#Vanlife Hail the Gypsy Nomad!

In 4 days it will be my birthday. 33 baby! And 3 is my lucky number so this is going to be a double lucky year.

In 5 days, I will start my life as a Van Lifer. Well, a Truck Lifer because I refuse to own a van. EVER. *Shudder*

My life has gotten to the point where it has become necessary to remove myself from my home; a result of events that I won’t really go into detail about. Things happened and this is how I choose to deal with it. I believe it to be a healthy option although I know it’s not the best or most practical option. I am essentially “running away from the mess I created”. Or at least that’s how my husband sees it.

He can have his opinions. He may even be right about them and I’m being naive and stubborn but I won’t know until I actually TRY this life.

When I first started researching van life, it was an article on WordPress actually, that got me started. It was written about a couple who used sponsors to fund their trips, dropping product adverts in instagram photos every day. Kinda cool, if you’re savvy enough to broker that kind of deal. Their latest adventure, the one in the article, was in MY hometown! (Whoop Whooop Southern Cali!) It talked about how the couple worked online to support themselves and sometimes stopped for a month or two to take a physical job to save more money for the road. But the rest of the time, they were driving. No rent. No bills. No car payments. A different view every day. They had the freedom to stay or go as they pleased. They had themselves, a van, and the road ahead.

Yes there were difficulties and they made it very clear that Van Life with a partner is VERY intimate. You have to be extremely comfortable with rank body odor, not as fresh sheets, peeing inside the van at night, sharing food, listening to music together and trying to find “alone” time (and alternately trying to find “together” time). There is always the possibility of breaking down or being broken in to or the sponsors bow out of the deal. But always, at the end of the article, they say it’s worth it. You let go of material things that fill a house and instead fill yourself with memories and experiences. You LIVE, not just survive.

That concept struck such a deep chord in my soul I think I started crying. Seriously.

I started advocating this alternative lifestyle. When a friend came up to me bitching about her home life, I said Leave. Go live in a car. She balked, making excuses for all her stuff and where would she sleep and how would she shower. People can’t let go of their ingrained need for SHELTER. SAFETY. FOOD. CLEANLINESS. STUFFFFFFFF. And they blind themselves to the price they’re paying for all that inside stationary walls. California especially is a shit hole for housing unless you’re rich or want to work two jobs. Embrace freedom my friends. Embrace hardship and set yourself free.

It’s amazing to me how people explode when I tell them I’m going to willingly be homeless (or as I like to think of it, a Gypsy Nomad.) They immediately think of unwashed bums begging in the street for hand outs. (Um, hello, I HAVE a truck and a job, thanks y’all. I have pride of self.) The first thing that comes out of people’s mouths is “It’s not safe!” C’mon now. It’s not safe to stay ANYWHERE. Your house can get burgled just as easily as a car. Has it happened in my almost 33 years of life, living in the ghetto? NO! Have I, a single white woman, even been assaulted on the street or in my home? NO! Is living in a truck more likely to have that happen? Yes, it is, if you’re not smart. Or unlucky. KNOCK ON WOOD.

I’m taking the risk, albeit armed to the teeth. Cuz I’m not unsmart. And I have little other choice at the moment.

The second thing people snap at me out of their finite wisdom of common sense is “Where will you sleep?” Well, let me break it down for you from what I’ve researched.

-Friends’ drive ways or back yards are safest by a long stretch

-Free camp sites or National Land

-24 hours places like Winco and Wal-Mart are a top choices for most urban Van Lifers

-24 hour gyms

-Hotel parking lots

-Hospitals

-Residential areas that have apartment buildings (ain’t never enough parking there for everyone, right?)

And it’s better not stay in one place more than one night if it’s in the city. Wal-Mart may be red neck, but it does have security and opportunistic petty criminals. If people start recognizing your vehicle, they’ll start analyzing your patterns and find an easy opening when you’re unaware. Most urban Van Lifers have a rotation for nightly sleep if they can’t couch surf or park it near a friend’s house. I look forward to the challenge!

The other questions that arise are mostly for traveling Van Lifers such as “What do you do for income?” and “How do you plan for trips?” I have a physical job for now so this is not an issue for me but eventually I would like to research methods into making money online. Be nice to get a job at a magazine or newspaper where I can write on the road. Imagine that, having a job I actually like that funds something I actually want to do.

As for the second, I am taking baby steps. I realize I know practically nothing about my city, other than it has a beach front. If out-of-town friends came and asked me to “show them the sights” I’d be like……………..we have a beach!!” And I know so few restaurants to recommend other than the corporate In and Out, a lure for many. I don’t know the good hiking places or the hidden places with the best views at night. So on my days off and on the weekends, I’m going to make it a point to explore my town and the surrounding cities. (May Gas prices be merciful.)

Now from the beginning, I knew I was only going to be a part-time Van lifer. My kids are out of school for the summer and their father works from sun up til sun down. We can’t afford a kid sitter but I am fortunate enough to have an understanding boss and a flexible schedule at work so I can work nights as soon as he comes home. (Less face time with him that way but makes for a crappy sleeping schedule.) As soon as I got off work, I would find my resting place for the night and set an alarm for 6 so I could be at the house for the girls a little after he leaves for work. Basically I take the day shift and he takes the night shift. Works out nicely that way.

Once the girls go back to school at the end of summer, the routine won’t change much. I’ll still be here at 6 am to get them to school and then if I need to, I can crash on the couch for a while or go to the gym or write. I do kind of want to get a second job for the holidays so I can save up an emergency fund. Since my truck is my home now as well as my travel vehicle, I’m extra paranoid about it. I want to get better insurance and a mechanic’s fund started for routine tune ups and what not.

Be the responsible money saver for once instead of the budget blower.

 

7-24 UPDATE: Gypsy Nomad has flown the coop early due to a deprived dickhead and a spineless wench!

