It would be tempting for me to recount just about everything that took place between August 12, 2006 and April 15, 2011. But that would be a story in itself — perhaps even a novel or a book. Suffice it to say that my travels during that period of time were extremely disjointed. They represented the trek of a man who, having already realized that the Mainstream held nothing for him, nevertheless engaged himself in a five year plan of pointless futility, hanging on to the remnants of a former Mainstream identity. To everyone in my path, this leg of my journey appeared to be nothing other than a poisonous mixture of insanity and instability. I bounced from Lodi to Redwood City to Stockton, back to Redwood City, up to Oakland, and back to Stockton, with frenetic periods in between where I could claim no single city as my own. Always, I was haunted by the lure of Berkeley and its particularly special brand of homelessness. Having tasted of that heavenly fruit, there was no way I could return to anything like my former system of values without incurring disaster. Berkeley loomed as though a Mecca for all who had embraced this unusual consciousness. In fact, prior to the momentous event of August 8, 2006, there was even a previous moment in the Fall of 2005 that served as a kind of prophecy of unknown times to come. Someone had driven me to visit my daughter where she was working at the Jamba Juice on Bancroft, and as I stepped out of the car, I suddenly found myself lifting up my hands in a spontaneous gesture of amazement, shouting: “Berkeley! This is where I’ve got to be!”
To this day, I have no idea what prompted that outburst. Something in the air of this peculiar city had caught my attention in a way that no other place ever had. And then, there was the mysterious revelation of 2006, followed by the tortuous premature application of that epiphany in the next three days, prompting a five year disappearance into failed jobs, shelters, residence hotels, and psych wards, until at last, on April 15, 2011, I gave up the ghost.
On that day, I took $40, left the last of a series of untenable living situations, got on an AmTrak, and alighted once again on the City of Berkeley, this time with the full intent of my heart.
That night I hooked up with a fellow named Sydney, sold my cell phone for a blanket, and the two of us slept in a corridor near the U.C. campus. Far from the earlier disorientation, I now found myself guided, as if by an unseen hand, to every resource for the homeless that the city had to offer. It was at that time that I also was directed to numerous other homeless men and women whom I discovered to be very much like myself. All of them shared a similar story of having been “liberated” from an evil form of bondage that we called the Mainstream.
One of these was a tall African-American man named Jerome. For the first five days of my intentional homelessness, I chatted with him at Starbucks. He was well-dressed — as was I — and it took five days before either of us discovered the other was homeless. At that, we decided to camp out together. (There’s safety, after all, in numbers.)
“Here’s the challenge,” Jerome said one night. “How do get inside again without getting sucked back into the Mainstream?”
“That is indeed the challenge,” I replied.
Then there was silence.
There are many levels to liberation. As I wrote in Part Two of this series, one is not just liberated from something. One is liberated into something. And that something might just morph into an ogre as forbidding as that from which one had been released in the first place.
For my part, there is no true liberation, unless one is liberated into Christ. “If you make my Word your home,” said Jesus, “you will indeed be my disciples. You will learn the truth — and the truth will make you free.”
When one has found a home, one needs to maintain it. Otherwise one will have a home no longer. Even the freedom that there is in Christ is not an absolute arrival. To what extent I had found liberation it now needed to be tilled like a garden. Otherwise, it would morph into a beast as threatening as the Mainstream from which I first fled.
For better or worse, that is what happened with homelessness. It developed into a world of its own, with rules of its own, many of them tacitly acknowledged — unwritten and unspoken, yet real. And those rules bespoke betrayal, vengeance, and death.
Though the first months of homelessness in Berkeley were little short of blissful, even on into the second year, eventually my old enemy reared his head, though in a different and far more frightening form. Just how bad it got, it will disturb me greatly to tell. But I’ll tell it, as cogently as I can, in Part Four.
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