Tag Archives: Bethany

More Santa Cruz people…

I met many of the people on the street with little ado. One day they would just walk into town. Or maybe they had been in town. But hadn’t been on the street.

Happy was a person who just appeared. He had clear mental health problems. But he was a sweet person. Other people mocked him. They made fun of him.

“Happy days, happy nights…” he would say often. This is why people called him Happy. His named was John.

He dressed like a hippy. No, not like the hippies on the streets. He dressed like a hippy in a movie. He was a hippy. Rumors floated around on why he was crazy. Too much acid in the 1960s.

We found out later he lived in special housing. The housing was related to his mental health. But someone should have watched over him better.

“She’s so cool, she shits cool ice cream…” was another thing he said.

At some point someone gave Happy a toy gun. He had the mind of a six year old. I never saw the gun. But others said he would point it at people. One night he went near a night club downtown. He was playing with his toy gun.

When does a six-year-old boy understand the game is over. Is it when the police come? Is it when they bring out their own guns? Or is it when they shoot him dead on the street. Happy was a man. A man with problems. And the Santa Cruz Police Department shot him dead.

On the night of the shooting I was with a friend, Erin. The sirens seemed to be everywhere. And people gathered in a large crowd to see. We didn’t know someone had been shot. We didn’t know Happy was dead.

In the days after those people who get upset, got upset. Few people noticed Happy when he was alive. Unless they were noticing him as a joke. While many came forward saying he was their friend. I never saw he had any real friends when he was alive. Real friends weren’t there to help him. I wasn’t a real friend.

I had first met Erin through Sean. And the night Happy died we were talking. We had met on the street. She was a pretty girl, a smart woman. And over time we became friends. We would spend time together. We would take walks. And I started to fall in love with her.

But she wasn’t in love with me. A proclamation of love to a friend makes things awkward. But we remained friends until she moved. Then we still stayed in touch. A few years later I visited her in Arizona.

I had caught a ride with a friend from Boulder. I was in Tuscon to see Erin. We spent some time together. Then she asked me where I wanted to camp. It hurt me. If I had been a normal friend, she never would have asked the question. I told her I came to visit her, after asking if I could come to see her. And I asked to stay at her house. She was living with her dad. She let me stay. But I’ve never been in touch with her since.

I also don’t know where I met Ken. Like Erin we were friends after the streets. It wasn’t until years later I cut off communication. When I met Ken we camped by the river together. He was older, but he was agile. He wasn’t old. Later he got himself a place to live on the mall. But this was after I moved away.

The story I recall about Ken is about my camp site. He had been on the street for a long time. Maybe we met when we camped near each other. The last place I camped in Santa Cruz was along the river. He said it was too close. I felt safe.

Too close, too close. But then he quit telling me because I wouldn’t listen. But my life was changing. I had plans. And one day I took a bus and left town for a new life. The night I left it started to rain hard. And it rained and rained. And the river flooded. A couple years later when I returned for a visit I found my campsite. My tent was about six inches deep in the mud. I was too close.

I don’t recall much about Willie. He was a drunk. And in the worst way. He needed the booze. He was the one who was the first person I knew with a sign, “why lie I need a beer.” But he did need alcohol. When he didn’t drink he got the shakes.

Once he told me the beer sign made him more money than a food sign. Which made me mad. Because I didn’t drink and I couldn’t bring myself to pretend. But he was a good man. He was a good friend. At one point he gave me a shirt to stay warm. The bugs which came with the shirt didn’t keep me warm. Bugs are a part of life on the street. Shelters stock the medicine like a shampoo.

Willie was back and forth between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. In the city he told me a large cardboard box was him home. I don’t know where he slept in Santa Cruz. But one morning they found him frozen to death behind the thrift store.

Maybe he was someone’s father. Or someone’s brother. He was someone’s son. And more than a few people’s friends. No one should die alone and cold behind the thrift store. Like so many on the street, he needed help.

Another person I knew both in San Francisco and Santa Cruz was Roy. He wasn’t homeless. But he did spend time on the mall. And I got to know him. He was a gay man, but never hit on me. We became friends. And when I needed to move he helped me.

Once he planned to meet me in San Francisco. But he was a flake. He didn’t show. When I saw him later he asked me why I didn’t meet him. I informed him I was there, and he caved. It was a bluff, he was hoping I hadn’t shown up. In which case I wouldn’t know he had flaked.

I’m not any of my other friends knew Roy. He was a landlord in San Francisco, from what he said. He had a place in Santa Cruz and a place in the city. Before I left he took me over for a visit. It was a decent place. He was a decent person. I never asked him for much, and we were friends.

I became friends with some of the local high school girls. I never took a serious interest in any of the girls. But I had a crush on a couple.

