23 days

A week ago I cleaned my apartment, somewhat, and left my apartment of the past four years. While I liked the people that ran it, liked the layout and the neighborhood, I hated the specific location. Situated on a major traffic artery running uphill, I heard every vehicle as the owners gassed the engines to make it up the steep climb. It was impossible to keep any windows open and watch t.v., nor to sit on the balcony and enjoy a summer night with a book. The constant noise was too much for me and though there was some anxiety about my leaving for the unknown, I was also happy to be leaving.

While I was cleaning my apartment, putting everything into a storage unit, I had an opportunity to drive to another county and give three lectures on domestic violence and the military. I wasn’t paid, but I was happy to be able to do so. Improving the lives of veterans is my mission. Because things have become harder for me right now hasn’t changed my mission. Drive on… draw fire… charlie mike.

The week prior to actually leaving I ran a million plans in my head, from camping out to just sleeping in the truck. I still had my two cats with me, had three large boxes with change of clothes and some essential books on anger, CBT, military psychology, my laptop, and a brand new litter box and cat food. I checked into a motel with a decent room for two days while I started a temporary two-week assignment with the Reintegration Team.

Monday morning I drove to a place that does work for the homeless, including veterans. I gave my PTSD presentation which is heavy on military culture and bridging understanding.

When I get a very lengthy, invasive, and painful to make background check, which takes weeks to do, I should be able to get on full time until the end of the fiscal year. Until then I was trying to find a place to stay where I could take my two cats with me. Yet after two days, with no clear answer in sight, I took my cats to a friend who was looking to adopt. Her house is beautiful inside, the dog was more well-behaved than most people I’ve met, and the cats actually did very well readjusting. There is also a large yard for them. I think that all four of them will be very happy. When the reality of things started to sink in, it wasn’t until I was hit with the notion of getting rid of my two cats that I was overcome with anxiety. Heavy breathing, shortness of breath, tunnel vision, and more all at the same time. But before long I had it under control by turning off my emotions. And as I took my cats to their new home, both crying in their boxes, I walked a fine line between trying to comfort them and trying to shut off my feelings.

The next day I checked out of my motel room and then drove to my temporary job and checked in. Then I drove to my other job where I help counsel veterans. When it was over I drove to the storage unit my belongings were put and I grabbed a stack of pillows, and changed in to civies. I had to do this before the gates closed for the night. Then I got into my truck and drove. Not knowing where to go I went to the armory and stayed in the parking lot. The same the next night, though I was awakened by someone training another driver in the parking lot at 2:30 AM for a hour. And so it continued for the week. I’d get up and change in the armory or a restroom at the storage unit, go to work for reintegration, and then pile up my pillows in the truck and go to sleep.

When Friday hit I decided to try camping on the beach on the river. While I did enjoy the beach for the afternoon, I changed my mind about staying overnight and drove back to town. This time I decided to try a dark parking lot behind a store that has been closed down for a couple of years. Within fifteen minutes a Tigard police officer drove up and questioned me. He was cautious, telling me not to reach for things unless told to do so, and inquired why I was there. My story of “just trying to find a place to sleep” fit as my truck had various boxes and a stack of clothes in it. I told him that my military training schedule made me less desirable for work with a company, that this loss of income caused me to lose my apartment, and I was between places at the moment. He asked me if I was a veteran, and as he did so I could see a wave of regret and pity wash over his face for a split second. That emotion reflected back onto me. Being in the presence of this felt worse than anything else I had felt so far.

A few weeks earlier I had been asked to be a motivational speaker for a homeless veterans picnic. I remember lamenting that I couldn’t do enough for them, that I didn’t understand them enough to truly speak to them. I was told to not be negative, but positive. I spoke about my admiration for them, of how they answered the call of their country, how it was an honor to be counted among them as veteran. Whether I drag this experience out or not, consciously or unconsciously, it has proven valuable to me in giving me insight. My admiration for those homeless veterans was real and it has increased.