But this means I’ve had my first taste of Van Life…in front of my mom’s current residence when I parked there at 1 am. (She’s basically a Gypsy Nomad although she prefers to couch surf than try to sleep in her tiny Taurus.)

First thing, I am grateful that I bought an extra pad to sleep on because just using my doubt thick yoga mat didn’t offer my body any cushion. Too bad I didn’t think to bring it with me.

Second thing was I really needed to establish black out curtains ASAP because while the sun isn’t up, I was on a residential street and I was parked under a street lamp. It is the safest place to be but affords not relief from the fluorescent bulbs glaring in at me.

Third thing is it’s really important to contact the appropriate people and let them know where you are and when you’ll be around—and when to worry if you haven’t contacted them. (I forgot my phone at home on accident and my kids’ father nearly had a panic attack cuz he didn’t know anything.)

Overall it wasn’t the most gossamer of flights into the Gypsy Nomad life but I did enjoy it, strangely. Not the three hours of sleep or the trek back to the house at 6 am but it was freedom. I chose where to go and what time I did it. I was free to roam the streets at night and let my brain relax away from “What do I do for dinner?” and “I have to start a load of laundry when I get home”. I had everything I needed, toothbrush and all. Just me and Marty (my old man truck).

My new life has just begun. I stumbled a bit at the beginning thanks to an ill-timed weak-willed judgement call but what was I waiting for anyway? I’m going to shake off the old and glide into the unknown.

Happy Birthday to me early. I look forward to writing about my adventures.

 

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The Intoxication of Accomplishment

Shame on me. I went two weeks without posting a damn thing on here. I was doing so good too! I’m sorry. BUT! I’ll tell you why I haven’t been posting. I finally accomplished one of my goals for the year.

I GOT MY OWN CAR. (The picture featured was taken off the internet. It’s not my ACTUAL car. Seriously, snow in southern California? HA!)

*GASSSSPPPP* I KNOW!! My own car! My very first one that I don’t have to share! Well, It’s a truck. A 1997 Toyota 4Runner, which is almost exactly what I wanted. I know a car would have been more economical but I didn’t know which way my life was going to go when I started looking. I figured a truck or a compact SUV covered a lot of bases. House. Commuter. Ghetto Limousine. Mover. Sanctuary. Freedom. Not the best on gas so it won’t be a state travel vehicle unless I win the lottery but really, that’s the only down side.

Even more of a shocker…I found it on CRAIGSLIST.

*Pauses for reaction then squeals happily* I KNOWWWWWWWW!!

Craigslist is a cesspool of trolls and scammers so I knew I had to tread with caution. I found a few trucks I liked and I kept my eye on them while I waited for my tax return to come in. I warred with myself over the prudence of getting another vehicle. Yes it was convenient for errands. I was usually stuck cramming them either on the weekend or after work at 10 pm because during the day, I had no transportation. (Thank gawd for Winco, which stays open 24/7). Besides that, I knew the truck would give me peace of mind in case of emergencies like someone got sick or a friend needed a ride.

But then there was the downside of having to pay for two of everything now with two vehicles. Two registrations. Two insurance policies. Two tanks of gas a week. Two mechanics bills. Plus I had never used so much of our tax return on one thing before. I bought the truck for $3000. That could have been money for braces and replacement teeth and savings for my girls’ college funds! It felt wasteful to spend so much on something just for me and I went back and forth a lot over the last two weeks.

More than any of that though was the pure shining thought of “I ACCOMPLISHED MY GOAL.”

My plans nearly always fall through. Bad planning or no motivation or whatever. But after I blew up my life last May, everything shrank down to one single goal: get a car. That was it. Survive somehow and get a car. And I did it. All on my own!

I found a listing for a red Toyota 4runner on craigslist and saw that it was close to me, only two towns over. It immediately stuck out to me because there was a whole paragraph about the car rather than just the specs and a price. The seller sounded friendly and honest and so, with sweaty palms, I texted him. Normally on craigslist when you text, you don’t get a reply back for about a day/week so when half an hour later I heard my phone beep with an unfamiliar text, I was shocked.

We made a plan to meet up that Saturday so I could check things out. I was so nervous I brought a small army with me. My husband and kids as well as my Uncle Steve (a mechanic all his life) and my cousin/bestie Rebecca (also a mechanic). I wanted to know that logic and careful inspection matched my gut instinct; that this was a good deal. I had a GOOD feeling about this truck and about the guy.

Also, it was raining, which I see as a purification and a blessing.

When we pulled up, I was taken aback when the guy came to meet us. He was a dead ringer for Alec Baldwin. I shit you not. Piercing blue eyes and everything. AND! He’d know my Uncle Gary (ANOTHER mechanic who owns his own garage) for 20 years!!! Everything was Kismet about this meeting. I felt immediately at ease. The guy was forthcoming with information and my Uncle went over the car with a fine tooth comb. The right front blinker was out. Eh. Easy fix. There were little cosmetic problems like the paint was peeling and some bondo had been applied at some point over a bump that was now coming off.

I didn’t care about cosmetic. I preferred older roughed up cars because it’s less of a heart break when (not if) I bang into something and dent it or scratch it. Gives it character! Yeah!

More and more as I stood and looked at it, I knew it was going to be mine. Despite my husband’s urging to get a car with better fuel economy and everyone’s insistence that I didn’t need a truck (they don’t KNOW that), this was my truck. MINE. It was the culmination of years of being trapped at home, of walking from the grocery store with two gallons of milk, of not being able to go on fun trips because I didn’t have my own transportation.

And it was the ONE THING I had planned on; my singular focus.

I still marvel at my truck every time I walk out to get in it. I’m paranoid about every sound it makes and I pay careful attention to the gas gauge and the mileage. I’ve vowed to take better care of it than my previous cars (the ones my HUSBAND drove 90% of the time). I will learn about car maintenance and put fluids in regularly and detail it every month. I’m going to get new window decals for it to personalize it and get a first aid kit and rags and a funnel and a jack.