One had blue eyes and dark hair. I recall finding her attractive, in a cute and dark way. A lot of the girls were goth. “Ohh my goth, why don’t I just staple my hand to my forehead,” they would joke.

“I’m just going to die… die… dye my hair black,” was another joke.

But this blue-eyed girl was sweet too. Once we played a game of war with playing cards. But I got bored and started to cheat. Not cheat so I would win, but so she would win. And she caught me. But it was fun, she was cute and it was just a game.

There was another girl, who was friends with my friends. This made me think we were also friends. But she was a little colder and distant. I made a mistake once and got caught stealing from the store where she worked. The store kicked me out for life. She saw me being kicked out. A year later, I went back to the store. I saw her and she saw me. Soon a manager came and asked me to leave.

Another girl told me she was the sheriff’s daughter. And she was wild. Like Drew Barrymore as a youth. Or Paris Hilton in later years. Maybe we didn’t really spend much time together. But I do recall a time talking with the girls.

Once I was talking to one of them about lost things. I had my bag with me. She pointed out it was easy to find what you were looking for, when you didn’t have many things to look through. She wasn’t being flippant, more just understanding a part of my life. If I remember right these girls also knew Tony. And it may have been through him I got to know the girls.

It was a small group. And nothing happened between me and any of them.

The other girls I got to know in Santa Cruz were the church girls. One of them was Christie. She and her church would wash people’s feet like Jesus. They had a mission just off the mall. She was the sweetest most caring and loving person I have ever known. I loved her with a simple and pure love.

The number of times I went to service at the church. We sat and talked. She would wash my feet and give me clean socks. Even when I told her I had plenty she would give me more. For a while I didn’t have to launder my socks because I kept getting clean socks. I wasn’t changing them every day like I do now.

Maybe she was just a sweet girl. Or maybe she was a girl sweet on me. But I felt so dirty at the time. If I ever had thought of being with someone like her, it would have seemed impossible. I hope where ever she is today, she is happy.

Her friend was different. It was to her friend had proposed the hymnal cleaning offer. I recall talking to her friend about Satan. And how Satan was a needed part of the plan of the Biblical god.

If man and angels had freewill I explained. At someone point someone would use it, and then become Satan. Besides, freewill is only free if there is a choice.

The church feed us, and clothed us and tried to offer us salvation. A good number of beautiful people worked at the mission.

I didn’t go back to campus after they kicked me out. But I did make a new friend from Bethany. We got to know each other, it was my second year on the street. I had been off campus for a year.

When M moved to Seattle he gave us a ride. He once gave me a notebook to write poetry. We became good friends, but lost touch when he left Bethany.

He told me about a night in the pool room at Bethany. Someone was talking about me, saying bad things. Which is funny since I hadn’t been around for a year. But he asked them, “do you know Chris?” Then he told them to shut up or deal with him.

One of the oddest friends I had was a hooker. Yes, and she was open with most people about her work. “So what, they go out to a bar and meet someone and go home and party,” she said. “I also go out to a bar and meet someone and go home and party.”

The only difference she pointed out, was she got paid in the morning. I believe I met her one late night on the mall. I was knitting. We went and got some food together. I wasn’t attracted to her. Not because she was a hooker. But just because she wasn’t my type.

She was a funny girl. A sweet and caring person. And we had some good times together. I recall one morning we had stayed up all night. And then went to the park and watched the sunrise. As the sun came up we found a spot on the grass and went to sleep. It was only illegal to sleep in the park at night.


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.

Exiled from the Kingdom

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.

College Years

There were a few noteworthy people left out of the last chapter. I will get to them later.

The next step in my life was college in the bay area. Once I left for college, I never truly went home.

It was a conservative school north of Scott’s Valley. It was a Bible college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I felt I would like to help others. And my experience with the church led me to Bethany. Also a lack of clear alternatives. College was costly, and I took out a lot of loans. I still haven’t paid them back.

The school wasn’t new to me exactly. I had been there before for summer camp. And I imagine a part of myself believed college would be like summer camp. Of course it wasn’t, and it was at the same time. During summer camp it was more fun. There weren’t classes or tests. There was just one girl I recall, and I had a huge crush on her.

But college was different. In retrospect my memories of the two years are blended. I don’t recall most of the classes I took. Except for Julessa Bass, who I thought was amazing. She taught English. Funny the only class at the Bible college I remember is an English class.

But I don’t think I ever fit in at the college. I just wasn’t one of them. Even on the grounds of faith. Growing up outside the box of religion I could never be fully happy inside. And it seemed most of the people there were happy to not question the doctrine and dogma.

One of my friends was James. We would go skating almost every weekend. One of the only people in my life who was close enough to be called a friend. Again, my memories are not of the school. But of the skate rink. We got our own skates. I got roller blades. And we were decent skaters. He was much better than I. After skating we would go to Denny’s or Safeway for food.

