I'm no longer one of Orwell’s non-persons. I have a place in Charlestown. So it’s awkward for me now, engaging with this community. Not out of some silly sense of superiority – it’s a question of identity. I can no longer write about what they write about. I don’t feel like a fraud, but I’m adrift.
Last winter I was up before dawn every day, trudging through it, the only question, as me and Mike made our way through 12-inch drifts, being: is the wind chill at 20 or 30 below? Doing this every day for a hundred days, me and Mike. Last week I made a tepid attempt to invite Mike to my place in Charlestown. Icy silence. Not of dissension – we’d just never talked to each other in this manner before. Sometimes it has to be 20 below.
Last week, I was in the Back Bay and passed a young kid with a lemonade and cookie stand. I felt as if I was seeing it for the last time. It’s like this with everything now – a prolonged farewell, a conviction that things never fail to fail. Everyone outside homelessness somehow seems to understand it. These suburban sewing circles – the less they know, the more they codify things. It doesn’t matter to them to be correct or right, as long as everyone agrees.
For me, the ultimate heavy feeling was the dread of walking back to the shelter. Like there was a rock in my stomach, like the spy who came in from the cold. “But do I look very old, so very, very old, Starbuck? I feel bowed, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise.” (Moby Dick) This is not merely a bag of bricks to be put down, but rather a strain of gloomy moralizing which you can’t burn off.
Being homeless has damaged my psyche. I don’t believe my apartment is mine; I’m afraid that it’ll be taken from me. I have a recurring dream, from which almost nightly I’m jolted awake, fearful that burly men have pounded on my door and will grab me back to the shelter, or worse yet the alcove of the Trinity Church in Copley when it’s 5º out. The fact that I know this fear is irrational doesn’t change much. Being on disability has you disabled in spirit as well.