Something Doesn’t Look Right

When I travel in my van, which is all the time, I look for places to camp that are remote yet within a few miles of a town so that I can get cell coverage. I do go off the grid if I must, or if there is some draw like a gorgeous view to be had (and not shared with a cast of thousands of other campers).

To find such locations, I employ a cluster of apps. These are a combination of crowd sourced data from people like me who like to wander around in the woods, and official info from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, etc. That way I know for sure I’m on public land and nobody is going to sic their bulldog on me.

I whiled away this summer wandering around the gorgeous state of Oregon, beginning in the Cascade Mountains, and when they caught fire, fleeing to the coast where I shivered in the cold fog but loved the quirky isolated coastal communities that somehow manage to go on being blissful even though there is a seriously overdue tsunami lurking just offshore. The plethora of road signs warning of tsunami danger is unnerving to a mountain-bred girl like me, who gets panic attacks at the roar of the ocean.

Summer ended, as summers will, and time came for me to be heading back to sunny Arizona, where I will at last do something about my left shoulder (two “high grade” rotator cuff tears, greater than 50% torn) and my left wrist (now missing a bone because the surgeon wasn’t expecting to find the joint so completely trashed at arthroscopic examination, thus had no permission to do anything more than remove one bone that was rattling around in pieces.)

I meandered down I-5 through the over-logged parts of southern Oregon and into Northern California, where the people of the towns like Yreka (pronounced Why-reeka) and Weed fly the flag of Jefferson. My first campsite in NorCal took me way, WAY off the grid, to a public campground managed by a small power company that had dammed up a piece of the Klamath River and made a lake out of it.

It was a lovely out-of-the-way place, accessed via a terrifying one-lane whose pavement was falling off to one side and the other, as pavement tends to do in California, due to the general inability of everything there, whether from earthquakes, mudslides, or precipitation, or lack thereof.  I drive a lot of dirt and gravel Forest Service and fire roads, and they are nearly always better than California paved back roads.

When I finally arrived at the campground, I found it filling up fast. There was a bass fishing tournament that weekend and everyone in NorCal had their bass boat and their generator all ready to fire up. I got as far away from the crowd as I could. While setting up my camp (read: get out lawn chair), I noticed a very loud silence in the vicinity of my Malinois, Atina. Doggy silences spell the same thing kiddie silences do: trouble. It seems we had a visitor:

This juvenile possum had hardly any teeth. Nevertheless, it was staring at Atina, who was staring back. I got a pair of gloves and nudged it with my walking stick, whereupon it fell over “dead.” I picked it up by its prehensile tail and placed it back in the bushes where it came from. Atina looked disappointed, but oh well. It’s a dog’s life.

Also in attendance was a herd of feral horses.  This is the gorgeous Appaloosa stallion, who came over to check us out, then set up his camp next door:

I fantasized about running back to Weed to buy a horse trailer….

A couple of days later found me on the California side of Reno. I located a likely spot to camp on my Free Campsites app (did I mention I try not to pay for parking?) and set my GPS. The road was California nightmare again, this time featuring deep sand and worn signs that warned travelers away in case of inclement weather: ROAD IMPASSABLE IN INCLEMENT WEATHER. OK, today is passable, but if it rains tonight, I’ll be stuck? Wouldn’t be the first time. Onward.

As I negotiated the tight turn into the abandoned (as it turns out) Forest Service campground, I wondered aloud whether the review I’d read from a person who allegedly camped here with a 35′ trailer could possibly have been misfiled. Between the sand trap and the tight turn….I dunno. As I rounded the bend, a very clean, late-model Prius came into view. It was parked at what remained of the first campsite. Seated on the rotting picnic table was a woman close to my own age.

She looked up from her smartphone and waved. I didn’t see any tent.  After wedging my van into an incredibly small parking space, I gathered up Miss Dog and went to introduce ourselves to the neighbor. I can’t tell you how many times in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been traveling, that a simple “hello” has made the difference between struggling with some problem all by myself, or having a helping hand. (And since I only have one hand that works, that’s saying something.) I made plenty of noise as I approached. Never good to sneak up on anybody in the wilderness! She was still sitting on the picnic table, despite the two aged canvas deck chairs she’d set out. It’s a common ruse for single women camping, to make it look like there was someone else. I’ve been around this block a few times, though, and it was clear she was out there alone–just like me, most of the time. We started with the usual small talk, sizing each other up. Atina immediately liked her, and rubbed a layer of dog hair all over the woman’s black pants.

Did you know there is a whole subset of homeless people who live, specifically, in Priuses? The back seat folds down and (she explained) makes a space exactly 72 inches long. Since she is only 60 inches tall, that’s more than enough sleeping space! (She said.) “I make sure the windows aren’t blocked and the floor is clear, so I can stealth-park,” she explained.  Everything she owned was black, to match the upholstery and hopefully fool the flashlights of police checking parked cars for homeless people.

“But what do you eat?”

