January 27, 2020 – Arlington, WA
When Brent found us our small apartment I was elated. Finally we’d have a place to escape from the cold. Not only that, but I no longer needed to worry about him if things went wrong. There’d been many times in the past (usually following an argument) when I’d packed up my things to leave, only to turn back when I realized how it would affect Brent. I’d started out on this trip nearly a year ago, trying to help him get back on his feet. I couldn’t turn him loose on the streets again with nowhere to go. Now at least he’d have a warm place to stay and the chance to support himself. As those thoughts crossed my mind, I felt a tinge of guilt. Why was I happy at the prospect of leaving Brent? I thought I loved him.
As early as the second day in our apartment, I realized that things weren’t working. Brent and I shared different schedules. I was usually in bed by 11:00, but Brent stayed up till 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, then slept until 10:00 or 11:00. I’d get up at 7:00 and make coffee, trying my best not to wake him up, but there was always something. I’d open the bathroom door, turn on the light, and he’d sit up with a jolt.
“You’re shining that light right in my eyes. Close the door first, then turn on the light.”
Taking Loki out for a walk to relieve himself meant opening the front door and letting in more light. I felt like a prisoner in a small cell. I took to wearing a headlamp so I could see to make the coffee, then go out to the car with my phone until he woke up.
I felt more distant from Brent than I’d ever felt before, and I couldn’t understand why. Maybe, I told myself, I subconsciously realized that we’d reached the end of our journey and it was I who was creating that distance. I was fragile as a wine glass, ready to shatter at the slightest push. I’d never cried so much. I realized I couldn’t live with him in that tiny, cramped space, it just wasn’t working. But what other options did I have?
How ironic it was. When we started this trip, it was Brent who was homeless—now the situation was reversed. This was his apartment. He was the one paying for it with his labor. My only option was sleeping in the cold trailer we were renovating. I’d have to take a step backwards and I could see no way out.
I decided I’d sleep in the trailer only when I’d had enough of Brent. Maybe that could work. But, in my fragile condition, everything hurt my feelings. We thought we could fix things by pulling it back to a friendship, but for me it wasn’t working. That night, he refused to cuddle, and I was offended once more. I grabbed my pillow and blanket like apetulant child and drove two miles to spend the night in the trailer. It was cold and miserable, and I woke up to strange sounds coming from the roof.. Some critter had gotten into a hole above the bedroom—it sounded like a big bird dragging branches across the ceiling to make a nest.
The next night I was back at the apartment trying to sleep next to Brent. I wanted to touch him, hold him, but I knew I couldn’t. The tears flowed once more.
“I can’t do this,” I told him. It hurts too much. I’m going to sleep in the trailer.”
“Just relax,” he replied. “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
I grabbed my things once more, determined to get out. Then I remembered how I’d felt in the trailer the night before and I hesitated. I guess I’ll try to relax like he told me. Once more, I lay down next to him, and once more I burst into tears.”
“I don’t like making you sad,” Brent lamented, then fell into a deep sleep. I couldn’t understand how he could sleep when I was so f***ng sad. Didn’t he care that I was breaking down?”
I barely slept on what would be my last night in the apartment. I went over my finances, trying to figure out how I could possibly buy a ticket to Italy. It was essential that I go there in the spring to take care of business, and the only way I could afford it was to cut expenses drastically. There would be no money left to renovate the trailer…and if we couldn’t renovate the trailer, what the hell was I doing in Arizona? Not only that, but we still hadn’t solved the problem of getting it up to the property in one piece.
I didn’t want to quit. I knew I had a habit of running when things got rough, but I could see no other way out. I had to go back to Washington. I told Brent of my plan, but after all the false alarms I’d sounded in the past, I’m sure he didn’t believe me. He carried on that day as if things were totally normal. By the evening, I’d had enough.
“You know I’m leaving tomorrow, don’t you?”
I’d hurt his feelings once more and he spewed out an endless litany of things I was to blame for.
“You know you took me out of my support system when you dragged me here to Arizona?” It wasn’t the first time he’d accused me of that and I was tired of hearing it. “Dragged him” to Arizona? He wanted to go as much as I did.
“You told me yourself more than once that if I hadn’t rescued you from the tent in Auburn, you’d probably be dead by now.”
“That’s true.” At least he’d acknowledged that much.”
I’d packed up my things in the back of the truck that day, but I knew that, at the first sign of affection from Brent I could change my mind. Thankfully, each insult he hurled my way that evening made me more determined to get the hell out of there. I slept in the trailer that night, though sleep was almost impossible—too much on my mind. At 7:00 am I pulled myself up into the cold air and headed to the post office to close my P.O. box. It was the final piece of unfinished business. When I passed by the motel where Brent was sleeping, I wanted desperately to say goodbye and give Loki one last hug, but I knew that I couldn’t. There was no way I would change my mind this time.
On the long trip back to Washington, I vacillated between relief and tears. Now Brent was responsible for his own life, and that thought frightened me. Suppose he fell back into homelessness? There was nothing I could do but hope for the best.
When I first met Brent, he told me he had a strong feeling we’d met for a purpose. Later on, that feeling was confirmed by Ed, my neighbor. He’s convinced that Brent and I came together to teach each other valuable lessons we needed to learn. It was up to us whether we wanted to follow through on those lessons.
Ed says it’s time for me to reflect and meditate, and I’ve been doing a lot of that in between the tears. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience, it’s how important love is. It’s strong enough to turn a life around, to make a difference between cynicism and hope. Brent, from living so long on the streets, was stuck in survival mode, unable to see past his own pain and suffering long enough to empathize with others, and I understand that. I think it’s one of the reasons why he was unable to fall in love with me, and I with him.
From Brent I’ve tried to learn the valuable lessons “let it be” and “go with the flow,” but in the end I guess I failed that class. I went into this telling myself it didn’t matter whether we fell in love or not, but in the end I guess it did matter. It’s something I want for the future. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly in love, but I haven’t given up yet and if I’d stayed with Brent those prospects would have narrowed drastically.
According to Ed, however, our destiny was never to have a relationship, it was to learn about ourselves, and each argument I had with Brent taught me something about myself. Being with him was like looking into a mirror—when we criticized each other, we criticized ourselves as well. We fought so much because we constantly saw in the other person those things we weren’t happy with in our own lives.
Brent and I haven’t communicated much since I left, so I’m not sure what he’s doing and whether he will emerge from this unscathed. He did message me once. He feels that all of our problems stem from the fact that I wanted more than he could give me, but I think that’s over-simplifying things. There are times when I did want more, but at the same time I knew he wasn’t good for me in the long term.
One other thing I’ve learned—sometimes the people who look the strongest on the outside are the most fragile inside. I wish only the best for Brent and I hope that, once the hurt feelings subside, we can stay in touch. Despite everything, I wouldn’t have missed out on this experience. It’s been an adventure that has changed me forever in so many ways.