Yesterday I got home after a week of house and dog-sitting at Crazy Girl and Golden Boy's house. Right before they left, there'd been some sort of kerfluffle which caused the internet to die.
At the library to use their computers, I had to wait in line but that was okay because, you know - there are books to read while waiting! Here's how you should picture it: there is a free-standing counter with five computers. Facing the back of the screens are five chairs. If you sit in Chair #1, you are first to use a computer when one frees up. Computer users get 15 minutes of computer time before the computer automatically kicks you off. If nobody is waiting in the chairs, you can use a second 15-minute block.
When I arrived, all the chairs were occupied. The guy sitting next to me looked how Santa would look if he'd gone to prison, lost some belly, and been forced to cut his hair upon arrival, but now some of it had grown back. Oh, and zero jollyness. He told me that on Sunday afternoons, the computers always have a long wait. I replied with something non-committal, and he continued, telling me about how on Sundays homeless people get kicked out of shelters for four hours while the shelters get cleaned, and the library is a great place to go.
Then he proceeded to tell me he'd been homeless, and a friend had been holding his computer for him, but then the friend gave it away. "Nice friend." The guy was very zen about it. "Well, it was for a long time." This guy was not crazy. When I started working for the Turkey a year and a half ago, I had enough money for one more month of rent. Then I was going to (squat until I got evicted) begin the descent into homelessness.
I used to think homeless people were homeless because insurance companies won't pay for mentally ill people to get all the treatment they need before kicking them out of the mental wards of hospitals. But after this experience and how crazy it made me, I realize facing homelessness, and being homeless can make you crazy. Priorities shift and then change.
My way of dealing with the impending doom was to compartmentalize. The morning I applied for food stamps was a multi-hour project with excellent people-watching. Upon leaving the food stamp place, I raced to meet my parents who were in town, saw a movie with them, and then went to dinner in North Beach. The dichotomy blew my mind and I had a hard time getting through dinner (and it wasn't just because the waiter weirdly decided to ignore everything I said) (I am not playing victim - even my father noticed it).
It strikes me as very impressive to meet someone who has been homeless and to see they're not mentally ill. Of course, the library guy might be. Maybe he was in a cycle of taking his meds, or maybe being in the library was his safe, happy place and nothing was triggering him. But in my older age I seek out good, sparkles and sunshine, and I would like to think he went through something horrific and came out of it intact.
He's not homeless anymore, though (first world problem alert) he doesn't have a computer. Hence, the library. I don't know what we chatted about. The Giants? The weather? I was so focused on not being nosy by asking inappropriate questions about his homelessness (how long? how terrified were you? how did you deal with being terrified?) that I wasn't fully paying attention to whatever we were discussing.
I love closure. In all forms. When I write the letter "o" the two ends always overlap. There's certainly never an "o" written by me where the two ends don't quite meet. I like to say goodbye, rather than drift apart. If you tell me about a fight with a friend, I want to know how it was resolved. If we met, I will think of you 16 years from that meeting and wonder where you are, what you're doing. It's beyond closure.
The (non) homeless guy finally got a computer, so our conversation ended. A bit later I got one too. When I was walking away, I saw the guy was still using his 15 minutes. One of the things I strongly disliked in my family was that it seemed like our family motto was, "Don't get involved; worry about yourself." It was as if because my bedroom was always a mess and I'd never done my homework, I couldn't possibly help someone who was crying by offering them a tissue, or letting someone know they'd dropped something. It drove me nuts. I didn't, and still don't, understand it. But I don't live under their rules.
Before I could change my mind, I doubled-back and gently touched the formerly homeless guy on the arm. "I'm glad you're not homeless anymore," I told him. He laughed. "Me too." I wanted good closure. "I hope it stays that way; good luck." He turned away from the computer to look at me. "Hey, thanks." I waved and went to the elevators.
Maybe he thinks I'm crazy. It doesn't matter. To know how low I was and how far I've come... and I didn't even wind up homeless. I just wanted to acknowledge his achievement. The impressiveness of it. Because it really, really is. I wanted him to know somebody else saw that. You don't get a bonus for getting a roof over your own head. The bonus is the roof.
One of our neighborhood homeless guys just died a couple of days ago. There are flowers and a little memorial set up for him.