I am so spoiled from having a fridge and a microwave and a two-burner stove that you can’t use both burners on because they’re too close together, but never mind. I’m spoiled. She gazed at me with patience and restraint. “I have a little, you know, cooler box, and a butane camp stove,” she said. “This morning I had eggs and ham and tortilla.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid. “Real food.” She chuckled and nodded. Over the course of the evening and the following morning, her story came out. She had worked all her life in higher education, retiring with a pension that would have been bigger if she’d stuck it out to 65. But her adult daughter had come down with an inoperable brain tumor, so she retired early in order to have more time with her child. They made the best of it, traveling together, until the inevitable happened. After the funeral, her marriage came apart. Her ex got the house. She hit the road, and has been on it ever since.

So here we were, these two ladies in much reduced circumstances: she with a Ph.D., me with my jumble of letters, sharing tips and tricks for life on the road. I marveled at her resourcefulness, living in such a tiny time capsule. Her refuge in her grief, from losing her only child, her life. But she is uncomplaining; in fact, the opposite. Instead of a pity party, we celebrated our freedoms, and especially our freedom to choose this lifestyle. The next weekend, she told me, she would visit a friend who is part-time on the road. He’s at home now in his stix-n-brix, as we who live in wheeled conveyances call a fixed residence.

“Well then, does he have a spare bedroom?”

He does.

“And where will you sleep?” But I already knew the answer, because once you get used to sleeping out in your vehicle, no bed in a stuffy old house can tempt you indoors.

Leo’s Story: Downwardly Mobile

The grizzled, wiry guy on the bicycle waited for the light to change.  He was decked out like any long-distance road cyclist: helmet with rear-view mirror, gloves, cycling togs, panniers, plastic kid’s beach pail…the light changed, and I was off, leaving him to pedal wherever his wheels carried him.

I loaded up the big machines in the laundromat in the little town on the Oregon coast.  Laundry time happens every two weeks for me.  I’d rather do a bunch at once and get it over with.

And here comes my bicyclist!  Looks like he’s doing laundry too.  He needs change, but the change machine doesn’t like his crumpled dollar bills.  He’s off to McDonald’s to buy lunch and get some change.  Would I watch his stuff?  Sure.  I’ll be here for another hour.

He returns indignant: McDonald’s is so expensive!  He likes to go to Burger King because they have these pancakes for $1.89, and if he buys two that will carry him through the whole day…wait, says my brain.  This is not adding up.

I take a closer look.

His clothes are the clothes of a long-distance cyclist…but they’re old and frayed, and he’s wearing multiple layers that look kind of….permanent.  The shoes had been expensive, in their day.  The gear–his tent, sleeping bag, panniers–had seen a lot of time and weather.  What’s his story?

But look at him, he’s pale and shaking from hunger!

“Hey man, you want a quesadilla?” I volunteer.  His eyes popped.

“Yes, I’d love one!”

“Fine, why don’t you get your laundry started, and I’ll yell when it’s ready.”

I made two, loaded with cheese and avocado.  I love to feed people!

I handed Leo, for that is his name, a paper plate of food.  He inhaled it.  Color entered his face.

Time for me to put my things in the dryer and find out what was up with Leo.  One of the fun parts about living on the road is that I meet so many people with interesting stories!

From the get-go, it was clear that there was more to Leo than met the eye.  ADHD for starters!  A brilliant mind, but no solidity.  Mercurial, is the word that presented itself.  He was all over the place.

But I knew he had a story to tell.  I wanted to sit down with him and listen, if he wanted to tell it.  And he wanted to tell it, very much!  

His present strategy for survival, which got him through the terrible winter of 2016-17, is to use $5 a night of his $575/month Social Security check to camp in one of several State Parks along his route on the Coastal Highway of Oregon.  That way he can put up his tent, use the restrooms, and even get a shower if he has enough quarters (25¢ a minute for a shower).  The Visitors’ Centers have free hot coffee, and sometimes a fire in the fireplace.

I arranged to camp in my van at his destination park for the night.  We would meet for coffee in the morning, and he would tell me his story.

He found my campsite that evening.  Immediately he picked up on the guitar case that occupies my passenger seat.  I explained that it’s actually a giant ukulele, but since my left wrist is trashed, I can’t play it.

“When I was four years old,” he began eagerly, “I guess I drove my dad nuts bouncing around, so he handed me a ukulele, and that…just…did it for me.  I never did anything else in my life but play that ukulele, and later on the guitar.  I was playing in stage jazz bands before I was twelve.”

Somehow I didn’t think he was bullshitting.  I handed him the four-string guitar.  He sat down, looking again like a starving man, made some apology for his fingers being soft, and wrapped his hand around the guitar’s neck…

Jazz came out.  Really truly hot jazz, like that guitar was meant to play!

“Leo!  Man, you’re great!  What happened?  How come you’re not playing?”

He was riding his bike in downtown Portland, in the rain, and a near-miss with a car door catapulted him off his bike.  He made a one-point landing on his left hand….no fractures, but he damaged soft tissue, ligaments and such, and his hand has never worked the same since.