I’m going to take a trip one of these weekends to some place I’ve never been, just to say I did it, on my own, in my new truck.

My old man Truck. I’m calling him Marty Baldwin. Most cars are girls I suppose (dunno why) but I have yet to find a reliable male to service me. Hopefully this one pans out.

 

 

 

They

One step.

It is not the first step. She’d been on this path for years, suffering the injustice of detours and blockages and deserts where there was nothing. Just nothing. Only her footfalls and the vague notion to keep going. Even if it was only an inch a day, the way must be forward.

Why? Because it was where They told her to go, just like they told you.

You know, the They that starts as a feeling when you’re little. “I want to be a grown up!” You don’t know why the words come out of your mouth but it seemed to make sense and everyone laughed and patted your head. Rewards. Child-like mentality morphed this veiled self-deprecation from the adults into a Good Idea and so it tried to get more pats on the head. You dress in slacks and dresses, putting on dad’s ties and mom’s lipstick. They approve. The adults laugh some more. It’s so FUN to be an adult!

Then They shove you into a classroom for 14 years and you really begin to wonder why you ever wanted to grow up. Oh no! Throw something shiny out there! Distract! Distract! Oh phones. Oh cars. Oh wonder! This is worth it. Now it is not your parents that pat your head but your peers. You’re in with them for having the newest and best; you’re in with Them too.

Go forward, sheep. Let us shepherd you. Have we done you wrong before? Here, have a little treat.

They smack us with sex and love and desire. Now there’s a new kind of shiny in our eyes and it’s a tangled web we lay down in the middle of. Be careful, They warn, showering us with condoms and birth control and lectures of abstinence. How dichotomous. They smirk as we walk away blindly. We’re content with the knowledge that we’re doing the Right Thing. We lay down on the web, spread our legs as the chemicals mingle with our heated blood and a thin tube of latex slides over and then in. We give up our last shred of innocence for it. Shiny, happy sweaty bliss.

It’s natural! They say. God says it. Science says it. Chemistry and Physiology say so too. It’s supposed to happen. Don’t blame Us if accidents happen.

What was that? We hear whispers of the girl who dropped out of school because of an “accident”. Her friends don’t know what happened to her. She just got quiet one day and left. That boy in the locker room too. He has bruises in places boys should not have bruises. He winces when he moves and he won’t meet your eye. What–

Shhh! Shh! It’s okay! Let’s move on! See here? See that shiny seal on your diploma? That’s your ticket out kid. Ticket to better!

There’s better? Show us!

Okay. We won’t look back. It didn’t happen to us so we should look ahead right? Right. And now we’re free. Free to pursue our dreams! We’re grown ups now! But…what do we do? In the board game of Life we can either start with a career or go to college and pursue our dreams. Money is the new shiny. Do we want money now or potentially more money later with the added bonus of having our dreams come true (and thousands in debt but it’s worth it, right? Right.)

They don’t care. As long as its money. It’s the ONLY way to go. We have green blinders on with dead men’s faces glaring at us. Make money to get your own place They say. It’s freedom from your parent’s entrapment. Key word here: Freedom. No more oppression. You are your own boss! Only figuratively though. They know who the real boss is but they’ll let you believe other wise for a little longer.

Progress will be slower now. They sigh in sympathy and pat our heads again as our faces fall. There won’t be instant fame and riches like the story books say? Like Instagram and Twitter say? No, little sheep. Only work. We accept this because it’s comfort. Billions have walked this path before us and paved the way. It’s easier for us now than it was back then. It’ll be worth it, They say. Just wait and see. This is freedom! This is Life and we can live it within the parameter’s of our own determination. Go get your own place and fill it with Our stuff. We mean YOUR stuff, but really it’s our. You can make it your own though. DIY art work for the walls and cover the stained second-hand couch with crochet blankets. Call your chipped and cracked mugs “shabby chic” and display them on a shelf you made by yourself. Whatever you need to tell yourself to feed the machine.

What machine…?

We mean your soul! You SOUL. Slip of the tongue. Never you mind.

We’ll forgive you, They said, for having the thrift store crap because we know you’re just starting out. But you need to keep up with the times! New! New! New! Here’s a perk to put a smile on your face. You’re a freshly sheered sheep, bewildered and lost so here, let us give you a security blanket. Have a credit card or three. It’s free money! Why don’t you try it out, hmm? A little present for yourself. How about that laptop? You’ll need one for sure.

College or career? Money. Either way it’s still slavitude. Oh but don’t call it that! Having a negative attitude won’t do anybody any good. You’ll do your job and be happy about it or back to your parents you go. Remember that cushy hell? Remember the curfew and the fights and the oppression? Smile! Work for Them and you’ll surely go farther than you’d ever dreamed. Surely! Determination! Only you hold yourself back. Pay no mind to those shackles on your ankles. They’re just another convenient shiny to make sure you don’t lose Their way. Look, if you save enough money you can even get them in diamond and gold. Shiny.

After our shifts at the factories and after classes are done we sit tiredly with our new computers and browse the web with hate-filled eyes turning greener by the second. We stare longingly at pictures of fish faced models and rookie super stars discovered right out of high school. AMAZING!  We start thinking too much then. I Wish (insert chosen words here). Wish I’d stayed in that rock band. Wish I could have that car. Wish I could fuck her every night. Wish I could back pack through Europe. Wish I had that much money. Wish I could get breast implants.

Greedy sheep! Greedy menial sheep!

They’re furious. They scold us for wanting more. They have a plan for us and we’re going to follow it dammit or else They’ll–

No. No no, this is fine. Okay. You’re unhappy. Let’s revisit. They spread the silvery silky web out over our beds again and fill our eyes with love and lust. Little Beautiful flies. Intimate fantasies playing in our strange heads. Heart pounding and heat building. Suddenly our hands aren’t enough anymore. We have money now. We have our own place. We don’t have to hide anything or be quiet or leave the minute he’s done out of fear. Hey, your old boyfriend is single. Facebook says so. And that girl at work looks pretty cute. Wonder if she’s into threesomes.

