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Rating: 3 votes, 4.67 average.

Survival, a personal tale

Posted 04-26-2012 at 04:27 PM by nightbird47

This was written when I was trying to deal with having been homeless. Echos still linger, though I am no longer take medication for depression. The worst is that still, almost ten years later, life is still divided into chunks of time and the rest doesn't really exist until you get to it.

a personal tale

Any day, 5:45am

Drifting in sleep and dream, nestled in a bed of pillows and warm with blankets, everything is wonderful. Music plays in the background, but I hardly hear it. Tonight itís rock and roll. Some nights itís talk or classical. But it shuts out all the other sounds.

Wake-up is 6am. You get used to it after a little while. The mind adjusts to knowing the day is here. So this could be any morning with just a few minutes of peace left.

Suddenly, the lights come on full. Noises from the real world intrude on the better one.

"Wakkie wakkie, shakee shakee!"

He talks on the phone all night, and sometimes I canít sleep. Heís near to being kicked out of his apartment because they donít pay him enough to ride herd on a bunch of sleeping people. But Iíll bet nobody here would be sorry if they kick him out and he has to sleep on a cement floor, too.

I look up at the clock on the wall. Hazy vision shows itís fifteen minutes too early. But the other one, the one that likes to be in charge, will start pushing people around if we donít wake up fast enough.
She kicked me one time when I couldnít wake up.

So I do my normal routine. Sitting up, I toss my bedding off the mat. Then I fold the sheet theyíll give somebody else tomorrow before they wash it. I notice a stain I missed last night. Then fold up the mat and haul both of them to the bins.

Now I take care of my own bedding. Everybody wonders why I bring this big bundle of pillows and blankets each night. But I have a comfortable bed and they have a hard floor. Itís worth the extra work in the morning.

Itís so familiar I donít even think about it. Fold the blanket in half. Pile up the pillows in the middle. Wrap the comforter around the whole thing and roll it up. Then pull the homemade strap around it. Itís all done in minutes and flatter than any sleeping bag Iíve attempted to roll up.

Then our bedding gets piled up against a wall where it wonít be in the way of the tables. When itís warm you have to put it outside, but with the cold they let us leave it inside.

I grab my rollie and head for the bathroom.
Thereís a trick here. Get there too early, and you get the bathroom and the mirror and dressed a lot earlier. But you have to go outside when the tables go down. Get there too late and you are still getting ready when the breakfast line forms. The best doughnuts and cereal are gone if youíre at the end. But just in time, and you miss the cut-off where you donít have to go outside but can be in line as soon as they let you.

Today everything went fine. Iím dressed and done in plenty of time. The womanís bathroom is steamy and a little close, but itís better than being outside in the cold like the ones in a hurry.

Itís time to line up. Single women wait behind all the families. The best stuff is gone when weíre too crowded with kids. But this time, it doesnít really matter. The only cereal they have is red and blue and purple and tastes crummy. The muffins from Starbucks are good, but a little dry. The coffee looks thick and I avoid the creamer. They forget theyíre supposed to refrigerate it most of the time.

So, breakfast is a bust. But at least I have enough money to go across the street to Burger King and make up for it.

Now itís time to drag out our personal stuff. My bundle is heavy and awkward, but in the morning I can take my time. When I get to the car, Iím always grateful that I have this little place to call my own. Other people have to carry their stuff around all the time, or hide it and hope itís still there when they come back that night.

I go to toss the bundle, but I messed up the rest of my stuff last night in a hurry to get into line. I do quick repairs and throw it in. Later I have to redo the mess. People are standing outside the fence, talking about the weather, feeding the homeless cats that live outside the homeless shelter. The kids are taking apart their sack lunches to see if the bread is moldy. The cats will be well fed this morning.

I take longer than usual loading my car. I need a few minutes of meditation to build this shield of safety all around me.

So Iím sitting in my car, just relaxing, when a cop stops behind me. I realize itís 7:30 and weíre supposed to be gone. I start up the engine and wonder why they have the power to run people off the street when its public parking. But businesses around the corner donít like the shelter being so close and they pay the copís salaries.

I drive around the block to the underpass to Burger King.

The sun is up, but the sky is still hazy. The first hint of warmth is still a few hours away. I hurry inside.
This particular spot is a haven. Most fast food places want you to eat and go, but this one gets most of itís customers from the drive thru and inside is often empty. They donít mind if you take a couple of hours to finish your breakfast and drink all the coffee you want. They donít even mess with you if you hang around most of the day as long as you order a few things.

The muffins filled me up a little. I go cheap on breakfast. But itís the one meal you get a lot more for less. I eat slowly, reading a newspaper, and drink all the coffee I can stand.

Itís a little past nine. I look at my watch to see if their clock is right and regret there is so much of the day to wander before the evening comes again.

I must deal with the car. I drive up the hill, further from the shelter than most go, to a park I like to visit. Itís too far for the bus travelers to hang out, and Iíd really rather not see them for a few hours. Here, itís peaceful and quiet and nobody bothers me.

But I hate having to empty the car, then sort and refill it. The lunchtime crowd comes to eat their food in peace. They stare. I pretend I donít see them. After awhile, they donít see me at all.

I make a couple of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. But itís getting past noon and the wind is blowing. Iím getting cold and itís time to go inside.
The library is another retreat for us. Itís close enough to the shelter we can get back without a lot of wasted time. I used a friendís local address for a library card so I can use the internet for an hour. It takes time to wait for my appointment, so I get to use up more of the day. Then I can spend some quality time with a website or two. If itís too early, I find a quiet table and do some writing until itís time for dinner.

I could eat at the shelter. But the food is sometimes inedible. Iíve heard about how sometimes it tastes really bad. And all the food is donated. Itís shoved in the frig to be used when they get to it, even if its past too old.

Sometimes they wait too long. I wonít take the chance of getting sick.

Dinner is boring. One plain baked potato, or two if I have an extra dollar. One small chili with cheese, and a drink if I can swing it. I get a little money from family, and this fits the budget. And itís both filling and fresh.

But itís close to four. I left tomorrowís clothes on top, but still have to make sure I get all the stuff I need. Canít go out and get something when you forget once your in. I head back to the shelter and grab the nights bundles and my rollie, then stuff in tomorrowís clothes.

Noticing the amount of kids, I hurry to get in line. But there is a new family with four children. Theyíll get five mats and probably double up on two of them. But it will put a few single women out on the street at night.

People drive by and look at the losers standing in line with their bundles. They probably think of us as some kind of blight. Or they push us away as if we didnít exist. Maybe the money is so tight and the budget so much in the hole they have the unspoken fear that someday they might be in line with us.
I make conversation with the people Iíve gotten to know. We watch out for each other. Everybody asks how the day went. Today there is open worry by the single women about all the kids. Nobody wants to sleep on a hard floor and be harassed by people who think they are better than you, but itís inside and its safe. At least the nice staff supervisor is working tonight. She always gives the little ones half a mat. A few more of us will get in.

We relax a little. A woman who has only been a here a couple of days realizes sheís forgotten her blanket and gets out of line. I move up one. Before the blanket lady is back we get sent to the rear of the building.

We assemble again, families ahead and the rest hurrying to get a front space in the line. They start admitting the families. Then the first three single women get in. And then they stop.

"Give me a count on mats," says the woman at the door.

No. Itís too cold and dark not to get in.
What will I do if Iím too late? I have to sleep tonight. The car is impossible. I canít fall asleep worrying about some freak finding me and wonít chance taking my meds. Or maybe the local cops will make me move on. So unless I can get a friend to let me use their couch itís coffee all night long at a 24 hour coffee shop.

But they say the next five. Iím number five. Maybe if the blanket lady hadnít left I wouldnít get in. Tomorrow I vow to be extra, extra early.

But now thereís the routine. Itís rushed and boring and regimented, but comforting too. Itís a little bit of normalcy in a world where few things are predictable.

I know the drill. Sign in, go to your assigned mat, take a towel, grab a sheet. Try to check if the sheet is too bad. Then make your bed and sit down and wait until itís your turn for a shower.

I hurry the shower. Itís warm and soothing, but you canít get much relaxation in ten minutes. Itís quick and brisk and sometimes haphazard. But it does feel good. And they donít rush you after the shower. You have time to dry your hair and do those other things that make this "normal".

And then we get to sit on our mats and relax. Sometimes the TV is on, but my taste in shows is a lot different than most of them. And the sound is so low and the picture too fuzzy itís not worth trying to watch. I read or draw or listen to music. Sometimes I have a conversation.