Weird, I thought.  My left hand has been through all kinds of soft tissue hell, too.  I can relate.

The day was drawing to a misty Oregon Coast close.  We strolled down to the creek that made its last tumbling rush to the ocean passing under a viaduct that held up Highway 101.  A soggy wind blew clouds of salty damp off the Pacific and into our hair and lungs.  We found shelter behind a bridge piling.

There Leo told me about his life.  He had married late, after a long run of playing professionally.  He had a daughter whom he adored.  He had stayed home, kept house, taken care of his daughter.

“I was the primary caretaker,” he said, and his eyes flipped through changes like mood rings.  I waited to hear the story.

His wife had gone into a professional field.  They bought a home in Upstate New York.  Life was good…except….his wife began to develop some disturbing behaviors toward his daughter.  I’m not going to reveal those, for the sake of preserving confidentiality; but I will say that although it would be difficult to hang the term “abusive” on them, they certainly push those boundaries.

These and other behaviors led to a constant state of tension.  He wanted them to go to couples counseling; she refused, so he went by himself.

One day she demanded a divorce.  He didn’t want to leave his daughter, but in order to save her from an ongoing ugly scene, he moved out.

Leo’s learning disorder kept him from going to college.  But he was playing in jazz orchestras again most nights, and made enough to keep himself.

After a few years his mother got sick, and Leo moved in with her.  He cared for her until her death just a couple of years ago.  She left him $30,000, half of which he gave to his daughter, who is now grown.  With the other half, he moved to the West Coast, hoping to start over.  He was playing in a jazz combo in Portland when he injured his hand.  He’d banked his inheritance, which he hoped not to touch.

Leo decided to move to Eugene, as he knew some people there.  He couch surfed for months, searching for work, until his comfort level with couch surfing wore out and he began to hunt for an apartment.  That was when he ran into the catch-22.

The apartment managers refused to rent to someone without a job, even though he had his grub stake of $15,000 that he’d carefully preserved.

Employers, on the other hand, demanded a permanent address.  

Leo went around and around like that, trying to find an apartment that would take him without a job, and a job that would take him without an apartment.  

He used up most of his money paying for cheap motel rooms.  Then he bought a tent and moved outside.

He spent all of last winter, with its record rainfall, pedaling from one Oregon Coast State Park to another.  There’s a 3 night stay limit, instituted by the State Parks so that they don’t become fixed homeless encampments: every three days he must pack up and move to one of the other State Parks along a 20 mile stretch of the Coastal Highway.  He doesn’t want to be associated with the homeless that live outside just anywhere.  

Darkness and silence descended, broken on occasion by groups of rowdy teens galloping back and forth under the bridge.

“If you could give someone advice, someone who was in the position you were in, when you were still kind of housed but knew you were headed toward homelessness, what would you tell them?”  I don’t know exactly why that question came into my head; it popped out, and I waited as he collected his thoughts.

“I’d tell them, don’t wait till your money is all gone before you move outside.”

Homelessness Could Happen To YOU.

Let’s face it: I’m homeless.

Not “house-free,” as people joke. “A house is not a home,” after all. Yes, I am high-class homeless: I live in a Mercedes Sprinter van (the same kind FedEx uses to deliver stuff) that has a camper built into it. Posh, for a homeless person! But I don’t have a physical address. I don’t have a home to return to, when I’m weary of the road. I don’t have a family, a family doctor, a community, etc. Nevertheless I’m blessed to have shelter and transportation.

A month ago I was camped by a lovely high meadow in Sequoia National Forest, in Forest Service Dispersed Camping. This is where I live: I wander from forest to forest, camping for free in the thousands of informal campsites sprinkled all over the largely unpaved Forest Service roads. Most of the time I’m fortunate to find isolated spots with no one around for miles. This particular time I was fortunate that there was another camper, a few hundred yards off.

It was a Chevy van, obviously a DIY conversion. Pretty neat, really. One man, no dog. I wondered what his story was. I hoped he was benign, but I tucked my pistol into its concealed carry holster nonetheless. I was miles from help, and no cell service. Of course I have my Doggess, my personal Enforcer; but as my Marine K-9 trainer taught me, if they shoot your dog, that gives you an extra 15 seconds to get your weapon ready. But I was hoping not to have any truck whatsoever with my neighbor.

Turns out, I was the one to introduce myself to the guy I’ll call Bob.

This Mercedes van isn’t like a Mercedes car. It’s a truck. Bells and whistles, none.

For instance: If your car (any make at all) is less than 20 years old, it probably has a nifty little switch that automatically turns off your lights after you remove your key, so your battery doesn’t run down because the lights were on while you were asleep in your snug bed.

Even my old ’97 Dodge truck had that feature….but not this 2016 Mercedes truck. Nuh-uh. It has four wheel drive and a granny gear, which is why I bought it, but if you forget and leave your lights on, you’re S.O.L.

