My plan wasn’t to be homeless. It was to travel. It wasn’t a choice about not working. Not even a choice about not having money. It was a break. A pause I felt I needed. My life was on track. And in someways it was too on track.
Going through high school. Then into college. And thinking I knew who I was and wanted. Thinking I knew everything. But waking up one day and finding I wasn’t sure. In my imagination I would have taken a few months off, and went back to Bethany. But back with more security and knowledge. What happened instead was still my responsibility. It just wasn’t my first plan.
I think I spent the first night on the street before school ended. It wasn’t a cold night. But I was unsure. I camped with someone else in a spot by the river. In some ways it is clear in my memory. My first night outside. But, I am not sure how I slept.
After school was out one of the administrators was concerned. I told him my plan and he tried change my mind. Everyone tried to change my mind, my father, a homeless man I talked to and the college. The administrator offered to allow me to live on campus again. It would be the same as the previous summer. I would pay rent and live by college rules.
“I don’t want to live by your rules,” I told him. It was probably a poor choice of words. But I knew what I wanted was to find out what rules of life I found important. Finding my own rules meant leaving the safety of rules provided by the college.
An older student and friend had told me I could stay with him. It would have been short-term. I don’t think I spent one night at his place though. He lived on campus.
The first weekend after classes, I went downtown. I met some people. We all went up into the mountains. This was the first time I had met these people. And it struck me how open and accepting they were of me. I valued and wanted to be the same. But, I don’t know I have ever been able to be so open.
For a weekend we stayed in a cabin. We ate, we relaxed, we talked. It was a dark wet night when we went to the cabin. We got a little lost, and used lighters to find the path.
There was smoking of cigarettes. But I don’t recall any pot use. It was just a good weekend. My outlook on the world was already changing. It was a surprise to me such people existed. And I wanted to be one of those people. I still do.
When I went back to campus I stopped to visit my friend. I walked from his house across campus to my mailbox. Then I went to the cafeteria. Classes had just ended and people were still around. It felt like home for me still.
But security came and found me in the cafeteria. They told me I had to leave campus. Okay, I told them. But they informed me it was an immediate order and they had to escort me off the grounds. I felt like I was being kicked out of my home. It had been my home for two years. And most of my friends were at Bethany. It hurt. I felt like a bad person.
I felt alone. There was no concern about where I would go. I was just told I had to leave the campus. There was no concern about how I would get along. No concern for myself at all from the college. The told me I wasn’t allowed on campus, anymore. Which blocked me from seeing my friends. It blocked me from connecting with people who could have helped me.
Other than the one offer for me to stay during the summer. No one from the school ever offered to help me. I was dead to them. And it felt like it wouldn’t have made a difference. To say I felt alone is an under-statement. I felt betrayed. Angry, lost and confused. I could have gone home to my family. But they didn’t have anything to offer me. Besides my family broke up while I was in college.
The last night was so dark. It was wet. Alone I walked down the road. Bethany wasn’t just a school. It wasn’t just a home. It was a place I thought I was safe. But all of a sudden I was Adam and Eve leaving Eden. After leaving campus there was only three friends I ever saw again. James, my roommate Ben and Mike. Which is somewhat understandable. I didn’t have a phone, or address.
There was a student I met the next year. He was in Santa Cruz on a mission to serve the homeless. We became friends. He once told me how people on campus would sometimes talk about me. And he said once he challenged one them, “you don’t know him! Do you?” This student like me didn’t belong. The next year he transferred out.
Bethany was my choice because I connected to my youth pastor. The church had been important to me. It wasn’t easy for me to believe inside a box of dogmas. But, it gave me some sense of belonging. And holding on to the small feeling of family, took me to Bethany. After being kicked out, I have been to church less than five times.
Bethany took away my faith. I wanted to wade in the pool of life. And I got dumped into the deep end. There was no place for me in the world. There was no one for me in the world. The dark night, walking alone down the street was all I had left. And they didn’t care. No one really cared about what I went through.
What they cared about was I didn’t fit their mold. And as such I was to be exiled. Thrust into the cold unless I may tempt others like Satan tempted Eve. I was cast out of Heaven. Away from everything and everyone I knew. The only safety I had known for two years.
The first night I slept behind a bush. The sprinklers got my sleeping bag wet. It was like children sleeping in the backyard. But waking in the morning to find their home and family gone. It undermined my strength. And it undermined my faith in myself.
It is something I still feel bitter about today. And I don’t blame God. But churches aren’t comfortable. And later I met one of the most beautiful women in my life. There seemed to be a potential for something real and special for us. But her faith was a problem for me. Because I didn’t think I could ever re-join the community of Christian faith. But more so, I worried the bitterness in my heart would darken hers. She was light. She was love. She was everything Jesus was talking about when he said, “all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
And I was just bitter in my heart. It has been years, I would like to think I have forgiven. But I am not sure.
The second night and the third nights got easier. My life moved on and I grew. But the real nights which set this all in motion were the night dark and wet with new friends looking for a cabin. And the night dark and wet all by myself, looking for the closest thing I could find to a safe place.