June 6, 2019 – Joemma State Park – Gig Harbor, WA
Last weekend’s Memorial Day fiasco lingered like a bad hangover. The stress of our camping mishaps, combined with Brent’s painful surgery, left us on edge for a few days and brought out the worst in both of us. We fought over trivial stuff like why we shouldn’t buy a big jar of salsa, or whether we could afford to buy urethane to paint our sand dollars. At one point, Brent got so nasty that I took off and spent the night at my son’s house. I came back the next day and things were good for a bit, but 24-hours later we were at it once more. I’d planned on going to visit again that weekend, and Brent wanted me to drop him off at Walmart so he could try to sell some of his shell creations. “Don’t worry, I’ll Uber it back to the campsite. It won’t cost more than $10 or so.”
It wasn’t until he reached the store that he actually checked the price—turns out “or so” was $30-$40 for a 26-mile Uber ride. By then, I was fed up with his negative attitude. He’d criticized me non-stop all the way to the store, and I just wanted to leave. I loaned him half the money he needed for the ride, figuring he’d earn the rest with his sales (he’s a good salesman). He’d have to work his way out of this one.
Though it was Saturday, traffic was a mess. About two-thirds of the way to Renton, I glanced over and noticed Brent’s cell phone dangling from the charger. Damn it, I thought to myself. Not only would I have no way to contact him, but he’d be unable to make his CCAP call in the morning. One of the requirements, as part of his jail release back in February, was calling in every morning before 10:00. Under normal circumstances, I would have turned around and brought him the phone, but would I be doing him any favors? Wouldn’t that just enable his irresponsible behavior?
My phone rang—it was an unknown number, but I knew right away who it was. “Is my phone in the car,” Brent asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Can you make it back to the campsite? I’ll drop it off tomorrow morning.” I’d planned to visit my friend the following day to pick up my new debit card, but now I’d have to go back in the morning, and I wasn’t happy about it. Neither was Brent, judging by the exasperated sigh that followed his answer, “No.”
The next morning I drove back, still pissed that I’d had to shorten my stay. When I reached the campsite, there was no sign of Brent. The foam pads and sleeping bags lay in a pile in front of the trailer, and I knew he hadn’t made it back that night. Where was he and how the hell would I find him without a phone? I got in the truck and headed back towards the Port Orchard Walmart, the last place I’d seen him. Two minutes later, my cell phone rang—another unknown caller. “Can you please give me the CCAP number. I only have 20 minutes left to make my call.” Brent sounded stressed and I fumbled to get the number.
I could have stayed longer, I thought to myself, now that I knew he’d made the call. I need to quit babying him and let him handle the fallout of his actions. I knew now that he could be responsible, even without my help and I wasn’t doing him any favors by always bailing him out. When I reached Walmart, he was sitting in a grassy patch of sunshine over in the “homeless” area where we’d camped out a few nights earlier. Next to him was a newfound friend who went by the nickname “Lucifer.” His long, grey hair, unkempt beard, and leathery-brown skin testified to the fact that he’d been living outdoors for some time, and his beautiful husky-shepherd mix dog lay unleashed next to him. He’d already made friends with Loki.
Like many homeless folks I’d met, there was a grain of truth behind his crazy-sounding stories. “There’s two groups that control this world, the Catholics and the Corporations.” He quoted from the Bible to support his theory, then pointed to a man nearby, sitting on a curb. “I don’t have to sit over there and hold up a sign. I can make $40 a day just sitting here ‘cause everyone knows me. One time this guy drove past in his car and handed me a big, fat envelope. I opened it up and it was all hundred-dollar bills. When I counted out the money it came to ten-thousand dollars. Can you believe it?” Could I? I’m not sure.
Turns out Brent had slept on the ground with Loki that night. He’d befriended another homeless man, sharing his bottle of whiskey to ease the pain. That guy had some stories to tell as well—like the time someone pushed him off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Yes, he claimed he’d been shoved off a bridge that sits about 300 feet (or 28 stories) over the water. It was a windy day, as it normally is in that area, and the guy spread his arms out as he fell head-first into the water. Claims he was picked up by a nearby boat, but I’m not sure if I believe that story either. Maybe I’m too cynical? Did I feel bad that Brent had spent the night on the ground? Yes, I did, but it wasn’t the first time that Brent he’d acted impetuously and I felt it was time he faced some consequences.
Hypocritical, many would say since I’m about as impetuous as you can get. The past few months have given me an opportunity to look inside myself, analyze my behavior. When things go wrong, more often than not I switch into flight mode. There was the time many years ago when my ex was making life difficult. He’d re-married and suddenly sued me for child support despite the fact that I was the sole provider for my two older kids (he’d taken the two younger kids and promised I could see them whenever I wanted since at that time there was no such thing as joint custody in Washington State.) I fought him in court and got the support drastically reduced, but I was furious I couldn’t see my kids when I wanted. So what did I do? I made matters worse by taking off to Florida to join my boyfriend at the time. Three months later I returned to Seattle. I couldn’t handle being so far away from them.
I realize I’m not the easiest person to be in a relationship with. Besides my rash behavior, I’m headstrong, independent, hyper-sensitive, and emotional, not to mention slightly cynical. None of these attributes are conducive to a long-lasting romance. And what’s the first thing I do when Brent and I go at it? I threaten to leave. No wonder he feels like he’s walking on eggshells. “You’re always telling me what to do”, is something I’ve heard from more than one of my exes, so maybe I should look at my behavior next time instead of running.
No matter how it all ends, I wouldn’t have missed this experience for the world. It has taught me so much and made me a stronger person. But there will come a time when I have to return to the “other” world and that time will come soon. My daughter and son-in-law are going back to Italy to live in August. Lia lived in Italy for half her life and she’s told me many times that she feels more Italian than American. They’re going to live on Colle Fagiano (Pheasant Hill), in the beautiful home that Diego and I created but no longer inhabit. I need to go through all of my things, decide what I want to keep, then mail them back to the States. I have to close my Italian bank account and transfer my Italian pension to my U.S. bank.
So, I have some decisions to make. I can’t afford the plane ticket and I won’t be able to support Brent financially when I’m gone, nor do I have a home for him to stay in. What will he do? Most likely he’ll go back to Ray of Hope, the homeless shelter that housed him before he went out to camp on his own.
We’ll regroup in September and head off to Arizona. I’ve loved this experience, but I’m ready to settle down. For the past few days, Brent has been wonderfully kind and patient. I could be cynical and say it’s because he knows I’m leaving, but I’d prefer to stay positive (something else I’m working on) and say it’s because we’re both pulling back, examining our behavior, and making changes for the better.