I Don’t Mind Being Homeless… I Just Don’t Want to Look Homeless

In August of 2008, I decided to drive back to the East Coast from Santa Fe where I had just completed what would become my first master’s. That was the one in Asian Classics. The seeds of this trip had been planted a year earlier, when I’d first flown out to California to pick up my dad’s old car from my stepmom and drive it to New Mexico in the first place. I wanted to complete the cross-country trip. I had virtually no money when I left the Southwest. By the time I puttered into Charlottesville, Virginia and took a stroll across their Downtown Mall that I’d been arrested on more than once, my bank account was even drier than my gas tank. Classes were starting for me in New York in less than two weeks.

At my mom’s in Richmond, she helped me add a new pair of black motorcycle boots to my wardrobe. My last pair had been lost at the end of my time in Charlottesville before my dad had passed away back in 2004. I’d been living in a dead-end room with no lock on either my door or the door outside. Back then, I was so paranoid, I booby trapped my own door with a can of pink paint, thinking if somebody tried opening it, they’d knock over the paint can, and that would wake me up. Apparently, one night while I was passed out, this girl who eventually got away with my Flannery O’Connor books tried getting into my room to tell me something. She panicked when the can crashed, but in all fairness to her, she taught me a Buddhist chant one day out in the mountains. That chant kept me still through many moments of madness.

The paint spilled, but I didn’t wake up, which was probably for the best. Back then, I slept with a knife under my pillow. As out of my mind as I was in those days, who knows what I would have done… The next morning, my two shirts, my one pair of jeans and the motorcycle boots I owned were all pink. I’d bought that pair of motorcycle boots in New York for my 25th birthday right after September 11, 2001. They were a feel-good gift from me to myself. They’d carried me through my last year in that city, brought me back to the streets of Richmond and dumped me out into the mountains of Charlottesville. Now that I was returning to New York, the city I’d always wanted so badly to be my home, I hoped to return the same as I’d originally left. That’s why those boots my mom bought me in Richmond during August of 2008 were symbolic.

Eventually, though, I lost those boots, too. I wore through their heels a year later stalking the streets of Richmond that same summer I was homeless. I wound up trading their holey soles in for a pair of cowboy boots at this second-hand clothing store. The owner of that shop let me pick through her newest clothes each and every day. Because like I told my brethren on the streets, “I don’t mind being homeless. I just don’t want to look homeless.”

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The Real Goal Was Enslavement

I made it ten days clean and sober on the streets of Richmond back in 2009. Then, the vampires took over the city again. I believed the whole metro area was a massive sex slave factory. The women I saw on the streets, their brains were infected by some zombifying concoction. They unwittingly waited only to be shipped off into the possession of the wealthy masters who’d come in town that very weekend to choose their respective prizes, who walked side by side with their future possessions at that precise moment, pretending to be interested in courtship, but it was all a twisted game. The real goal was enslavement.

Not knowing what I was supposed to do, I strolled down the street wanting to scream out against the horror I was witnessing. I beat my fists against my head. Only those of us who were homeless weren’t part of this sick charade. Some guy I didn’t know shuffled up to where I meandered along. He said, “Hey man, you wanna split this rock with me?” In his palm a plastic-wrapped crack flake lay revealed.

As the sunlight burned my sweaty neck, I knew it was the will of God for me to smoke that rock. Maybe, I needed the strength of crack cocaine to do what came next. Maybe, I needed to be fucked up to set this crazy world straight. I said, “Sure, man. I guess it’s about that time.” In two months, I would have had four years clean.

We wandered off the beaten path and settled down in a little clearing not too far from where an occasional car whirred up the toll road. There were dirty clothes, broken bottles and fiery remnants scattered around. It might have been his sleep spot. He broke that flake into a stem, sparked a cheap lighter and damn, man, did we smoke that rock.

“You good?” he asked me.

I came zooming out of the bushes back onto the sidewalk. My eyes popping out of my skull, my veins breaking through my neck, my teeth chewing through one another as if their enamel were cud, I found a street party going on down at the old 19th century slave block turned 21st century farmer’s market. Somehow, I scammed myself a wrist bracelet for the all-you-can-drink Budweiser.

The sky grew dark over Richmond’s bar district. The stars were revealed more so than in Manhattan. I swerved back up Main Street. The sidewalk newspaper dispensers were driving me insane. They sold nothing but lies. I turned to some city kids laughing and sharing cigarettes on the corner. “Watch this,” I told them.