Money and sex. Free. New. SMILE.

They steeple their fingers in front of Their Cheshire cat grins. We don’t hear their sadistic laughter. It’s drowned out by the moaning, grunting and cursing; the boss yelling and the parent’s complaining they never hear from you anymore. Our eyes are filled with tanned firm flesh and glittery gold and sculpted perfection.

When they yank away the blinders, Real Life rushes in like a starved succubus.

She fucks us like no tomorrow. She flays us with reality. There are accidents and lay offs and evictions. What? What? Help! We can’t blame them remember? They warned us. Everyone warned us. We were just too overwhelmed to hear; too blind with the shiny. Too full of wanton. We wanted and we got. Congratulations.

“Give em’ the ol’ Razzle Dazzle…”

She found out what happened to the girls who stopped coming to school. It wasn’t her fault, or his. Accidents happen. She had the chemicals and he had the latex. Bad day was all. Circumstances. They warned us. Can’t go back. Only forward along the path of millions of heart-broken and shattered.

They shook their heads and folded their arms. Fucked up didn’t you? There’s  away out you know. One easy procedure and you’ll never have to think about it again…

NO! NEVER! Moral high ground kicks in. Dreams get trampled under the crushing weight of disappointment and fear.

They take her shoulders and turn her down another path. Is this what you want? Take a good look. 18 years of that. Can you deal? We offer so much more opportunity. Work for us! Get the procedure. Forget. And when you’re ready, when you’ve paid your dues; try again.

She looked back and forth. They looked the same.

Now the truly hard grown up decisions have to be made. The ones that make us want to be a kid again. What to do? She called out. What to do? They were silent.

“I’m keeping it,” she said stubbornly and they thrust her roughly down the new path, disgusted. She landed on her knees and was scarred forever.

“Useless! Moocher! Stupid!”

They are angry now. Now THEY have to support HER. One less drop in the bucket for them. They withdrew. Now she was in their shadow, their backs turned. Forgotten like all the other girls. No more Shinies to distract. They were done investing in her.

She was alone now.

This is what she got for wanting too much. Being greedy. They told her. They showed her. Now life begins again from the other side and she will see with new eyes. She will be shackled thrice over. Ankles and breast and left ring finger and they will weight on her like a solid steel yoke. A cross to bear; a scarlet letter that in nine months will forever be walking beside her, a reminder. In its tiny newborn eyes she will see the last vestiges of her dreams die. “I do” sounds like a knell to her ear. She was round like the earth in her long cream silk dress.

She tried to slough off the cross in the beginning. They had one thing right; determination was everything. She railed against the ring bearer, blaming him. She secretly loathed the milk sucker but fear kept her mouth shut. What monster hated her children? And she didn’t really hate them. But it took away her choice; her freedom. Her dreams.

One foot in front of the other. Forward and more forward.

Years blended together. Same scenes. Sun rise and sun set. Bottles. Sippy cups. More sex and another one came. Another milk sucker but she was less scared this time. Less everything. She became comfortably numb. This wasn’t so bad. The path wasn’t as bad as she thought. There were others walking with her, bent over, eyes on the ground. Nobody wanted to look around, even for comfort. What was the point? There was no hope here. But there they all were, together.

Broken record. Broken record. Broken rec–Yes she knows this was her fault now. Hind sight is 20/20. It’s not so bad. She is beaten. They are smug. She travels deeper into their shadow.

She learned a new kind of strength, carrying her yoke around. She learned patience and acceptance. She learned it wasn’t so bad having her heart being torn; half on the inside, half outside walking around. It wasn’t bad being comfortable; being taken care of. She learned to master a new kind of role as Mother. They pigeon-holed her into it and her shoulders fit snugly into the metal machines and shiny screens that flashed numbers and dollar signs. Too little. Never enough. More! They molded her to it.

Step. Step. Step. Stumble. Knees. Get up. Dust off the scars.

Step. Stumble. Knees.

She knelt there for a minute, eyes still on the path. The others shuffled around her, stepping in time to a dull march like useless soldiers in a war they’re going to lose. Grow up, grow old, grow dead. Feed the machine. Make money. Who cares about happiness and dreams. Those are for shiny-eyed children and idealists. The rest of them…keep going. Up, Old, Dead.

She didn’t rise. She didn’t rebel. She didn’t think. She just knelt. She didn’t wait for or expect anything. Her path was laid out for her. It was easy. In a minute, she’ll get up again.

“Can I show you?”

A blue bird landed on her shoulder and she stilled. So beautiful…not shiny at all.

“Can I show you?”

“You can’t. My path. My choices. There is nothing else.”

“There is. I can show you. Let me show you.”

She shrugged and the bird flitted away. She didn’t watch it go. But she did get up and step again. Same as she’d always been; same as the others. Why her? It came back but was silent and she tried to shrug again. It fluttered and his wing brushed her cheek. For a moment, the glaze over her eyes shifted and she saw neon. The bird settled and she settled as well. Months more. She grew to accept this trifling burden and grew accustomed to saying “no” when he asked.

“Can I show you? Will you see? Let me show you.”

“No. No. No.”

“Why?”

“I chose this. This is my life.”

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

She stopped. Yes or no. It didn’t fit. It was always yes or no. Yes the path. No the walker. Yes the walker, no the path? The glaze shifted again and she saw a glimpse. Jewels. Not diamonds and facets and shiny. Colors. plants. Flowers. Where?

“Where?”

“Look over there. Look! Look!”

The bird flew from her shoulder. Her neck was stiff and ached to turn. The yoke gripped tight and it was almost too much to bear. But from the corner of her eye, she saw. A break in the path. A dark tunnel and a speck of rainbow. Her heart thudded once, very loud and then her head was forced back around and down. Back into position. She relaxed back into the mold; the effort was tremendous.

