She held me like the baby I used to be and told me that it was okay, that
everything was going to be okay, and that she would forgive me if I could
And then she weeped into my shoulderblade and I think I thought I felt the
clenching of her teeth, that's how hard she was weeping. I weeped, too, while
scrolls of parchment leaked from the back of my brain and melted into the front
of my closed eyelids.
These are the words that appeared on the parchment, which was yellow in color
but mostly white:
"No matter what you do, I will always love you. When you're feeling alone and
empty and your heart feels sore or swollen or sickly, I will still love you.
When you feel like you need to call me, call me and talk to me and I'll tell you
how I love you more than you might think sometimes. When you need to be reminded
that you were born into this world with ten fingers and ten toes that were
capable of healing the world, you come on over to my house and we'll have some coffee . . ."
The parchment is torn at the bottom. I open my eyes. She is gone. I am alone,
but as full of company as I'll ever be. As full of company as I'll ever be. As full of company as I'll ever be.
It was cold. Very cold. By morningtime, I couldn't feel my feet.
That's what I remember most about my night spent in a cardboard box with my best friend/cousin Krysta.
We arrived in the church parking lot a little after 6 p.m. A kind lady's gloved fingers pointed us toward a pile of cardboard boxes. What?
Yeah. We didn't expect to have to build our own cardboard house, either. Krysta and I picked out the biggest pieces of cardboard we could find and got to work with nothing but duct tape on our side. Within appoximately 20 minutes, we had built the biggest box in Cardboard City 2012. Here is a photo of our temporary kingdom:
We were pretty proud of our box:
You'll notice in both photos that we stuffed a lot of blankets and sleeping bags in our box. Krysta had three sleeping bags; I had two. Even though we weren't in the most inclement of weather, we were still cold. It was only around 6:30 p.m. when we decided to enter the soup kitchen for a warm meal that we hoped would fill our tummies.
We were served said meal by a host of volunteers who thanked us for participating in the program while pouring us some soup, handing us some bread, and offering us bottles of water. Here is a photo of our meal:
Bottle of water, chili soup, butter bread, an apple, and two cookies. Admittedly, I was kind of still hungry after we ate . . . and I'm glad I was, because it made me appreciate receiving a meal in the first place.
That's one thing about this experience. We were cheating in a lot of respects; we could bring as many blankets and warm clothes as we wanted; we could go inside to the heated church if the cold got to be too much; we were fed before we went to bed. It's no secret that these are all unheard of luxuries for the average homeless person. Even so, we played the part as well as we could and, well, despite all the blankets and sleeping bags, we weren't comfortable by any means. A single layer of cardboard is lightyears away from a nice mattress.
When Krysta and I returned to our box after our meal, we tried to stay awake by playing a game of cards, drawing stick figures on the walls, and talking about our love lives. We even managed to take a few goofy pictures:
Oh look! We even managed to take not one--but two!--semi-normal photos: (hooray!)
I think the funniest moment throughout the shivering cold experience was when I began to get really, really tired. Apparently I was dozing off but really didn't want to for fear that Krysta would be all awake and all alone the rest of the night. I dozed off anyway . . . and apparently tried to make conversation in the meantime.
"Krysta . . . do you . . . uhhh . . . do you know what Cash for Gold is?"
Krysta said she said yes, and then waited at least three minutes for me to respond.
"Oh . . . I, uh . . . I think I have a bracelet," I said.
Hahaha. Oh boy.
Needless to say, I fell asleep early and tried to stay as warm as possible in order to stay asleep. I remember waking up in the middle of the night wondering what time it was and if my feet were frostbitten. Silly me didn't pack appropriately and ended up wearing only one pair of socks and my clogs. Clogs, I quickly learned, don't really stay on your feet when you're sleeping. Sigh.
One of the best methods I used to keep warm involved inhaling/exhaling into my jacket. It was so much better than inhaling that cold air. I think I was also in the fetal position for the better part of the night. Did I mention that it was really cold?
I knew it was morning as soon as I heard some people talking and some car doors slamming. Krysta mistook the car doors for thunder and woke up with only one thing to say: "I'm ready to go home."
"I say we book it," I said. "I can't feel my feet."
We emerged from our cardboard cocoon (albeit it wasn't much of a cocoon) and soon found out that it was only 5:30 a.m. Technically, we were supposed to be there from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. but other people were leaving so we did, too. But not before tearing down our house and placing the pieces back in the stack from which they came and helping other participants do the same.
It was around 6 a.m. when we pulled out of the church parking lot. I felt good to have survived the night and participated in the program, but all I yearned for was heat. I turned it all the way up and drove all the way home without turning it down.
If ever you have the opportunity to sleep in a cardboard box in order to raise awareness for the sick, lonely, poor, and hungry, please do so. It will really make you feel grateful for absolutely everything you have: meals and a warm bed, especially.
My heart goes out to those people who sleep in cardboard boxes regularly. And, now, I can say that I can truly understand how that feels.
I'm writing this post on my sister's bed in her room, which is full of basketball trophies and picture frames (not to mention a winky-faced Wiz Khalifa poster). There is a roof over my head. Her TV is on mute in the background. I'm warm enough to be wearing a tank top and pajama shorts. I'm wealthy enough to own a nice computer, complete with WiFi. I am one of many fortunate individuals in America who does not have to worry about finding somewhere decently comfortable to sleep tonight.
How easy it is to take that for granted.
Two weeks ago, my boss approached my desk with a name and phone number scribbled on a piece of white copy paper.
"Do you want to sleep in a cardboard box for a good cause?" he asked.
"Sleep in a what?"
"A cardboard box."
"Oh. Ummm, when?"
"November 16. You want to? I think it'd be a meaningful experience."
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and checked my calendar. I didn't have any plans. Nope. Nothing.
"I'll make the phone call," I said, taking that white piece of paper out of his hands and into my own.
So here I am, one day away from getting my first "hands-on" experience when it comes to homelessness, which is a rather foreign subject to me. Tomorrow night at this time I'll be sitting in a cardboard box in a church parking lot amongst other volunteers trying to raise awareness about the pain and suffering that many poverty-stricken people endure night after night.
I convinced my cousin Krysta and my sister Chelsey to join me, so it will be nice to have cardboard box neighbors. But I'm not saying that to be funny; I'm saying that because I'm quite proud that I've convinced them to join me. I think it will be an eye-opening experience for all of us. Admittedly, one reason I'm participating is because I think it will give me good writing material and this valuable sense of enlightenment. It's not everyday that someone sleeps in a cardboard box for a good cause, right?
It's bound to be cold. But hopefully not rainy. Truthfully, it may be a little boring, as we're not allowed to bring iPhones, iPads, iPods . . . and we're certainly not allowed to order take-out. Hmmm.
So here's what I have packed so far:
From left to right: my navy blue sleeping bag, a very soft Angry Birds blanket, a pillow, a pair of gloves, a pair of socks, comfy pajama pants, a semi-colorful hat, and a black sleeping bag. I am missing a few items, including a sweatshirt and my netbook. Oh wait, no computers allowed.
I must mention that I am packing with my sister in mind, and that explains the double sleeping bags. But don't get me wrong--doubling up on sleeping bags (one sleeping bag inside of another sleeping bag sounds brilliant, doesn't it?) could be a great idea. Alas, I have no intentions of feeling as though I'm stuck in some kind of cotton cocoon all night.
I'm done packing for now. Perhaps I'll resume in the morning. Regardless, I'm determined not to get all bundled up like Randy from A Christmas Story.
I know my mom is worried that we're all going to get sick, but I feel prepared to complete this challenge tomorrow night. I'm just grateful that I don't have to complete this challenge every night.
I've encountered homeless people dozens of times, most notably in Newark, New Jersey, and Boston, Massachusetts. I remember seeing people sleeping on park benches and on church steps and wondering how awful it must be to not be able to look forward to bedtime.
I've slept in a twin-sized bed all my life, and I know no different. I've lived in a nice house all my life, and I know no different. I've always had an abundance of outfits and possessions and food, and I know no different.
Tomorrow, I want to know different.
As you turn off your bedroom light tonight and give your weary bones to your bed--twin-sized or otherwise--please keep in your thoughts and in your prayers the people who have no bedroom lights of their own. There are a lot of them out there, especially after Hurricane Sandy caused some major down and out situations last month.
Wish us luck tomorrow, and stay tuned for Homelessness: Part II. And possibly Part III and Part IV . . .
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .