BOOK SIGNING!

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ATTENTION EVERYONE!  E. M. Duesel has an upcoming book signing featuring all three of her books; Deathlinks, Illegal and her newest novel, Homeless.  It will be at Half Price Books, 533 E. Coliseum Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN 46805 on September 15th, 2018 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.  Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Chapter Three – They Ain’t What They Seem

On the drive back to Mac’s, Jeff’s thoughts were consumed with all things homeless. Men and women banding together to stay alive, seeking the only shelter available to them under a bridge. It was out of the way of pedestrians, which he could understand being of benefit. It lessened the likelihood of hassling, but the more oblique purpose might be the avoidance of what they once were; the busy lives of others reminding them of an existence in a world in which they no longer fit.  The idea unnerved him, and he couldn’t shake it.

Mac left the outside lights on. Although his attempts to comfort and console were recognized, Jeff’s heart was not at rest. Mac’s home was not his home, nor could it ever be. His preferences in life would never be Jeff’s, and Jeff yearned for his farm and his pets. It was difficult to foresee a future so overshadowed by the past. Without a sufficient and steady income, that wasn’t going to happen for a long time because money equals independence and no money equals no control over anything, especially life. And as much as Mac might hope, Charlie’s Diner would not be Jeff’s salvation.

“Hey, Mac. You home?” Jeff walked into the dimly lit house to the dulcet sounds of the television.

“Hey. How’d it go?” Mac turned the sound down.

“It went. Not something I ever thought I’d be doing, but it will pay my car insurance and maybe help out some here.”

“Listen, I’m not asking you for anything. Just try to get back on your feet… that’s all.” Mac was already retired and in his way, wanted Jeff to feel his peace.

“There was a guy, a homeless guy, outside the diner when I first got there. Turns out, he has a Ph.D. and was at one time a History Professor.”

“You don’t say.” Mac looked disinterested.

“I don’t know why, but I’m drawn to this… I don’t know… this rip in people’s lives. It’s like I need to do something.”

“How, Jeff? You can’t even take care of yourself right now. What could you possibly do?” The lack of confidence conveyed by his brother, not to mention the reminder of his circumstances stung a bit.

“I don’t know. I just… I don’t know. Uh, I’m gonna turn in now.”

“Hey, Jeff. Aren’t you hungry? There’s dinner left over in the fridge. Just heat it up in the microwave.”

“No… uh, no thanks… not hungry.” Jeff sped towards his room. Tears surfaced as he shut the door behind him.

“Jeff, come on. Eat something.”

Jeff left Mac bewildered outside a locked door. The silence answered in such a profound way screaming the obvious. He needed to be left alone to deal with his ghosts. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate everything he had that the viaduct villagers did not have. For that Jeff’s behavior left him contrite. The hole was just so deep. His existence meant nothing.

Guilt plagued him when he thought about his pets. They depended upon him to keep them safe and to take care of them. No doubt to others, this state of grief over the loss of animals may seem like nothing, but to him it was a betrayal of their blind faith in him as their owner. Their attachment to him was severed by force and they now had to form a new attachment, rely on another human to assure their safety. Jeff missed them, and he worried about them, too.

The ceiling traced spider-like cracks. Lying on the bed, he stared up at them while searching for direction. If there was a god, what is the meaning of this loss on the heels of another major loss? What could be a possible reason? Exhaustion from the drive from Connecticut, the beginning of a new job that was nothing like what he was used to, and now the embattled haunting, dark memories gyrating his brain overpowered him. They just stayed right there, churning and turning his stomach into mincemeat. Jeff wasn’t hungry. He wondered if he would ever be hungry again. This, like so many nights to come, settled into a forced sleep where nobody wins and rest was just out of reach.

Depression lingered in the wake of a new day. Mac was banging pots, pans and dishes in the kitchen where he was making breakfast. Now, Jeff had to face him. As he walked into the kitchen he realized that a night of self-pity had dawned into a morning of regret, and it was his duty to confess his ungrateful behavior to a most gracious benefactor.

“Mac, listen… I don’t know what got into me last night. I, uh…”

“Hey, don’t. There’s no need. Hell, if I ever had to go through what you have, I don’t know how I would react to things. Nobody knows how they’re going to react until they are faced with the downside of life. So, don’t apologize to me. I get it.” Mac looked at Jeff with those all-knowing eyes. “But I will be pissed as hell if you don’t sit down and have some breakfast with me.”

“Thanks.” Jeff breathed a sigh of relief.

“So, do you work today?”

“No, not until tomorrow. I thought I’d take a look around town. You want to come with me?”

“I can’t. I promised Ted I’d help him finish putting up his shed before the winter sets in. Maybe another day?”

“Sure.”

Deep down, Jeff was grateful that Mac had somewhere else to be. The underpass beckoned and he had a need to visit and talk to the inhabitants. What did one of the gatekeepers say… if he wanted to help bring food and water? Money was definitely an issue, but he had a few bucks from the tips he made the day before, so he drove to a market near the viaduct.