The police officer told me that I could not stay, that I had to go somewhere else and he recommended the rest stop down the highway past Wilsonville. I did’t want to make the drive, nor stay in such a busy place, but I did it. Getting there around midnight I found a shadowy spot and put up blankets in my windows to block light. In the park-like setting before me I saw many shadows of men moving to and fro. This was a meeting ground for various activities, including sex and drugs. I did not rest well that night as part of my threat radar stayed on, my pistol was ready beneath me, a flashlight for blinding was beside me. The next morning, amid sounds of semis cranking up and driving off, I sat for a while and let my aching body and cloudy mind adjust. I watched as two men from different cars made their way to a rendezvous in some hidden place. Apparently behavior that occurs near midnight occurs in the daylight as well.

I drove to a Borders books that I’ve been frequenting for the past week at night. The mornings found me going to a Starbucks to do online work for one job before reporting to another job, and then going to a Borders after work to continue. One thing was that I simply wanted a place to go. Today, as yesterday, I find that I can easily spend several hours in a coffee shop because I have nowhere else to go. I have work to do, however, and I spend some of my time working on a presentation (I have one tomorrow afternoon) or doing work for a study I am involved with. Late this afternoon I go to a friend’s house to do laundry. I’ve not asked about a shower yet… I’ll likely take one in the armory early tomorrow morning. If I can get a shower every two or three days I will be okay.

As far as another place to live, I’ve found one. Before moving out I had a place lined up, ish. Because of the job and such I’ve no savings left. What savings I did have, all $2000 of it, was wiped out by a cluster between financial aid, PSU, and benefits last summer. This new place, however, didn’t work out. The person checked emails infrequently and quit responding to my emails altogether. I had been counting on this and was this that had me get a hotel room. If I knew she was going to back out on me I’d never taken the hotel room and saved myself the $130. Lesson learned. Since then I’ve put out an ad on craigslist, emailed other ads, and so on, and eventually got a good hit for a place in North Portland. Wasn’t too thrilled about moving to NOPO as it is a drive through traffic for most of my jobs. Yet I was looking for anything that fit me. There were options here and there, but they all had the feeling about it as though I were a bum crashing on someone’s couch. Even some of the places where I could rent a room had this feeling about it. I’d rather camp out than be that. The place that I checked out is three single women living in a 4 bedroom apartment. There are also two dogs living there that seemed to like me (and I them). Yesterday I got the word that I can move in on the 1st. I am looking forward to it. I get along with women better than men. I am more comfortable with them and in return they’ll get a marine guard dog living with them. Don’t break into this house or I will bite.

I have another week to go before I can move in. Last night I went by my old apartment and checked it. I still have a key and, it being late at night and knowing that it will take a while before maintenance has cleaned/painted/recarpeted the place, I took two pillows and a towel and slept on the floor. I don’t mind sleeping on the floor, but what I hated was that I did not have the fan that I used to have. Because of this I could hear the downstairs neighbor snore loudly, and the sound of traffic was quite intrusive. I put some headphones on to some ocean wave sounds and finally drifted asleep after almost two hours of tossing around. When the morning came I left before any maintenance crews came around. I’ll try to keep this up for the next week if possible. If I show up near midnight and leave around 0600 I should be outside the range of any activity that might find me out. When they change the locks I’ll just revert back to the truck.

Earlier I was looking for videos for a presentation I am giving. One of them is a Bill O’Reilly video talking about homeless veterans and it is accepted by everyone on the show that 90% of the homeless veterans have substance abuse and/or mental health issues. At one point Bill dismisses that more ought to be spent/done for the veterans because you’d have to drag them in against their will to get them help. There is a huge disconnect here. Bill doesn’t get it and were I to talk to him he wouldn’t try to listen to me at all. Dress up a lot of the programs around here as they currently are and I have interest in going to them. Even now I am not interested in any homeless shelter or program, or anything at all. I want nothing to do with them. I am accepting aid from some of them because they will give me a footing to continue upward. One is a loan to make a payment on rent. Because I’ve spent nearly a week sleeping in a truck does not make me an expert. Likewise, suppose I have a place to live and I decide to stay outside one night to see what it is like… this too paints a very incomplete picture. For me to get a better idea what its like I had to feel hopelessness for the future. I had no idea what was going to happen or how to really change it. Once I felt this for a brief instant I had a deeper understanding. Now I look at the homeless around me and wonder what it is like to live with this feeling day after day after day. How does one get out of this state then? Even when I was in this state I monitored my feelings toward things. Like when I was confronted by the police officer who showed pity on his face. What do I feel when I read about various programs, aid lines, shelters? A lot of the time I feel like staying away. They are not appealing at all to me because they reaffirm my weakness, my inability to take action. I am infantry and even though things suck for me at times, I stick my nose down and drive forward. What do I want? What do I need? I could use some laundry facilities and a shower! Does sleeping under a tree bother me? Hell no!