“It’s fine for now. Let me show you.”

There were more words. Not just no? She tried.

“Give me time?”

He was pleased. He ruffled his feathers in contentment. She didn’t know why.

“All you need. I am here.” And he was.

Everyday she stretched her neck farther and farther around, wincing against the yoke but deciding the pain was worth it. She tracked the blue bird with her eyes as he flew circles over her head and hid in the dull scenery of her life path. Wherever he touched seemed to glow and become alive. Brown became ocher. Green became emerald. Red became crimson. Always he would fly back to her shoulder. He would bend his wing out and tickle her cheek in greeting and her mask cracked a little more with every smile. Step by step he drew closer to her. Step by step, together, forward.

Sometimes she would return to her glazed state and plod along in line with the others. The bird knew these were times for introspection for her and he remained by her side instead of flying, ready to draw her out if she’d been under too long. She didn’t see it, but he ever so slightly loosened the bolts and screws holding her yoke in place so that every time she came awake again, she could move a little more freely.

They did not see. They did not care. She was a drop in the bucket, unworthy of Their attention. She was a Mother, not a worker. She did nothing for them. Why would They care?

He cared. He watched. She stumbled that time and paused. He saw it was time. Slowly; so slowly, she was beginning to see. There were paths hidden in plain sight if she would only look. He could show her. He could lead her. But he was only so small in her mind. A tiny voice. A pretty distraction. He needed to be bigger. So he became a child, full of dreams and ideals.

“Let me show you.”

The shock of a warm and tiny hand sliding into hers jolted her awake, the glaze leaving her eyes permanently. She was a mother. She knew instinctively what to do. She picked him up and carried him and he laid his head on her shoulder, clinging to her. She kisses his cheek and raspberried his neck to make him laugh. Her arms never grew tired of carrying him and she didn’t complain. That was what They taught her to do. This was her life. But it was more now. She began to feel joy again.

The boy watched over her shoulder as she left a trail of seedlings and sprouts in her footsteps. Bright little footsteps of green moss like a beacon against the brittle thistles. The others trampled it almost immediately after but he saw it. She didn’t but she would. Soon it would be in front of her and she would be amazed at what she could create. He would wait.

The happier she became, the bigger he became. Soon she couldn’t hold him on her hip anymore and instead, decided to carry him on her back. The yoke slipped off. It didn’t make a sound as it hit the ground and disintegrated into dust. She didn’t seem to notice. He laid against her back and watched the gold in her hair flicker in the light as she walked. Step. Step. Step. Now tireless. Strong steps. She was getting stronger.

“What do you have to show me?” she finally asked one day. It wasn’t any kind of special day. But she asked.

He rejoiced and danced and ran away and then back, carrying flowers with such brilliant shades they stung her eyes.

“What are these?” she asked, running a finger along a graceful petal. She remembered this shape. She remembered this color. There was dew on them as if a spring rain had come through when she wasn’t looking and coated them in liquid crystal.

“They’re yours,” he insisted.

“Why are they wet?” she asked.

“It’s your tears.”

She smiled at him and stood. Her eyes looked away though and were sad.

“Not mine. They’re pretty but not mine. You keep them.”

He did but he became just as sad. She still didn’t see. They didn’t speak of the flowers for a long time. He started to go away for longer and longer periods of time and she fretted. She tried not to show it. Kids will be kids. She stepped in time; kept the line. Step. Step. She was used to this.

Step. Stop.

She looked left. Looked for him and then looked right. She needed to find him. Which way? All ways were wrong except forward. No one deviates. No one sees beyond.

“Just pick and I will be there.”

She wished the Blue Bird would come again and show her which path was safe. Paths were safe and not safe. She’s stumbled before and gotten hurt. But always going forward. What kind of pain would come if she went sideways?

“You can do this. Take a step. One step not forward.”

That voice. So clear. So sure. She chose Left. She interrupted the path of the person beside her but she didn’t seem to care. Step Left. Step Left. The shiny shackles caught at her, trying to trip her, trying to re-correct her. She was almost free of the Path. One more step! The shackles dug in like a bear trap around her ankle and jerked her leg back, pitching her forward. Always forward. She would have hit the ground except for the strong pair of arms caught her. They pulled together and she felt the agonizing grip of the shackle biting into her leg. Blood dripped and tears dripped and sweat beaded on her brow.

“I WANT TO SEE!” she screamed.

And suddenly, she was free. The arms swung her up as if she now, were the child. She rested her head against the man’s neck, her ankle burning, her chest burning and the ring finger on her left hand burning. Her slavitude chains. Warning! Warning! This is not the way! Turn back and go no further. Beware. Beware! They stood there for a moment and watched the sheep-like zombies move forward.

“It’s time.”

“Yes.”

They turned away together from the forward path. She was keenly aware of her chains and it made her afraid. She buried her face in his shirt and closed her eyes. What if They saw? What if she was ripped away and sent back to follow? Could They do that? She almost wanted to turn back. The fear of the unknown haunted her and gripped her heart painfully.

“Let me show you. Look.”

The man set down and settled her in his lap, one hand on her face, coaxing her to see. Soft, like a bird’s wing. Like a child’s fingertip tracing her cheeks. She fisted a portion of his shirt in her hand, like a scared child might do, and cautiously opened one eye.

Flowers. There were Everywhere. Bright perfect blooms as far as she could see. She opened both eyes and finally Saw. There was a tiny break in the chain. She didn’t notice. She was enthralled.

“They’re yours,” he insisted.

“What?”

“You said I could keep them. I planted them and they grew.”

She climbed down off his lap now and moved toward the blossoms.

“I remember this one,” she whispered.

The shape and color of it were so familiar but she could barely remember why. When she touched it and it opened, she saw dew inside.

“Look closer.”

