The towns rush by out of place in my photo albums. Blue toothed. Cold. Snowy. Hot. Endless road. Endless summer. Endless rain. Endless days that had to end. Fires that never go out. Smiles frozen onto faces. Arms stuck for eternity around shoulders. Forever stooping or peering or holding onto each other until life does what life tends to do and pried us apart, however hard we tried to stick together like glue. “Im sticking with you. Because I’m made outta glue” I would sing, and I believed it, man. I really believed it. I believed it could go on forever. Nothing lasts forever.
Nothing is permanent. Everything shifts and fades, or grows or dies or transforms into something new. Stasis, even if it is a content stasis, an eternal July 15th 2017 in Minnesota by a lake kinda perfection, if just not possible. Nothing stays bad. Nothing stays good. The days that I woke up not expecting anything different, anything new, and by the end of the day was left reeling, curled up into a fetal curled up ball weeping in the corner, still shock me now just as they shocked me then. Living on the road, living on the edge, anything can turn up knocking with no notice, no warning, no easing into a new life or place or time or era. It is a life in constant shift. The thing I notice about life now it is just me and the Boy, living indoors, is that life is quiet and mostly uneventful. Occasionally something happens: A near miss where a crazed driver almost ran me over at a crossing on the walking green; a man refusing to let me pass, insisting on talking to me. An injury. A loss. It is not as unstable as it used to be. No constant flux. No drive down the road and disaster, or total change for better or worse.
Pictures of you shift in time. Was that the time I had that nasty cut from a branch across my back that I had got from not being careful on the way to the outdoor bathrooms? Was that the bad sunburn? Was that a good day? In time they are all good days. In time they are all nice times. I keep them in my heart like treasure, and polish them like silver.
I used to wake up and pray to a God that I didn’t believe in that just that day, just that day would be a ‘nice day’. That ‘nice day’….”Let’s just have a nice day, shall we?” I would plead, before the day would go out of its way to be anything but nice. A dog shitting by my campfire, it’s bland faced owner not caring that my living room was now a fecal crime scene, and my food was permeated with the scent of dog shit and piss. A person deciding to walk through my ‘front room’ – my camping spot, and stop and talk in my private space that I had paid for, the only space I had in the world to try and live. A tick burrowing its poison way into my thigh, and my having to pull out its tiny pincers with tweezers, wondering if I was going to add lyme disease to the package of problems I had to contend with. I got lucky. Not even a vengeful angry God was going to give me a bullseye rash, or perhaps I was just ready for some good luck. Perhaps finally my sleepy neglectful Angel that should be sitting on my right shoulder, woke up and did their ‘thing’. Maybe the tick was just not diseased. Spider bites. Snakes. Bears. Crows playing the drums on my tin roof. The weather, the wildlife, life itself, none of it had any chill. All of it seemed to try and kill me on a daily basis, or at least drive me into insanity.
My life was a series of destructions: wake up. Go about life. Get a phone call. End up waist deep in a river screaming. Lost. Keening. A scream coming out of somewhere deep inside me that I did not even recognize as being from me, that just kept sounding and sounding from somewhere ‘else’. Sometimes I wonder where that place is? Where is that place where the bonds that seem unbreakable are severed forever? Where is that place beyond desolation? What does it even matter anyhow? Self pity never got me anywhere. Focusing on what was unfair, or not right just leads into a spiral of recriminations that fails to improve the situation. Fair has nothing to do with anything. That fact used to drive me into furious distraction. Fair used to be a fairytale I believed in. No more. No one gets ‘fair’. Life is inherently unfair. Best get on with it.
What is the point in forever screaming a desire for obliteration when life is so short anyway? I never wanted to be dead, or gone, or buried, or suicided. I wanted to live out of spite. Sometimes I would tell myself I longed to be dead and gone and forgotten – that at least it would be over. I didn’t mean it. I was being churlish. What I meant was that I wanted life to be different, and I fought red tooth and bloody nail for that ‘different’. Much of the different was not bearable either. Much of it was terrifying, and disappointing, and lost and forlorn and let down. Much of it scared me more than Tokyo and the monster that tried to kill me. Much of it broke my heart; but here I am! Here I am. In a home with my son, and a guitar and headphones on my head playing songs that remind me of days that I could barely bear, that I almost collapsed under the weight of. Outside it is raining. The car horns blare. The sirens wail. The street is slick. The days slide past and pile up at the wall, smashing into each other. I wonder will the happiness have to stop? Is this a temporary break in the insanity and the loss, or a permanent feature of bearable and kind and forgiving?
Who knows? Time doesn’t seem to have a clue, it just goes on, relentless. Unforgiving. Wake up. Sleep. Wake up. Sleep. Get better at the bits inbetween. Get drunk. Get high. Get a grip. Get a life. Get motivated. Get sober. Get mad. Get real mad. Get stopped in the camper van by the cops. The word ‘non malicious’ gets bandied about, concerning the person that caused it. I end up getting asked to leave my only shelter. I end up getting a taxi to San Francisco. He ends up only getting another ten months of life. Wake up in Oregon. Go to sleep unexpectedly in a campground in Idaho: go out for groceries: end up in a ditch with a towing bill I could never afford. And so it goes and goes. All that endless road. All that forever moving. All that different place outside my shelter on a regular basis. All that shifting. All that bathrooms never being the same place twice. All the jumping out of the passenger seat, running into grocery stores, or legal pot shops, or out to pay for camping while the rain drips onto the only beds any of us had, and leaves us in the morning, with wet patches soaked through to the skin and shaking with cold, the mold growing on the foam pads that took the place of mattresses. It is impossible to stay dry out there in winter. It is impossible to stay warm. From October to April we got soaked through, frozen to the bone. Damp and sick and uncomfortable. The rhythm of life switching between empty camps and wet clothes to warm weather and campgrounds full of the housed who have somewhere else to fucking go, but insist on taking the camping spots that so many people actually live in year in and year out. Still the vacationers are given first dibs on campgrounds and spaces, booking up the camps a year in advance, while the rest of us, who have suffered winter outside are left with nowhere to go, as the housed peoples homes sit empty and they play at living the life that we lived all the time.
