She was a little hitch hiker from Mississippi, lost in the same state I was. At least that was the story, there’s always a level of pure honesty that comes with travelers like her giving you a completely false back story or name.
Not that the actual process of coming up with a back story, “I don’t steal, I don’t put out, character is everything to me”, but the usage of a back story, exposes the fact that most people not on the lamb or streets, never even attempt to acknowledge that being of course "I am vulnerable, I don’t have backup, and I’m scared.” This is the kind of honesty that you can feel intuitively the same way a dog can feel death, when he escapes the family yard to go hide under a bush in a desperate last opportunity to get some fucking peace and quiet.
These are the things I knew about her immediately; She was cold, she was dressed as a boy (intentionally), based on her hands she was 25 but looked like she was 13 in every other aspect, she was scared, and she was lost. All things that would make a wolf salivate and follow her through the woods to her grandmother’s house.
I’ve been called a “savage” and an “animal” more and more over the years, I don’t really mind, but the one thing I have never been accused of is being a “predator” so rest easy, this isn’t a confession of anything macabre or some “cremation of Sam McGee” knock off bullshit.
I had just left an AA meeting for the first time since I’ve been out of jail, and was sitting outside trying to catch a breath of fresh air. I enjoy the meetings, but big groups after a stint in county exceeding a year always have the yin yang effect of making me feel both comfortable and panicky at the same time.
It was cold enough to hopefully knock off the inevitable sweat session that was to follow. She was sitting in a chair outside with an empty coffee cup complete with a spoon hanging off the lip of it.
“Are you eating a snow cone?” I asked with genuine curiosity as it was about 30 degrees.
“Its coffee, I just used the spoon to stir it, you know?” she responded with just enough sarcasm that I knew she was worth talking to.
My east coast roots and fluency in verbal combat leaves me with a highly expanded respect and reverence towards people who can talk shit correctly, a strangely rare talent in Denver Colorado.
We shook hands and introduced ourselves. Based on my hand shake she was able to deduce that I was a military brat… She said “a brat recognizes a brat”, she was right.
She then rattled off the usual checklist, bases she was dragged around to. She'd lived at the same base in Germany that my sister was born at. I did the same. She’s about 2 months sober, living on the streets, which is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Sleeping on cold concrete without chemical assistance is one of the most ambitious moves you could attempt, especially considering that the moment a person reserves themselves to sobriety, the universe starts throwing free drugs, alcohol, and criminal opportunities into your face like a breathing tube through a tracheotomy.
“Its hard to stay indoors when you don’t have ID and don’t put out, nothings for free.”
This statement hit me like a brick, because the lines between the glass wall of protective back story had finally shattered. She was speaking from the soul. It was a reality I hadn’t considered for a long time, and I could have gone longer without considering it if it was up to me. The plight of the female homeless population is a sad on its best day. Having to fuck to stay indoors and have food and water, is the equivalency of daily rape in a mad max style urban environment.
“Ain't that the truth”
I don’t like to add dead end statements to conversations with new people, but I had eight dollars in my pocket, no cigarettes, and definitely no safe place to offer her, so morbid agreement and genuine empathy was all I could muster. I went back into the clubhouse and scored 2 more cups of coffee, I had an hour to kill and was not walking away from the cosmic lesson that was just dropped in my lap.
We continued the conversation as she intermittently got up to attempt cigarette procurement from people who had probably just shared about how they would “help anyone in recovery who needed it “ in the meeting centered around the study of a man who invited drunk strangers into his family home in unrelenting service to others.
She got mostly dirty looks and shut downs. These people have yet to realize that they are potentially 3 bottles and a car ride away from the same spot as they spit judgement at this lost traveler.
The hypocrisy doesn’t make me shy away from the meeting culture; it just makes me lean in harder. I prefer the triage method of service, help the naked one’s bleeding to death from spiritual bullet holes first, and then, if there’s time, lend a steady hand to pull the splinter from the manicured finger of a north face clad patient with blisters from their new shoes. However, these days, that is a radical view, so I just watch these interactions in awe and file these away into the ragged hole in my brain which I store motivation.
She is desperate to survive but will not steal, trick, or sell drugs. This makes her stronger than me as historically, I’ve always been willing to do whatever necessary to get money. This is what made me unable to walk away, and what scares the fuck out of most residents in “polite” society.
Homeless people are stripped of material connections and distractions, the luxury of self-importance, and first world problems and thrust into a realm where the are forced to be aware of every person and event around them to survive. That’s why the majority walks by them without making eye contact, you can tell yourself any indulgent lie you want about, being late, not wanting to give them money, or not noticing them. But the fact is this, people in this lifestyle scare people because they can see through your plastic mask, they have a keen eye for bullshit and any social interaction could put you in a position where you are recognized as your true self, and even worse you may have to come to terms with the fact that you might be a piece of shit, and no clothes, slices of green paper, or BMW keys can change that.
I’ve avoided the eye contact like I’ve avoided mirrors when I’m hungover. I’m not above this process and I realize that sometimes I’ve even used false generosity to exploit this population into clearing my conscience of all selfish discrepancies.
Knowing this, these days I try to talk to them and learn what I can from these unwilling prophets of human nature. They need money, food and shelter, but everyone needs genuine human reactions to achieve these things. Disconnection is as crippling as starvation.
“You want a hat and facemask?” I throw out mid conversation, she froze like a deer in head lights.
“You don’t have to fuck me or anything, its just not really my color and its going to be cold tonight…” I added as I recognized the gears of conflict turning in her head.
“Yeah I would really appreciate that” she put the hat on and smiled for the first real time in the conversation.
“There’s a park down the street that I’m going to go hangout at tomorrow around 12 if you want to swing by. Ill see if I can scrape together some food, and ill ask around to see if there’s a place you can stay without having to trick off or anything”
She’ll either show up or she won’t.
“Thank you...” she said, as she put on the facemask to hide her smile and the tear sliding down her face.
“Be safe youngin” I said as I walked off.
Truly the meeting after the meeting is sometimes the real meeting.
Sometimes the ghost in the shell is a genie, sometimes a conversation with the “dregs” can reestablish faith and destiny. There for the grace of whoever the fuck is driving go I.
“fuckup” “drifter” “perpetually writing rider”
Travis Muffhuggin Ryan