Laughing, I look out the window. What a great night it’s been. I glance over at my foreman, sitting in the passenger’s seat. Jeremy and I have been friends and co-workers for quite some time. I remember watching him get drunk on Tuesday afternoons. Jeremy sticks his head out the window and drops his bottle of Jack on the floor. I swerve, attempting to pick up the bottle and grab Jeremy back to safety. Tires screech and I put both hands back on the wheel, attempting to gain control on the car.
“Hold on!” I scream. The car hits the median, gains speed, and launches toward a tree. My chest hits the steering wheel, and I look around. Everything is moving in slow motion. Jeremy’s head whipped backwards then forwards. The bottle of Jack is free-falling inside of the car. I hear my tools flipping around in the trunk. The car connects with the tree, and the last thing I see is Jeremy flying at the windshield.
The next thing I know, I’m in the hospital, handcuffed to the bed. No one would tell me why, but I figured it was for reckless driving. I glance over, and see Jeremy in the bed next to me, perfectly free. A police officer walks in as I take a swig of water.
“Ted Michaels, you’re under arrest for driving under the influence, driving with an open container, and reckless driving,” he said, grabbing the handcuff keys.
“Wait, what? No, I wasn’t drunk, and that wasn’t my bottle!” I yelled. This has to be a misunderstanding.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you in the court of law . . .” he continued. It was a nightmare.
Now, five years later, I lost my job at the electricity plant. I lost my apartment. I’m living at a motel for $250 a week for a bed, bathroom, and microwave. I have a record and a suspended license. I don’t have enough money to get a new car, so I have to walk everywhere. I come to Good News at Noon for a decent meal every so often, but it’s hard.
It’s hard because I think these people want to be homeless. I come by every Tuesday-Friday to get some bread and a hot meal. I never take more than I need, and I always say thank you when I receive anything. There are people living in that shelter that want to be homeless – crazy right? They don’t want responsibility. They want a place to live for free while they indulge in whatever their latest addiction is.
I’m not saying all homeless folk are here because they want to be. Some of them are like me; people who have gotten life snatched up from right under them. Life is unfair, you know? Some of these people have no chances, the same way I do. But I’ve been trying. I’ve been trying to make things right. I got a job at a chicken plant, but it’s three miles away from my motel. I have to walk every day with my chicken boots and helmet, and half of my belongings in my backpack. But I’m constantly learning new things on the road.
Don’t go under the bridge. It’s not safe there. Always bring your chicken boots. They keep the blood out, but sometimes the blood is so high, it’ll still get into your boots if you aren’t careful. Don’t take someone else’s bread that they have been eyeing. Don’t think that some of these people are your friends. They aren’t. They got nothing to lose, and will kill you for a $10 bill any day. Thank the people who help you. It’s sad, you know? It’s sad that a lot of folk won’t give homeless people money because they assume they’re going to go out there and use it on drugs. Now, a lot of them do, but not all of them.
It’s just a sad world we’re living in. Either you got it, or you don’t. There’s nothing in between. Well, actually, I’m in between. But I got nothing. I have no family. I have no job. I have no place to call my own. Damn, I don’t even have enough money to get new clothes. All because of Jeremy. I’ve been trying to take responsibility, but it isn’t mine to take. Life’s so damn unfair. It really is. I can’t blame Jeremy too much . . . it’s the system’s fault too. Now, why does this county not have affordable housing? The only way you can get housing is if you’re an illegal or a woman, and congratulations to you if you’re both. The different places around here such as the shelters, that do help men in some way, but it’s all the men who don’t really want help.
I just don’t think it’s fair – excuse me for using that word too much – that I have to struggle just to find a place to live, when some people are handed things so easily. This is Hall County. This isn’t Atlanta or New York. You would think that there would be a lot more options for housing. There are so many rural areas. But no. Most homeless people just go live under the bridge. Have you been there? Let me tell you.
It’s absolutely horrid. People get sexually assaulted and just plain old assaulted so quickly as you enter.
The smell. Have you ever smelled rancid meat and disappointment? That’s what it smells like down there.
The police are tearing the place apart, you know. They decided the community that folk built down there is too violent. I get that they want a community, but going back to what I said, some people just want to be homeless. It gives them an excuse to get away from their responsibilities.
People could say that I’m the same way, but I got no responsibilities to run away from, because I got nothing.
Told by: Sara Hubaishi
This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in Hall County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia.