… Your Own Medicine
February 26, 2019 -Dash Point State Park, Federal Way, WA
This morning as I wash the coffee pot, my eyes are drawn to my hands—deep cracks creep out from under my left thumbnail like blackened branches of a tree, infused with dirt that refuses to come out, even in the shower. The beginnings of a blemish redden the bottom of my chin. Later, I spread out my yoga mat and go through my familiar stretching routine for the first time in days, as though it will miraculously counteract the effects of 4 weeks of camping out.
It still amazes me that Brent and I are co-existing in this environment. On the surface, we’re miles apart. He’s a meat and potatoes guy—with all the junk food he consumes and the cigarettes he inhales, he shouldn’t be able to out-hike me, but he does. We’re both strong, opinionated, sarcastic, but below the surface we’re as soft as Loki’s fur. I’ve picked up some of his rough ways and I like to think that his edges are more rounded. We have our disagreements but, unlike most men I’ve known, Brent doesn’t run, he talks things out.
Two nights ago, we were “blessed” with new tent neighbors. For them, talking things out means throwing insults. I’ve never seen them, but I can imagine what they look like. He’s a bear of a man—his voice bellows out that first night like the roar of my son’s motorcycle. “Fuck you, bitch!”, “What’d you do that for?” Her voice is softer, lilting—I can’t pick out the words, but I can tell by the tone she’s taunting him, and she won’t let up. I drift into sleep, then wake to the sound of clanging metal. He shouts out one more insult and suddenly the night is quiet. I imagine her lying on the floor of the tent, unconscious in a pool of blood, and I think I hear him crying—or maybe it’s drug-induced coughing. Should I call 911? Then, after a few minutes, her voice chimes in once more. The next morning, we hear the bear again. He’s walking down the road with a young boy. Brent and I look at each other—we can’t believe the poor kid was in the tent listening to all that shit.
My granddaughter in Hawaii was nicknamed “Baby Chaos.” To stop her from screaming her lungs out when she was only a few months old, I would get in her face and give her a taste of her own medicine. She didn’t like it, and probably didn’t expect it, but it worked. She settled down immediately. The following night in the tent, we tried that theory on our neighbors. We’d give them an exaggerated dose of what we’d been listening to. Brent settled into the role almost too easily, going as far as getting out his belt and whacking it on the bed. “Get the lime off the floor, bitch… that’s for my Corona!” Every time my lines came up, I’d lose it—just couldn’t stop laughing, which no doubt hampered the dramatic effect.
Brent has always made me laugh, even in the most trying situations. On December 4th, I flew back to Hawaii to stay with my son and grandkids. Living conditions weren’t optimal, and they became worse as time went on. My back was crying “help” from sleeping on the couch, and every morning I was jolted awake by the roar of my son’s motorcycle on the porch as he headed off to work. Then came the new puppy, who, apparently taking me for a substitute mom, whined and whimpered all night in between peeing and pooping.
When Brent’s phone had power, we talked until it died. He’d take me through the long bus ride and walk back to his campsite, his panhandling trips to Walmart. The Weather Channel became my new favorite app and I gave him regular updates on pending rain, wind, or anything else that could affect tent life. Christmas came and went.
On December 27, I got a voicemail. “You know how I always tie Loki up outside the tent? Well, a couple of days ago he escaped and was picked up by the Auburn Humane Society. They want $90 to get him out and if I don’t have the money by tomorrow morning, they’ll put him up for adoption. Is there any way you could lend it to me?” I couldn’t imagine Brent without Loki. I had no car, but Walmart was only a mile and a half away, so I packed up my granddaughters and we took off on foot. It was easy to wire the money, but no easy feat to pick it up. Battling sickness and weather, Brent had missed a crucial court hearing for his assault charge and a bench warrant had been issued. On top of all that, his wallet had somehow dropped out of his backpack and now lay waiting to be picked up at the Kent Police Station. Without any valid ID, he couldn’t pick up the money I’d wired him.
But Brent managed on his own. That evening he headed out to his panhandling spots and told people his story. He’s good with words, and he managed to bring in more than enough to retrieve Loki the next day. When I told the story to my son, I found myself once more on the defensive end of what would soon become a litany of “he’s using you for the money” charges against a man nobody had met. When I think of Brent, many words come to mind, among them impetuous, stubborn, cocky, but never mean, conniving, or selfish. Smokes too much, but he works his ass off in camp, keeping things clean, cooking, making improvements to our “home.” He’s kind, thoughtful, and unlike most men I’ve met, he doesn’t get defensive or take things personally. He’s a talker, a negotiator.
On Thursday we move up north to Deception Pass State Park. We’ve reached our 20-day limit at Dash Point. Despite the neighbors, it’ll be hard leaving what has become our home.