The fire escape had a loose bolt; when I would climb it it would pull free from the wall slightly. It was two stories off the ground so it would scare me half to death most of the time but I had little choice—I had no other way to get in—I had no other place to go. I had been homeless for a few weeks and I knew someone who had lived in this apartment and had gotten evicted, so I started sneaking in at night.
I was still trying to go to school—it was a place to be for a while and I needed the company. The worst thing about being homeless is the solitude. You are alone all the time. Even people you know all of a sudden act like you have an infectious disease and, if they do get trapped talking to you, you can tell that they are nervous and leery. You find yourself talking out loud to no one at all—simply to hear the sound of a human voice. The apartment was a block away from school so I would sleep there and go to school in the morning. Afterwards, I would find a place to hide myself from the world until well after dark before sneaking in.
When you opened the window the first thing you would notice was the sweet smell of rancid food. The power had been off for over a month and the refrigerator still had a few items in it. Its door had been left open so that the food would spoil—I did mention that the former tenant had been evicted, did I not?—and the smell had soaked into everything. It was absolute. I thought of death and decay every time I entered the place, and a chill would run down my spine as I imagined something other-worldly waiting in the shadows for me to get too close to escape it. Soon, I took to closing the door to the kitchen, to try and stem the odor from the rest of the apartment.
I slept on the floor in the living room, where abandoned clothing scattered around the room reminded me of casualties from a plane crash. For a pillow, I used a few pieces of castoff clothing bunched together, and pulled my jacket over me as a blanket—doesn’t exactly say Serta Sleeper does it? The carpeting was so thin you could still see the grooves from the floor beneath it–it was brown with orange and green flecks; a jack-o-lantern’s vomit.
The walls were covered in wood paneling from floor to ceiling—this made the room seem darker than normal. In an attempt to make the situation a little brighter, I would try to steal candles from the grocery store when I would go there to swipe food and cigarettes. I don’t know if you have ever been in a pitch black room with clothing littered about and the smell of carrion looming in each breath, but a single candle only adds to the effect and provides little resistance to the wild imagination of a fourteen year old.
Yogi was the name of the kitten I had saved from some dogs. He was the last one left of three and he had some scrapes but, for the most part, he was all right when I found him: as black as fresh tar with about two dozen white hairs on his chest. His fur was fluffy and he was still so small it stood straight out as though there were electricity flowing through him all the time. I always thought he looked like a bear–hence the name. Most nights he would eat as much of whatever I managed to steal as I did—that is, if I managed to get anything. Cold corned beef hash or raviolis, usually, but anything was better than eating Yogi.
He would love to dart out of the shadows and pounce on me before playfully hopping off to some other part of the room. He helped add some normalcy to the absurdity my life had become. The second or third night he lived with me, I heard him retching in the darkness and grabbed my candle to find him—what I found was that evening’s meal teeming with a large pile of worms. I was mortified and a little confused—for a second I thought the movement I was seeing was a trick of the flickering candle. I picked up what I could with an old t-shirt that I threw into the kitchen and covered the rest with another.
The next night I was walking towards the apartment around midnight—I had made it a point to steal some de-wormer medicine from the store earlier and was about to turn towards the driveway when something caught my eye. I looked up and saw the beam from a flashlight moving around the room. As I stood there watching the window I saw a police officer walk past using his light to watch where he was walking. That was it—I had just been evicted—in that instant I knew I could never go back, ever. All of a sudden I was being cast out on the streets again—I didn’t know it then, but it would be for a lot longer this time.
I never managed to go back to that school—I was about to start my adult education. The one where I found out about soup kitchens and day old donut shops. The one where I first met a prostitute, and learned about hunger and cold. I can tell you this much, though. In that apartment, I may have been scared and lonely—I may have been pretending I was okay while I wasn’t. But at least, for a while, I felt like I was home.
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