Vagabond Heart- My Time Amongst the Homeless

 

 

To give you some reference as to how the, “King Kong” of social stigmas visited my doorstep, I’ll have to start at the beginning, with a life altering phone call. After years of battling with addiction and depression my best friend had taken his life. I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life if only for the fact that my hearing did that strange thing where it switches from stereo to one speaker being noticeably louder than the other. Oddly enough I didn’t cry, not right away anyway, I just continued in a perpetual fog feeling as if someone had placed a cup over my right ear.

I’d like to say that the strange ambivalence was shocking but it wasn’t. J and I had lived together on two separate occasions, the first was a veritable golden age and the second was like sitting on a veranda that overlooked the ninth ring of hell. He was completely hooked on prescription opiates at this point and I was moving in to keep tabs as he went through an outpatient rehab at a local hospital. It reminded me of a comic book I had read as a child where an ancillary character runs into the hero’s evil doppelganger. Every one of his redeeming traits had regressed to become its total opposite.

I rode that emotional rollercoaster for a little over a year and when I say rollercoaster I’m not just talking about the extreme emotional highs and lows. No, I’m talking about the theatrical kind at a carnival. The one where you sit down and the lap bar lowers and locks into place as if to emphasize that there’s no going back. Now I’m not going to lie, as we embarked on our journey I learned a lexicon of knowledge about addiction but I also labored under the illusion that my friend would one day come back to me as if he were a crashed car being released from an auto-body shop with all new parts. When that didn’t happen, when he never drove right again and constantly had a tendency to veer to a certain side of the road my eyes were opened to a harsh reality of life.

In a lot of ways our brains are a veritable Eden and once the chemicals that make it such are imbalanced through hardcore substance abuse you could search a lifetime to restore it but it’s not that easy. Everything from that point is akin to replacing a light bulb with greasy hands. Although the bulb of intent be new, the smudges that line the surface will cast shadows. Case in point, months after clashing over bills and going our separate ways, I received a phone call from the most lucid, intact version of my friend I’d experienced in years and mere weeks later I was sitting, fourth row, center-stage at his funeral. It was at that moment, as if I were emerging from the waters of the Mariana Trench, that my ear depressurized and regained its hearing, just as I began to cry inconsolably.

Looking back on my life I’d been to a handful of funerals but never anybody that young and as a result I didn’t mourn like one would normally do, instead, I burned like a star over the senseless loss of a million unsung potentialities. An hour later you would think I’d have spent all my grief but I was barely getting started. Through tear glossed eyes I glared at the wavering portrait of my friend resting on the tri-pod on the stage and made myself a solemn vow. I would move heaven and earth before I ever let another person go through a similar experience.

Not surprisingly, my emotional pain led to a deep melancholy but that’s in retrospect. At the time I didn’t know what was going on because I was relatively young and had never been anything but deliriously optimistic. In my mind, what I was feeling was completely natural, I was just in extended mourning mode. Weeks melted into months and I found myself strangely entranced by the topic of how addiction can alter the brains chemistry. It seemed that happiness was a chemical plateau that most addicts struggled to achieve and this is why. When a person uses certain drugs, they are chemically forcing their bodies to release huge loads of dopamine and serotonin. This leads to two things, first your receptors become damaged from the wear and tear and they don’t regenerate. Second since the chemicals are in a state of chronic depletion the redeeming traits, they had pre-addiction start to regress and produce seemingly opposite traits. In my honest opinion drug rehab is an excellent option for those in that phase of their illness but it’s far better to catch it before it ever gets that far.

Education is the real key to prevention but for decades we’ve been going about it wrong. Say, you and I, were with the local police department and we were asked to speak at a high-school on the topic of drugs. Even armed with our most shocking stories nine times out of ten the strongest result you’d receive is, “That’s really scary, “BUT IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN TO ME.” The problem isn’t the intent so much as the delivery and a little known, totally healthy complex within the brain called the “Personal Fable.” If it sounds familiar that’s because it used to be called the invincibility fable. It’s a completely normal part of our evolutionary process. Without it, we wouldn’t really have achieved much. It imparts a feeling of surety in the face of danger. It’s almost akin to a chemical pop-up-blocker and those most influenced by it are teens.

