One of my two greatest fears is coming to pass.
I am homeless, a result of the roommate changing the locks on Colorado’s second big snowstorm that dumps a foot of snow overnight.
Driving the roads with no destination, I call first the budget motel where I’d lodged for three weeks upon arrival in Denver. Even that rate is outside my budget. I watch the clock. Each passing minute is another minute lost to the sleep needed to begin my new job tomorrow at 7 a.m. Each is another minute consumed by anxiety about where to stay not only tonight but tomorrow and the day after and the day after.
I head to Broadway Street, a gritty stretch and not only for the shoddy pavement. The motels are cheap.
Not so cheap after all. At the first place, as the snow falls furiously, the bell awakens the man sleeping on a cot in the lobby. He has only a 2-bed room. Way outside my needs and budget.
Back in the car and combining smart phone and GPS — both recent acquisitions that’ve been godsends on plenty occasions already — I locate another budget mom-and-pop.
“What are the conditions like?” I ask.
“It’s not a five-star resort,” the clerk with a Middle Eastern (?) accent replies. “But the rooms are clean.”
There at 11 p.m. — “you’re lucky, I was just closing when you called” — I plead my case, sans details, and for a rate reduction. We negotiate to an agreement.
He’s right, a 5-star resort it isn’t. The room’s clean enough, dry, warm, has a hot shower and a bed — paradise on a snow stormy night.
If I can get five hours of sleep for my first day of work, I’ll be okay.
My mind plays over the night’s events over and over. Thoughts churn like a waterwheel, mostly about what my roommate might do next. Is she spiteful and malicious enough to empty her house of my things? Set my boxed stereo equipment, including much-beloved gorgeous speakers, out on the curb?
She knows they have value when she helped carry them in. I’ll know better than to divulge such information to a new roommate hereafter.
Might she take my valuables to a pawn shop? Is that why her car wasn’t there?
Over and over my mind plays out scenarios and what she might do next. She’s a rampager and spiteful but not particularly clever, I don’t think, and not overly inclined toward the labor required to haul my stuff up the stairs from the basement through the house and yard to the curb or her car.
Not without help. Her maliciousness is her fuel but fortunately she is not, I gather, a physical workhorse. This is to my hopeful benefit when mulling the odds of my stuff surviving her wrath.
The night’s hours pass, one after another and predictably, like soldiers marching in formation. The only sounds are a rattling heater and traffic muffled by the thickening snow and the occasional squeaking of the floor above — someone else up way late.
My cell-phone alarm — another wondrous invention! — sounds at 6:20 in the morning. It’s moot. I’ve slept not a wink.
My car looks a bit changed from last I saw her buried beneath the foot of white stuff!
I’ve no gloves or jacket or shoes suitable for snow. Actually I do but they’re being held hostage with all I have save what’s with me:
(1) a small flight bag containing the usual notepads and pens and journal and iPhone power cord and bottle of water and Berr Symon, the teddy bear who travels most places with me;
(2) my backpack containing laptop and Bible and more notepads and pens and a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Always travel with a toothbrush, my friends, for you never know when an insane person will lock you out of your home.
Employing a lid from a plastic box in the car and my bare hands, I scrape snow off the windows. Wow, I’ll say this about Denver: When the snow falls, it falls hard and accumulates thickly. Nothing middle-of-the-road about Colorado weather!
It’s slow going on the roads. Before 7, it’s still dark, the sun’s yet to blink. I’m going to my first day of work on no sleep and negotiating heavy slush, slippery surfaces, ice. I proceed cautiously, unlike many of the drivers, and arrive at work late but there, in one piece.
My first day consists of training, efforts to stay coherent and focused and on top of the fatigue and loopiness of no sleep and pressing concerns about where I’ll slumber (hopefully) that night. I can’t afford another night in a motel — even the worst is a veritable five-star in these circumstances!
No, by the time I get off work, I have no place to go.
The prospect of sleeping in my car is very real, probable.
And an unappealing prospect it is. I’ve no pillow. No blanket. No change of clothing; I’ve worn, slept and worked (orientation and training) in these same clothes two days going on three now.
Most of all I’m concerned about the effect of another night of no sleep (I’ve “slept” in my car before) on me, my health and performance at the job.
Again, bless the miracle of smart phones and brilliance of Steve Jobs! I sit in the warm, cozy and homey lobby of the assisted living facility where I work — therein lies irony one! — digging through Internet sites for resources for the homeless.
I sure could use that folder of homeless resources I’ve got at home right now! Therein is the second irony!
I make call after call after call after call; as often as not I get no one on the line. Shelters are either full up because of the weather or very far away or simply non-existent.
I also continue pouring through craigslist (as I’ve been doing all day) for someone who might take me in, even if just for a week.
And the fellow with the room I viewed yesterday — the only iron in the fire — isn’t calling back. There’s no furniture in that room but if I explain my situation, perhaps he’ll let me sleep on the couch and for a fee far below a motel’s.
Manor Subaru is looking very likely. I dread the prospect. The nights dip well below freezing. I finally have a job after three years of unemployment and I care about it. I want to do it well. Snoozing — if I’m lucky — in the car’s a terrible way to begin a new job. I’m angered most by the selfishness, the utter narcissistic selfishness of my roommate who likely hasn’t given a single thought to the effect of her action.
I don’t get it, can’t and don’t particularly want to either.
The clock reads around 4 p.m. Night’s peeking in around the corner. Still no shelter. No one on craigslist coming through.
Then a miracle occurs.
Shall I call it a miracle? Or the Divine Light and Spirit and celestial beings and protectors watching over me?
Or shall I call it good returned to me in my hour of greatest need for the good that I give upon this planet and to humankind even when I myself am in need?
I reach by phone a man named Daniel, who is renting a room — in fact just placed the ad.
I explain my situation, trying to quell the panic and simply state What Is: an emergency situation created by actions of my (now former) roommate.
“You’ll never get a call like this again and I’ll never make a call like this again but here it is …”
And he listens. That’s the AMAZING part of this. Most people wouldn’t give a s**t. They wouldn’t or couldn’t take time to listen with the heart as an extraordinary situation is presented.
But he did.
And with just 30 minutes left before he had to take off for an evening obligation, he lets me come over.
I fulfill his request for a character reference — the people at my last job in Tacoma. Simultaneously, I arrive with rent, in cash, as a show of integrity and honesty. I’m not there to crash-and-go.
We meet. Two good souls encountering each other.
My heart and hopes sink when he says that he’s got someone willing to make the 6-month commitment he desires coming to look at the room tomorrow.
Tomorrow, for me, is a long ways away. Now, this moment, matters.
I don’t know exactly what changes his mind, pushes past his hesitation.
I believe it’s some Divine Light and will. Just as night falls upon snowy Denver, I am safe and sheltered.
He extends his furnished room to me at that moment.
And I move in — me and all my belongings of the moment: a shoulder bag, a backpack and a teddy bear, a 2008 rescue from the Goodwill, named Symon.
And that, my friends, is how my homelessness is ended and how I came to know goodness returned to me, extended to me in my own hour of tremendous need.
This is how I came to know a little bit more about Divine Light and that one five-letter word that is so damn difficult, by far the hardest and most challenging word in all languages for me to get my literate hands and mind and tongue and self and being around:
And the story, one might notice, now bears a title.