John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise XXI


John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, with two new stories about ups and downs, and helping each other.


Ups and Downs, Some Thrills and Some Terrors

I grew up in a modest house in a pretty neighborhood not far from the local college. Of course, as a kid, you had no idea about modest or rich, it was just where you lived.

I remember being impressed with the laundry chute that went from the bathroom to the basement. Nowadays, I wouldn’t mind something similar, so no one could see my dirty clothes piling up.

For several years, I shared a room with my brother. But my dad was a project guy and eventually the downstairs was remodeled and what used to be the TV room became my own bedroom. I remember watching my dad rebuild my bed on the shag carpet and being excited about the window that could see across the street.

I am still sifting through my past some, but with far less anxiety and a knowingness that I am going to be alright. My parents did most of the arguing upstairs and at night. They held the tension between them during the day, for us kids’ sake I suppose, but were uninhibited warriors come nighttime.

I had a memory surface from that old room last night while I was saying my prayers in bed. Just a thin wall was between my room and the living room and I could hear most things that went on in there. One night, my parents did not make it upstairs before having words and it was a sad night.

At one point, my dad asked my mom if she wanted a divorce. Sort of challenging her maybe: if I ain’t living up to your expectations, well there is an alternative. Well, that quieted my mom some. I am not sure what she was after in that relationship at that point; it was not a divorce, however. I was even more clueless of my dad’s motivations. Not long after that, they did divorce.


There are lots of folks in need of care out there when old ghosts come out to mingle. Try to be especially kind to yourself.


As I breathed through that old grief and fear, I felt much lighter and was glad to hand those old emotions back to the devil. That was a long time ago and my family members have all grown and changed over the years.

I was talking to some friends tonight at a coffee shop. I mentioned to them that I need to lose about 60 pounds and have weighed between 260 and 280 in the six or so years since I have been off the streets.

I off-handedly said, “I feel safe at this weight.”

Well, I felt a major adrenalin rush hit me at the idea of losing weight. I was skinny as a kid and could not hold my own against the guy who molested me. So, currently, by presenting big, was just me finding a safe way to be in the world.

After that brief fear rush, I told my friends I wanted to go home and suck my thumb.

No one is going to come through life without ups and downs, some thrills and some terrors. If we live it right, and we take our time after traumatic episodes to nurture ourselves and allow others to nurture us back to feeling safe and functional again.

Well, as you know, many children go through traumatic events without telling a soul. Just suck it up and cope the best they can, and never really feeling safe again. Or, you get so busy trying to help your parents with their trauma and depression that you lose track of your own needs and desires.

There are lots of folks in need of care out there when old ghosts come out to mingle. Try to be especially kind to yourself.


It Is a Joy to Care for People

Open your eyes.

I am not sure if that was my thought or some spirit whispering to me while I was meditating with my eyes closed. I think they were hinting that things are okay out there.

This last week has been filled with some inner tension and rage. Something I was hoping not to experience again, believe it or not.

I have a bunch of friends in the homeless community and I really appreciate them. The idea that I have friends still startles me for some reason.

My heart is trying, or learning, to express itself, I thought the other day. And that is certainly the truth.

My way of expressing friendship has been through caretaking, for the most part, but I can feel that pattern dying in me. It was a worrying pattern I developed in childhood trying to help my parents in their struggles. Somehow, I got the impression I would not survive if I was not that way.

Part of me wants to break out of this valley and this family. But I think I want to create some new ways of being with them. I have spent much of my life in defiance of my father, in competition with my brother, and trying to escape the clutches of my mother, while nervously trying to care for them at the same time. I think the hardest I ever prayed for someone was when my brother was taking his bar exam. Funny how we spend a lot of years arguing with and resenting people we care so much about.


If you have a story to share, a hug to give, a hand to hold, a kiss to give, be bold with it when you are near me.


I have noticed how affection can ease worry in people and animals. Totes has transformed from a nervous wreck of an abandoned animal to a content house dog. Also, in my friendships with homeless people, who seem to appreciate displays of affection more than others, I have built some very trustful friendships.

Could I be that way with my family? Certainly, I want it to, but my head is full of fears, afraid to be masculine, afraid to be too feminine, afraid to express the love in my heart. I mean to not caretake people because my survival is at stake, but to care for people because it is a joy to care for people.

I have dealt with rage for many years off and on. I know under this cycle, like the rest of them, is some little kid with some unmet need he is afraid to ask for.

Speaking of asking for things, some of you folks may have seen a Facebook post of mine a few weeks ago. “I am in need of some affection here,” I wrote. To be a receiver of love, it may take more vulnerability than I am capable of. But if you have a story to share, a hug to give, a hand to hold, a kiss to give, be bold with it when you are near me.


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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