Those who have steady incomes can’t understand the penetrating need to find food at the lowest price possible. It’s not like trying to stretch your budget; rather, it’s if you don’t find something for less than a dollar you won’t eat, a fact that was emphasized as Jeff walked through the store with the intent to purchase. It proved to be an impossible task. He picked up a case of water.

“Is there anything I can help you find, sir?” A man who looked like a manager hurled the question while he whizzed by.

“Say, listen. Are you familiar with the folks living under the viaduct a couple streets over?”

The question stopped his speedy getaway. “Yeah, I am. Pretty sad sight.”

“I was wondering. Does this store have a program that might help these people with some food, or even water?”

“Huh, well, we could, I suppose, give the bread that is going to get thrown away at the end of the day.”

“Is it bad? I mean is it edible?”

“Yeah, it’s good. It’s just that we can’t keep it longer than a couple days. Why do you ask?”

“Hi, my name is Jeff Townsend.”

“Ben Cruz. I’m the manager.”

“What would be the problem with me picking up the bread every day?”

“Keep in mind that this is our own bakery bread. The other kinds can’t go out of the store because the manufacturers are afraid of lawsuits.”

“That’s okay. Your bread is fine.”

“You can also take all of the rolls and cakes.”

“Wow. Thanks. Let me get set up and I’ll get back with you later today.”

“As far as bottled water goes… let me think on that.” Ben took off down the grocery aisle.

Lost in thought, Jeff’s aching arm reminded him of the case of water he still had to buy. A plan started to take shape for the distribution of the bread, but there was more information needed than delivering food to an area where homeless people gathered. There had to be more to it than that.

Parked on the street near the underpass and with his meager offering of water, Jeff approached the area under the bridge with caution. No one was there. Not a single soul. Some remnants of charred wood from cooking, but nothing else remained. Lugging the water back from the site, and as he rounded the corner of the building from last evening’s encounter, he came face to face with one of his assailants.

“You again. What the hell do you want?”

“Listen, I, uh… heard what you said. I brought some water and have an idea, but I need to talk with someone about it.” Jeff’s eyes searched the man’s for a hint that the intention was accepted as truth. His soul interrogated Jeff’s for sincerity.

After a long minute there was a breakthrough. “Well, here’s the thing. We get up at the crack of dawn and skedaddle out of here before the cops come around. The city doesn’t like it when we stay in one place too long.”

“So, where do you all go then?”

“Everywhere… anywhere that we can find peace. See here, brother, people like me… they don’t want to be seen. Hell, they don’t even use their real names most of the time. That’s why we have nicknames like ‘Professor’, or like me, ‘Trace’. None of us are proud of our circumstances.”

“Look, Trace. Can I call you that?” Trace gave me an assured nod. “I only want to find a way to help if you’ll let me.”

“Don’t know how. Many people have tried to help us, but there never seems to be one who sticks around long enough to make any kind of difference. It’s a churning hell on a roundabout of mixed needs. Everyone’s got a story, and each story is hard and depressing and complicated.”

“Can I buy you breakfast and we can sit and talk?” There was no way around it. Trace had information Jeff needed. Waiting for a response, he could tell it was a contest between this poor man’s hunger and his pride. It was an emotional struggle where the decision was based upon Jeff’s ability to respect him. “Trace, I’m asking you to help me with a plan that could get food to people who need it.”

“Why? What’s in it for you?”

Surprised by his cynicism, Jeff unburdened himself. “Because… I could be you.”

With an understanding nod of his head, Trace said, “Where to?”

It was important, to Jeff anyway, that they avoid Charlie’s Diner. Charlie was a fine boss, but Jeff didn’t trust that he understood the underlying social difficulties of homelessness. They ended up at a MacDonald’s a couple blocks away. After getting their food, they found a corner booth.

Amid the chewing of an Egg McMuffin, Trace said, “Thanks, man. I appreciate it.”

“No problem. Wish it could have been something better, but my budget won’t allow it.”

“At least you have a budget. I pray for the day I can say that. Besides, when we are finished here, and since I’m a customer, I can use the facilities and wash up.”

Trace was a little ripe, but that’s to be expected if you don’t have a place to attend to hygiene. “If it’s not too difficult, can I ask what happened to you?”

“How about we share stories? I’m betting you have one of your own.”

Up until that morning, Jeff discussed his situation with people who already knew it. It had never occurred to him to share the details with someone else. These personal troubles wanted to remain hidden from prying creatures whose only purpose was gossip. “Yeah, I do. Not too many people I like to share it with, though. It hurts to remember.”

“Me, too, brother. Me, too.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not a nosy person…”

“About eight years ago, life was good. I wished I realized that at the time. I worked at an auto assembly plant. We had a union, an effective one, too, and things seemed good, but, my wife… she couldn’t get pregnant and it upset her… a lot. On top of that, she suffered from bi-polar disorder. Have you ever known anyone with manic-depression?”

I shook my head in the negative.

