It is a strange sensation, having come to terms with leaving San Francisco in the summer, that is if summer ever comes. Outside is an icy, windy, freezing cold and rainy mess. We have had storm after storm and though I am safely on top of a hill, the road outside is a river. Climate change or a new ice age, HAARP meddling in the climate, by cloudbusting secret scientists who want to make it rain on drought-ridden California, or simply a bad winter blowing in from some unusual artic influence, I do not know or care. To be frank, I just want California to be California once again and the sun to come out and shine shine shine down on us.
I am huddled under blankets, wearing a huge sweater and two pairs of pants. I would expect this if I lived in the pretty but snowy wasteland that is winter in Minnesota. I would not expect balmy 70 degree weather and to wear a tee shirt and no jacket outside. I look at photos of Februarys past, and at this exact date for the last two of them it has been sun shiny weather, with no coat needed. This year I am wondering how many layers I can squeeze in under my jacket and pulling the wooly hat firmly over my exposed and prone to the cold ears. I will never grow my hair again, but short hair leaves little protection from the elements. I get a burnt neck in the summer and blue ears in the winter. I am half considering a summer bucket hat surfer dude style. Or wearing some Beau Geste get up like I am heading into the desert. I always did like those old movies. My hands are playing up. I see the refrain of ‘my arthritis has locked my fingers up!’ is going to be a common one throughout what is left of my life. I don’t mean to complain, but I can hardly move my fingers on my right hand. It is not conducive to writing, still as usual, I battle onwards.
It is so cold I have moved my sensitive plants away from the window, and am carefully protecting them from the freezing weather. I wish someone would move me away from the window, I am sensitive too. While I was shifting Gordito, the fat old cactus, to a safer spot, I noticed there was an actual human being outside in the rain and the ice with no where to go. They had a hammock and a huge collection of bathroom tissue. The tissue went on the floor under a tree, underneath my window. The person was very young, slender and male. They at least had long pants and a coat, but it was not enough. They were drenched to the bone and trying to string the hammock up in the tree, but with the two ends together to make a kind of shelter. Once they had got it tied up in the tree, they sat it in swinging in the wind and the rain.
I saw the light of their cell phone. Before anyone reads this who is going to say the inevitable, “hah! They can’t be too destitute! They have a phone! How do they even charge it! Ha! See! They are ok!, let me tell you something. The homeless in San Francisco are given free phones by homeless services so these poor people can get food stamps, call to sort out their benefits payments, and are given a sheer lifeline so they can survive modern life. Quit judging. The rest of you kind and decent people that don’t begrudge a free cell phone and service to some lost soul who is outside with no home and no bathroom, no shower and no hope, I hope life goes easy for you and you stay kind. His phone glowed in the glare of the street light and the dark of the street. I could see his shoulders shaking, whether from cold or tears I do not know. The thing is, I could have opened my door. I could have let him in. But if I did so what danger could I be letting into my home? What if he is not a good person – there are good and bad on the streets just like there are in homes and houses. What if he hurt me and the Boy? I could not do it, and it broke my heart. I sat there sobbing and feeling like the biggest nastiest person ever.
See, I have been that person out there in the cold looking into the windows with their warm glow and hearing the hum of televisions and the heat rising from their warm rooms. I longed to be able to go inside with my children. I have been that person on the outside looking in enviously hoping that one day I could be inside looking out instead of outside looking in. In my fear and the cold, in the hopelessness of having to accept my lot and sit on the sidewalk because I had to stop moving and could not carry on another step, I wondered why some comfortable person with all that space inside would not open the door and let me sit and warm up with the kids. I wondered how they could see me outside and not feel bad about not helping. I thought to myself that these inside people must be heartless and cruel and have no empathy or kindness in their souls. I sat outside, irritating them, spoiling their view, a blot on the landscape, angering these inside people by my very existence. They judged my mothering without knowing a thing about me. They judged my situation without understanding it. They deemed me insane. A waste of space. A loser. A Bad Mother. They cast their inside-people judgement upon me, and I sat under the weight of it with nowhere left to go.
