Homeless with Dog

People and Pets

Her name was Free.

“A day-tripper,” I had jokingly called myself before that day, which was the day I became homeless.  It was also 9/11/01.

My headlights on my otherwise wonderful little Subaru didn’t work.

“You can go to Walmart parking lot to sleep,” a teenage friend of my son’s suggested.

My son said I could sleep on his sofa, but I gratefully declined.

I had just moved out of a house where the well water was seriously contaminated.  Eventually, sewage backed up into the bathtub.  My landlord was twiddling her thumbs across the street, where the water was good.  I’d had no choice but to leave.

My furniture was in storage and I’d made a good plan, but like all plans, you need a backup.  I failed to make one.

I had obtained a house sitting position from a friend who was leaving for one month.

She was flying to Connecticut on September, 12th, 2001.  Her house was in town and convenient for me to go look at rental places.   She said my dog was welcome.  Like I said, it was a good plan.

I moved out of the sewage filled house a few days before my friend’s scheduled flight.   After bringing in drinking and cooking water for an entire year, living beside people who put rebel flags in their yard and a few times called me in the middle of the night to tell me that I was, “going to hell in a hand-basket,” things were looking up for me.

I used the first few days of my transition freely.  My dog and I went to my favorite camping spot on Mt. Pisgah.  I would meet my friend and get her house key the night before her flight.

That morning I packed my things.  It was foggy and quiet on top of the mountain.  I was the only camper, which is how I liked it up there.  I had my coffee and took a slow walk around the campground with Free.

That afternoon I drove down the mountain into town and decided to visit my son and use his phone to call my friend.  I walked inside his apartment and as usual the television was on.  I sensed something was wrong.  My son and several friends were sitting there with stunned looks on their faces.

“Do you know what happened Mom?” my son asked.

“No.”

“We’ve been attacked by terrorists,” he said.  I thought for a second that it was another conspiracy idea one of his friend’s had.

I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t see the details of the television footage.  “What is that?” I asked.

“Dude!” one of the visitors said.   “It’s the Twin Towers burning.”

I watched the billowing smoke on the small television screen for a few moments.  I was confused.  I didn’t know what to think or feel or do.

Terrorists I thought.  What the hell does that mean exactly?  I wasn’t used to hearing we’ve been attacked.

I walked outside and called my friend about meeting her for the house key.  Being a day-tripper meant I needed to work my plan before dark.  Shelter was on my mind and time was getting away from me.

The basic necessities in life call you to action no matter what else is happening.

“Everything is cancelled until further notice.  I don’t think I’ll be flying anywhere for a while,” my friend said.  “I’m sorry,” she added.  “I know you were depending on staying here while you looked for a place, but I’ll be working since I can’t leave.”

My friend worked at home as an acupuncturist.  The environment was not right for my dog and I to stay there with people coming for quiet healing sessions.

I didn’t know where to go or what to do.

The thought of sleeping in my son’s apartment was intolerable to me for several reasons, one of which was the condition of his girlfriend’s cat’s litter box and another was the hippies who drifted in and out from all parts of the world.

My son moved out when he was sixteen to travel across the country with his girlfriend.  They returned after a couple of months, got jobs and rented an apartment together.

I never imagined that my son would leave home that early, nor had I imagined I would ever be on his or anyone’s doorstep wondering where to sleep.

I’ve learned in my life that anything can happen.  Things we imagine could never happen to us, can and do.

I knew many people.  I had many friends.  I’d be fine, I thought.

I assured my son I was safe for the night, but when I told him I was going to the nearby Blueridge Parkway to sleep in my car at one of the look out points, he became worried.  “I wish you would stay here, but Walmart would be safer than the parkway Mom,” he said.

I wasn’t going to Walmart to sleep.  I knew that much.

Free was with me and I felt that she would keep me safe.  I figured the parkway would be quiet at night.  I soon discovered that my son knew more about that than I had.

I left my son’s apartment and went to a place where I could think, The Waffle House.   Free slept in the car.

It was late Autumn and the weather was nice, but that would soon be over.  Winter was on the way, which I suddenly became acutely aware of.

“James!” I said.  “What a surprise seeing you here.”

He pointed to his table.  A woman smiled and waved.  I assumed he was on a date.

James was an eccentric, but level-headed man in his late fifties.  I knew him from downtown Asheville.  We often found ourselves in the same groups; gathering around coffee, artists and good conversation.

I told James of my unexpected plight.  I tried to keep myself together, but James was an odd character.  Being around him made people want to tell the truth.  His eyes filled with compassion and understanding.

“Here, take this,” and he put a fifty dollar bill on my table. “Go across the street and get you and your dog a room tonight.  I know the owner.  I’ll call him and tell him your dog won’t hurt anything and he’ll let you stay.  The price is forty-five even.  That’s all I have now or I’d give you more.”