So I imagine a place that I’d feel comfortable in right now. I imagine a coffee shop. There are computers available for internet access (finding jobs, entertainment, etc…) as well as books to take/leave for free. Show a military card and get a free sandwich or coffee. On the site are showers that anyone can use. there are some lockers with a lock you check out from the front desk. They have a copy of a key. You can use a locker for an entire day. There are donations taken for the place. Basic coffee and sandwich is free but you can buy more expensive stuff. There are also sponsored talks and meetings places here. This helps to make this a place for not ONLY the homeless to go but which is open to/for the homeless to go. Because it isn’t viewed as a homeless place to go it is desireable to go there. Imagine if Starbucks had showers on site and gave free coffee. I’m sure I’d be there a lot.

I am looking forward to moving into a place where I can get settled into a routine again. I have a routine now but it isn’t very healthy. I need to eat better (now I live off of fast food and such) and better hygiene and also working out. I’ll miss the Portland Marathon this year as I couldn’t afford the entry fee before the deadline, nor can I afford the nutrition I need in order to train effectively before the race. I feel good. I am an optimist after all. This experience was needed to help me focus, learn, and grow. Right now I am hungry and will go find something to eat. I am very fortunate in that I have jobs right now and, though I’ll likely have overdrafts for a few days, I am not going hungry and have some income. I remember what being hungry was like from when I lived in Eugene, though at the time I did have a roof over my head.

****************

It has been a couple of days. I thought I was moving in to one place only to be told the next day that there was a miscommunication between two of the coordinators. The room was no longer available. I’ve continued to search and thus far I’ve found nothing acceptable. What I am doing now is not distressing enough for me to accept just anything that is thrown at me.

What is distressing, sort of, is my cats. I forget about them and then something will occur that reminds me of them. Just now I am conversing with a friend via IM on the computer and she asks where the two cats are at. I tell her they are at a new home. Her response is “I bet you miss them and they miss you! They brought you joy every time you came home. I remember that.”

That statement was like a sniper’s shot on an unsuspecting target. I found a wave of sadness rolling over me and I had to blink away my emotion, turn and stare out the window, and wait for the moment to pass. Focus on the mission. Drive on… draw fire. A minute later I am once again fine.

Tomorrow I have two meetings with possible roommates to see if they like me or not. Then the weekend will be upon me. The last few nights I’ve been sneaking into my old apartment. I still have a key and I know that the maintenance crew takes a long time in getting around to resetting an apartment. It is more comfortable to sleep on the floor than in the truck, though that isn’t too bad. I wait until late at night, when nobody will see me, and I quietly slip into the old apartment with three pillows, a beach towel, and my laptop. Should someone break into my truck because there seems to be a lot of stuff in the cab, I care really only about this laptop. With this I am able to continue my mission. I can lose a lot of things, but not this or my truck. These two make my mission much easier.

*********************

I just attended a meeting of various concerns within the medical community. I was there as a veteran’s voice.

Walking back to my truck on a beautiful summer afternoon on a deserted campus, I paused at a walkway overlooking a children’s home. Oustide in the backyard was a child playing basketball. I stopped and watched for a few minutes. Miraculously I was nolonger who I am, but the world’s troubles evaporated and my concern was no further than the boundaries of the yard and the bounce of the basketball. It was a sublime experience and my needs were so very simple. To have fun, enjoy this wonderful thing called ‘summer’, and to feel loved (as an older sibling was doing a good job of playing at a level for the much younger one).

I turned and left, meandering down the path to find my parked truck. I stopped for a moment under a tree and enjoyed the sight and smell of sunshine through a young oak tree. In the tree a jay was bouncing between branches. I was already aware and basking in the glow of a calm, contemplative beauty… a feeling of peace. But what was surprising to me was the wells of tears. I found that I had a small string hanging from the edge of my soul and that when I tugged at it for a little bit I could feel that it was connected to deeper, heavier strings integral to the tapestry of my heart. I could feel the physical sensation of some emotion, but I couldn’t feel it. I knew that I wanted to cry, but for the life of me I had no idea why. And it would have been very easy to take a lighter and burn that loose thread… but while it was confusing for me, I found it comforting at the same time… it was the oddest reminder that I still had emotions even though I am adept at shutting them off.

