought was that I really had nothing to do. For the first time in ages, I had nowhere I needed to be, no one who was counting on me to be on time or to even show up at all.

There was nothing. And I was nothing.

It was a little scary to think about this life as my new reality, but I knew I’d be okay. Growing up, I basically raised myself and I think I turned out just fine. Well, maybe not in your opinion. But “fine” is a subjective term. You may not think I’m fine – mentally or physically or emotionally speaking – but I’ll make this new lifestyle work for me for as long as I need to.

Most people probably think that once you’re homeless there’s no going back, that there’s no redemption or hope. I’m not sure if I believe that, though. No one will probably ever want to hire me or give me a chance when I look like this – when I look homeless – but I could find a shower somewhere one day and fix my outward appearance to adhere to your expectations.

And I’m not crazy… yet. I think the loneliness creeps up on you when you become homeless. We start talking to ourselves because there’s no one else, and eventually we start to live in a make-believe world of our own. Our mental faculties deteriorate from lack of use, and it’s all downhill from there. I try to keep myself sharp, though, so you don’t pity me as much.

It hasn’t been that long since I lost everything I never truly cared about in the first place. And already I don’t recognize myself. My old self, that is.

If I just cleaned up, I could fool you into thinking I was my old self again. But I’m not, because now I’m no one. The man I was before is gone. Thank God.

I have what I need out here. You might not think so because I don’t really have money or shelter or healthcare or food, but I’m surviving just the same.

Being homeless has allowed me to experience my own freedom from constraint. I’m free to go wherever I want, whenever I want, and do whatever I want.

If I need to sleep outside in the cold and scavenge around for food, then so be it. Because for the first time in a long time, I feel like the heavy weight of a stressful life has been lifted off my shoulders.

I feel lighter and happier now that I have “nothing” than I ever felt when I had “everything.”

Maybe one day I’ll be like you again, but you’re probably not as content or carefree as I am. So, on second thought, I think I’ll just keep living as a dirty bum.

 

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