For two years I lived on the streets. In Santa Cruz. In San Francisco. And in Berkeley. At the end of the two years I was born again. Not in the Biblical understanding. I was not the person who left Bethany, when I moved to Portland. But in someways of course I was the same person.
The change was so dramatic. My believe system had been totally gutted. My family concepts had been remade. My plans for my life back on the drawing board. I used to think I had created myself completely in those two years. And it was a hard two years.
There were times I slept directly in the rain. Times I camped on sidewalks. And food was never certain. For two years I was a nobody.
When I rented a room in Portland, I got behind on the rent. My landlord would yell at me. He’d threaten to kick me out on the street. My lack of response just made him angrier. But I had been on the street. I wasn’t scared. And as a friend pointed out, I was used to being worthless.
I did a lot to create the person I am today in those two years. And there is no way I could ever be honest and say different. But, I wasn’t 100 percent a new person. The pieces of who I became was a jigsaw puzzle on the ground. Many of the parts I used to build myself were new. But many more were not. They had been there before. Maybe inactive like dormant DNA.
But I have to be honest and say, my mother, my sister, my great-aunt and many others helped create me. I think there was a part of my who wanted to think I didn’t owe anyone anything. Being born into the world by oneself means freedom. No one can say, “I did something important for you.”
And yet many people did.
A lot of important changes took place in this time period. It is hard to say when it all started. During my last year of college I started to think in a different way about politics. When it came to be Woman’s History Month, I took note. I started spelling woman with a “y.” And Black History Month.
At one point I recall reading a book about metaphysics. My roommate at the time, (not Ben) disapproved. I dyed my hair blue. And it was the scandal of the campus. In 1996 I started the year off by becoming a vegetarian, and I still am today. I was growing to feel less and less like Bethany was home for me. So, wanting to travel wasn’t a surprise. Feeling the need to explore the world.
And I met Krishna devotees for the first time. The beauty of the religion. The tastiness of their food won me over. They became close friends. And I often went to their ashram. Not just for the food, but for the service. For what they call bhakti yoga. And sometimes what they called karma yoga.
My new friends had their own dogmas. They don’t eat onions. One devotee told me you should never be naked. Even when you are alone. Because you could offend the sky. And sometimes I would wear nail polish. This was also frowned on by devotees. But, they were always loving.
But I have been able to let the dogma go. In a way it is harder for me to do with Christianity. Maybe because the church and I have deeper wounds. And the dogma is more rooted at a deeper level.
It has been years since I have gone to ashram often. But I still love their music. And their love of god. Christians always say, “Jesus love Me.” A devotee once pointed out. But what about their love for God.
During these years I met Micheal. Who is still a rock in my world. Though I stay in touch with him too little. This was the time I had the deepest love I may have known in my life. And the best of my travels took place in these years. So much of who I am, goes back at least in part to these two years.
But even what sometimes felt new, was old. Moving into a new faith was easy for me. Because I was never aligned with the mainstream views. My faith in God has never been something critical to my identity. And I think my upbringing is the reason. My great-aunt might not approve. But I learned to think independently from her.
My years on the street also gave me courage. And it boosted my confidence. Even today I know I endured two harsh years. And I know now, I can endure almost anything. My time on the streets made me stronger. It made me more self-reliant. More willing to take a risk.
But Mother in her own way planted the seed of courage. For better or worse, I doubt she made it possible. Just by being who she was as a person. A stubborn person who didn’t follow the rules. A person who enjoyed reading, and thinking about things for herself. I haven’t given my mother the credit she deserves too often. She is a strong woman, with a lot of challenges. But she raised three healthy adults. Well, mostly healthy.
In my last year of college, I was depressed. And on the streets I was also depressed. In my opinion homelessness is just a symptom. The real disease is depression. It is the biggest struggles for most on the street. I know it was for me. Being on the streets didn’t solve my problems.
I took a break from life. And they were waiting for me when I came back. They are still with me. But a light was born inside me in those two years. I can’t say how or why. But looking back, my life started to get better. Not just relative to the basic rock-bottomness of the streets.
I changed my name to Rainbow. No longer was I a child of a poor mother. Or a person out of step with my community of believers. People on the street don’t judge you like other people. Whoever I was for 18 years of my life. I was now in charge of my life. And in some ways I have never felt more in charge since.
I burned myself to the ground. And like the phoenix I came back. Two years of the streets. And then more years of struggle. But who is to say my life would have been easier. What if I had gone down the path I had planned. My fear was, and is, I would be facing a deadly existential crisis about now.
Would I be one of those people who have it all. But one day is found hanging in their closest?
Only once in my life have I ever really felt like I wanted to die. And it wasn’t on the streets.
During these years I don’t know what happened with my family. From this point on, they slip further and further out of my life. I recall one Thanksgiving. I had planned to visit them in Fresno. But Mother was complaining so much about my sister. I told her, “I’ll call you back.” I hung up and called a friend in Seattle, Washington. “Can I come see you.” Then I called my mother back and canceled. I rode the bus for 24 hours to have Thanksgiving with my friend. My love. But her story still waits to be told.
If I had my life to live over again. Those two years on the streets would be my choice all over again. In two years I grew more than 10 years before and 10 years after. But it isn’t a choice for everyone. And it is a choice which comes with a lot of risks.