***********************

I went to a few places and looked at possible homes. I met some very nice people of whom I wouldn’t mind meeting again under difference circumstances. As odd as it sounds, though one person’s room was too small for my needs I have strange desire to go do yard work with her. She is attempting to reclaim her yard from overzealous blackberries. She a sweet pit bull who loved belly rubs and all manner of things were growing in various pots and containers and corners of the yard. I shall have to make contact with her again. Another person was working on her Ph.D. and, when I told stories of running down that very street as a hasher, she became interested. I’ve likely recruited her to going to a hash sometime. I would like to go again myself someday. Two more people work as social workers and were interesting. And on and on.

But thus far nothing has felt… I don’t know. I keep trying to put my finger on it, hoping that I’ll know it when I feel it. If I were going by purely rational decision processes I’d have already chosen a place. All I need is a roof and a cot. Yet I’ve got that now… well… not the cot… a floor with two towels as sheets. I’ve gotten a text from a friend and it seems like this might actually be a good opportunity for me. It has a better feeling to it. So I’m going to see.

I told various people about my state and I’ve had so many offers of places to crash or the like. I sit and I think about my friends, and there are really a lot… were I to list a few of them here I’d feel guilty for not listing all of them and I know I’d also forget some and I’d feel worse about that. But whether that person lives in Eugene, Bend, Portland, Gresham, Hillsboro, various places in Arkansas, Arizona, California, or moving to California, Ohio, Michigan… and on… I am blessed. Here are affirmations of my true worth and I am humbled by its loftiness.

I am not a good partner. I am often called brave. Of this I do not qualify. It is no bravery to raise arms in violence. It is bravery sometimes to not fight. This is not a plea for pacifism, for I am no pacifist and the dogma of the moral view behind it I find to be flawed at a deep and basic level. I speak merely of the outward appearance of bravery as some say it to be, physical acts. Were I truly a brave person I would have talked better, opened up more, listened more, with the amazing women that I’ve dated. As I’ve told every one of them… I do not date people of poor character. I’ve had the great fortune of dating some truly wonderful people. This is not a pity session against me, for something must be good about me in order for all of these women to date me. As one told me… ‘I felt truly loved by you in the beginning’. Yet I lock up. Cannot seem to make it past a few months. It shuts off. And, instead of communicating, I run. I do not act with any integrity or bravery… I act the coward. I will stand with my friends against an army even if it means my doom. Yet I cannot get close, truly close, to someone as a partner.

The room is dark. Now that the sun has fully set I am surrounded by darkness in this empty apartment. Only the glow of my monitor of my laptop. A friend texts me about her upcoming class and the syllabus she is preparing. The street that has been the thorn in my consciousness interupts me with its louds traffic. I recall reading a study on anxiety disorders and their listing peaceful areas without noise as good for healing. I thought of my own PTSD symptoms and how much I hated my street that I lived on. Looking back over the last five years I feel as though I’ve lived a dream, that I wasn’t truly present. I feel as though I am waking up and I realize how tired I was and how tired I am still.

As I was writing earlier. I’ve had lots of opportunities for places to stay and crash. I admit that part of my reason for not doing so is pride. Pride is also something very important to the military. To understand how to help veterans in any area one must understand our peculiar brand of pride. How much of the helpers who try to save us are like the misguided missonaries who go to distant lands to save/convert/subjugate a foreign people.

But I get off track. I spoke to a soldier who was in some need on the telephone. The soldier confided in me that it seemed that everything happened at once. I could hear desperation and worry in the voice. I was acting as the Staff Sergeant on the phone call and identified as such I might be seen as a symbol of one’s failing. Put it another way, you don’t go to the trainer and admit to failing, you try harder. So I confided the things that happend to me. I did not go into details. Sometimes when someone tries to empathize with you it is thinly veiled disguise of “I’ve got lots of problems too… listen to me!” That is not my need. I’ve got places/people I can call on for that (thank you all). This was about the soldier’s need and I was the help. I simply said that I had lost a job which caused me to lose my apartment and that I slept in my truck. And then I immediatley asked some more questions about the soldier’s. Perhaps it was just me, but I thought I sensed a little more give, more sharing of the soldier’s part. More ‘listened to’.

