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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

excerpt from non-fiction piece Homeless In Long Beach

Once, I opened a pack of instant oatmeal and found worms squirming through the dust after I poured it into my bowl. This has nothing to do with the year I spent on the streets of Long Beach, but I’ve always wanted to tell the story and never got the chance.

I left North Texas on a whim. Whim. When you use whim people usually think less of the action, as if little thought went into it. When you tell them the impulse felt like a rope you grip and pull on, but instead of whatever is on the end of that rope coming towards you, its reversed. There is an inevitably about it. And then when you tell them how, in that instant, it felt forever written, forever declared for you to hop on the train and go to California with only a pocket of cash and a bag, no guarantees… you still seem crazy. And I figured whim took up less space.

I lived in California maybe ten years prior to my exodus, in Whittier. Can you believe the only time I had been to Long Beach was for 15 minutes, off of Junipero, to pick up a friend? It’s true. I circled around it, spending time in Compton, Watts, Norwalk, name it. But understand, I’m sure I can live on the streets of Whittier and realize I likely never knew my own city until that point.

After my mom left for North Texas and I hitched a ride, my own other family was my sister, who found an apartment near Downtown Long Beach she referred to as “so cute”. I hopped off the train early in Pomona to catch a ride from a buddy in Diamond Bar. I never carried on my bag which was in cabinet-storage on the way to Union Station. I didn’t worry about it.

I knew my sister could put me up for a little bit while I figured a way to make all the impossibles less un-impossible. A couple of seconds after closing my friend’s cell phone and repeating what my sister told me (“Uhh, I don’t think so Michael.”), I didn’t think anything. For a moment, I wasn’t there. Whatever separates our consciousness and the atoms of the universe, for that moment, disintegrated, or maybe, finally, fully integrated and were finally one.

The next day we spoke and she told me I had a month to get things together. I think we lasted less than that before I walked out, no longer able to deal with the already toxic and strained relationship my sister and I had.

My first night on the street wasn’t frightening. I just couldn’t believe it had come to this. I remember sleeping, rather, trying to sleep behind a Vegetarian cafĂ© called Zephyr. It really wasn’t a good idea, as the space is a narrow pathway with high walls, which breathed in the cold air and swept it across. In my rush out of my sister’s place I forgot my jacket, assuming the two long sleeve shirts I wore could suffice. Thaaaaaat would be a negative. But the sky was Texas clear, stars burning beautiful, and the pale bright moon made it daytime for a dark night. Comfort for a shivering form.

(other excerpt featured at http://www.michaeljamesmartin.wordpress.com

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