John Michael’s latest Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, talks about his friend Jennifer and kinship among homeless people.
Jennifer is so tender with dogs it makes me want to cry. She had a dog for a minute, big active pup, but if your living situation changes eight to ten times a year, having a dog is impossible. So, Wolf is with some friends.
She is tender with people as well. I drive a group of homeless and almost-homeless kids around and there will occasionally be brief feuds. So, when I pick someone up, I will ask if they’re comfortable riding in the car with others. Everyone is always fine riding with Jennifer, they’re all smiles knowing they will get to see her.
Jennifer was raised in a small town; “backwoods” is probably an appropriate description. I’ve never seen her in a dress or makeup. She wears sturdy, top-of-the-line, square and steel-toed cowboy boots most of the time, even with sweats. She’s always in a ball cap, has broad shoulders and a lean frame. Folks ask me if she is a boy or a girl when they first meet her. Her voice is feminine, but she barely says a word unless she knows you well. If you’re paying attention, though, her lashes are too long to be a boy and she has such a pretty face.
She reads a lot and is articulate, but only finished eighth grade. I’m long past thinking an education means anything at all about a person. Most of her friends never finished high school and I don’t mind. But I think it hurts their esteem some and is probably why she is reluctant to find a job. That and massive PTSD from childhood, which she eases with a lot of pot.
I’m long past thinking an education means anything at all about a person. Most of her friends never finished high school and I don’t mind. But I think it hurts their esteem some and is probably why she is reluctant to find a job.
I’ve driven her to the hospital five or six times over a couple of years, mostly for a broken hand. When she’s been drinking, she will get pissed off and punch things, mostly telephone poles, honestly. I’ve never seen her angry, however, and I don’t think she would ever show anger to even the slightest of father figures.
I did take her in once when her emotions were a little overwhelming and she was having suicidal thoughts. She shared some things about childhood sexual trauma that would cause anyone’s heart to ache for her if they had known.
I did what I could to comfort her and affirm her rough emotions. Most of her friends have had similar incidents. So, any time she tries to share the trauma, it triggers her friends’ trauma, and they change the subject or act oddly, so then no one gets heard.
Jennifer dates boys and girls and when things get claustrophobic, tense, or too angry, she is one step into a new relationship before her other foot is fully out of the last one. I tell a lot of these young people to slow down a little in their relationships, I have yet to be heard. She is with a guy I like now, has been for several months and, well, we shall see.
I don’t expect a lot of gratitude from the people I hang out with, they have enough worries without worrying about thanking me. Although, I’m not fully trusting—if they like me or just like what I do for them—and I do worry about being used. Jennifer sent me a text one night out of the blue saying she was really happy I was in her life. I would do anything for her.
Also on The Big Smoke
- My High School Friend Is Gone, but Won’t Be Forgotten
- Dispatches From the Apocalypse: America Has an Extreme! Problem.
- Nothing Else Was As They Told Us: An Interview with Kacy Tellessen
There are a couple of brothers a year or two younger than her who would also die for her on the spot and they are right by her side through every crisis. One of them even punched one of her boyfriends when he was being a dick. They say they are cousins, I don’t know or care if they are actually related.
Someone should study kinship relations among homeless and low-income people. I hear “she’s my mom” or “he’s my uncle” or “she’s my sister” (etc.) all the time. I don’t bother asking is they are actual kin, because usually they aren’t, and it doesn’t matter anyway. No one tells me they love me more often than my homeless friends do.
Jennifer’s real mother lives in town, struggles with drugs, and rarely sees her. I was driving Jennifer to the pot shop the other night. On the way back across the river, she said her mom had been texting her during the day that she was suicidal and didn’t want to live anymore. They’ve been through something together and Jennifer may be the only person who consistently answers her mom’s texts. But honestly, I don’t know how I would have possibly handled it if my mom was texting me her suicidal ideations when I was 19.
It scares me a little as I realize again how on-the-edge many of my friends are. I lost my best homeless friend a year ago at this time to an overdose and it tore me up for a while and grayed my hair as it was so unexpected. I don’t want to lose someone as dear to me as Mithra was, or as Jennifer has become, as many of my friends are. But I have pledged to live as deeply as I can. I’m not going to shy away from loving people deeply, just because I’m going to hurt when they die. We all are, and there ain’t no getting around it.