Which I was, the morning after I left my lights on all night.

Quite luckily, I had recently charged up my external jump charger. It was red hot and rarin’ to go. But my Mercedes van is made of solid metal and lots of it, which is the other reason I bought it. Only thing is, with my various infirmities, I often cannot lift the hood. That was the case this particular morning.

My neighbor looked like he was finishing up breakfast, but I did not see a sign of a coffee cup. Hmm, that means either he doesn’t drink coffee, or he doesn’t have any. I’ll take a gamble and see if I can offer him some. Then I’ll move in for the kill and ask him to help me jump the van.

Paydirt! He was fresh out of java. I fixed him a good strong one. We drank coffee and chatted. He seemed like a good sort, although I maintain clear boundaries at all times when interacting with characters I meet on the road.

He cheerfully lent me his arms and took over the jump start task with manly pride in being useful. I made him a second cup, and while we let the truck run to get good and charged up, he told me his story.

Bob was 64 years and 7 months old. Up until four weeks ago, he had been the IT guy at a medium-sized development company in Sacramento. He was the guy who kept all of the machines updated, virus-free, and running cleanly. He was the guy that did all the backups and made sure everybody’s data was safe and secure.

On the day he turned 64 1/2, he was laid off, along with a new hire that hadn’t worked out. Bob had been there for 12 years. If he had worked another 6 months, he would have been able to collect company pension.

“Wait a minute!” I cried. “Isn’t this a clear case of laying you off to avoid paying your pension?”

“Clearly it is,” he said. “But my lawyer pointed out that they were careful to let a younger person go at the same time, so it didn’t look like a pension avoidance. They claimed the company was downsizing.

Suddenly Bob was jobless.

In a state of shock, he reverted to his main competency: analysis.  What is the algorithm for sudden, unexpected unemployment?

You find a new job, of course.  Bob blasted out his resume, which includes a long stint at Apple, another with Microsoft.  Bob is a smart, talented, high level techie.

He’s also an old techie, and as he discovered, nobody wants to hire someone who’s 6 months away from their 65th birthday.

Bob put in for unemployment.

Gotta hand it to his former employer: at least they fixed it so he would get unemployment insurance up until he was eligible for Social Security, which was much less than his pension would have been, but at least it was something; and via COBRA, he would have his health insurance until he was eligible for Medicare.  Pretty slick.

Meanwhile the bills continued to roll in as usual.  Bob, like so many members of the Middle Class, had very little in the way of savings to fall back on.  He quickly saw that what funds he did have wouldn’t last long, paying $1,700/month for his tiny studio apartment.  He rented a storage building, put everything into it except his camping gear, and moved into his van.

He’s an organised person, so within a week he had his infrastructure in place: a membership at a gym franchise provided shower access; he developed a rotation for overnight parking so he wouldn’t become a target for thieves or police.  His portable kitchen was still a work in progress.  He was learning to live out of his van.  Learning to be a member of the high-class homeless.

I often hear and read self-satisfied, superior comments about homeless people.  The assumption is that homeless people are all alike: lazy and shiftless.  If they just got a job, they wouldn’t be homeless…right?  And they’re all on meth anyway, so why should I care? 

Uh, sure.  Just…only…that’s very often not the case.  Like Bob the IT guy, who got the hook because he’d been loyal enough to his company to happily stay until retirement.  Except he got laid off at age 64 1/2, with no warning at all, no time to prepare for the retirement he had every reason was waiting for him.

I used to joke that if all else failed, I could always be a greeter at Wal-Mart.  That used to be one of the only jobs available to the Medicare crowd.

Bob had that same idea.  He applied to every Walmart in the State of California.  He found out that most Wal-Marts have discontinued the greeters.  Too expensive.

He tried fast food places.  “Over qualified” for those, naturally.

He’s still sending out resumes.  Fortunately, he’s still able to afford to rent a mailbox that gives him a physical address, so he can receive his rejection letters.

He’s adjusting to van life.  He does love camping.  Of course there are challenges, like, how do you keep your possessions from being ruined when it’s 105 degrees?  You yourself can go walk around in the mall, but your “house” is still going to bake in the parking lot.  Your soap will melt, your shaving cream can will blow up….

And what about the future, that looked so comfortable with your pension, formerly adequate for your needs?  What will happen when you get sick, develop diabetes, have a stroke, get crippled up with arthritis….?  What if you need surgery: where will you go to recover?

Please remember, dear reader, this valuable adage applies to us all:

There but for the grace of God go I.

(And for you who are smirking because your 401k or your Keogh is coming along nicely….all it takes is another 2008 and you’ll be sitting right where Bob found himself.)

Shifting Sands

There are many definitions to “function.”

Most days I find myself checking inside, feeling how I feel right now, and reminding myself that this is how I do “function,” at this moment in time.

Maybe in five minutes I’ll function some other way, but that is something I can neither predict nor control.

