John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, he dedicates this column to his dear friend, Mithra.
She refused to travel light. I’d beg her to get it down to a duffel bag, a backpack, a suitcase, but she would not have it. A couple of winters ago, her and her boyfriend were camping. To be a hobo around here means constantly moving. If the corporate or railroad people see you along the tracks or the river, they call the police. If you are in some lonely field 300 yards from any building and someone sees you, they call the police.
I have helped Mithra move, honestly, more times than I can count. That winter, it was five times in two weeks. Three trips in the Scion with the seats folded down. Five plastic totes, twenty blankets, sleeping bags, three suitcases, stove, propane bottles, and a couple of bikes.
Last winter, she said she did not want to go through another winter outside. She was banned from Walmart and her boyfriend was in jail, so, she went into Walmart, pulled a tent off the shelf, and headed out the fire exit. She spent that cold spell feeling warm and toasty in jail, enjoying mood stabilizers, reading mysteries and true crime books, and writing long letters to her man. She loves telling the story about how she smacked the arresting officer.
I felt an instant connection when she and her previous boyfriend stumbled into the warming shelter I was volunteering at, at two in the morning. She has had two boyfriends off and on over these past five or so years. I love both of these men. Both are thin, handsome to the point of pretty, and younger than her.
Her relationships all had a certain level of volatility. I often picked her up during crying jags, coming down from meth, and her speech was slurred because her blood sugar was way out of whack. I fed her steak and pork chops and McDonald’s and Little Caesars all the time, and she was always incredibly grateful.
She refused to travel light. I’d beg her to get it down to a duffel bag, a backpack, a suitcase, but she would not have it.
I was half in love with her. She was right in my sweet romantic spot. Curvy, feisty, soft-hearted, and naturally charming. She loved to laugh. I’d ask her to be my girl when she was off for a minute with her guys. She would tell me no. “John, you are my one stable friend, and I can’t risk losing that.” She was probably right, but I had fantasies about us hoboing around the country together, sleeping under the stars and doing just as we pleased.
But she soaked up my affection, broke my heart a little when she said she had never had it before. She would hold my hand when I was driving her to appointments, allow me to touch and kiss her cheek, and would really lean into my hugs and relieve her many burdens for a moment or two. A month or so ago, I spent a good ten minutes untangling her hair in front of a motel room she was staying in with a family.
She would gush about me now and again, introducing me as her “very best friend” when she would acquaint me with people she knew. She would laugh and say, “Shut up, John,” when I was teasing her. Laugh and say, “Stop it, John,” if I was getting too flirty. She would talk openly to anyone and when my friends (who are not homeless) met her, they would fall in love too.
She was not big on taking responsibility for her choices and troubles. But I am sure she took enough criticism as a child that, at some point, she just refused to find any fault with herself. She would bitch about being ripped off a lot. When I would point out that she maybe did some stealing herself, she claimed it was never, ever from people she knew, which may or may not have been the case.
She was recently in recovery for a couple of months, something I never thought she would do. But her boyfriend is doing well in prison, got his GED and some certificates, and she wanted to start new when she got out.
She stayed in outhouses a lot when she was alone and on the streets, something I could never bring myself to do when I was out and about. But they locked from the inside, you see. So, it’s maybe a little ironic that she died in one of a possible overdose, out there by Pepsi Park. I will miss her dearly and was really busted up for a day or two. But in my prayers, I sensed she needed a break for a while. And if anyone did, it was her.
I love you so much, Mithra. Truly, rest in peace, my best friend.
I got verbally aggressive with her once. A mother had left her kid in a car seat when she went into Little Caesars. “Mithra, get in the fucking car,” I said, because I knew she was hanging out waiting to cuss at the momma. But that was her, that child in that car. Her caretakers left her, but they never came back.