The first week I was homeless, I got the worst food-poisoning I’ve had and then some less pleasant stuff happened. A villainous Taco Time chicken burrito got me pretty bad a few years ago, but that was when I had an apartment bathroom a few feet from my bed.
This time, I had pavement.
Oddly enough for a homeless guy, I didn’t get sick from eating a sandwich I found on the bus.
It was just the type of adventurous eating any middleclass Food Network fan would give a try. Indian spices and goose-liver and eating adventures across the ethnic parts of town have always been fun for me. Exploration broadens the palate and deepens the soul, right? I’ve been a winning contestant on “Hey, Can You Stomach THIS?” for pretty much my entire life.
At a tiny Mexican grocery store, I used food stamps to spin the Adventure-Wheel of headcheese and came up: “5 Days of Fierce Ridiculous Ass Spray!”
Then, a couple days later the itchy pus-filled sores showed up. What’s that all about? Did they have something to do with the green-eyed flies that bite you if you lay by lake Michigan? Or were they just… part of the deal?
In a way, the practical unpleasantness of being homeless was a welcome distraction from the real pain.
Days were spent thinking about the loss of the woman I had loved so intensely, and her breakdown, and my brain kept returning to it. It was like getting halfway through a math problem, getting lost, and starting over and over again. I could not fully process it.
I would not get to share life with her, or learn the world as filtered through her big beautiful brain. We would not finish our project of watching every 1980s Post-Apocalyptic movie ever made. We would not slowdance in the frozen foods aisle of the MLK Grocery Outlet again.
Once near our beginning, a traumatic memory from her childhood came up. She passed out. I caught her before her face hit the wood floor. I kept on wanting to catch her for the next two years. In our last week together, she started hearing things, and she drew blood on my face.
I had wanted to heal her. I failed.
My feet dragged over the streets and the sores spread over my back and sides and left ankle. I missed my dog, our dog. I felt the loss of the business I’d started to make us happy, and the lending library in front of our home. It was a watertight wine-chiller with a glass face that I’d filled with books and VHS tapes, which our neighbors took from and gave to. Overnight, unexpected contributions would sprout in it. One morning I found a Kurt Vonnegut movie sitting next to a Tom Robbins movie behind the smoked glass. I’m sure those videotapes had spent the night in an endlessly profound conversation of humanist rapture.
I would not hold hands with her while walking our dog past our library and up our steps, again.
On Sunday morning, the blaring white-yellow sun was on my face, and I walked the sidewalk instead of trudging. My friend Joseph was headed off to a job, so I was returning his business book to the library for him. That thought planted the seed of a smile.
Before it could grow, something large rammed into my back and shoved me forward.
Whatever hit me was heavier than me and unmistakably made of metal. It dug into the meat on the left side of my spine and knocked me almost off my feet. I did a sort of leaping-stumble forward but kept my balance.
That bright Sunday morning, a fat man attempted to mug me.
He hit me with a bicycle and then tackled me. It was the first time I had ever been slammed onto pavement by a 260lb man with such a bad case of food poisoning.
Eventually, I met other people in Kenosha, and I did smile again.