My goals are slimmer, tighter. I will take a walk. I will play with my dog. I will give a go at reading this book, and if it won’t read, I’ll put it down and try another time, or not. I will be happy if I remember to give both my dog and I our pills. I will consider it a triumph if I don’t get angry. These are things I now call “functioning.”

I used to go to work every night and save lives.

“Bye folks, I’m off to save lives,” I would say to my family. And I did. Save lives. Just not theirs. And not mine.

After the crash, it has been as much as I can manage to live from day to day. I don’t know why I do it, since there’s not much I can contribute any more.

Maybe I’m finished with the “contributing” part. Who knows.

At this point I just have to be sure I stay far away from the tongue cluckers. I’m too fucking old and busted up to let myself feel bad just because I did the best I could, continue to do the best I can, but now the definitions have all changed.

It’s taken me a long time to get this, to see it clearly. There’s a grieving process, mourning who you were and what you loved doing and how it defined you, both in your eyes and in the eyes of those who knew you then. It’s like giving birth to a stranger. Who the hell is this person in the mirror?

I guess that’s our job now…getting used to who we are, the shifting sands.

The broken shards.

I give the filthy homeless people money.

Critics disdain: why do you give those filthy people money? They’re just going to go buy booze with it.

That’s not my business, what they do with it. If booze is what they need to get from one day to the next, am I God to say that I know better than they do?

Tomorrow, that may be me standing there with a sign out. Or you.

Who knows, that filthy smelly person might be Elijah the Prophet. He’s said to take the form of a down-and-out person, the kind you wouldn’t let in if he came to your door begging.

How do you know this person’s personal tragedy?.

There but for the grace of God go I.
Truthfully.

The longer I live in this tiny camper, the closer I get to myself. It’s not comfortable. Not the camper, and not myself. I can’t avoid the truth: in many people’s eyes I am a failure. They can’t boast about their “daughter/mother/cousin/niece the doctor.”

No, don’t. Don’t say I’m still a doctor, because I’m not.

I’m just me.

That’s all.

Just me, and if that ain’t good enough for ’em, fuck ’em.

Compassion, Not Judgement, For Girls Like Me

I have been unwillingly sucked into a Facebook conversation with the wife of an old and dear friend.  She loudly condemns abortion, and calls everyone who has had one a “murderer.”

In that case, I guess I am a murderer in her eyes.

At age 16 I was drugged, dragged into a dark, damp basement, and brutally raped.  Then the same rapist started “sharing” me with his friends.  I finally escaped, onto the streets, where I traded my body for food, shelter, and sometimes a five dollar bill.  I was in a state of dissociation that has followed me down the years–45 years, to be exact–as of this coming April 22.

This righteous lady crows that she was also raped, and managed to have her baby, with the help of my friend.

Lucky lady.  I had no friends at the time, nor anywhere to turn.  I was homeless, and knew that my baby would be taken from me by the state if I had her.  I’m sure it was a “her.”

So I took the only path that I could see, and I had an abortion.

It was horrible.  It turned out to be on the the last day of the third month.  It traumatized everyone, including the doctor who did it.  On my follow-up visit to the hospital, he accused me of “having sex irresponsibly and then getting rid of it.”

I could not reply to him.  His judgmental attitude triggered feelings of my mother’s constant judgment and criticism, and it rendered me speechless.  I took his verbal thrashing and went away feeling like a kicked dog, along with the terrible sadness of pregnancy loss.  I had already felt the little flutter of life, I knew I had killed my baby, and I was being castigated for taking the only path open to me.

A few days postoperatively my breasts swelled up and started leaking fluid.  I made a panicked call to the medical resident who had performed the abortion.

“You’re lactating,” he said coldly.  “Buy a tight bra.”

“Lactating.”  I had to look that one up.  “Producing milk.”  Oh no.  More grief, fueled by the physical evidence of no baby.  And I bled profusely, because of the lateness of the abortion.  Money for pads there was none, so I relied on rags ripped from cloth things I found in the dumpsters, that I washed by hand without soap, because there was usually no soap in the public restrooms where I washed my hair in cold water, and rinsed out my underwear when they got too stiff to be comfortable.

“Tight bra?”  I didn’t have money for a 25 cent hamburger, let alone any kind of bra.  So I leaked and ached for a couple of weeks till it went away.

Oh God, those were horrible times.  And yet, they were nothing compared to the abuse that drove me from the parental “home.”

Sure, I could have gone to one of the “homes for unwed mothers.”  One or two of my classmates had suddenly disappeared, only to return several months later, depressed and bereft, stigmatized and avoided.  Our mothers strictly forbade us to socialize with them.  One of them whom I knew well suicided.  I could not bring myself to go that route.

Yes, I had an abortion.  I don’t regret it.  I’m sad about it, always will be, and wonder what would have happened if I had had my baby.  She would have been almost 45 now–what would she be doing?  She would not have had much of an upbringing, if I had kept her the way this lady did.  I had no resources myself.

