February 18, 2020 – Renton, WA
The other day I spoke to Ed on the phone. “I’ve been thinking about my situation in Arizona. If only one out of all those negative events hadn’t occurred, the whole outcome could have been different,” and it was true.
If we’d been able to tow the trailer up to our property, I would have had a place to stay when things got bad in the apartment. If Ed’s daughter hadn’t been staying with him, I could have lived in his guest house. If my friend hadn’t turned on me, I could have had someone in Arizona to lean on. If the animal shelter couple hadn’t been so pushy, we could have had the chance to work and a place to move our trailer.
Ed was philosophical about it: “Things were meant to happen that way, for whatever reason. You were destined to go back to Washington State.”
He’s probably right and, to put things in perspective, events weren’t all negative. We’d reached a point where Brent had a place to stay and an opportunity to work. I could never have left him on the street, though there were times I felt he deserved to be dumped.
The breakdown of our relationship was no sudden thing. Like a patch of ice under dripping rain, it eroded slowly. With each argument, with each insult hurled, the gap between us grew wider until it became a chasm. I tried to understand Brent, tried to attribute his hurtful behavior to the shell he’d put up while living on the streets, but in the end I could justify it no longer.
At one point I’d considered moving to Bisbee, a quaint little new-age town 40 miles away that I’d always felt at home in. But that didn’t work out either. A friend of Ed’s was moving back into her house in mid-January, and she had offered to let me stay there, rent-free, until I could get myself situated with a job. But she worked for the state prison system and set such stringent requirements for living there (no guests, no glass of wine in the evening with dinner), that I turned her down.
Then, more bad luck. Shortly after New Year’s, I drove up to my property to fetch some things and discovered that many of our shells and rocks were missing. I’d placed all the finished stuff that Brent had gathered at Joemma Beach inside our small trailer (they’d been sitting on the ground outside). When I opened the trailer door, I discovered that most of the containers had been stolen. The nicest shells, the ones we’d spent countless hours gathering were gone. I’d left some of mine inside the fallen tent to stabilize it, so those were still intact. I felt sick inside—what the f*** was going on? It had been one thing after another since we arrived in Arizona.
We asked our friends if they’d seen anything.—they live on a hill and keep a close watch on my property, but they hadn’t spotted any cars up there. Ed hadn’t heard anything either. When I told Brent, we both turned to each other, the same thought going through our brain—Sam, Ed’s daughter. Her guest house was close to our property line, making it easy to grab the stuff, one box at a time. She’d talked a few times about how she was drawn to ocean beaches.
When I mentioned the incident to Ed (I didn’t talk about our suspicions), the first thing he said was “I don’t think Sam would have taken them,” and maybe she hadn’t.
“No, no, I replied. I doubt it. But, if you happen to see anyone wearing our stuff, let me know.” Given how Ed’s vision had deteriorated, that wasn’t a likely possibility.
It’s hard adjusting to normal life again, harder than I expected. I miss that closeness with nature, spending every day outdoors. It has rained almost non-stop since I’ve been here in Washington. My tolerance for the cold has increased, though. I can walk outside and not feel like I’m freezing my ass off. I just tell myself it’s all in my head, it’s my attitude. It feels so nice to finally be able to buy clothes for myself. In camp, I dressed like a lumberjack. –blue jeans, sweatshirt, hiking boots. Brent and I saw each other at our worst. Many of my clothes are dotted with holes from the hot ashes that flew out of our raging pallet campfires, but I don’t have the heart to throw them out, not yet. Because we moved around so often, many of my possessions were lost or damaged—my Nikon camera, clothes, keys, books, jewelry. But, as my friend likes to say, they’re only things and things can be replaced.
It wasn’t just my deteriorating relationship with Brent that caused me to leave. Over a year of living on the move had taken its toll, both emotionally and physically. My joints were aching more, I had a persistent rash on my chest, and my diet was horrible. Before this experience, I’d prided myself on eating healthy foods. But our dependence on food banks and Brent’s addiction to junk food meant a shittier than normal diet, one that left my body feeling like a deflated tire. On the positive side, I didn’t need to count calories. I was always on the run, so I could eat what I wanted.
Then there was the smoke issue. Initially, I tried to tolerate Brent’s habit by having him sit under the unzipped tent window but, given my low tolerance for cold, that wasn’t working. He came up with a novel way to solve the problem—a small plastic device he could blow the smoke into—and lovingly christened it “Blowholio.” But, like everything else, he constantly misplaced it. He’d run around the tent looking frantically for his friend. “Blowholio, Blowholio, where are you?” Before long he’d lost it for good. He tried to quit his smoking habit, switching to a vape pipe, but had barely begun the weaning process when he lost that as well.
In the beginning, it was a novelty being looked at as homeless, but it didn’t take long for that to wear off. There was never a time when I didn’t feel that way, even after we got the room in Elfrida. The Dollar Store sat across the street from the motel (and our room), so we went there frequently. It was the only place in town to buy anything, really. I remember going over there one evening to get Brent his hot dogs. While I paid for the stuff, I chatted with my favorite check-out lady.
“It’s really cold out tonight,” I remarked.
“It sure is. I hope you don’t have too far to go.” She looked at me sympathetically.
“ Nope. We’re right across the street.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. I didn’t expect to hear that and I wondered what she meant.Maybe the motel across the street was notorious for housing homeless folks. The last thing I wanted was her pity, or anyone else’s for that matter.
Like all experiences, my adventure with Brent had its good points and its bad ones. To help put things in perspective, I created a list.
The things I miss:
- Being outdoors most of the time
- The abundance of wildlife
- Adventures every day
- Cuddling up to Brent in bed at night
- Sweet, mellow Loki
- Having a friend to do things with
- Sitting round the campfire at night
- Watching the sun rise and set
- Playing cards
- Going to food banks
- Brent’s crazy sense of humor
- Finding kindness in the most unexpected places
- Creating stuff
- Sleeping like a baby
What I don’t miss:
- Brent’s cigarette smoke
- Dressing down
- Dirty fingernails
- Buying ice and propane
- Eating shitty food
- Constantly losing things
- Going to food banks (yep, it was a love and hate thing)
- Sleeping in the parking lot of Walmart
- The emotional rollercoaster
- Brent’s criticism
- Packing and unpacking
- The cold
Yesterday, I opened the shopping list on my phone so I could update it. At the middle of the list were two items I’d added near the end of my stay in Arizona—“strength” and “courage.” My first impulse was to delete them, but I couldn’t do it. You might still need these, I told myself, and I typed in a new one, “happiness.”