If I went back to my home, to my husband in Japan he would beat me to death. I was not welcome at any family home because mostly these people were not my flesh and blood and they hated me from the start. I was not welcome there because my children had brown skin and almond-shaped eyes. I was not welcome there. I had no one to call. I had no where to go to. I was not wanted anywhere. Most of the time I was outside with children I was sober. Sometimes I was not. All of the times I was outside before I was a mother I was high…and who could blame me? I had been abused as a child, hated by those who brought me up, mocked and bullied and cast out. It was all I could do to stay kind and decent and not be a feral animal who bit anyone who came close to me. I had nowhere to go to. Shelters were all full. Call back tomorrow when somewhere was needed that night. I would sleep in all-night McDonalds, barely shutting my eyes for a few moments, so I could protect the kids. I would sleep in parks. I would sleep in campgrounds. The Inside-people forget that outside people are people and that they need to sleep too.
A particularly nasty cop moved us on once. We were in a parking lot, just trying to stop for a few moments. We had only been there five minutes. We were lost and needed to stop and get ourselves together. It was in some awful southern California town. They banged on the window and told us to get out of the empty parking lot at 1am. We explained that we were tired, we couldn’t drive further safely and had to stop at least for an hour to rest a while. The cop didn’t want to hear it. They gave us directions and told us to get back on the road. They didn’t care if we had an accident, if we were tired. We were not humans to them, we were a problem that could be solved by moving us forever onwards. People cannot move on forever, even nomads like me have to occasionally stop and rest and eat and sleep. We are not made for perpetual motion. The problem is, when the outside people are dehumanized by the inside people, then the inside-people forget that humans like us need to stop. We can’t keep moving on. We also cannot disappear. Just where do they want us to go to? The reply always comes back: anywhere but here! But then, there, and there and there also says anywhere but here. In the end people run out of steam. They have to stop. There is no choice. So we gather ourselves under trees and huddle down while houses and apartments and hotel rooms sit empty and pristine.
I have spent many a dangerous storm outside. I generally have had a tent or a vehicle – at least since I had children. The wind threatened to blow us right over. The rain ran down walls of shelter and you could not hear anyone talk or even think due to the sheer noise of a storm outside. Inside people are sheltered from how noisy storms are. Rain and wind is deafeningly loud. Outside you are more connected to the environment around you, to its hostility and possibilities. I look at the little roofed area with metal bars on one wall and a metal gate on the other, and it looks like a perfect little shelter. OK, so only two walls, but a roof and if you huddled in the corner it would be good enough. My standards for shelter are not that demanding. Still I am here in my home under blankets dry and safe, while this poor man is outside, trying to string a hammock from a tree in a storm so bad it scared me even from behind the right side of the window. Can you blame him if he was there getting high? I can’t. He stayed there a couple of hours then untied his hammock and went on his way. As he sat out there a woman took photos of him in the tree. She was actually bitching about the fact he stopped moving for a moment. She was more concerned about the tree than the human. I am glad I am not like her.
It is a feat to be sure, but I am glad for my suffering. I am glad I am not spoilt and soft. I am glad I know what it feels like to be outside looking in. I am glad I know that he was there cursing the people who didn’t have a heart to let him in – including me. The fact remains that there should have been a team going round with hotel vouchers. No forms to fill in, no hoops to jump through, just vouchers and an address and somewhere safe to go. There should not have been a single person out there on the streets last night, and nor should a single soul be out there today. The storms have not stopped yet. The heavy rain is on its way in. We have to wait until Wednesday for dry weather. The sky is dark and ominous and I just heard a scream. There is nothing I can do to help. I help where I can but I don’t have the ability to do much and I cannot let the outside into my life. I cannot take risks with the kid. I cannot take any more damage or hurt or drama. There is not much of me left. I used it all up trying to protect people while I was one of the outside people. I suspect I will be an outside person once again some day. I will be left with the memories of when I had people to protect and the shame of running out of steam and I will be that person outside that you take photos of huddling under a tree trying to stay out of the weather, with my head in the clouds trying to escape from the horrific reality that in the end of things I am out there. And you are in here.
Where do the Angels fear to tread? Not where the fools go lightly that is for sure. The Angels fear to tread the paths that the homeless go. The cold paths, the unloved paths, the uncared for road. The highway that calls so sweetly to those that don’t know it, and then destroys so totally if they ever get to find out. Angels fear to tread in the places where people go not go willingly, and yet are forced to go because some cop with a hard-on for cruelty moved them on…and on…and on again. Angels fear to tread down the street that runs outside my window. They fear to perch in that tree where the hammock swayed. Angels fear to tread near me.
You and your son Will always be welcome in Belo Horizonte.
That is an immensely kind and generous thing to offer. Thank you. I can’t promise I’ll never take you up on it!
I want to bring them inside too.
You are a good person.