Nowadays there are many options for girls who get pregnant: open adoptions, where the girl can participate in her child’s life, and in the adoptive parents’ lives, almost like another child in their family.  There is foster care, which can help a girl grow up while her baby is in a safe place (usually!).  There are many programs that support pregnant teens with educational and job skills while they complete their pregnancy, so that they can support themselves and their baby and not be dependent on their own families or the state for sustenance.  And of course there are the many grandparents–more grandparents than birth parents are willing to help their grandchildren through an accidental pregnancy and with helping to raise the child, for multiple reasons.

So I ask, don’t judge me for the decision I made as a child.  What I need is compassion.  Even if you are vehemently against abortion for your own reasons, and would never have an abortion in your own life–please be kind to those who are in desperate straits, and choose abortion because that is the only avenue they can see at the time.

The Honesty Tax Again

Ladies and Gentlemen, gentle readers: I adjure you to tread softly when you review books on any site where books are reviewed.

As most of you know, I am autistic.  I have little to no ability to soft-pedal, and no ability whatsoever to suck up to people, whether they are potential customers for something I might be selling on eBay, or whether they have written a book that has drawn accolades from well-known reviewers.

And so it was that, having bought a book from an online bookseller, having read that book, and having been asked by the bookseller to review it, I did so.

The book didn’t float my boat.  In my opinion, it lacked a good deal.  My review was much more reserved than my full-on opinion, but in the interest of giving the author a break and not putting potential readers off, I went easy.

It seems that my review wounded the author’s feelings, and he sent me a letter.  This surprised me.

I have never considered myself an important writer, and certainly not an important reviewer.

The letter I received from the author of said book made me wonder if I had morphed overnight into some lauded writer, whose “C+” review might actually mean something.

It accused me of everything from sullying the author’s reputation, to negatively affecting his income, to damaging his health.

Good grief!  The next thing, I fear, will be a letter from said author’s attorney, or worse yet, a summons of some kind.

Grief, grief, grief.

The reason I am sitting here in this barn–yes, I do mean barn, literally, not figuratively–is that fourteen years ago, I opened a registered letter.  It informed me that I was being sued for half a million dollars, and that I was summoned to a hearing in a far-away state.  I barely had the means to put beans on top of rice, not to mention traveling!

At that time, gentle readers, I had just lost my job; my child was desperately ill;  and I was already spiraling into the depths of a depression that was resistant to every antidepressant on the market, because it was a Bipolar Depression, which behaves differently from Major Depressive Disorder.  Antidepressants just make things worse.  The specter of ECT loomed on my horizon.  I fought it off with brooms, and cans and cans of Raid™.

That Registered Letter was the straw that catalyzed my first hospitalization.  But that did nothing to avert the rumble of the approaching juggernaut of the pending lawsuit.  Stomp, stomp, stomp, like a bad Japanese movie.  Only this was no movie.

All of the lawyers I contacted said the suit was a frivolous attempt by the plaintiff to gouge money out of hundreds of caregivers, and that I would certainly be exonerated, and could then file a countersuit for damages.The only thing was, the lawyers wanted a retainer of $25,000-$35,000 up front.  And I was penniless.

So I did the only thing I could do: I went bankrupt.  The few things of value I still had to my name went away in one horror-struck day.

I will never forget seeing the repossessors come and haul away the little car that I had used for work and house calls.  My big horse trailer went too.  Anything else of value was carried off in due time.  I was left sitting in a mostly empty single-wide trailer, on land that was thankfully untouchable by the vultures that swirled around my head.

Now that I am in fact homeless, I feel more at ease, because I don’t have anything to steal.  I don’t even have a reputation to feed and care for.  I am Just Me.

I no longer accept registered letters.  If it’s a check from Publisher’s Clearing House for a million dollars, I imagine they might call.  Or maybe not.  What does it matter?

At this point, my energy reserves are at their nadir.  I have just spent nearly four years helping my father to die, in great pain and suffering for both of us.  I’m happy that his suffering is over; and I must say that it is a great relief, as I feel very sure that he is in a good place and out of pain.  But it’s taken an enormous toll on my own resistance to diseases, physical and psychological.

The aforementioned author’s thinly veiled threatening letter has set off a cascade of paranoid thoughts: what would I do if he decided to sue me for….for….um, for honestly reviewing his book?  What has the world come to?

What would I do?

I am weary.  I don’t know how much more I can take.  There are times when I long to go up on some high mountaintop with a fifth of good single-malt, and drink it until I become numb, and let the bitter cold of the night take me Home.

And then I think: how well do I know the evils of this world!  But–what if there really is an Afterlife?  What if there really is a God, who gave us laws?  What if suicide is seen as murder, in that Other World?  Meh.  I just want This World to be over.

I am sick and tired of paying the Honesty Tax.

I wanna go Home.

 

Is Prostitution Ever Voluntary?

Yes, I know this is a blog about being bipolar.  And you know what?  I think the topics of bipolar-ism and prostitution go hand in hand.