She bent and cupped the blossom in her hands and squinted in at it. And there it was. Once upon a dream. Her dream. She caught another flower and it bloomed in her palm, showing her another.

“All mine? You’ve kept them all?”

He smiled and came forward to take her hand. They walked through the field. Before her eyes, more and more flowers grew straight and tall, revealing their delicate blushing insides. Tender dreams and hopes, cultivated and grown with loving care.

“I thought they were lost.”

“Only forgotten,” he said. “You had to see to believe.”

The chains around her chest softly slithered down her body and disappeared into the field. She sprinkled the flowers with the tears from her eyes and they grew bigger. Hand in hand they looked and saw.

“Where are your dreams?” she asked.

“Can I show you?”

“Yes.”

The word felt alien and sumptuous on her tongue.

“Yes. Show me. Yes I want to see.”

If he can do this to her dreams, how much more alive and beautiful are his? Did everything he touch grow so fantastically? She wanted him to touch her more. They started moving uphill toward a Honolulu blue sky. She struggled a bit and he helped, boosting her up. One foot in front of the other they leaned on one another, struggling until finally coming to rest on a precipice.

Out in front and above was a clear cloudless forever. She could fly out there now. The yoke was gone. She could build herself wings from the colorful dreams in her garden and she could fly higher than she ever imagined. No anchor. No chains. Only her and the air and the sun. The thought appealed to her so much she nearly stepped into it from longing.

But then he caught her and pressed her close and she looked down. She clung to him as she looked down in terror at the dark abyss of unknown below.

“What’s down there?”

He squeezed her tighter and she felt his heart pounding against her back.

“You can’t see it yet, but I can. It’s dark for you but I see my future clear. It has you in it.”

He turned and cupped her face in his hands, kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her nose. She closed her eyes and tried to see.

“Can I show you?”

For the first time in a long time, she wanted. Wanted to dream again, wanted to lead her own life, wanted to explore this man and what he had to offer. Not follow. But be at his side for whatever he wanted her to see. It was just…

“Can I take my dreams too?” she asked.

He understood. He saw the fear of replacing one shackle with another. She didn’t know him yet, but she would and she would see everything clear. Make her own decision. He bent down and plucked a brilliant orange flower and tucked it behind her ear.

“We can plant them beside mine and they’ll grow together, if you like.”

Her heart raced with fear and excitement, alive again in her garden of eden. No Shiny. No Them. Just him and her. Organic, home-grown, love and hopes and dreams. Could she leave it for him? Could she grow another one alongside him, cherish his dreams alongside hers?

“Are you ready?”

She clasped his hand and looked only at him, trusting.

The ring from her hand tinkled on the rocks as they dove down into her unknown. It tarnished, disintegrated and blew away and she never thought about it again. She was free.

Tears for Buddha

I chose to become homeless.

Yes, you heard me. I didn’t stutter. I chose to become homeless. I gave up 99% of my possessions, got a divorce, bought a truck with a camper shell, and I live in it.

Yes I’m a moron.

Yes I’m crazy.

Yes I’m scared.

No I don’t care. Because I’m free.

We grow up living for the dream of a big house, a career, a partner and maybe a dog or some kids. This is the current american dream. It’s what people should strive for. I had that. Or, tried to have it anyway. The redneck poor people version of it. I was on government assisted living so rent was super low.  I had food stamps and the kids had free lunches from the school. I had a husband for 15 years. I’m not going to say they were “good” or “bad” years. They just were and that was the problem. I got tired of living in monotony. There was a rut we couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of and I realized if I didn’t get out, I would be living this same life for another 50 years.

Um, no.

“Just wait until the kids are gone,” my husband insisted. “Then it’ll be just us.” HA! Likely the kids wouldn’t be gone until they were 30 with their own spouses on government housing. That’s just how the economy was right now. I didn’t have any investment in the “kids move out at 18” mentality. It was an antiquated notion. Besides, if we couldn’t find ways to make it work with the little time we have–the important “us” time when the kids go down for bed– why should I believe that we would be any better with whole days at our disposal?

My husband is a good man. Just not the man for me so I left. It almost hurt he didn’t try harder to keep me but it wouldn’t have made a difference. I needed freedom from the comfortable cage so i picked the lock and pushed open the door….into a dark blue beat up Toyota with a camper shell and extended cab.

Yes, a truck. Why? Because I was morally affronted by vans. They were the symbols of soccer moms and large families, neither of which I ever wanted to claim. A truck meant I could only have me and the kids. It meant I could pack a box of food, a cooler, a bag of clothes, and a box of essentials and GO. I didn’t have to imagine it anymore. I was doing it and it felt great.

At least for the first month it did.

So what about showers and bathrooms? What about cooking food? Where would you stay? What about BOREDOM?

The first and second ones were easy. My ex husband wasn’t home during the day so I could use his house at my leisure when I wasn’t working. It helped him too since I could still clean and do laundry in return and I always made extra food for him and the kids until he could fend for himself. Bathrooms? Duh, there were public ones everywhere.

The third question was trickier. It seemed like it would be easy to answer since I should be able to say “anywhere.” Literally could just pick a street and settle down. Well, not all neighborhoods were created equal. I used to live in the ghetto where a stray bullet could kill a fool and even a beat up truck was prime chop shop fodder. So for the first week I kept myself parked right outside my old house within screaming distance of my ex-husband’s rifle. Then I got my own gun license and relaxed enough to drive myself up to a camp ground for a few weeks. Because of the ridiculous closed in heat from the camper shell mixing with my breathing and warmth, I kept the back hatch open and draped mosquito netting over it. I slept relatively comfortably when I wasn’t stressed out about bears or murderers. I kept my handgun within hand’s reach. I’m a little ashamed to admit how many raccoons almost bit it because of my nerves.