From a running start, growling something unintelligible, I shoved every single one of those dispensers in front of me right into the street. A horn honked. Somebody wanted my attention. I walked into the middle of the traffic and started yelling at all the cars to “go the fuck around me.” Horns blared. People yelled. One driver eventually decided to call my bluff. We stared each other down as if in some sort of Hollywood showdown – my forehead to his bumper like the bull facing a matador. I hopped on top of his hood and ran the entire length of his car laughing and stomping as hard as I could.

“When I woke up the next morning in jail, the sheriff told me I sure as hell was a lot nicer when I wasn’t drunk.”

“I’d say so,” Luc laughs. We’re sitting out on a picnic table behind our office. They’ve banned smoking on the building’s balconies. Luc’s still vaping, but I’m back on cigarettes pretty much full time, except when I’m with Cora. She knows I smoke. It’s hard not to smell the sweetly scorched leaves staining my fingers and lips. But I don’t want to smoke around her. The only shot I’ve got at ever quitting for good is if I keep at least one part of my life completely tobacco-free.

It started about three weeks ago, when my manager told me the company might have to let me go at the end of the summer. My writing simply isn’t converting enough paying customers. They’re giving me one last chance¸ but it’s already July. I’ve had a hard time being at the office. Thoughts of the many trajectories my life could have taken consume me. I smoke to forget. It’s all I’ve got left.

“I can’t even believe you remember all that,” Luc adds. “You must have been pretty messed up.”

“I don’t really remember it. I have vague recollections of being surrounded by the police that night, but I was in a blackout by the time it all started. Those kids on the corner found me out on an island in the James River a couple weeks later and told these guys I was sharing a bottle of whiskey with that story. ‘Man, you’d never believe what we saw this crazy motherfucker do. He ain’t scared of nothing…’ they said.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t get hurt,” Luc mentions.

“Not that night,” I say, “But I got the shit beaten out of me a bunch of times that summer. I didn’t mind though. I’d seen this lecture on Tantra during my first master’s degree, the one in Asian Classics. The professor who gave that lecture talked about these Tantric yogis who’d welcome being beaten. They believed they could steal somebody’s merit if they could make that person lash out at them. Then, whatever creative power the other person had harnessed throughout their lives would be released and transferred into the object of their aggression – the yogi himself. It turned the yogis into gods. That’s what I thought I was doing that summer, becoming a god. So I never fought back. Anytime anybody attacked me that summer, I just covered myself as best I could and took the beating. I remember thinking, though, back in Santa Fe, after I heard that lecture, that if the yogis were right, if getting mocked and beaten gave them more creative power, then what happened to Jesus when they crucified him? Maybe the suffering of his passion actually turned him into God.”

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My Grandmother Always Told Me My Aura Was Indigo

Last week, a friend of Cora’s read our auras for us from the backseat of Cora’s car. She told Cora hers was deep red. Mine was emerald green. “I just see people as colors,” Cora’s friend told us. As a child, my grandmother always told me my aura was indigo. The last time a psychic tried to see it, she’d told me it was non-existent, black. At that point in time, I was practically on the streets in Brooklyn, high as the stratosphere most days and blacked out like a winter sky most nights. The last psychic Cora and I went to see didn’t say anything about my aura. Instead, she focused more specifically upon my spiritual past.

Cora and I had gone down to Georgetown that night to get hamburgers at this spot Cora really likes. She considers herself a hamburger connoisseur, and thus far, she’s proven herself right. While we were eating, we thought it might be nice to go see Disney’s Maleficent that night. Both of us are huge fans of that particular character, and the idea of a whole movie dedicated to the wicked sorceress was very enticing. However, the only show we could get tickets to didn’t start for another three hours. We decided it was time for us to visit the psychic we’d been talking about going to since we first started dating.

One night, very early in our relationship, our entire date turned into an attempt to discover the best psychic in Dupont Circle, but we never found one who was still open and available. We decided the universe had determined that wasn’t the right night for us to visit a psychic at all.