James always did show up at the strangest times.  People often talked about him downtown.  The hippies thought maybe he was an informant.  They were a little paranoid.  Others thought he was with the CIA and some spoke of him being an angel.  They said he would show up right when somebody needed saving from a situation.  I’d seen it happen a few times myself.

“Thank you James.  I really appreciate this.”  I remember him holding my hand for a minute before returning to his table.

I don’t remember anymore the order in which the events occurred over the following weeks after 9/11.

I remember feeling numb about being homeless.  I listened to the radio stations reporting on the tragedy every day.  I felt like I didn’t have the right to feel bad over my situation.  My family and I were alive and this became the most important thing in my mind and heart.

My family lived four hours away.  I wanted to stay in the mountains to be near my son.  He may have moved out, but he still needed a parent.  I just had to go about it in a different way than most parents of teenagers do.

The friends I had either couldn’t or in a few cases, simply wouldn’t let me stay with them because I had a dog.

The way people treated me when I didn’t have a place to live surprised me.  Perhaps the tragedy of 9/11 had an effect on their perception of my situation as it did mine.  I’m not sure, but the people whom I had considered close friends sure changed when they feared I might ask something of them.  I don’t know what they thought I would ask for, other than a place to sleep for a few nights and a phone during the day, which I quickly learned was too much to ask.

I think people are scared that if they help someone a little, then the person will take advantage of them and never stop needing the help.

Other people quickly assume that no matter what the situation, like a bathtub full of sewage and contaminated drinking water, that if you’re homeless, then you got yourself there.

Three nights of sleeping in my car on the Blueridge Parkway was enough.  My son was right.  Walmart parking lot would have been safer.

My next plan was to rest for a couple of days at my mother’s home, which was about four hours away.  I needed to recover from shingles.  I needed a bed.  I needed to know that somebody cared if I lived or died.

My only and older brother called while I was there.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Michelle!” my brother said surprised.  “What are you doing home?”

My brother and I had always had a knack for using humor to talk about hard times or difficult emotions.

“Well,” I responded. “I’m homeless.”  It was the first time I had used the word and I used it casually hoping, I guess, that we would laugh about the situation.

“You’re what!” he screamed.

“Homeless,” I said, truly clueless about what was coming next.

Fortunately, the time I was homeless lasted less than three months.

Telling how it all came to be, what it was like being homeless and all that happened as a result is a lot of telling.

The family ordeal over the harsh words my brother said to me over the phone that day had a strong and long-lasting impact on me and my heart.  My relationship with my brother has never been the same.

I could tell about the amazing cell phone my mother helped me buy.  Amazing not in features, but in power.  I haven’t charged it in years and it still works! 

The phone was my connection to my son and Mother.  I’d never before felt such a strong need to be in contact with the both of them every day, as I did during the weeks following 9/11.  I wanted to know where they were and that they were both safe.  I wanted them to know I loved them.  I was scared.

I could tell about the beautiful camping area Free and I stayed for a few weeks and what happened there, but that story stands alone.

I could tell about the mysterious way I met the housing inspector who knew about the bad water where I had lived and who offered me a garage apartment without charge, which is where I stayed for one month.

The photo above is my beloved Free lying beside the bed in that apartment.  It was a brand new bed with the plastic still on it.  The place had hot water and power.  I was very blessed.

Mostly, I remember the radio.  All day, every day and at night, I would lie there on that bed beside Free with a camp light on and listen.  

I remember having to take medication for anxiety.  It was a very hard time. 

I called hundred of landlords, but nobody would allow a dog.

Finally, I received a call from a woman whom I had never heard of.  “I’m calling you about the rondette,” she said.  I had never heard of those either.

“I’m not sure you have the right person,” I said to her.  I assumed the place she was describing would be way out of my price range.

“Oh yes,” she said in her self-assured way I would learn to like.  I wrote your name and number down to call you back about it.”

“Okay,” I said.  “How much is the rent?”  A rondette on the side of a mountain sounded pretty cool.

I gasped when she told me it was only $350.00 per month.  “Do you allow dogs?”  I asked her right away.

“I’m actually leery of people who don’t have dogs,” she said laughing.  “Tell me about your baby.”

I was there shaking hands with her within an hour.

It was a magical beautiful place.  There were old time flowers growing in the garden by the bedroom window.  They smelled like my grandmother’s face and hand creams.  Windows surrounded the little space.  From the small, but very green and cozy backyard was a view of the city below.

“I don’t know if this place is big enough for you and your dog,” she said.

I liked her.  We had on nearly the same outfit and literally, the same brand of shirt, same color and same size.  A purple soft cotton LL Bean button down.  