And why is that?  It is because pimps hone in on the vulnerable, the lonely, the ones who are looking for love and not finding it, the ones with poor self esteem, the depressed, the confused.  And because the mentally ill often become homeless, jobless, drug-addicted, and desperate.

It’s still January, and January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  I’ve been reading a lot and learning a lot about the dynamics of sex trafficking and prostitution.  Among the things I’ve learned are that:

  • Depending on the study, the average age for entry into prostitution is 11 to 13 years old.
  • The vast majority of prostituted youth (and adults) come from abusive homes.
  • Girls (and sometimes boys) are often “groomed” by “loverboys” who give them jewelry, clothes, and mostly, attention, and when they are “ready” they are abducted and forced into a life of slavery.
  • This goes on in virtually every country.
  • Girls who try to refuse to cooperate are beaten and raped into submission
  • Girls are “domestically trafficked,” which means they are moved from city to city within a country: like from Columbus, OH to Detroit, MI, for instance
  • Girls as young as 12 and 13 get arrested, thrown into jail, and charged with prostitution, while pimps and johns go scot free

Can you imagine being taken away and raped over and over, many times a day, for years, until you either “disappear” or get spit out on the street because you are too old to appeal to the child rapists any longer?  It just totally tears me apart.

And then there is the child pornography.  Need I say more?

But prostitution is “the oldest profession.”  Isn’t it?  Women (and men) CHOOSE to sell their bodies because

  • They like sex
  • They like money
  • They like sex AND money
  • It’s easy money
  • It’s an exciting, glamourous lifestyle
  • It’s empowering to women to be able to do whatever they want with their bodies

Not really.  If you want to know how glamourous and empowering the prostitution lifestyle is, look at the rates of drug abuse.  Prostituted women are either given drugs by their pimps to keep them cooperative, or else the women themselves develop drug habits to escape from the hell of being used as sperm receptacles.  Those with serious drug habits often do get into a vicious cycle of having to get money to buy drugs, and the quickest and easiest way to do that is to turn a trick.

I have known a lot of prostitutes, and not one of them has done it because she enjoyed the sex.  Sex for the prostituted is for one thing: money. And most of the time most of the money doesn’t go to her, it goes to the pimp or madam who rents her out.  Prostitutes learn how to dissociate when a john is on top of them.  The problem is, the dissociation doesn’t always work: that’s where the drugs come in.

Now we come to runaways.  As some of you already know, I was a teenage runaway.  I ran away from an abusive home after being drugged, abducted, and brutally raped by a man who had been admiring me at work.  So I ended up on the street.  I wasn’t there because I wanted to be; I was there because I thought I was going to find peace and love.  What I found was that if I needed food, shelter, a shower, drugs, anything really, the only way to get it was to sleep with some guy.  If I didn’t have a place to crash (meaning a guy to sleep with), I slept outside or walked the streets all night.

That was back in the early 1970’s.  Things have changed now, for the worse.  Runaways now are caught and funneled into the sex trafficking business by pimps who work the streets looking for them.  It is very easy to spot a runaway.  Your hair is uncombed, your clothes are a mess from sleeping under some bush in the park, you are probably carrying a backpack, maybe a sleeping bag if you thought that far ahead.  You look homeless, because you are.

So some handsome, well groomed guy offers to buy you a meal, and you are hungry.  Then he offers you a place to crash, and you are tired of sleeping in doorways or in the park, and have probably been raped a couple of times by now so you are ready to come indoors.  Then you discover that you can’t get out.  And then the nightmare really begins.  That’s the way it is now.

As for the glamourous call-girl life, I’ve known a couple of women who’ve done that.  I thought about it myself sometimes, when I was young and beautiful and needed money to make it through college.  Yeah, I have some friends who got through school by “turning tricks,” as it was called back then.  I have never seen such damaged people in my life, apart from the ones who were kidnapped into it.  My friends who were “voluntarily” prostituting themselves found their self-esteem eroded trick by trick, and to bolster themselves up they had to turn another trick, and another….”the life” becomes an addiction.

We were all hooked on cocaine.  My cocaine habit was small change compared with theirs.  I did coke because it actually treated my depression (I didn’t realize that till years later); they did coke because they couldn’t stand their lives.  I got my coke by sleeping with dealers; they got their coke by turning tricks to make the money to buy more coke.  I guess I was a prostitute too, huh?  I just didn’t do it for cash, because I was scared to.  I did it for “stuff,” whatever was needed at the time.  Yeah, I heard myself being called a “coke whore,” but I chose not to listen until one morning I woke up next to yet another man I had never seen before, and I quit. Cold turkey quit.  I was one of the lucky ones.

To get back to the original question: Is Prostitution Ever Voluntary?  My answer is: it can look that way, when it’s an adult woman who makes what she thinks is an informed, purposeful choice, because she thinks she can make money quickly and easily that way.  But once in “the life,” a woman becomes trapped, either by her pimp or her drug habit or the crushing of her soul that is prostitution. Then it’s not voluntary: it’s slavery.