In Georgetown, as soon as we made up our minds, we walked right past a billboard stating there was a “psychic upstairs.” When we buzzed her door, she told us to go get some cash and come back in a half an hour. That’s exactly what we did. We sat outside her door until she came out and asked who wanted to go first. Cora did. She’d never been to see a “real” psychic before. While I visit psychics as often as a lapsed Catholic goes to church. They’re the religion I grew up with as a child. Like with any childhood religion the world has destroyed for you, I don’t believe in them anymore, but I can’t shake the notion that what they say very well may be true. Whenever I’m at a crossroads in life, I always wind up getting my tarot cards read.

Cora came out of the psychic’s with a dazed look in her eye. It was my turn. In the low, somber light of red bulbs and beaded table cloths, the psychic read my cards. But it was one question she asked about my past that proved the most compelling. Midway through our session, she turned to look me straight in the eye and said, “Now, tell me about the Satanism.”

I admitted it was something that had attracted me as a child. I’d been hurt by my parents’ divorce and wanted revenge upon the entire world.

“You awoke some very dark forces with that,” she said to me. “They still cling to you today.”

I was stunned. How could she have known about my history with black magic just from looking at me and flipping over some cards. When I left, Cora asked, “So what did you think?”

“That was weird,” I said. “I think she might really be psychic.”

“I know. I thought that, too,” Cora said. She told me what the psychic had revealed about her, that she wants lots of kids (“But ten is too many,” the psychic had admonished her. Apparently, to Cora’s nervous laughter since that’s a secret fantasy Cora has kept hidden from almost everybody), that she was born in the winter and she’s very close to her family. But the thing that really shook me is the psychic also told Cora she’s a warm, happy soul and I’m much too dark a figure for her to ever be happy with.

At Cora’s last week, after we dropped off her friend who read our auras for us, we started doing some research of our own.

“So what do you think? Are you emerald green or indigo?” Cora asked me, our phones still in our hands open to various psychic websites.

I shrugged. “Indigo sounds like me when I was younger. I can see how I’d be emerald now. I’ve heard auras can change color over time.”

“What are indigos supposed to be like?” Cora asked.

“They were a big deal in the seventies. Practically every kid was an ‘indigo’ child, fresh out of somewhere and brand new to this plane, the harbingers of some future world,” I said.

“That makes sense. You seem like a new soul.” Cora laughed. “I think I’m an old soul.”

“Oh, really?” I smiled. “I don’t even know what all that means.”

“Well, let’s look it up,” Cora said. She found this website that, as far as I could tell, equated the age of a human soul with some physical variant.

“That’s bull shit,” I scoffed.

“What’s bull shit?” Cora asked.

“The way they talk about souls. There’s no linear progression to the soul.”

“I don’t think that’s quite what they’re saying, Gabriel.”

“That’s not what I learned in my psychosis.”

“What?” Cora wondered with a shake of her head.

I tried laughing my statement off. “I mean, what I believed when I was in psychosis was that souls were eternal and that I’ve returned from somewhere else to teach this plane something. I’m not brand new here, but now I’m stuck. And the problem is no one’s listening. How am I supposed to teach people who think they already know everything?”

“What are you talking about, Gabriel?”

I grew serious again, “I know it sounds crazy, and I know that what happens to me in psychosis isn’t real, but for years, my spirituality, my whole life, was based on it. Even before I ever had a psychotic break. My first break… I’d been pushing myself so hard to it, trying to discover what exists on the other side. And then, after this last break in Richmond, I pretend like none of it’s real. Because that’s the only way I can live in this world – to believe that everything that formed my spiritual existence simply can’t be true, which means everything I ever believed is worthless. So what’s left? Atheism? Nihilism?”

“I don’t think I understand, Gabriel.”

I looked at her. She could tell I was angry for some crazy reason, and she could tell I was hurt by an even crazier reason. She wanted to understand what I was talking about so madly so badly. I slid closer to her on the couch and put my arm around her shoulder. I softened my tone. I could feel my eyes open up from angry slits. “That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t really want you to. I’m sorry I got all worked up. That was crazy. Truth is if I wanted to live in a psychosis, I never would have come off the streets. I never would have gotten clean again. I wouldn’t be working the job I have today, and I’d be incapable of trying to build a relationship with you. My psychosis is the world I lived in for 15 years, and I simply can’t live there anymore. Sometimes, that really hurts.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever understand, Gabriel.” Cora looked at me. “Is that okay with you?”

“Yeah, it is,” I said. “In fact, not understanding that piece of me is probably the best thing both of us could ever hope for.”

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