I was conversing with a friend earlier and I told her that I am not a smart person. I’ve been told since I was very young that I am very smart. Yet my grades do not support this. I was never an A student in grade school, nor high school. I was mid level in my Marine training for avionics and electrician schools. Took me a while to get the broader concepts of various avionics systems down… but then I became quite good at troubleshooting problems on the bird.

I told my friend that I am not a smart person. I get by. If I do any healing with people it is certainly not from any intelligence on my part. If I am able to give any healing it is beacuse I operate from my weakness and wounds. I read a passage like this from a book recently and it resonated very strongly with me. I saw myself in those passages. This is why my current state is a true blessing for me. I lament not my current state. It is inconvenient, but no more so than a multitude of stories around me every day. I have it easier than most. When I consider that I might be able to gain from this twenty four days (-ish) I consider myself given an opportunity, a gift. The question now is will I be able to use this gift adequately? How might I help other veterans more? What words might I use? What approach?

I offer my prayers to the gods. I’ve given it before and I offer it again. My life in service to the design. I pray that I have the courage to live it, though I always feel as though I am merely taking the first step on a path. I can rattle of names of people who’s love, dedication, strength, perseverance all humble me greatly. Were I to have one finger’s worth of their heart I could move mountains. These people are giants to me.

Gods above and below, of the moon and the sun, of the wild rain and the moist earth, of the dancing fire and the wandering breeze. I stray from the path every day. Thank you for your constant patience with me, your repeated gifts. I wish to be a force of healing. I offer my life, such as it is, to whatever this healing might be.

********************

I sit in the dark utterly grateful for my life. It is the most sublime happiness. The memory of contemplated suicide in the past seems as the greatest of waste of the most amazing occurence ever… I exist.

****************

It was 23 days of carrying getting by. It wasn’t hard at all. I had sunk into the usual rhythm that seemed to define more of my personality than I thought likely. A typical day for me was to get up at 0600 or I’d sleep in until 0630. I was sleeping in my truck but after the cop found me I decided to not do that anymore. I did not like the park setting, too much activity for me. So I snuck into my old apartment as I knew the maintenance crews would take several weeks to finally get to working on my old apartment. What I didn’t count on was new neighbors… neighbors who liked to keep their front door open, come in later in the night, and have lots of visitors in and out, and babysitters early in the morning. So my window for getting in and out, unseen, was small. I’d get up early, sneak out, and drive to a Starbucks. There I would do some work online until time to go the the armory when people were there to unlock it. Then I’d shave and dress and start my work day. At the end of the day I’d go to a coffee shop and hang out until late at night when I could sneak into the apartment… or I’d go straight to the apartment before anyone was home yet. Once inside I was stuck inside until time to leave in the morning.

I didn’t have a bed, slept on the floor with a beach towel under and on top of me. I carried a jug of water to hydrate. I lived off of eating fast food and coffee shops.

The sense of desperation that I was feeling had dissipated once I let my cats go to a new home. Now I was just focused on doing what needed to be done. If I was going to gain any better insight I would have to move outside into the forest. The thought did cross my mind. I seriously considered it but decided against it instead as I was too busy with various jobs. It seemed to me that a dry cot, a place to shave and shower, and perhaps a locker to store one’s goods, would go a very long way among veterans who are trying to get back on their feet. It seemed that with those things, and perhaps a monetary loan toward job seeking (printing resumes, clothes, food, etc…) and there wasn’t much that I couldn’t overcome.

I interviewed several houses. I started to just machine gun the process, checking out as many as I could. Just when I had a place lined up, sometimes getting a phone call that I was the one, It’d fall through two days later. It is funny how fast a day turns into a week. I got a text from a friend telling me that she was looking for a roommate in her house. I accepted instantly. I knew her and liked her, that’s the biggest half.

So now I am in a small room just big enough to put a bed and a small desk, drawers, and two boxes. There is not nearly enough room for me to bring all of my things over, so I leave them all in storage. I look at this like a six month long deployment but easier. I’ll give this place six months which should allow me to fully make the transition from the bar industry to mental health, get into grad school, and so on.


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2 thoughts on “23 days

  1. Kintsukoroi: Japanese art of filling cracks with gold with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken

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