The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful
March 13, 2019 – Dash Point State Park, Federal Way, WA
Brent likes to tell the story of his mom when she was camping, how she would pull out her curling iron first thing in the morning and work her hair into perfection. For me, it’s my cappuccino, the one connection with my “old” life that I follow faithfully every morning. There’s something comforting and familiar in the routine of measuring out the water, adding the coffee grounds, frothing the milk.
Yesterday I woke up with a sore back and aching neck from sleeping on a slightly deflated air mattress, and I flashed back to Brent’s list of ailments. Maybe homelessness should be considered a disease. It takes a huge physical toll on those who sleep on the ground every night, constantly on guard to make sure nobody steals the few things they own. Brent’s physical ailments should qualify him for SS disability, but thus far he’s been denied. He’s forced to live on $197 a month plus a $200 food benefit, which some would claim makes him a “leech” on society. I get a decent retirement benefit, but since I’ve had to pay the $400 a month camping fees, I’ve been having a hard time making ends meet. Without a roommate, I couldn’t afford to live on my own in an apartment.
As I stumbled to the bathroom that day for my morning pee, I was greeted by the homeless lady living in a tent across from the ranger station. I’d seen her before, she fit Joe Blow’s concept of a homeless person—oversized clothes, missing teeth, unwashed, age hard to determine. Unlike the guy in the kilt at Deception Pass, she does have serious mental issues. What I gleaned from our conversation was that she needed a cigarette, her boyfriend liked to drink, and her daughter almost lost her kids. Her boyfriend had been arrested the day before and hauled off to jail after going on a drunken binge (that explains the cop cars we’d seen). “At least he can’t drink in there” the homeless woman said, seemingly unconcerned about his misfortune. Thankfully, the rangers didn’t kick her out of the campground to fend for herself. “They’re sending me to a mental facility”, she announced, as though she’d just won the Lotto. As she said her goodbyes, she looked at me with soft eyes, “You look like you’re homeless too.” I wanted to shrug off her statement as a byproduct of her mental condition, but shit, maybe I was starting to look homeless.
When Brent was released from jail in February, he chose not to return to his campsite in Auburn. Instead he would stay at the “over 50” Seattle homeless shelter. He figured that the exclusion of younger men would mean no problems with “tweakers”, meth addicts he equates with vampires since “they sleep during the day and suck people dry at night,” but he was wrong. The first night at the shelter, he noticed a man walking around in one of his coats, easily recognizable by the personal items hanging out of the inside pocket. “Hey, man, that looks a lot like my jacket.” The accused tried to turn the tables on him, “Leave me alone, what are you doing to me?” “After some cajoling, and a few threats, he returned Brent’s jacket, and the man was asked by the director to leave the shelter. I remember that night. When I dropped Brent off, it was already down in the 20s, one of the coldest nights of the year so far. Brent followed the guy outside and asked if he had a place to stay for the night. “No”, was the reply. “Maybe they’ll let you in if I say something.“ Brent returned to the shelter and persuaded the director to let him stay one more night. It’s a story I like to tell those who doubt his intentions.
But we all have our flaws, and Brent’s is being a smart-ass. Like me, his sense of humor can be cynical, and we both like to be in control. Not long ago, I was standing in my son’s kitchen telling my daughter-in-law how nice it was driving with Brent. “He’s so mellow,” I bragged, not thinking I could be insulting her since she’s the direct opposite of “mellow” behind the wheel. But as I got to know him better, his “backseat driver” tendencies surfaced. He never yells, but he makes his feelings known: “You realize, right that the speed limit is 40 and you’re only going 30?” “You know, you can back up a lot further when you’re turning around… you’re not even close to the car behind you.” When I’ve had enough, a curt “fuck you” does the trick. He listens, apologizes, and stops (until the next time).
When we returned to Dash Point, we lost our old campsite. It was forested, secluded and beautiful. Now we’re sandwiched between two RV’s, suburban living in a campground. When I pee at night, I have to navigate the long, soggy road to the restrooms, where another homeless woman has made her bed. I’ve never seen her face, but I see her feet and her blanket underneath the door of the 3rd stall down. Last night she was in the shower. I understand—she wants to stay warm. This morning the cop car appeared near the restroom and I’m afraid she’s gone.
Over the past few days, Brent’s become convinced we’re living in the twilight zone. It’s true that things mysteriously disappear in the tent, but I’ve chalked it up to lack of organization, or one too many tokes. Last night we both swore that the bag of potatoes was sitting on the floor of the tent when we went to bed, but this morning it had been mysteriously sucked out of the tent and onto the grassy lot of our RV neighbor. I’d blame it on Loki, but I’ve never met a dog who ate raw potatoes. Maybe it was the strange creature we heard in the early hours of the morning, howling in a tone unlike anything I’ve heard. It was an eerie sound, one that convinced me I wouldn’t want to do this thing alone.
The harsh winter weather has loosened its grip and Spring is on the horizon. This morning, I woke to a chorus of birds and I thought of Italy. If this were any other year, I’d be at my home on Colle Fagiano, strolling around my garden, listening to birds warbling, watching to see if my roses had bloomed. But I’m living another life that is no less beautiful. As I sit typing on my computer, I hear the rasping sounds of Brent sanding wood, working on his latest project. Yesterday it was a bow he made from a piece of driftwood he found on the beach. Today he’s sanding the hiking stick. We’re both doing what we love to do at this moment in time—life should always be this good.
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