I have to get out the house at least once a day. If I don’t get outside of these lovely walls I start to chew my fingernails and worry at the fabric of my cuffs, fraying my sleeves and unpicking the knitting of my only sweater. I have trouble being caged. Is it wrong to admit that I miss the road? Is it churlish to say that whilst I need to be inside, that sleeping in a clean bed without water dripping on my head is still a crazy luxury, that I adore hot showers and sometimes jump into my shower multiple times a day just because I can, and the privilege of being able to shit and piss in my own clean toilet is something I will always treasure, that if I shut my eyes and remember the walk I used to make to a public shower in a somewhat remote rural campground, past the trees, and down a little trail, trying to avoid the poison ivy and watching for bears in the backwoods, still haunts my dreams as a tiny slice of heaven.
I can see myself in my slides and wearing pyjamas in public, because when you have been living outside that long, outside starts to feel like it is all yours, and people are in your way, in your space. Fuck em. They don’t care if I am wearing snoopy sleep pants and a zip up jacket with nothing underneath on my way to try and get some of the grime off. They look at me all the same anyway – like I am spoiling their view and ruining their vacation.
If I let my mind wander, I can see the path turn right, then come to an end, opening into a little campground up on the headland, with a deep large lake at the bottom of the gorge. I turn my head. Look left. There it is. My truck. Beastie. Her whites are all grey and yellow. Her decorative flashes peeling off, her blinds all gone and there are patchwork quilts up at the windows. Sitting at the picnic table there are two children. A boy and a girl. They are conspiratorial. Whispering. Chatting. Bandana’d and gloved. Stoking a campfire. Tightening the ropes of the tent, and adjusting the tarp. At the door Billy stands there, one leg kicked up against the side of the truck, waiting for me. He waves and smiles. I wave back.
My memory exists in that perfect moment of happiness and reassurance. I don’t dare follow it up to the door, all the way to conversations and hugs and kisses and flasks of tea next to the fire, if I try, then the spell gets broken and I end up crying. It is too much to handle. As hard as it was, we had each other. As easy as this is, there are people missing.
Realistically, living outside was not sustainable for the kiddo. For me, it felt safe in a sick and twisted way. It felt like I could keep it going, it felt as if it was sustainable. Living here in the apartment, however wonderful it is, however much I adore it, does not feel sustainable and that scares the shit out of me. I couldn’t make it last. Without that group of people it couldn’t carry on, and most of the time it felt like I was the only one trying to make the best out of things.
Billy hated living in the truck. He resented every single moment. I was always trying to keep people happy, to make things more bearable, to never complain or be pathetic. I would never say when I was feeling cold, or wet, or down, or scared. I just got on with things. There comes a point where tiredness is so pressing, that curling up in a damp and mouldy sleeping bag, on a pile of old blankets, in a corner, face towards the wall of the truck, or else the fabric of the tend, curling up within my self, that it feels cosy, possible, comfortable even. That corner was my space that made me feel as if I had privacy that I did not have. There is no privacy to fuck. No privacy to shit. No privacy to get drunk or high or grieve. No privacy to have family arguments. No privacy to eat. No privacy to celebrate or love or live. None. And yet still the housed world, that happens upon the unhoused world finds reason to judge and complain and feel justified in their outrage that they are forced to share a world with people who are suffering to live. Suffering to survive. Suffering for their humanity. Suffering for other’s lack of it. Suffering to sleep, eat and excrete, and their suffering flaming out pulling those who don’t want to see it close, like moths to the flame, attracted by it, but getting burnt by it at the same time. Resenting the victims and survivors of homelessness and extreme poverty for the failures of society to include everyone in basic human rights to safety, food, medicine & freedom seems unfair.. What does fairness have to do with anything? Just about as much as love, kindness or compassion does, I suppose. All of those things are nice, but none of them seem to be in very plentiful supply.
I was walking along Franklin a couple of days ago. I hadn’t gone out for any particular reason beyond feeling shut into the apartment by the new hyper transmissible variant, and needing some fresh air. Across the road I saw a young man holding a sign, his hair cut into a severe french crop, and heavily bleached. His sign read “not ready to sell my ass”. He was wiggling more enthusiastically than Lou Reed did even in his in his Rock and Roll Animal days, and waving over to me in a way that was more friendly than demanding. He told me his name. I gave him a little change. We spoke about not trusting anyone. He was young and fit and full of life. I hope he got to where he was going to, down the road that left me behind.
The road is a hungry animal, it does not forgive or understand when you get old and beat up and your back hurts more excruciatingly every day that passes. It doesn’t go easy on travellers and devotees or even freedom fighters like me. It curls up about my shoulder like a cat. It settles on my dreams like smoke. It stays thankfully out of reach, yet keeps on calling asking me to a little more suffering in order to feel alive.