I have a strong dislike for anyone that exercises before the sun rises. Because of this, the worst part of my day is between 5:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Probably not a good thing to start your day off in the tank, but it is what it is. It's the time when suburban housewives and financial consultants enjoy waking up ass-early and taking their golden retriever out for a walk. Debbie calls Janet, and the two of them go for their 5k. Which is such a fucking joke of a run by the way, that you should just say, "Let's go for a run," and not refer to it as a 5K.
I live in a city where young couples inundate the roads with Range Rover Sports, young retirees with matching C classes. You know the annoying people who just have hashtags in their Twitter bios, like #loveroflife or #foodie, or even worse, #humanbeing? Ya, these are the people that I'm talking about. I have to hide from these people in the morning, because where I live is in my car. See, I don't like it when people run by with their rescue dog and look into my car and see me sleeping. Or worse, find me looking directly at them, which would be super creepy.
On the weekends it's a little more difficult to hide from these people. The town is touristy. So on the weekends, people are everywhere. All I'm trying to do is sleep, really. In the beginning, I reclined the front seat and just laid back. No pillow, no blanket. I just laid there like a breathing corpse. But I'm a tall guy, so when I'd move around, my foot would hit the brake pedal, and flashing brake lights at 3am is never really a good thing if you're trying to be invisible. So I switched to the back seat after a week or so. It's better, but not by much because I can only sleep in a fetal position. After a couple of hours your legs will start to fall asleep from the position and then you have to move. I can feel my legs getting shorter by the day.
I hope for rain every night. Rain, both keeps people indoors and shields you from being seen. The humidity caused by your body heat fogs the windows, creating a human tint. But it hasn't rained all that often. Soon the rain will turn to snow and act as sort of an igloo, which might actually keep things a bit warmer. I think I made an igloo when I was a child. I must have. Of course if we're talking about igloos, that would imply the weather is cold.
It wasn't always like this, of course, and one never thinks they will end up in this position. I certainly never did. Now that I am here, however, the reasons that brought me here are clear. Like wet footsteps on concrete. I'm able to look back and realize where I went wrong.
I was a poor student in high school, but not because of ability. My SAT score was in the high 1300s, but I just didn't care about my grades. I was too busy trying to be liked and just get through shit. I had newly found a love of music and for the majority of my junior and senior year in high school, I kept myself hidden from everybody else. I just planted myself in my room to practice, and practice, and then practice again. It paid off. Just two years after picking up an instrument, I was accepted (after being rejected) to the most prestigious contemporary music conservatory in the world. I was rejected because my grades were so dreadful. I was accepted because of my ability. After receiving the rejection letter, I did what anyone who wants something bad enough would do; I called the admissions office and pleaded to speak with someone. The man who helped me was Dana Acker. Dana and I spoke on the phone for close to 30 minutes. The phone call ended with his saying he would write a letter of recommendation for me. Two weeks later, the acceptance letter came. He saved my life and he still, to this day, doesn't even know it.
I was on my way. I was at a place that promoted and encouraged what I spent every waking hour doing. I loved every second of my time there. But sadly, things would quickly end. I was a fish not just out of water, but on the beach, buried in sand. Sometime during my fourth semester I filed a non-continuing form. It was the official form you filed to stop your studies. I had officially dropped out of college. I remember the walk to the registrars office like it was yesterday. I received little to no guidance on the ramifications of leaving college. Nobody had attended college in my family. Everything about it was foreign. I was naive and dumb. No, not dumb, I just didn't know. Had I known that twelve months later I would be diagnosed with stage 2A Hodgkin's Disease, the disease just beginning to enter my lungs before treatment, I probably would never have left. I was 21, a college dropout, and now had cancer.
Thanks to modern medicine and not the holistic shit that was pushed on me from some woman in the office (I don't really know why she was there), my treatment was a success. Not only am I in remission, but I'm cured. I don't think about this day to day. Maybe I should. I've won few things in life. I think I won a Pinewood Derby in Boy Scouts when I was 10 or 11, but that might be it. I've come in second a lot.
I could have returned to school and picked up my studies at any time after my health recovered. But I didn't. Years of procrastination, taking the eye off of the ball, a bad break-up here, a meaningless job or two (or three) there, I now sit in a car at close to midnight, next to a library so that I can use their wi-fi to do meaningless fucking things like check email and Twitter. Except nobody emails me anymore because I've alienated all of my friends. Employers rarely get back to me about a job that I've inquired about. It's difficult to get anything really, even to be a trash man.
After years and years of being too poor to do things, too poor to go on trips with friends, to go out to eat, to pay for wedding gifts, my friends, people I've known for two decades, have moved on without me. And I can't and don't blame them. They all took the more conventional path in life. Business degrees, working in cubicles. Conventional seems to work right about now. They've all married and had children. Now they get together with their kids and have dumb parties, which are just excuses to have a bunch of kids hang out and shit their pants in unison. I am here counting the number of cars that drive by me.
The only reason why I am still breathing is because I am a huge coward. I am a neurotic (not Dr. Phil neurotic), pessimistic, cynical guy, who has lied to everyone he knows because he never has anything positive to tell them. It's an awful life to live.
The other reason why I hang on is because somewhere down inside of me, there is talent that is screaming to get out. I am quite certain of that. If it weren't true, I'd not be bothering with writing this. I've no delusions. I am a realist and have no ego. If I had nothing to offer the world, I'd embarrassingly announce it.