She turned out to be the best landlord I’ve ever had.  She was trusting, helpful, kept her properties in great condition and rented below the fair market price.

“If you don’t rent the place to me now,” I told her, “tonight we’ll have to sleep there,” I added, pointing at my little Subaru.

Her eyes widened, but I had told the truth.  The garage apartment had been rented to a family and I had to move out.

“Call it home then you two!”  She smiled, handed me a key and went on her unusually merry way to a funeral.

It was home and it was sweet.

Free learned to walk backwards in the small rondette

Free in her chair in our little rondette.

Free bit his nose to remind him it was her home and he was a guest.

Tiny visits and curls up in my new bedroom.

From this room I could literally watch the old time flower garden grow. 

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16 thoughts on “Homeless with Dog

  1. Michelle, our lives have had similar paths; I too have been homeless with my loyal loving buddy, Kato. He and I slept in my truck in late Sept-Oct. We did sleep in WalMart parking lot. It was refreshing to hear of another woman who had “plans” that left her homeless. It was A eye opening but horrible experience; a lot of it is a blur but I’ll never forgot it.

    I went through some horrible times being involved with a narcissist for 10 yrs and my brother who I was very close to and who also dealt with things with humor said and did some things I still struggle to forgive that hurt me deeply. In fact my mother and brother. I didn”t have the option of going to my mother’s; she was the one who sold my home and put me on the street when the economy collapsed and she went on her annual 8 week vacation to Mexico.

    I can sure relate to being in a place I never thought I”d be.

    You are incredibly strong and I wish you and your son much love, improved heath and happiness.
    Carrie

    Like

    • Hi Carrie!

      I guess we were on the same wave because I couldn’t sleep and came to my blog just after you commented. And, I’ve been thinking of my friend Free, b/c she passed about this time of year. Free would probably want me to remember her birth and life more, but sadness sure does make a place in our hearts doesn’t it? Today I found an old photo of Free, and I think it was made in the misty morning on top of the blueridge parkway the nights we slept there during my time of being homeless.

      I believe too that I came across you online before. Seems like I read a story about you, but maybe that was another ‘lady with a truck’.

      I’m sorry you can relate so well to my story. It’s very hard, as you know, being homeless. I guess if it ever happens again, and I sure hope it doesn’t b/c I’m not as strong as I was then, I might go to Walmart parking lot. Of course, I can go to my mom’s, but the dogs couldn’t.

      I’m sorry you lost your home. I wish more people had more kindness. I really do.

      I read some about your experience with a narcissist. It is very hard to deal with that too. Much harder than being homeless, I think. I mean, as long as you have a car to sleep in, you know. Dealing with narcissists is horrible in my opinion.

      It is sad to me that when people are in such a hard place in life, many cannot turn to family. I understand that too. My mom loves me for sure, and even though we have our difficulties communicating, on one level, we are very close. However, I have a hard time with many of my family’s dynamics, I feel silenced and it’s depressing.

      Thank you for commenting. I’m so glad you did. And for sharing. I felt that we had something(s) in common when I visited your blog. I have been very tired lately, waking up about this time for a while, so haven’t had much time to read blogs, which is one of my favorite passtimes.

      I look forward to communicating with you again. Maybe we can swap some stories!

      Peace and Blessings,
      Michelle.

      Like

  2. Thank you very much for your story, and for your other stories you have shared on your blog. I also believe you should pursue publishing.

    Have you tried contacting Guideposts? [http://www.guideposts.org/] They are always looking for inspirational stories. [http://www.guideposts.org/writers-guidelines] I don’t know how well they pay but there might be a start in sharing some of these with a wider audience. [here is a 2008 note I found about tips, their payments, etc. -- http://stuartmarket.blogspot.com/2008/07/question-tips-for-being-published-in.html
    but be sure to check and follow the instructions on the current Guideposts website, as it seems they might now accept email queries, etc.]

    But seriously, whether you publish elsewhere or not, your blogs are wonderful.
    Thank you.

    May God bless you with peace in your heart ♥

    Val

    Like

    • Hi Val,

      Thanks for your comment and also for the links! Always so glad to know that someone enjoyed a story I wrote. This post is the kind of stories I enjoy writing the most. I hope to pursue writing again in the near future. Life has sure given me lots to write about lately! So, when I do write again, I hope it flows like a river. I’ll surely check these links out.

      Thanks too for your lovely compliment and the Blessing.

      Peace and Blessings,
      Michelle.