Instead of confrontationally saying, “Don’t do this, it’s bad,” or trying to scare them you have to let teens come about the information on their own terms, say, when they’re safe in their own room, curled up on their bed, reading a book. Absent the engagement of the personal fable the passive mind takes in the information presented to it and builds a framework for how this info can best serve the personal welfare and longevity of the individual just like it’s programmed to do. This begs the question, though, if it’s that easy why not just go to one of the many websites out there? You can and there’s tons of them with a lot of pertinent information but it’s somewhat dry and the nuggets of gold are few and far between.

Take it for what you will but I’ve visited the best of the best and it’s not realistic to think that a teen in the digital age has the attention span to sit through page after page of dry statistics. With that in mind I decided to honor my friend the only way I knew how. I would take my years of experience working with at risk youth and the key points of interest from the websites and fuse them into something completely new. And that’s how I came up with the idea for, “The Prime,” a story of a teen demi-god who resorts to self-medicating himself with opiates after his reality warping powers take a dark turn. It has a diverse cast that spans multiple galaxies and a balanced narrative that covers a broad enough spectrum that even the most modern reader will be pleased. The best part of all is the genre, it’s a coming of age tale at heart but it’s built on a Sci-fi/Fantasy chassis with just the right amount of action thrown in for good measure.

Initially, I was hoping to just flesh out the story and pass it on to a ghost writer who could finish it up but fate didn’t afford me that luxury. In the fall of 2012, I would end up losing my house and end up on the streets. Now, I’ll tread as lightly as possible with my next statements but I kind of felt at the time, as if karma had betrayed me. After all I had cared for the homeless for years as a paramedic and had visited every shelter, armory and encampment in the county. What’s more, I usually carried my old clothes with me as I traveled and passed them out freely to whomever needed them. At some point, in the grand scheme of things, shouldn’t that matter? The answer of course is no. Hard times visit us all and there’s really no rhyme or reason to it, or is there? A lot of what I experienced invariably found its way straight into the story, but I digress.

My point of writing this wasn’t to expound on how hard life can be. In case you’re curious, though, being homeless isn’t too different from spilling a glass of merlot on a light-colored couch. It irrevocably stains you and seeps into corners of your being that won’t be uncovered for years but that’s a story for another time. If you do find yourself in this situation, riding the currents of the soul’s tempest, if you should navigate back to safety, you’ll find that a grand alchemy of sorts has taken place and I call it the vagabond heart.

As unwanted as the stain on said couch may be, it’s really only a perception. It sits no different than it did before and its structure is just as sound. Theoretically speaking the only thing that has really changed is your fear of spilling anything at a future date. All my life I’d endeavored to fill this perfect role that society had handed to me. In fact, I can still hear its siren call, however faint but with one difference. After a month or so of living in my car, I awoke with a feeling that can only be described as grand liberation. It’s as if my mind knew that I was choking on stress and the thousands of other preconceived notions written on the blackboard of my mind and it had effectively erased them all. If I chose to, I could have left that day and gone anywhere in this great land but I didn’t need to either. Instead I decided to use my new found clarity to make a decision. Along a whole cut of miles, I had promised to honor my best friend and that was exactly what I was going to do. I shut off my social media accounts and slipped away. In retrospect it wasn’t exactly easy and a far cry from safe but I wrote the entire first book while bouncing from town to town.

I’ll forever treasure that time for two reasons. As successful as I was in my vocation of choice, things had inevitably gotten stale. My life was in a rut and no matter how many concerts or festivals I’d attended it was par for the course. For the first time in a decade despite the heartache and the sorrow I was vibrantly alive. Every single excerpt was as vivid as a first kiss, how incredibly rare is that. More precious than even that was the ability to stop and take stock in who I originally wanted to be. Helping people has always been my passion but sooner or later you have to take on a bigger responsibility, to grow and I secretly yearned for that. So, to tie this up with a bow, the answer once again is, no, karma does not betray. If you give it a chance to draw breath and finish the sentence, you’ll realize that it takes you exactly where you needed to go.

Posted on: 25 July 2020