I met Harmony at the skate rink. She was younger than us. I think she was 16. And I developed a crush on her. We all became friends. And I think we even spoke on the phone a couple times. Until the end, and the darkness.

The exact event which caused the end isn’t the point. The image I had of Harmony shattered and I lost hope. Thinking back my own somewhat childish and naive ideas of people and relationships was at fault. But it led straight to the darkness.

One of the deepest depressions of my life. And no one around me seemed to even notice. All I remember looking back is darkness, sleeping. I was going to the computer lab all night. This is when I first explored the internet and chat rooms. But I slept most of the day. If I went to class I don’t recall or not. Attendance at chapel was an expectation and I blew it off. If I had known how to ask for help I would have. If I had known who to ask for help.

I know there was a part of me which felt like I was drowning. And it felt like everyone was just standing around and watching me sink. But it may be too much to expect people to know how to respond. And it doesn’t mean they didn’t care. I mentioned something about Harmony to James once, and he said, “ahhh, that makes sense.” This was towards the end of my first year. I started taking more walks alone.

During my time at college I never moved home. Over the first summer I lived in the dorm. They charged me a rent and I worked at Subway. I could write a chapter about Subway itself. My friends became the kids of the professors. One of them was Jerrod.

We would make jokes about each other’s mothers. Not real jokes, just juvenile humor in an way not intended to be serious. Once I was in his dad’s office with Jerrod and his sister. His sister blurted out, “he said bad things about mom.”

“But Jerrod did it too,” I said. “I mean about my mother.”

Then we explained it was just our way of joking around. There was a bit of tension for a moment. But his dad just said, “well, good then.”

During the school year me and Jerrod worked at the cafeteria. And we would sometimes break dishes while listening to Alanis Morissette. It was his idea to keep a score. I feared it would be discovered, and it was by one of the cooks. But the people who worked in the kitchen were a fun group.

There were a lot of good people at the school. I wouldn’t mind being in touch with a number of them. But most of them are gone to me now.

My roommate was a good person. And Ben still is, we are friends on Facebook. Ben, James and I had some good adventures. We went into a cave. It was rather deep and tight in some places. There was a rock someone named “the breast of salvation.” It was round and you used it to pull yourself up and a key point. When me and Ben took some of the school girls down there we said it was James who named the rock. But then I went with James and the same girls, and he tried to blame Ben. “They said you named it that!” Which embarrassed us all a little, more for getting caught.

Ben was my roommate for my first year. We used to play risk on the computer. Some others got so addicted to playing the game they couldn’t be kept out. It was a safe campus so we didn’t lock the door. Unless we were sleeping and didn’t want to be bothered. So once Ben was sleeping and a dormmate went to the R.A. and got our key. He let himself in and started to play Risk on the computer. Ben got married to his college sweat-heart. And they have a magical life, the kind many people may dream for themselves. He was also a good friend.

During my second year I had a different roommate. I was on a different floor. The bloom was coming off the rose. It was a slow matter of drifting away from the school throughout the year. Once we went to Sacramento and I bought some glasses with pot leaves on them. Ben and James were on a different floor and seemed further away in many ways. It was no doubt just me. The darkness didn’t lift until I had left the campus, and lived on the streets for a while.

During my second year I felt more out of place than ever. It was becoming clear Bethany was not the right place for me.

Sarah was a nice girl at the college. And I liked her a lot. It was clear she had some issues she was struggling with as a person. And like a pack of antelope people with issues were pushed out. In my case as I spent more time downtown, and I wore those glasses people assumed things about me. I never have, and I doubt I ever will use drugs. But people at the school without ever asking me assumed I was on drugs. People who didn’t know me was one thing, but I think even many of my friends assumed it was true. Maybe even Ben and James. I don’t know.

At some point I started to spend time in downtown Santa Cruz. I felt alone. I felt like my life was in danger. I felt trapped by choices I had made. Trapped by choices I was no longer sure were the right choices. And I wanted a break. If could have chosen my path differently I would still make the same choices. However, I wish others had been more understanding and supportive. When I left Bethany I felt like I was being turned out friendless in the world.

“Don’t worry, you’ll come back to God,” people told me. But I never felt like I was leaving God. If no one else knew my heart, God did.

Then there was the blue hair. I dyed my hair blue and it was a scandal. Yeah, it was a conservative school. People made a big deal about my hair. And when it came time to take finals they tried to prevent me from taking my tests. The last test I needed was Julessa’s and I told her I hadn’t had time. Which sadly was a lie, but I took the test. And I hope she knew it was a lie, and just decided she didn’t care. Because why would anyone cause such a fit about blue hair?