Hard to be Hard
June 13, 2019 – Joemma State Park – Gig Harbor, WA
We’ve adopted Joemma Beach as our home base. It’s cheap, beautiful, and close to the places we love to beachcomb. Now, during high season, we’re allowed to stay for 10 consecutive days, then leave for at least three. For those few days, we move over to Penrose Point, just a few miles down the road. It’s a majestically forested park, but for the past couple of weeks the mosquitoes there have become unbearable. When they start attacking me, I know we’re in trouble. There are certain people, like Brent, whom mosquitos love to feast on (is it something in their blood, their sweat?) Fortunately, I’m not one of them, but the night before we left Penrose the little she-devils (only the females bite) were feasting on my blood as well.
Dash Point State Park, though conveniently located, has been crossed off our list for now. Phone service is spotty there since I switched from T-Mobile to AT&T and Brent’s phone doesn’t work well there either. But the fact that I have service now at Joemma and Penrose is a huge plus and worth the hassle of switching providers. When we need to be in Federal Way or Auburn early for Brent’s appointments, we spend the night down there, rather than rising at the crack of dawn and facing rush-hour traffic.
Aside from the mosquitos, Penrose Point is home to a large population of crafty raccoons. We thought we could outwit them by hanging our trash from a rope, but somehow they managed to rip the bag open and sift through its contents. The first night we let Loki sleep in the truck, figuring he’d be safer in there—I’d read that raccoons can be vicious. When he heard the invaders, Loki went crazy, jumping around the cab and scratching at the windows in a vain attempt to defend us. After that we tied him up outside, which was enough to keep them at bay.
In Dash Point it was the squirrels—good sized ones who were bold enough to creep in front of Loki in order to steal whatever they could find. Maybe it was my overworked imagination, but I swear they worked in pairs. One would distract us while the other would rush in and grab whatever he could. Not even the candy bars were safe. Chocolate bar wrappers on the ground attested to the fact that squirrels have a sweet tooth just like we do.
The day we left Dash Point, Loki took his revenge and lunged at one of the villains. I thought for sure the squirrel would escape, but not this time. He was dangling from Loki’s mouth and I prayed it was just a game and Loki would drop him. “Loki, stop. Put him down!”, we both yelled simultaneously. Loki glanced our way and dropped the fuzzy animal, but by then it was too late. The poor squirrel lay lifeless on the ground and Brent tossed him into the bushes. I felt guilty—guilty that we’d left food around and paved the way for his delinquent behavior, guilty that the other squirrel had lost his partner-in-crime.
How long will our campsite hopping continue? I have no idea—there are still too many unknowns. It’s not a question of having something to go “back to.” I can’t go back to where I was. There’s a reason why I left that life, a reason why I need a permanent place to call home. My nomadic existence worked for a while, the one where I spent the spring in Italy and the winters in Hawaii. Now I have no “home” in Italy. I’m selling my share of the house to my daughter and her husband. I love Italy and I’ll never give up visiting, but for now I can’t call it my home. As for Hawaii, it worked out fine staying with my son on a long-term basis, as long as I could help them out. When Eric owned the store, I worked there every day, helping him take care of the kids. For the rest of the year, I’d stay in the Pacific Northwest with friends and family. I loved that nomadic existence and I’m happy I got to spend so much time with my grandkids, but at the same time I was getting tired of living out of a suitcase.
Unfortunately, I can’t afford to live near my kids on my limited retirement income. Both Hawaii and Washington are ridiculously expensive. If I did have a home here in Washington, I wouldn’t be facing the dilemma I’m facing now. I could visit Italy, visit my family in Canada without having to worry about throwing Brent back on the street. There was a time, less than two weeks ago, when I had no qualms about leaving him to face his fate alone. He’d always been somewhat cocky and critical, but since the surgery his negative behavior had become unbearable. We argued just about every day over trivial things, and I’d threatened to leave several times.
Then, just like that, his demeanor changed from agitated to peaceful and calm. Maybe it was the pain medication, I thought to myself, my cynical brain at work. I couldn’t believe someone could change so radically overnight, so I asked Brent.
“It’s not the medication, it’s my mindset”, he replied.
I scrolled through my phone messages, trying to determine when the light switch had flipped in his brain. It was the night I’d run (as I’m prone to doing) to my son’s house to spend the night following a particularly nasty argument. The next morning, he messaged me: “Had to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m so hard I need to let up a lot and I know it.” That was it, the key word, “hard.” That shell was the homeless Brent’s way of protecting himself from the scammers, the hardships of living on the street—it had turned him negative and cynical. It was that protective shell he’d finally dropped and he’d become so much softer. I hope it’s permanent.
Over the next few days, I searched for signs he’d revert to his old behavior—I’d semi-sub-consciously test him, throw out things that before would have set him off, and he passed the test every time. In fact, I had suddenly become the aggressor and he the pacifier, de-fusing the situation before it veered out of control.
We haven’t argued since then and “hard” has taken on new meaning. How can I be hard on someone who is treating me with love and kindness? How can I throw Brent back on the streets like a stray dog? If I were a kind and understanding person, I tell myself, I wouldn’t think of doing something so “hard”, even before, when his behavior was “hardly” civilized. My feelings have grown for the new, softer Brent and life has become harder in a different way. I should go to Italy, but what about my partner? He’ll survive on the street for a month, I have no doubt about that, but will he revert to the “harder” Brent?
If I can stay positive, I’m sure I’ll figure things out. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying this amazing summer weather, and working on my mindset. If Brent can do it, I can too.