Sometimes these people would talk to us. “Living the dream!” They would exclaim, as if living in the forests and the dunes and the campgrounds was some kind of hippy idyllic existence, some dreamlife of travelling and no responsibility, as if we were some strange beings who liked being outside. Enjoyed being homeless. Hobos who were happier that way. I would want to grab a stick of firewood and jam it into their forehead, but instead just nodded and smiled, smiled and nodded and waited for them to fuck off back to their games of toss the bean bag and their uncomprehending life. All of it, all of it comes from a hard earned place – their lack of understanding, my lack of tolerance that went down the drain some were around Eureka, California when the thousandth person asked me where I was from…and when I was going home again. Can’t people just leave me be to live? Must I always be bowed under the weight of exile, being different, being outcast? Everyone needs some space, and if not acceptance, at least being left to get on with life without harrassment.
All that walking across campgrounds and parking lots in my pyjamas, not caring; after all YOU were all in my front room. You were all in my house. You were all invading my privacy as I tried to live and raise a child in the only place I had to do so, my only sanctuary was YOUR vacation. Why should I care if the interloper is in my home and offended by my snoopy teeshirt and my long shorts? I would see a regular round of fellow unhoused people as I travelled up and down the coast.
The nice couple with the home made truck bed topper camping shelter, like a shed on wheels. Not legal. Not safe. Yet so comforting. Lashed together with tarps and ropes and bungees and pulleys, painted so lovingly, like a little caravan. It suited their nomadic lifestyle, their sweet German Shepherd who took up more room in their living space than they did, and their sweet attitude of simple gratitude. It was, however, untenable. Cops hassled them. Campgrounds stuck up their noses at their sweet little camper with the roses painted on the side and the tiny little outdoor kitchen that folded out into their camping spot, and refused to take their money and let them camp there. Many campgrounds have rules against home made camping equipment, or the age and condition of the camping equipment. We were turned away and our money refused many times because our camper was far more than ten years old. Snide voices down telephone lines would ask for more details about our equipment and then tell us that we ‘didn’t fulfill criteria’ to camp for a week or so. The only places we could reliably camp were in National Forests or State campgrounds. There if you turn up and pay and there is a space you can at least camp, if not in peace, at least for a couple of weeks without too much hassle, or being moved on, even if you did pay. The pandemic closed all those places and made it absolutely impossible for any one who was unhoused. The rangers told us to ‘go home’. We were home. We were never home. Even now, in this apartment I could happily live in the rest of my life, we are not guaranteed a place to live beyond next August. I live my life in a state of fear and defeat. It is almost enough to make me wish Billy was alive and we could take to the road again, heading off for more blacktop, more adventures, more open spaces. More accepting being under the pits of society and not giving a fuck. More freedom. But those days have gone and so has he. Now in this Covid age, we would not make another mile. So much freedom has been lost, and there is still so much more to lose under the guise of ‘safety’ and ‘protection’ and ‘health’. How many people have died due to these new rules and regulations that make life impossible?
Even in San Francisco the SIP hotels have all closed down. People have been thrown back onto the streets. A storm is coming down hard and cruel outside, and though there are temporary storm shelter spaces open for the duration of this storm, it is not nearly enough, and there are still people out there, getting wet, getting sick, getting cold, getting lost and forgotten.
Nowadays I have learnt to wake up suspicious. It could be me and the Boy out there again. It might still go that- a- way. I might not intend to even leave the house, but that doesn’t stop the winds of change shifting threateningly. A new storm blew in last night and kept me awake tapping on the fire escape and window panes. All I could do was remember what it is like being out there in bad storms, and failing to stay dry and warm, worrying for my children getting sick and cold and wet, let alone uncomfortable. It is no place for children out there. No place for adults either. I lay in my bed wondering at the dryness of my home, the adequateness of my shelter, despite the wind blowing and the rain falling and the coldness of the storm front. I lay here, cosy and warm, no dripping, no freezing. No Billy. No Girl. No trees outside. No road and thought about the trade off: dry and warm for what? The road? Did this play for normality for me and the Boy hurt other people? Is that my responsibility? Is it my fault? Does it matter? I am tired os second guessing myself. I did what I could do when I could do it.
Living out there on the road in that big wide open free space, no red tape, no one to answer to, I was freer and more alive than I ever had been, and ever will be again. It is a lie that there is nothing to lose and nothing to gain out there: it is exactly the opposite, it is a life where there is everything to lose on a daily basis, but life is honest and real. A fire. A pitcher of clean water. A shower. A hand held. A tarp holding off most of the rain. A shelter. A tent. A car park to stop and sleep. A bag of bruised apples. A baked potato. A dented can of beans. The value of enough food. A meal once every few days. The definition of happiness, of luxury, of full and warm and dry enough reduces to the point where happiness is obtainable. Satisfaction comes within reach. Out there I wanted for so much – basic shelter from the storms, healthcare, somewhere to stop, a meal often enough, yet I found contentment. And that contentment has stayed with me. I feel like I am living the high life. Living like a Queen. Living large. Living life in the relative safety of a life with a front day. Dear God, I don’t think you are listening, but can you keep us in this place for a while. I could do with a lucky break.