      Like

  3. Little Green Ballerina,
    You have arrived. Your writing is so beautiful and clear and every word u write is supposed to be there with no extra. I am so proud of you and love your writing. Where have you been? Loved it. Laurie

    Like

  4. Hi Michelle, your story touched my heart, you write so very well and I agree with John if every you get published I too would buy your book..No wonder my friend you suffer as you do, so much hurt of the emotional body, eventually spilling over into the physical.. No wonder you loved ‘Free’ so very much, you two went through so much together ..But now is the time for Change Michelle.. I so hope that you can through your writing release all that holds you emotionally in the past.. Writing is so therapeutic and healing, it leads us back through many of our experiences to enable us to revisit and analyse then over again.. We have so many similarities… I am so in awe of you inner strength.. Keep being strong Michelle and learn to heal through your writings my dear friend… love to you… I still send you xx

    Like

    • Dreamwalker, if I ever write a book, then I’m going to hold you and John to your word :)!

      Yes, it’s true. I’ve been through a great deal of hardship in my life. Free was with me almost thirteen years. She made our family more of a family when she came into our lives. She gave me the gift of a dog’s love and I hope to always be blessed with that.

      This particular tale is a softer story than many that I have. This doesn’t make me feel special to have so many hard stories, just so you know. It does make me wonder about life and why some people have such a harder time than others. It makes me wonder about a lot of things. I’d like to have time in life where I could just have a rather normal life.

      I feel like I’m not doing what I thought I was supposed to do by not writing the stories I’ve wanted to write for so many years. Yet, writing them requires going back in my mind to remember. Sometimes that’s good and other times not so good.

      Thank you for your friendship and encouragement. I am honored and grateful.
      Your friend,
      Michelle.

      Below: A pretty picture I wanted to share, but it only gives you a link. I need to learn about this technology.

      Queen Anne's Lace,  http://www.flickr.com/photos/vsanderson/

      Like

  5. Dear Dogkisses,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It touched my heart deeply. Years ago I too was homeless with my still young family and all of us still remember those times; though a long time ago and a land far away. The fact that you loved your Free so much speaks volumes about your good character and bravery.

    Peace and Blessings!

    Spirit Walker
    http://mysticwanderings.wordpress.com/

    Like

    • Thank you for reading my story Spirit Walker. I guess you never forget being homeless do you?

      I’ve been sort of homeless once since then, when my 19 year old son had to be admitted to a hospital for a while. I moved to the town where the hospital was and ended up sleeping in a house owned by a friend that didn’t have all the walls. I still had my little rondette, but had to go five hours away to the hospital. I never did go back there except to get my belongings and then moved to the area where I hoped my son could get better help.

      Yes, I sure loved Free. I will always love her in my heart. She was awesome and after she passed on, she sent a kiss down to my new dog, my little Ruthie Mae who is a very tender hearted sweet girl! I love her too.

      Peace and Blessings!
      Michelle.

      Like

  6. This story of homelessness is excellent. Thank you for sharing it. I wish it would be published by a quality magazine, like New Yorker or Harper’s, and that they would pay a good price for it.

    A compilation of your stories, either as discreet stories, or as a big memoir, would make an excellent book. If you publish it, I’ll buy it.

    Like

    • Hi John,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read what I wrote. I am honored that you enjoyed my story.

      I wish I could publish something too. I sent in an essay to an editor of a nice magazine and she emailed me right away. I was pleased and she said she liked my style, but she also said I needed to find the silver lining and if I could, that she would publish my story.

      I often think I have a book in me, but I don’t know where to begin. I’m glad to know you would buy it and I take that as a wonderful compliment. Thank you.

      Michelle.

      Like

  7. Beautifully written, evocative, expressive and emotive. Thank you for sharing that chapter in your life.
    It’s funny, isn’t it, how there are those serendiptous events — like you running into James at the Waffle House, or the phone call about the rondette with the wonderful warm, welcoming, helpful landlord. These are special events that seem to send us down a particular path we may not have chosen, but are the better for having travelled that unexpected path, sometimes hidden by vines and flowers, but the one our new guidepost points to.

    Like

    • phylor — Hi,

      Thank you for reading my story. I had browsed old journals and thought it was a good time to finally write about that time in my life. I sure had to leave a lot out. I find those serendipitous events quite amazing. I ought to write more about them, as it sure seems like they are a consistent part of my life’s path(s).

      I hope you are having a relatively good day today. Wishing you peace and healing this week!
      Michelle.

      Like

  8. Your story is heartbreaking but at the same time inspirational and encouraging. Your ability to survive such trying circumstances is a testament to your strength and courage.

    Like

    • Hi Renee!

      I’m very glad to know that you saw inspiration in my story.

      Telling about hard times is easy for me, as I have many many to tell about, but being able to find and communicate a positive lesson learned or tell little things that happened along the way that lessened the burdens can be challenging.

      Thanks for your comment and also for your kind thoughts,
      Michelle.

      Like

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