The People

These words are dedicated to each and every single person that helped me or gave me assistance during the hardest four years of my life. I wouldn’t have made it without you.

Have you ever been completely financially broken? I’m talking about being down to five dollars or less and nothing else. It’s a desperate feeling. As desperate as that situation is, things can still get worse. Of course, just as there is always another bottom, sometimes the suffering clocks out for a moment, a day or maybe even longer.

This morning I read something on social media that triggered some memories from a few years ago. These memories hadn’t been completely forgotten, just filed away until it was their time.

It’s no secret that until eight months ago I had been homeless on and off for almost four years. I’ve written about this painful chapter of my life several times. Today I’m going to do some editing to that chapter. Today, I’ll shed light on the light. Confused? As I’ve said before, that might not go away.

Four years ago I still owned one truck, an F-150, and was at times sleeping in it. My plates had expired, my insurance had lapsed and my driver’s license had been recently suspended for three unpaid tickets. Then, another step backward, the loss of my only job at the time. The job was part-time only, but it was cash flow. My employer had been very patient with me and my increasingly unpredictable and undependable situation, but it couldn’t be allowed to go on. I had recently torn my right rotator cuff. It’s not only a very painful injury, but it heals slowly. Right about the time the right side began to heal, I tore the left side as well. I didn’t go to the doctor for either injury but I have a theory. The job that I was working at the time put a lot of strain on muscles that hadn’t been stressed for some time. Whatever caused my injuries didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. It’s not important because I almost died from something completely unrelated. For weeks I had been extremely sick from bacteria poisoning. After I moved out of my house my condition improved.

So, where was I? Oh yes, I still had my truck, but I was driving as dirty as hell. Driving dirty translates to, driving in a completely illegal fashion. Everything that I’m about to tell you (write to you) happened more than once. A couple of times somebody was with me when it happened and it scared the hell out of them. One old man thought we were surely going to jail even though on that particular day, I predicted the events for him. That of course, is the sign of the moment.

Please sit back and use your imagination for just a few minutes. As you’re driving down the street from location A to location B the gas light on your dashboard begins to flutter and flash. Even though you’ve been as careful as possible the inevitable has arrived. Soon you will be out of fuel. Oh yes, if you don’t go to a gas station right now it might all be over and this is why. The vehicle that you’re driving has expired plates and no insurance. On top of that, your driver’s license has been suspended because you didn’t pay the three tickets that you got a few months ago in another vehicle. Now it gets worse. The consequences of not paying the tickets and going to court? A bench warrant has been issued. What does all of this mean? If you run out of gas or break down on the side of the road you’re done. You see that’s how it works. The time that you don’t want or need a police car to serve and protect, they will surely stop to help. Of course before offering any assistance the officer will ask for your identification, registration, and proof of insurance. A few moments later a second cop car will arrive. In case you didn’t already know this fact, a second car always equals an arrest. Yes, it’s back up because you have an outstanding bench warrant. Oh and in case you forgot, everything that you own is in the vehicle and if the police stop you, it will be impounded. Of course, you’re driving because you don’t have any place to go or park. Seems like only yesterday that you had a home and friends, but now it’s all gone and nobody will even allow you to park at their house. What you don’t yet know is this. Throughout the next three winter seasons, every single person that you call friend, including the people that you haven’t yet met, will close the door to you on a cold and snowy night. At first, it will be completely baffling and you won’t be able to wrap your mind around something that seems very cruel. Eventually, this pain will be replaced by something else. You will soon be transformed into someone emotionally untouchable. A person that can and will level-up above and beyond resilience. A person who will heal from emotional pain long before your heart has an opportunity to shed the first tear. But that hasn’t yet happened so let’s continue, shall we? If your ride breaks down, you are f****d. The best option is pulling into the closest gas station. Without checking your wallet or looking for change (you’ve done that) you already know that you’re worth about $3.58, and that’s in change. No quarters, just dimes, nickels and pennies. Luckily you learned long ago that pride isn’t real, but only a thing that destroys families and relationships. After a centering moment, you get out of your car and hurry to the door. The last thing you want is Mr. Serve and Protect pulling in for coffee and checking your plates. Several people are exiting as you approach the glass doors, and a kind, smiling elderly couple holds the door for you before you can do the same for them. You smile and give them a sincere thank you. The temperature outside is deadly cold, but the warm smiles of the patrons warms your heart, and you’re confident that it’s going to happen again. Pushing the knowledge aside, you approach the counter, humble and thankful for the kind people in this world. Names you don’t know, faces you haven’t seen, but at times it feels like they know you. The person that paid for your gas didn’t know your name or anything else about you except that you needed assistance. Once again, a gas station clerk informs you that you have been awarded a small miracle. Not in those exact words, but something close. He or she tells you that another customer, paid $15 towards fuel for your auto and that they just left and you walked right past me. After many thanks to the store employee, it’s time to return to your vehicle before? Yep, before somebody checks the plates! By the way, the plate thing is a 24/7 head on a swivel, never-ending job to prevent losing what little remains. Don’t worry though, nothing that you have now will last much longer. Your path of choice requires everything to be stripped away before anything can get better. Imagine how much easier your life will be without anything except the clothes on your back and what fits into a medium-sized backpack.

Those four years felt like a prison sentence. For a long time, I didn’t understand why all of the people that I had thought would be there for me had abandoned me, and the ones that were there for me came out of nowhere. They showed up when I needed them the most. Thank you all so very much. From my heart, thank you.

My life has been a rollercoaster ride of pain, tragedy, near-death experiences and miracles. I love this world and the people that I share it with.

Joseph Shanklin
July 22, 2019

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