Late tonight, just before you curl up in your comfortable bed and go to sleep, step outside on to your front porch and close the door firmly behind you.
Now stand there and look around for a few minutes, taking in the sights of your neighborhood. Now close your eyes and listen to all the ambient background sounds....the crickets, the passing traffic, or the falling rain.
Now imagine that you can't turn around and walk back through that front door ever again. It's not your door. The home isn't yours. You don't belong there. You must find somewhere else to go. You must leave. Now.
It's late at night, it's dark outside. Now imagine you own nothing but the clothes you're wearing. You have no money in your pocket and there's no car waiting on the street to take you away somewhere...your car was towed away months ago by the bank.
What do you do? You can't stay there on the porch, you're not welcomed there. You must starting walking. Where is a homeless shelter? Are they open? Will they take you in? Will they feed you? If so, for how long?
Where does one go? How far can you walk before you tire? When you become too exhausted to walk any more, where do you rest? Do you sit on the curb by the side of the road?
When you want to sleep, where can you lie down? Will insects pester you? And if you are thirsty, or become hungry, what will you drink and eat? Will you stand outside a 7-11 and beg for change?
Maybe you'll find a place to sleep, perhaps an ally or somebody's backyard. But where do you defecate and what do you use to wipe yourself? Being homeless with diarrhea wouldn't be a picnic.
After a few short days in the elements, how do you clean yourself and wash your clothes? Do you ever shave and brush your teeth? Do you begin to smell like the familiar stench of garbage that's been left outside to rot on a hot summer day?
It's day-time. The days; the hot summer days. A cold drink would be nice. Could you find ice cubes living on the street? Would you impose your smell and filth on strangers inside a local business...just for a chance to briefly relieve yourself? Will you be asked to leave, or will someone call the police on you for loitering?
Again, your stomach rumbles, and your thirst is driving you mad. What will you eat and drink? You are exhausted by the heat, where can you rest? And why are those strange people staring at you?
It's late at night again. You look up at the stars, and then back down at your sore and tired feet...wondering where they will take you next.
You see people driving by in brand new cars...oh, there a goes a Chrysler Sebring, just like the one you once owned. The people inside are listening to music, talking and laughing and living. Just like you once did before being laid off from your job during the Great Recession. That seems like so long ago now.
A mother is on the sidewalk up ahead with her children. She sees you, then quickly grabs their hands and leads them across the street...out of your path, as far away from you and your stench as they can get. "Don't stare at that man", she warns her little girl. "It's not polite."
Once respected, now shunned. Lack of money will cause that.
The sun is beating down on you unrelentingly. Where do you go next? What DO you do? What CAN you do? The thirst is always with you, as is the gritty feeling of dirt inside your clothing and on your skin; the grime made muddy by your sweat.
If you get sick you can't go to a doctor and get a prescription, no more than you can make yourself chicken soup. You can't afford to get injured or sick, or you could die from infection.
All you can do is walk. Keep walking. Walk as far as you can walk, then sit on the curb to rest when you can walk no more. Find a bridge or an underpass in case it rains. Catching the flu will do you no good.
You see a man step outside on to his front porch. He lights a cigarette, takes a puff, and his gaze lands on you for a moment before he quickly looks away. After a few minutes he returns back inside to the comfort of his air conditioning and his big screen TV. He closes the door behind him. You remember when you once did the same.
You march on, dragging yourself down the sidewalk...praying to God that one day you too could once again have a front porch and a front door - a place to call home. And ice-cool air conditioning, a TV, and a pill to take whenever you feel the pain.
Yes, the never-ending pain that's become an ongoing sensation. If it were ever to leave you, even if for a brief moment, you might think something was wrong. Pain is "normal". Thirst and hunger become normal, as does the heat in summer and the cold in winter. As does your dirt and smell.
You pass by a parked car on the street. It has a parking permit from a local hospital and a bumper sticker that reads "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican". You see your reflection in the side window. Your hair has grown long and stringy, as has your beard, now wiry and gray with the years that the street has added to your life. Body lice has ravished your skin; you constantly scratch from the itching that almost drives you insane.
It's getting late at night again. You listen at the ambient background sounds....the crickets, the passing traffic, and the falling rain. You long for sleep, as you long for that fleeting dream, where you wake up in the comfort of a real bed in your own home.
The days are long, with nothing to do but think...and remember. Lonely days and lonely nights. Isolated and hopeless, you march on.
There! On the other side of the street. A foreclosed and abandoned house. No lights, no cars, and no people. You'll be alone. Maybe tonight, just for tonight, that house can be your home. And you can sleep. And you can dream of the pretty girl who once loved you. And then you will hope that you'll never wake up again.
Did you imagine all that? Can you imagine what it's like to be a homeless man? Now turn around and open your front door. Then climb into your comfortable bed and remember, you only imagined this. But as for me, I'm still out there.
To Be A Homeless Man (Part One) Written May 2010, posted here August 2011