But I am still a coward because I am not giving my true name to this story. I am writing this anonymously. Not everyone knows my situation. Most don't, in fact. And it would embarrass and ruin whatever I have left in life, should I be found out.
This story is entirely the result of Gawker's story that ran last week on the Least Privileged Group in America. I had seen the story run throughout the week, but I only caught the final post. Of course the consensus was that the homeless population was the least privileged group in America. I certainly don't disagree. But as I started reading the comments, there was one that particularly stood out.
It was from a woman who had shared a lovely story about how she, once, was homeless. Below is her comment.
After a while of living outside Cleveland, I caught a ride with someone to Grand Rapids. There was a huge snowstorm, so he stopped in Kalamazoo. I ended up stranded near the Greyhound. I thought maybe I could find someone to get me on a bus, but the only bus that was coming was going to Detroit so I thought, "Fine, I'll go to Detroit. It's a huge city."
It was the middle of the night, the bus station's doors were locked, and it was -17 degrees and I was in very little clothing. The only thing that was open nearby was a McDonalds, and it was shining like a beacon. It was beautiful. Everything smelled like french fries and I don't think I had eaten in more than a week at that point. I trudged through the snow to the McDonalds and asked people for change. I tried to go inside but the owner yelled at me and kicked me out. A man, going inside asked me why I wasn't inside. I told him that I'm homeless and the manager doesn't want bums in his McDonalds. His name was Karl. He took me in with him, bought me a bunch of food and told me he would drive me to Detroit. I drove with him to Detroit, and he said he wanted to go to the MGM casino before he would get me on a bus. I went with him while he gambled. He ended up winning A LOT of money. He got us a hotel room, ate a steak dinner, drank champaign. It was amazing. I took a hot shower. I cried tears of joy from taking a shower. It was like I was taking a shower for the first time. He ended up giving me money, and bought me a plane ticket back to San Francisco, and that's how I got back. Things were not easy after that even though my parents were happy that I was alive, I still had a lot to work on with them and I was in and out of hospitals from depression and manic episodes, but I thank god every day that I met Karl. Thursday 1:23pm
I replied to that comment. Something I rarely do. So rarely that I created a burner account just to comment. Below, is my reply.
I've been homeless for about a month now. Luckily, I have a vehicle to sleep, laptop to do work, and food banks near me to eat.
You're right though. Having absolutely nothing, makes the littlest things worth while. I've found that when I do come up with $2.00, I can treat myself to actually buying a coffee, sitting in a cafe, opening the laptop and pretending to reply to all of the companies that responded to my emails. I get excited on those days.
I'm still new to being homeless and I have things like laundry detergent in my trunk so I don't scream, I'm homeless. I hope that day never really comes.
I've seen the same people every day at the food banks and church dinners (I'm not religious, go figure). I judge them and think, "Well, I can see why you're homeless. Oh. I'd love some pasta, thank you."
I think only people who have been homeless can say this with some level of certainty; that maybe everyone at one point in their lives should be homeless. Even for three days, a week. You start to really appreciate the small things, like you said. Thursday 2:30pm
She replied back to me. And her reply was thoughtful and needed. She felt sorry for me. I felt sorry for myself. She wished me well. She understood what I was going through. She also did something that went beyond the call of duty for a complete stranger. Something that I didn't expect. She sent me $20.00 to a Paypal account. And then someone read our conversation and replied, and that person sent me $25.00. And then someone read that comment and that person sent me $100.00. It was more money than I had had in the previous six months combined, and for the next three days, I stopped going to the shelter in the mornings for three day old bagels. I was able to buy proper food. I used the money to put gas in my car so that I could move about freely. To be human at least for a day. To roll down the window and smell the pavement after it rains; that fresh, city smell that I love. To put the radio on and sit in traffic. Everyone has somewhere to go, but me. Well, I sat in traffic JUST TO SIT IN TRAFFIC. To give the illusion that I had somewhere to go even though I didn't. But I felt good. I put on my only clean and still nice pair of pants and a shirt, topped it with my wrinkled fedora hat from the trunk, and I walked around the city with an empty coffee cup (because I didn't want to waste the money I was just given). A few woman smiled at me as I walked past them. If they knew that I was enabled, insufficient and irresponsible, they'd have cringed.
I didn't think this was an interesting story at all. As I mentioned to the staff, there are homeless people that have it worse than I do. They are hungrier, colder, dirtier, older, sicker, and stronger. But I realize that my life is fucked up because I fucked it up. Potential is, really, just a noun (or adjective depending on how you use it).
Perhaps the three people that replied to me are my version of Karl. I don't care if they sent me $20.00 or $200.00, why anyone would do such a thing is something that I have yet to be able to answer. But it helped. If even for a week, it helped. I told them I would repay them as soon as I was able to. They told me that repayment would be to help someone else in need. I promised I would.
I was raised better than this. A lot better. And even though I'm anonymous, it makes me feel just a little better to say that I am sorry. I know I have been a disappointment, a let down, a waste of this overflow of talent. I don't know if someone can exist and not really exist at all. If it's possible, then I am that someone.
This was supposed to be anonymous. Shortly after posting this, due to the overwhelming support I'd received, I revealed my real name and contact info. You can find me at chrispeak.com
I thank everyone who has read the story, commented, tweeted, donated, or just thought about me privately.
Thank you seems greatly insufficient, but thank you.