From “Maslow’s Triangle: Short Tales of a Homeless Chick”
Chapter 3: A day in the life of…..
The beginning of each day had to begin before seven or so. Sleeping until eight meant that I stood the chance of being discovered by an early morning hiker or local law enforcement. I usually woke up fresh and proud of myself in some sick way for having made it through another night.
Starting a new day meant rearranging my sleeping quarters back into a drivable vehicle (my truck was a Transformer!). The back seats were made upright since I put them down at night to stretch out completely. All the blankets got folded and stashed neatly in a corner. Buck knife was re-instilled in its sheath, having spent the night under my pillow. Last night’s dirty clothes made their way into the corresponding pillow-case-hamper. Bags of makeup, computer, and clothes were relocated – again – from the front seats to the very back.
Using leftover water from the night before, I would brush my teeth and wash my face. One of a few favorite ball caps kept my hair out of the way and I was off to start my day, Tank positioned nobly in the passenger seat. He always smiled as we rode along; I couldn’t help but smile as well.
The first errand of my day consisted of taking my boys to school (they stayed at their dad’s during my homeless stint, they have a good daddy). A couple of times a week I had a house to clean, but when I didn’t the mornings would drag on. I found myself sleeping a lot. The sheer exhaustion of being homeless surprised me. Being on the move all the time zaps one entirely of their strength. Now I knew why I would see homeless people sleeping all day long. It’s not because we’re lazy, but because we are weary to our very soul from shuffling around. Like a bird with no nest, we are unable to relax and feel safe within the warm confines of carefully constructed twigs and feathers. Homelessness is an un-natural state of being, and as such it is relentlessly tiresome.
Afternoons were filled with tutoring and picking up the boys from school. This was my favorite time of day. My boys are everything to me and amid the brokenness of my life they were my anchor, all that was sane and balanced. It was hard sometimes, not to feel like an absolute failure around them. I never once shared with the two younger ones that I was homeless. I didn’t want them to be ashamed. Or disappointed. Mostly I felt frustration with myself because I wasn’t providing for them in the way I wanted to – I had no home to offer them.
I always had a mother’s love to offer them and so every afternoon was ours together. Homework, snack, and car time from school. I savored each minute until I knew their dad would be arriving from work, at which point I vacated the premises. (Their dad and I got along okay; mostly we kept to the business of the boys, avoiding any unnecessary chit-chat, thus my punctual exodus from his house each afternoon.)
It was an eternity from when I’d leave them till bedtime. Roughly seven hours lay ahead of me, nearly one third of my day, looming before me, leering at me, daring me to buckle. Work at the hotel would keep me busy about half the time. The other half, Tank and I would drive. Pearl Jam, U2, and Godsmack supplied the soundtrack while I roamed the rural roads of Shasta County, (it occurred to me once that my vehicle was aptly named; I certainly was Exploring, not just physically, but in a psychological and emotional way that I never dreamed of). I had Lassen Peak to the east, Mt. Shasta to the north, and the Trinity Mountains to the west, each offering solace to my tired eyes and soul. I meditated a lot as I watched them from the hills Tank and I hiked.
Eventually we would end up at Barnes and Noble, or the lobby of the hotel I worked at, mostly because both places provided free wi-fi. Occasionally I would go see a movie. Sometimes I would park in the lot of a store somewhere and watch people come and go, thinking what lucky bastards they all were because they presumably had a bed waiting for them at home. (Did they take it for granted, I wondered? Didn’t I take it for granted once?) Whatever Tank and I did though, it was only something to pass the time ‘til the inevitable when I would have to decide where I was going to camp for the night and then meander my way there.
The most dreadful of emotions, loneliness, crept up on me during these hours. I was grateful for Tank; he was the only other pack member I had, the one thing that provided me a sense of belonging. If not for him, I surely would have crumbled because I knew that within the intimate cell of a roof and four walls, evening time was golden. As always, it was the small things that I missed, causing real physical pangs of ache. The small things that evoke comfort and security by providing a familiar routine: the consistency of everyone coming home from work in the afternoon; family members adjusting their moods to each other, the smells of supper blending with the chatter of everyone vying for attention. T.V., music, cell phones and pets add to the cacophony as households begin to settle in for the evening. Homework, reading, playing, perhaps arguing, ignoring, outright hostility; however the form, they are part of the finely tuned rituals that create permanence, security, and a sense of belonging; those crucial elements that make up the first two levels of Maslow’s triangle.
Without them I was floundering. Without that sense of belonging it became difficult to keep a semblance of self-worth and esteem. I had no pack to be a part of, I was a lone wolf. As a coping mechanism, I could somewhat pretend and ignore my plight during the day when I was going about my usual gig with work. But as time passed, homelessness became lonelier and more arduous. And at night more than any other time, missing the details and the sense of belonging, the struggle to remain rational was greatest.
I found it was best to wait until as late as possible to “go to bed”. A late arrival meant I could slip into my chosen camping spot without drawing attention to myself. Our local sheriff is sticky about seeing vehicles in weird places at awkward hours so one had to be stealth.
I had a few favorite spots to park, but the safest was on some Bureau of Land Management property a few miles out of town. There was a small trail to a stream where the salmon ran and at the head of it was a large parking area. It was situated well below the road and I could tuck my Exploder up next to the hill that banked it and be nearly invisible. Certainly I was inconspicuous. There was also a boat ramp lot next to the Sacramento River where I would camp as well. I loved it here. I had a beautiful view of the river from inside my Transformer den and I would watch it for hours at a time, especially when the moon was full and reflecting off the water – eternally a peaceful sight.
So I managed. My savings was growing and I was pursuing possible residences doggedly. “Just a few more weeks,” I would think as I laid my head to rest and wrapped my body around Tank’s. I willed away the dementors of loneliness and fear with a patronus charm of hope, and pure desire to survive.