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.
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .