Bill had lived on the street for 3 years now.
It had been difficult at first. But then like any new skill, he acclimated, learned the rules, and survived. Not prospered. No one can proper when you’re relegated to barely surviving outside of society. He learned. He survived. He lived.
Bill became homeless 3 years ago. The decent into homelessness is a story onto itself. One that deserves a separate telling. This story is about the now. Not the past. It was hard at first. But Bill learned how to survive as a remnant of society. The hardest part for him, and many others, is how to manage it in his head. Until he was able to do that, it was incredibly hard. After, it was manageable.
You see it’s in the head. The brain. That’s what gets you. That’s how it starts. His own psyche would have eaten him from the inside. But he learned.
Rule #1: Don’t think. Thinking is bad. Thought is the burden of others. Thought leads to memories. Memories lead to pain. Pain leads to the hole. And then … “There is no escaping the hole” he says. Don’t think!
Rule #2: Survive the day. Don’t think about tomorrow. Or a week from now. Or yesterday. Or the past at all. Survive today. Keep your eyes on the ground. Survive today. Don’t look at people. Survive today. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Survive today!
For Bill, it was that simple. And when you’re homeless and hunger is the monkey on your back, always waiting to strike, keep it simple. Don’t think. Survive today.
Bill became homeless 3 years ago. He doesn’t know the exact day. When asked, his eyes turn away. They run from the question as a hunted animal. You can see him change. You can see his posture change. Like that of a frightened animal. He never looks me in the eyes. NEVER. He’s always looking on the ground, or the sides. Always moving. Maybe they focus. But I’ve never seen it. He hunches a little more. And you can see he was once tall and proud. You can see how the hunching is taking hold. Every time I see him, I see it has taken more of a hold. And every time, you can see what he once was, fade. When asked, he says it’s the pressure. What pressure? He doesn’t respond. His eyes turn away, looking at … nothing. They glaze over, staring at nothing. They don’t even look out anymore. They gaze inwards. Every minute talking with him, I can see it. I can see the palpable fear grow within him. I can see the visceral reactions of his body. Sometimes if our conversations are continued long enough, you can see him visibly shiver. But you have to keep looking at him. Because it only lasts for a second. Maybe even less. He’s learned that those reactions are bad. Don’t let people see your weakness. Don’t respond. Don’t fee. Just survive. One … more … day.
I’ve avoided prolonging my questions. I would like to say that it’s because I’m not a cruel person, who likes to see someone react so to questions. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that part of the reason I avoid prolonging the questions is that I can’t bear to watch it. The fear that grows as I ask questions, is infectious. The fear grows exponentially. And his sense of fear and despair, and utter hopelessness is like an animal inside him. He’s calmed it with his rules. And so normally it sleeps. But the questions wake it. And like a creature of misery, once awoken, it wishes to be free. It wishes to be in charge. It wishes to control Bill.
I don’t continue the questions, because I can see the creature look at me. It stares with it’s blank uncaring eyes. I can see it look inside me. I can feel the chill in my very core. It’s not hateful. It’s not malicious. It’s uncaring. It’s cold. It’s hard. It’s like stone. Used to bash things with. The stone doesn’t care. It just is. It just does. It just bashes away. And when it breaks or is worn away over time … it still doesn’t care. It is uncaring. It is without thought or care. Without malice. Without emotion all together.
And it looks at me. Straight through me. And I can feel my own animal instincts kick in. This isn’t hate or anger. This is the cold indifference of the void. It looks at you and sizes you up. It doesn’t want to hurt you. It doesn’t want to steal from you. It just looks inside you. And my own fear rears up. It says run. Run damn you. Move. Get away. Find a cave. Throw something or someone at it to distract it. Anything … do anything, but run. Before it gets us …
I used to ask Bill a lot of questions. I was genuinely interested. But no more.
Every week, at the shelter, when I do see him, I see more of him disappear. There’s nothing specific. There’s just less there. It’s difficult to quantify. But there’s just less there. It’s like a zombie-like creature, surviving … half dead … mostly dead??? It’s now just a body. It functions. It has input and output. It eats, it excretes, and it responds to its environment.
But those eyes … there’s lass there every time I see him.
There’s much more. And more people besides Bill at every shelter. This isn’t about who’s to blame. Or who’s not. I thought I would share this. Mostly because it’s cathartic to get it out – ie. my own selfish reasons. If people want to hear more, let me know. And if you don’t, well believe me, I do NOT blame you.