I could have walked, but it was cold. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but on Saturday morning, the wintry wind whistled through the trees and my single-pane windows cracked and shook as if in pain.
I heard noise from the house next door and realized they were having a yard sale in the 28 degree weather. I watched a few cars pulled up to examine the two small tables of items. I knew they were out there in the cold selling random household crap in order to have money for Christmas presents.
I looked at my own front yard and laughed. We weren’t having a yard sale, but with the four bent barbells, exercise bike, stall mats, and assortment of storage containers sitting in the grass and on the porch, a random passerby might certainly think otherwise. The two Bernie 2016 signs in the yard fought valiantly to stay upright in the frigid wind. Fortunately, this is not the kind of neighborhood where people complain when your yard isn’t mowed or if the new trim on your house doesn’t mesh well with the landscaping.
I watched Chocolate and Rico, two canine partners in crime, walk down the street. Rico stopped to look at me and yip. Chocolate scratched his butt on the asphalt. I think of them as the neighborhood mascots. Last Christmas, they went running up and down the street dressed in Santa outfits, but today they were unclothed. “Go home!” I yelled and pointed. Rico yipped loudly. “Go home!” He gave one more yip and then headed toward his house. Chocolate was still rubbing his butt in the street. I’m always surprised that they haven’t been killed by a car yet.
When I moved into this house three years ago, an acquaintance told me I was moving into “the ghetto.” I guess the public housing two doors down spooked her. Could it have been the simple fact that this neighborhood is actually racially integrated? Or was it because I don’t have a dishwasher or a garbage disposal or air conditioning? My washer and dryer are next to my refrigerator, and the kitchen lacks granite counter tops and shiny stainless steel appliances.
But, I have a house with a roof and running water and heat. The walls have chalkboards and whiteboards, and there are books in every corner. My kids can do gymnastics on the mats in the front yard, climb our lone tree, and shoot baskets with their friends. When my daughter walks out the door to have a sleepover at the neighbor’s house, my only real concern is the black bear that frequents the trash cans on our block.
Not long after I moved into this house, a friend posted on Facebook announcing that an empty lot on her street was for sale. I clicked the link for the listing. It specified that the lot could only have a single family home, and any mobile homes had to be double-wide. No single-wide trailers.
I watched the thread unfold. A bunch of pretentious rich women, women I knew from around town, raced to see who could make the most hilarious single-wide-trailer-trash comment.
I was filled with righteous rage.
I wanted to type, “Fuck you, you snobby bitches. I have family members who live in mobile homes. Those homes are paid for with their hard work. Those homes are decorated with photos of their children just like your homes are. Those homes have a roof and running water and heat. Fuck you.”
But, I didn’t comment. Instead, I silently blocked every single one of them and then watched a cat video to cleanse my soul.
I could have walked, but it was cold. So, I put the two bags into my car and drove around the corner.
I passed two houses on my left, and I saw the first entrance to the public housing complex on my right. I continued down a few more houses and then turned right into the second entrance. I drove past the lonely playground and pulled into a parking spot. Through the window of the ground floor unit, I saw twinkling lights from a small Christmas tree.
“I could really use girl toys for my daughter. We got hit hard financially and we’re not going to be able to give her a Christmas.” I’d seen the post in my local moms’ group and reached out. I discovered that she was my neighbor.
The door opened, and the woman welcomed me in. She introduced herself and her toddler. I handed her a bag with Christmas presents for her daughter and then a second bag with presents for her. The little girl tugged on the handle of the gift bag with one hand while holding an Oreo with the other.
I looked around the room. A futon. Shelves. Well used baby and toddler toys. A table top Christmas tree. “Thank you,” she said. “Sorry for the mess.”
“I have two kids,” I replied. I thought of the dishes in my sink waiting to be washed and the pile of recycling that needed to be taken out to the bin. “This looks like my house.”
A roof and running water and heat.
I said goodbye, and as I backed out of the parking space, I saw a tiny curly-topped head with two bright eyes watching through the window.
“Welcome,” the Reverand said as we hurried in the door of the sanctuary. It was raining, and the wind whipped the raindrops sideways. A woman handed me a program. Hannah took one as well, but Ari refused. As soon as we sat down in the pew, Ari took mine. The paper was a very light lavendar, and the front of the program read:
Homeless Person’s Memorial Service
December 21, 2015
The Longest Night of the Year
The organist played as more people filed into the church. I looked around the room. Hannah and Ari were the only children present. I knew many in the pews were homeless. There were representatives from the city and from agencies serving the homeless. Some of the congregants regularly volunteered at the church and attended services there. I saw a few lone worshippers. The pews were filled with young and old, black and white, atheist and theist. The Reverand welcomed us all, and we sang together.
The names were read: James A., Carrie, Garret, Teresa, Robert, Shannon, James W.
A candle was lit for each homeless person who had passed away in the last year.
When the Reverand gave the eulogy, he asked that we leave united, not only in grief but in outrage. He said we should feel outrage that we live in a city with the largest private home in the country, a home with 252 rooms, and yet, some here have no home. We should feel outrage that new hotels with hundreds of rooms are continually built to draw in wealthy tourists, and yet, some here have no home. We should feel outrage that zoning laws impede the construction of affordable housing and that half of those who died on the street last year had a housing voucher.
James A., Carrie, Garret, Teresa, Robert, Shannon, James W.
Not just names.
Neighbors who died without a roof, without running water, and without heat.
I could have walked, but it was cold.
I should have walked.
I should have walked in the cold to my neighbor’s home to deliver her gifts and then walked in the cold back to my own home. I should have walked and felt the sting of the wind on my cheeks. I should have walked and felt the tips of my ears start to go numb. I should have walked and noticed my breath turn to white puffs in the chilly air.
I should have walked if only to remember that I had a home to return to.
Go in peace, go in kindness, go in love, go in faith.
Leave the day, the day behind us; day is done, go in grace.
Let us go into the dark, not afraid, not alone.
Let us hope by some good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
Let us hope by some good pleasure safely to arrive at home.
– Sam Baker
I have a home. It has a roof and running water and heat.
Last night, on the longest night of the year, how many slept without one?