February 27, 2014

Homeless 11: A Suit of Armor

A few days ago, I finally got my car back, purring once again and behaving itself quite respectably after the mechanic replaced a starter which had given up the ghost. I wish to state here and now that I am extraordinarily grateful to the friends who contributed to my reunion with what my daughter refers to simply as "Blue Car." I am mobile again, thank God. For the brief time that I was without my own transportation, I learned some hard new lessons about how truly difficult my situation could become, and how quickly. I couldn't get anywhere or accomplish anything without walking to a bus stop (which on one memorable occasion was over an hour of walking), finding some cash with which to pay the fare, and spending an hour on what should have been a 15-minute trip because of  the fixed routes of public transport. I was grateful the buses were there, especially on a day that was particularly cold and found me without a place to go for several hours, but no one can claim that they are the easiest or most time-efficient way to get from point A to point B.

Photo by Goran Schmidt
Courtesy of
The Royal Armoury, Sweden
Setting aside the additional logistical problems that being without a car suddenly created--though I think we can all agree that I could really do without additional problems right now--being without my vehicle instantly moved me into a yet more dangerous category of homelessness. A working vehicle is like a suit of armor for a homeless person; it's a safer place to sleep than the park benches, a place to store things so that you don't have to carry everything you own on your person at all times. You can move quicker than someone who might be interested in harming or robbing you. In short, it is at least one layer of insulation between you and the actual streets. I have never felt more naked in my life than I did as a woman, walking alone on sidewalks in rough neighborhoods of Denver late at night, watching intently everyone who walked past, startled by each sound of footsteps behind me. Cars are such a rare luxury among the homeless population that some insist that if you own a car you're not really homeless. When your body and your backpack are all you have that you can still call your own, the level of constant fear, the incredible vigilance and suspicion you develop, preclude much healthy interaction with other human beings, let alone recovery from PTSD. The longer you're in that vicious spiral, the less likely it becomes that you will ever escape.

Don't get me wrong; I am painfully aware that a car is no guarantee of any safety. By the time I was 18, two of my friends from high school had died in car wrecks, and believe me, none of us who survived them were ever the same. But in my current circumstances, being without my vehicle was a step further away from stability, from all that I'm trying to accomplish--another huge hurdle between my little girl and me. Thank you so much, once again, to all those who helped put me back into a working vehicle. You did something for the least of your brethren, and I feel sure your reward will be great for it.

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