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December 5, 2013

Write the Fear Away; Telling Our Stories Helps Us Heal.

One hot July day in Hell’s Kitchen on the west side of mid town Manhattan, I was forcibly removed from my home.

I was allowed to take little more than a beat up back pack with a few odd items I’d tossed inside; a passport, checkbook, and for some reason make up brushes, though I wouldn’t be wearing make up for a long time.

I’d been holed up with my boyfriend doing drugs for months, first at his place before we got kicked out, and then at mine—and there’s nothing like an eight ball of coke to make you ignore reality.

I was just coming off a major binge when the sheriff knocked on my door, and as I scurried around trying to find and pack things I thought were important in the five minutes allotted to me,  I could feel my dehydrated eyeballs poking out of my skull like lollipops.

Walking down my street that day, away from my home—a place I’d lived for two and half years before my descent into insanity, was like being a balloon released into the ether by a child who doesn’t know it can’t ever come back.

It is a very strange feeling knowing that every single thing you own is on your person, and that you have nowhere to go and no money to go there. As the sun set and I roamed aimlessly from block to block with my heart racing, I realized what “outside” really meant.

When you are homeless, the little things people do as a matter of routine become exceptionally challenging. It’s hard to brush your teeth when you have no toothbrush, it’s hard to change your clothes when you don’t have a change of clothes or a place to put them on even if you did, and it’s hard to sleep when there is nowhere you are welcome to lay down.

You have broken the tenuous threads that hold society, by and large, together, and when that happens you become a deviant.

Once a privileged white girl from the suburbs, I was now a ghost, living in the shadows. My hair was wild, my skin was grey, and my nose was crusted with snot and blood.

Despite this pathetic state of affairs, or perhaps because of them, I managed to remain relentlessly creative. At any given moment I was either trying to procure food, shelter, or drugs and since all of these things were of critical importance to me, I found many ways to acquire them.

Shelter came in various forms, all awful.

My boyfriend and I once took the train to Hartford, Connecticut and walked to the Yale campus where he had gone to school. When we got there, we used the library bathrooms to clean up and flopped down on the fat leather chairs in the reading room and closed our eyes. Then we wandered around campus looking for a party we could crash. We stayed for a few days—there always seemed to be something happening we could weasel in on—stealing clothes, food and alcohol wherever we could.

Our last night there, we slithered into a frat party, got wasted and blacked our under a big oak tree in the quad. We woke up to a group of students staring at us and whispering, no doubt wondering what the bundle of vaguely human shaped dirt was doing messing up their campus.

We limped back to the train, (we could always take the train because we could buy train tickets with checks; I had my checkbook, and no one at the train station ever seemed to catch on that the checks were bad), and rode back to Manhattan.

For some reason we made our way to Bryant Park, which is behind the New York Public Library (I guess we thought libraries had served us well thus far) and tried to sleep on the grass—but there was an orchestra warming up in the park and the clashing of the cymbals and banging of the drums were too loud to let us drift off.

We dragged our itchy, aching bodies down to the East Village, and begged our friend Rob to let us into his place. My boyfriend had gotten him a job out of college, and there was no end to our collecting on that debt. We went in there and ate his food and used his shower and “borrowed” his money to buy drugs, which he was happy about because he could never seem to score any shit on his own—he got too paranoid.

We stayed for three days, cutting up lines and smoking cigarettes, babbling to each other about nothing, and at dusk on the third day, Rob suddenly decided he had AIDS.

He wanted us to leave so he could freak out properly in the comfort of his own futon. So we left, and took the train out to Montauk, crouching in two separate the phone booths all night while we waited for the return train to Manhattan in the morning. We were just wasting time until we could figure something better out.

We snuck into health clubs to swim in their pools, we crept up to the roof of my old building to sleep, we ordered big greasy burgers in nameless diners, scarfed them down as fast as we could and beat it before the waitress got wise, and made friends with an assortment of characters living in the margins of the city who supplied us at one time or another with whatever we happened to need.

But of all the people on the fringe, even the desperate ones, we were the lowest.

My husband often asks me why I feel the need to recount this time in my life over and over. To look at me now, you’d never suspect any of it had happened. I’m a nice normal mom and yoga teacher.

I think I found the answer recently in my dreams.

I have had the same dreams/nightmares pretty much every night since I quit that life—all having to do with that period of homelessness. Fifteen years of sobriety didn’t make them go away or even reduce their frequency.

I have written and written and written and written like a woman possessed for all these 15 years about everything, but only recently have I made the material widely public. It’s been a frightening process, as you might imagine, but I was driven. I. Could. Not. Stop.

Two nights ago I had the first of these dreams in which I began to solve the dream crisis. I woke up in amazement. I had gone beyond the normal horrific parameters of the visions in my head, and the dream ended with some positivity. A miracle. Something had shifted. Last night it happened again.

I don’t know why my dreams are changing now, but I do know that I’m going to keep writing.

I’m going to write all the darkness away. I’ll write until my fingerprints wear down and the only thing that’s left of me is my beating heart. I’ll fight like the devil until the poison is gone, and I won’t be afraid who sees me, and one day, when it’s over, I’ll be shiny and clean, and I’ll lay my head down on my soft bed, and finally rest.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photos: Flickr, Pixoto.}

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Erica Leibrandt  |  131 Followers