Tonight I need to relax and read a little. But itís hard to concentrate. Iím too tired to be awake and too weary to sleep.

Lights out is at ten. I get a glass of water and sneak my meds. People on psych drugs arenít allowed to stay there. Half the people in this room take them. But we have enough sense to leave it off the paperwork. The pills make me sleepy. Eventually Iíll crash.

I keep thinking about life, how grateful I am for this place. And tonight is the best. Iím not next to the drink machine. They cover it with a sheet, but that hardly makes it dark enough. And youíre right next to the door and get frozen every time they open it.
Iím not in the middle of a bunch of crowded mats. If I have to get up I wonít have to trip over anyone.

Iím in the best spot in the whole room, by the kitchen. The mat can go next to the wall. I always sleep that way when I have the choice. Sometimes I wonder how such small details have gotten to be so important.

I canít sleep. A few nights ago a woman came in and was sent away. Sheíd used up her ninety days a year. She was in panic, but nobody gave her any sympathy, including me. When my time comes up, how will I manage without this place?

How did we end up here? Some just got used to drifting. A few women left abusive men. Most just lost their homes and had no place else to go.
And some, like me, are stuck on the rules. Iíve applied for disability. If I work, even a little, that will be denied. People like me will move on and find a place to live, even if itís just a room to rent, when the money is there. Some here can never go back.

But none of that is now. I push all of it out of my mind. I slide against the wall, nestled in pillows. The blankets are keeping me warm.

If Iíve learned anything from this nightmare, itís to live in the moment. Maybe tomorrow Iíll have to survive on the crap they serve at breakfast and a few sandwiches. Maybe it will rain and mess up the whole day. Maybe the car will die again.

But that is tomorrow and it hasnít come yet. Tonight, it was a pretty good evening. The good or bad about tomorrow is unknown. So I donít worry about it.

I change the station on my radio. Rock and roll is too busy, so I find a classical station. The batteries are new and the ear buds on this little radio stay in. Pretty soon Iíll be floating in the peaceful, calm place Iíd like to stay forever. It doesnít matter that it will end in the morning. I have it now, and know you have to grab all the peace and happiness you can.

Tomorrow begins at 6am. When the lights come on, I will hold onto this peaceful night so I can stand the day before night comes and I find some comfort again.

Drifting in sleep and dream, nestled in a bed of pillows and warm with blankets everything is wonderful . . . .

Posted in Lifestyle
Views 1868 Comments 6
Total Comments 6


  1. Old Comment
    great read! So detailed i could visualize the room. Kudos on your positive thinking in such a situation. D. Scott.
    Posted 04-26-2012 at 10:07 PM by D. Scott D. Scott is online now
  2. Old Comment
    WIsh I could have helped you. Too sad for me to read.
    Posted 10-11-2013 at 01:10 PM by Seadory Seadory is online now
  3. Old Comment

    I Was Once Temporarily Homeless By My Own Choice Not Because Of Necessity

    I remember once upon a time not wanting to live with my " mother-in-law " but having her house offered to ne as a place to stay. I remember sending my wife and children there but refusing to stay there myself , instead living in " My Eddie Bauser Aerostar Tricked out Van ". with the seats that let down into a bed , and the front vibrating and heated seats. I remember urinating into a 5 gallon gas container that had a funnel and hose attached to it , and going to my mother in law place earily in the morning to empty it.I remember sleeping as comforble as a bug in a rug when it was 17 degrees outside because I slept in a " Ski Parkas " and Sleeping Bag at night and would actually be " sweating because I was ( too hot )". Those were the days when I was a Bona Fide Elite Homeless Man " got harassed by the police some days but always told them the same story ( had a disagreement with wife and will be going back home tomorrow), Well I eventually put aside all of my dumb stupid " pride " and moved in with my wife and kids at my Mother-In-Law estate and stayed there for about the next 2 years.
    Posted 01-15-2014 at 07:43 PM by Howest2008 Howest2008 is offline
  4. Old Comment
    You have an amazing story, written well.
    Posted 03-21-2014 at 05:21 PM by HarryLou HarryLou is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    Posted 05-18-2014 at 06:59 PM by tiluha tiluha is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Wow, just wow.
    Posted 05-19-2014 at 09:22 PM by Lodestar 77 Lodestar 77 is offline

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