 

Reblogged from In the Booth with Ruth: Dina Leah

Dina Leah, a survivor of child abuse and rape, ran away from home at age 16 only to find herself homeless on the streets. The only way to get shelter, food, and other necessities was to have sex with strange men. This led to more rapes, and a vicious cycle of drug abuse, survivor sex, and homelessness. She is currently writing a novelized memoir, using a pseudonym out of fear of her abusors. Ruth Jacobs, tireless advocate for change and abolition of prostitution, interviews Dina here about Dina’s life as a writer. In a second interview on Ruth’s website, Dina talks about her life as a runaway and how it has affected her, both as an activist for street kids and in her own personal life.

In the Booth with Ruth – Dina Leah, Survivor of Sexual Exploitation and Anti-Exploitation Author

Dina Leah is in the booth with Ruth, talking about her traumatic life as a teenage runaway, surviving sexual exploitation and rape. This is a very emotional interview, filled with sexual PTSD triggers. I can’t even read it myself without trembling and crying.

Ruth Jacobs

Dina Leah

What inspired you to write about sexual exploitation?

I was inspired to write about sexual exploitation because of my experiences as a teenage runaway who was forced to rely on sexual favors in order to obtain the necessaries of life: food, shelter, safety from the violence of the streets and from other predators, even a place to take a shower, a ride to another town, a job.

Unfortunately, even the men who offered me shelter did not always accept “just” sexual favors in return for creature comforts, but sometimes demanded deviant acts or even violently raped me, even though I would have willingly given them sex.

Sex was so much the currency of my life that I didn’t even think about it. I just assumed that this was the price of my independence from an abusive home. Unfortunately, the price I ultimately paid was not just counted in physical trauma…

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Teenage Runaways and Bipolar Illness: Related?

By now most of you know that I split from home when I was sixteen.  I shall not go into the “why” of it here.  That is treated on my “secret blog.”   Anyone who wishes to have access to that blog is welcome to write to me at moxadox@gmail.com, and I will send you the link.

My question for today is: what proportion of teenagers who really run away from home, and by that I mean not just for a day or a few days, but more or less permanently, have Bipolar Illness that is undiagnosed or untreated?  And not only Bipolar, but PTSD from childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, or schizophrenia, Borderline, Major Depression…mental illness in general.  

My own experience on the streets put me in contact with many fellow runaways.  Most of them had some kind of what I would now categorize as psychopathology that predated their running away.  Certainly running away and the sometimes horrific experiences and conditions that one encounters can do nothing but aggravate any underlying condition.

Runaways are often witnesses to violence, victims of violence and predation, subjected to homelessness and various forms of degradation.  All of these set them up for PTSD, whether this was a precondition of their running away or not.

I have seen kids bullied, either at home or at school, who found the predictable privation of life on the street preferable to life at home or in shelters, where the bullying continues.  Aspergerian kids fall into this category because of their odd appearance and often stereotyped behaviors.  So do overweight kids, or even dyslexic kids because of their difficulties with reading and writing.  Life on the streets does not depend on one’s aptitude for written language, but only on the ability to survive in an environment that uniquely combines routine with chaos.

I myself fell into a number of these categories.  I was terribly depressed, when I wasn’t having bouts of extreme clarity where I found myself deeply engaged in the study of physics; and sometimes, ever since childhood, I emerged from my depressive state into a wild grandiosity, which was sometimes satisfying but mostly disturbing and dysphoric.

I was thoroughly bullied at school for being “weird,” and avoided human contact, interacting with dogs, cats, horses, rodents, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but not fish, because they always died on me.  I wore sandals and clothes from the Indian store in the nearby city, fragrant with incense.  They rooted for the football team;  I dug roots and made medicines from them.

To these high class bumpkins from rural coastal Massachusetts, who went with their mothers to Daughters of the American Revolution meetings and Order of the Eastern Star while their fathers and sons went to whatever meetings they went to, I was a witch and an outcast.  Their children were not permitted to play with me, and they teased me relentlessly about my differences.

Worse yet, the teachers considered me a distraction in their classes since I dressed differently and even wore my hair differently.  They lobbied to get me out, and finally figured out a way to do it.

Being different in a homogeneous society is considered unacceptable.  Anthropologists have written books about this.  We the bipolar, the borderline, the ADD, the PTSD, the schizophrenic:  where do we fit in?  We don’t.

Many good studies are now looking at the creative and innovative advantage of the “different” brain.  We who have them have always known that; yet we have historically been anathema to society.  I cringe every time there is some kind of random killing or other act of violence and the first thing the press asks is: does the person have a history of mental illness?  This, when there is solid research that shows that the mentally ill have no greater incidence of performing violent crimes than the general population; but we do have a greater tendency to be victims of violent crimes: no surprise there.

I hope the generation of children who are coming up now will find a more welcoming, better informed public in general, and a constructive school environment in particular, so that we don’t have to run away in order to not be abused, and to have to seek a kindred society of “misfits” on the streets.