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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