But a campground was expensive these days. $30 a night. Barely better than the cheapest hotel rooms. So then it was basically wherever my rump wanted to rest, I stayed. Sometimes it was randomly in front of somebody’s house on a random street. Sometimes it was in a Walmart parking lot or at a hospital or near my work. This was what I wanted. The freedom to choose. Having no rent to pay meant more money to save and more money for the occasional splurge, like the thumpin’ sound system for my truck.

But what about boredom?

This was probably the most difficult and the easiest question for me to answer. Boredom was never really a thing for me. If I had books, I had endless entertainment. I could grab a few from the library or change out the small collection in the truck for new ones at the house. I was also pretty artsy so I re-learned out to crochet and cross-stitch. Whenever I could manage it I would park it next to the beach, prop open the back to let the breeze waft in, fluff up some pillows and relax. But the thing about working with my hands is it left my mind free.

I had little responsibility now except to my kids and my job. Books only helped to distract and fiction became monotonous; predictable. I became restless. Suddenly freedom choked me and I was a vessel of discontent.

The instant gratification of acquiring new things through shopping didn’t help. Well-meaning friends with their jokes and teasing couldn’t console me. Rowdy bars with fried food and tequila didn’t numb the nagging Even long luxurious showers didn’t help (and I DO love showers). I glared at the southern California sunny skies through the darkness of my sunglasses and rain left me surly as a wet cat.

What to do now? What does a drifter do with her time alone? I went for a lot of walks. I went to the gun range. I got a new tattoo. Needle therapy. Nothing was helping. One night, after sleep eluded me, I filled up my tank, turned the radio off and drove. Just drove.

And I went back.

No, not back to my ex. That would defeat the purpose. As I continued to think about my situation and really contemplate how I got there, I went back to the catalyst. What GOT me here? What was the spark of understanding that lit my dark world? I drove on the empty streets with blurred eyes. I was crying. Then crying turned to sobbing and I had to pull over. I gave half a thought to the fact that I was lost in a city I didn’t know and then broke down.

When was the last time I cried? Really cried? Years ago probably. It was a book that did it, naturally. I cried for days while reading it because it described my inner most desire so perfectly I felt it had been written for me.

It was a biography of a woman who was unhappy in her marriage, who looked around and realized that the shelter she had built for herself was a cage. So she left it. She traveled and got her appetite for life back. She found love with another man and she found love for her spiritual guide. She became the best version of herself that she’d ever been and she did it all on her own. She went out and LOOKED. She had the bravery to face everyone’s criticism and her own guilt and come up out of the ashes of her life-like a phoenix reborn.

Her written words mimicked my pain and lust for life back then and the memory brought everything back up in me like emotional vomit. I could feel the damn breaking inside me and the hot tears gather in my eyes. I let out a soft gasp in the dark interior of my car and lost it.

This was where her journey started. Crying and praying for guidance at ground zero, the rubble of her life around her. Yes I had shucked the responsibility of a marriage but now the burden of my own self was entirely on my shoulders.

I think this is the part where I was supposed to start praying. But to whom?

My husband was raised religious and I had been part of his flock for a while. They sheltered me and guided me until I stopped drinking the kool-aide. I developed a fondness for Jehovah thanks to the church but there were too many issues I had with the Bible and the antiquated rules to commit myself seriously. God was simply the nameless deity I could direct my thoughts to. He was the closest I came to a religious Father but I discovered early in my childhood I didn’t need a father.

Most of my life I had actually been drawn to paganism. I believed in energy and good karma and being kind to the earth and others. I understood that for some, using rituals and spells to focus the mind and put intent out there in the universe was their kind of prayer for luck and love. But even with that religion I never felt any connection to a higher power. It was just energy and feelings. I didn’t get names involved.

The woman from the book practiced one of the eastern religions. She followed a guru and went to one of the temples to learn more about it. I didn’t have much experience with eastern religions except the odd Buddhist phrase and fortune cookie proverbs but it seemed pretty peaceful.

I believe it was human instinct to throw their problems on somebody wiser and older. We’d been doing it since birth. Children were taken care of by their parents. Teenagers were counseled by teachers and bosses. But who did adults turn to? Grandparents maybe, if they were still alive or other adults. The blind leading the blind there. But adults were supposed to have the answers. They were supposed to have built themselves a safety net of friends and family by now to catch them when they stumble on the hard questions.

I felt utterly and completely alone. I cried harder than I had in my life, hysterical gasping sobs pouring out of my throat as if I’d just gotten the news one of my kids had died.

It didn’t occur to me that when I jettisoned myself out of the familiar comfort of my home and family life that this would be an issue. I enjoyed being alone. I was comfortable enough with myself that not talking to anyone for days or months didn’t bother me. I was self-sufficient in that regard. Proud even. I didn’t understand the need for religion or gods. Prayer only made you feel better; it got everything off your chest so you could sleep better at night. It didn’t usually get shit done.

So why in the hell was I having an emotional break down in the middle of nowhere at o’dark thirty in the morning? My head pounded with a raging headache and I could barely breathe from the snot clogging my nose and throat. I leaned over and cracked open my glove compartment to grab napkins. I groped inside, blind still with tears and got a handful. While I dabbed and blew, choked and cried some more, I tried to have a conversation.

Universe, I began, attempting to form rational thought, I need your help. We’ve been on good terms I think. I recycle and try to be nice to people and plant trees on Arbor day. I’m sorry for the times I didn’t but I hope you can help me now. 

“I don’t know where to go.”

I said this out loud. Admitting it to myself and the Universe. If I said it out loud, it was true. Not just a secret inside my head anymore. The first step in so many of those programs is to accept you have a problem right?

I’m happy with my decision to leave my husband, even if no one else is. They don’t matter anyway. I’m making it work with my kids. I have the ultimate freedom. No rent. No bills. I was happy for a while. Why not now? I need a direction. Can’t you just…point me? 

“I’ll do the hard work,” I said, my words muffled by the twentieth soggy napkin. It was the last one I had. “I just need a direction.”

