A Question of Balance
February 23, 2019 – Dash Point State Park, Federal Way, WA
We’re supposed to be in Arizona, Brent and I. When I discovered he was not only a skilled construction worker, but also born and raised in Arizona, my brain started working overtime. “Why don’t we go down there? I have 10 acres of land near Tombstone and we could build a small house, something underground so it stays a constant temperature all year round.” Unlike anyone I’ve been with in the past, Brent is open to pretty much anything, and he quickly agreed.
So, a couple of weeks ago, we set off southward, hoping to escape the miserable Seattle weather, but we didn’t make it very far. Just south of Portland, we were socked in by slushy snow. I checked the forecast and the weather was bad all the way down to California. I momentarily exited that familiar “flight mode” and tried to think logically. Brent had a court hearing scheduled for the beginning of April in Washington and it could be moved up at any point, meaning we’d have to turn around and go back. We needed to take care of everything first, even if that meant enduring more cold rain.
Being thrust into a tent with someone you barely know could have been a disaster, but somehow it wasn’t. After meeting Brent on that cold November evening in Renton, we kept in touch, thanks to Obama’s decision to provide homeless folks with phones. But phones don’t do much good if you don’t have a place to charge them. Our conversations often died abruptly, along with his battery. That week, I made my rounds visiting friends in Washington, while Brent was struggling to survive on his own. After fighting with the homeless guy and ending up with an assault charge, he decided it was best to go it alone—no homeless encampments, no gospel mission shelters (“full of sex offenders,” he said). So, he set up camp on the edge of an urban development in Auburn. To avoid detection, he chose a gully near the Green River.
Brent is savvy. If anyone could survive the apocalypse, he would be the one. He can make something out of nothing, and his physical and mental strength exceed that of anyone I know. Despite all that, I could tell he was struggling. That Thanksgiving, as I sat at a table piled with food, I wondered what he was going through and kicked myself for not being able to help. All I could give him was my time on the phone, and even that was limited. Normally I’m not in Washington for Thanksgiving, I’m with my son in Hawaii. But this year, living conditions were bad—my back couldn’t stand another day of sleeping on the couch, so I went back to Washington for a bit.
A few days before my scheduled return to Hawaii, I got a text message from Brent. “My tent is underwater and so am I. Just bought hip waders so I can retrieve what I can.” After a day of sustained rain, everything he owned was under water—he was paying the price for trying to stay under the radar and in the gully. Everything was wet, including the clothes he was wearing. He texted me his sizes and I went on a search for dry stuff that would fit him. I shoved everything into a backpack and took off that evening to meet him at the Landing in Renton.
We shared a hot meal together, lingering as long as possible with Loki, trying to soak up the heat while the waiter hovered over our table, his overdose of politeness inviting us to get the hell out of there. We sat that night on a cold curb outside the restaurant. Brent took off his boots–his socks were steaming as he changed them. He’d spent the whole day in wet clothes, but that didn’t seem to phase him, or maybe it did. He was chain smoking—cigarettes, weed, cigarettes, weed, telling me stories about his uncle, a hunting guide in Arizona. He offered me a hit, and I took one, then another—suddenly the stories meandered. About halfway through, I’d forget the starting point, leaving the endings dangling in a mass of confusion. As the cold and dampness seeped into my pores, I grabbed my son’s jacket and threw it across my lap. The occasional stranger passed by and stopped to pet Loki (always the women).
It was getting late and I needed to get back, but what about Brent? He had nowhere to go but back to his wet sleeping bag in a wet tent. We walked across to the store and I got him a sleeping bag. It wasn’t much, but it was the best I could do…that night he found a covered spot in a baseball dugout and slept—at least he was dry.
Now we’re sharing a tent together. It’s a long way from his Auburn encampment which has been abandoned and stripped of anything worthwhile. On the surface we’re an odd couple, thrown together by a chance encounter, but maybe there’s a reason we met and maybe it had to be that night. Consider the scale (I like using that analogy since I’m a Libra). The weight on one side are the hard times that Brent has gone through and the weight on the other side my own struggles. Keep piling on the weight until the scale is balanced. That is the point we meet, where we’re “in the flow.” It doesn’t matter that Brent’s side of the scale is piled with rocks, and mine with sandbags. It’s only the balance that counts. The question is, what happens if and when the scale tips?