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.
“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.
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.
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?
“Omg. No way…”
It was a kitten. Where?
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.
“It’s okay baby. I’m here.”
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?
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?”
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.