I didn’t expect a flash of inspiration to enlighten me or a ghostly figure to appear in front of my truck, pointing me east or west. I think religion and I were too different for any kind of divine intervention. I did brave the chance of getting shot or raped by sliding out of my truck and grabbing a roll of toilet paper from the back, finishing clean up duty on my face. Maybe something divine was watching out for me. I kept my gun close just in case though.

I did feel better, a little. Soul-rending crying jags usually do. I sat there on the tail gate, swinging my legs a little and peering up at the stars. I breathed in the cool night air. I was getting back to normal. That’s when I heard it.

Miiiiiu?”

At first I thought it was my ears misinterpreting a bird call or something it was so squeaky and faint. But it sounded like a very young kitten.

Miiiiiuuu?”

I grew very still, trying to figure out which direction the sound was coming from. Left? Right? Was it in the bushes? Up a tree?

“Hello?”

MIUUU!”

“Omg. No way…”

It was a kitten. Where?

“Kitty kitty!”

Miiiiiiuuuuuuiuuuuuuu!

Below. It was coming from below. I slid off my truck and crouched on the ground, my eyes trying to pierce the darkness to find a furry body. It’s cries grew louder seeing me and I inched nearer, still unsure. It was over by the engine where it was warm no doubt where was it? How did it get there? Was there a mama cat anywhere?

I finally saw it huddled next to my front right tire, terrified and crying out. I sat cross-legged at little ways away from it, trying not to scare it but keeping it in view. It was mostly dark I think. I don’t know how much was dirt or real fur. I saw flashes of white stripes on it’s face when it turned toward me.

Miuuu? Miuuuu?

“It’s okay baby. I’m here.”

MIUUUU!

I didn’t know if it was scared of me or wanted me to pick it up. It screamed whenever I spoke to it. I wanted to badly to reach under and pick it up off the cold ground but I knew better than to play chase with a small dark fluffy in the dark. Counter intuitive. So I sat there for an hour, occasionally talking to it to make sure it was still alive, waiting to see if a mama cat came or if there were any other far off meows.

“I’m here sweetie. Auntie loves you. It’s okay. C’mere!”

I wasn’t an expert on kittens but this one didn’t look old enough to be away from its mother. It could barely waddle around. I tried putting my hand toward it but it backed away and meowed pathetically.

I am here. I love you.

The thought came at me like a sucker punch to the face. I felt my face grow slack in shock. It was a line in the book. It was the line that made me cry for days after reading it. I am here. I love you. And here I was, repeating it to a cat. A CAT. I felt a hot jolt electrify my spine and I straightened with indignant.

So this was it huh? A sickly kitten that needed rescuing? THIS is my sign?

Miiiuuuuuu.

Yep. The Universe had a sense of humor. Asshole.

I didn’t wait. I grabbed the squeaky terrified thing and wrapped it up in one of my dirty shirts from the truck, ignoring it’s complaining. It was 3 am. Nothing would be open except maybe a CVS. This thing needed some sort of food. I’m sure I could use baby food in a pinch. Then I would take it to a vet when they opened in the morning.

Now I did say I would be willing to do the hard work. So I carried this raggedy smelly thing into CVS and got a bottle of infant medicine for the syringe and a jar of lamb puree baby food. It pooped in my shirt. One of my favorites, naturally. Annoyed, I threw it away, wrapped it in another one and forced the food down it’s throat.

While it struggled to figure out the syringe, I looked at its tiny face. It looked like a tabby cat, mostly brown with black stripes and little patches of orange here and there mixed in. On its face though, it had two white stripes coming out from its eyes and a single white patch on its forehead.

“Got your make up on wherever you go huh?”

Miu.”

It complained less after it had eaten a syringe full of the lamb and managed to fall asleep. I kept it wrapped and clutched to my chest while I drove back to familiar streets and parked in front of the first Vet’s office I found.

4 am. I had to be to work at 9. I set my alarm for 4 hours and climbed into the back of my truck. The kitten slept in the crook of my arm near my chest where it could hear my heart beat and we slept fitfully.

The kitten, I found out, was only 4 weeks old and it was a male. It was likely born outside as a feral (which explained the hissing and screaming) and had been abandoned because it was the runt or it had wandered away from its mother. It had been homeless as long as I had. It had also wandered away from the only warmth and comfort it had ever known in its life to explore the scary dark.

It was just as lost as I was and was probably crying just as hard as I was last night for comfort.

The Universe may be an asshole but it certainly made things happen when it wanted to.

I told the vet’s office I would pay for all the kitten’s medical bills and vaccines. Just make sure he’s healthy. I did happen to have a month of pay checks in the bank. How fortuitous. I didn’t know how I would keep an overactive kitten in the small space of my truck but he was already mine. When you ask for a sign and you get one, no matter how stupid it seems at first, you take it and run.

After work that day I purchased everything a kitten could possibly need and then some. When I went to engrave the tag for him, I stood at the machine for a long while, trying to think up a name.

I am here. I love you.

Ah. Of course.

When I got him back with a clean bill of health a week later, I put the collar on, which he hated immediately and tried to wiggle out of.

“I feel you man. I hate collars too but get used to it.”

I was already talking to him like a crazy cat lady. Awesome.

“Buddha?” the vet tech asked, eyeing the tag and entering the information into the computer for his microchip.

“Yep. I think he’s supposed to be the answer to my prayers,” I said, rubbing my face on his soft clean baby fur. He attacked my forehead and we laughed.

“Seems more like a fighter than a philosopher to me.”

“Well, if you knew me at all, you would know I can be pretty stubborn about things. I need someone with attitude to get through this thick skull.”

Buddha. Our tears brought us together. He sneezed on me and bit my hair. I laughed again.

I chose to become homeless. Yes, I’m a moron. Yes, I’m crazy. Yes, I’m scared. But at least now I’m not lonely.