“It was awful.” Trace took a big sip of his coffee. “I never knew what I was going to find when I got home. Now, don’t get me wrong. If she stayed on her meds, life couldn’t be better, but that was the problem. Sometimes, she believed she was better and she’d stop taking her medication. Then life was a sci-fie film. She’d go out and buy whatever; run up our charge cards and sometimes just max ‘em out. I spent hours returning items purchased the day before. She’d get wild and then she’d crash into deep depression. I had to admit her into the hospital more times than I care to remember, and the bills just kept stacking up because my insurance didn’t cover parts of her therapy.”

“Mm-hum, I get it.” Jeff got flashes of Madeleine’s cancer.

“Then, at the height of her illness, the plant was threatening to close its doors if the unions didn’t back off. Most of us were happy with our jobs, and we knew we made a good living, but our union just wanted to keep pushing for more. Well, they pushed too hard and the plant had to close down. I’m sure the economy had a hand in it, but just the same, I was out of a job with a sick wife, and credit card and medical bills out the wazoo.”

“Where is your wife, now?”

“Well, that’s the thing, and here’s where that man died and this one took his place. One night, I went out to hide from my problems at a local bar, using money I shouldn’t have, but when you’re drowning in debt that doesn’t seem relevant anymore. My buddies and I really tied one on and I stayed out later than I should’ve… cuz, you know, she needed me.” Trace paused to arrest a choke and swallow. “When I came home, I opened the door to the smell of blood. Did you ever smell blood, Jeff? It has a sickening, tinny scent… sticky after it sits a while… and what follows is… I found her; blood was everywhere!” Trace found it difficult to draw breath through the wave of emotion conjured by his horrific memory. “She slit her wrists and then tried to drag herself to her phone for help. I swear, when I close my eyes some nights, all I can see are puddles and puddles of Siobhan’s blood. She was wrestling with her demons that night and I wasn’t there to fight them alongside her.”

Reticence ended the conversation. He revealed too much of himself to a perfect stranger. Trace’s pain was still fresh and probably always would be, and Jeff realized that there was no escaping that kind of loss. The hell is ever-present no matter what. Efforts to break out are futile, because its vestige is an indelible and open wound embedded in the spirit. And here Jeff was, trading food supposed to nourish, in exchange for a retelling of the nightmare that tormented Trace’s soul. God, Jeff felt like a bastard.

Trace stopped eating. Jeff stuttered, “Man, I’m… wow.”

“Say, Jeff, um… I’m going to just go now. Thanks for the food.” Trace high-tailed it out swinging the restaurant door open with a strength of purpose that assisted the escape of his crippling recollection. There would be no stopping into the restroom as planned.

Goddammit, Jeff. For the want of an explanation, not even his explanation, he just sent a man away with a half-filled stomach, and the revival of his torment. However long it took him to replace traumatic visions with paltry enjoyable memories, Jeff managed to drain them over a half-eaten Egg McMuffin and a cup of black coffee.

It was important Jeff seal a deal with Ben Cruz, so he went back to the store and agreed to start the bread pickups the following week. This heralded the poignant beginning of the most fulfilling and purposive accomplishment of Jeff’s lifetime.

Meanwhile, he noted his accomplishments for the day.

Fruits of labor today:

1) bread and bakery items are to be had if I pick them up every day,

2) the demolition of a man’s heart.

The conversation with Trace left Jeff sick with remorse, and he learned a most valuable lesson embarking on the next chapter of his life. Never take for granted the depth of another’s pain. No one can ever know another, or assume they understand a life lived. Induction into the homeless club requires only breathing, and survival can be cruel and unforeseen while profound and private. For some, especially those with no outside help, society can crush choices others believe so ready and available. It is never as easy as it seems, and from now on, Jeff vowed to be careful where he tread when approaching fragile souls filled with stories of trouble and loss. His attempted goal was now passive acceptance.

Chapter Two – My name is…

Jeff arrived in Michigan physically safe and sound and no sooner did his car pull into Mac’s driveway than he was handed an address and was told that there was a part-time job for him at a diner in the city. “You’ll like Charlie. He’s a standup guy. I know it may not be what you’re used to, but it’s something.”

Unfamiliarity and unease cloaked the environment that Jeff had to awkwardly succumb. He took a shower, and out of duty drank the coffee and ate the eggs and bacon put in front of him. He mumbled a forced, “Thanks.”

The sprawling grounds owned by his brother were natural and beautiful. Mac always loved a forest type look; primeval, rugged and untouched. He had hacked a trail through the fifty acres and it became his refuge. In Jeff’s messed up brain, he thought he should be envious of Mac’s home, but instead he felt nothing. He was in limbo without a rudder. It didn’t inspire him; it didn’t put him in awe of anything, and it didn’t even welcome him as intended. Numb to the core, Mac’s was a shelter from the elements and Jeff’s place to be with his big brother, but the material aspects of Mac’s home were as if they didn’t exist. Material things were dangerous. Material things could be lost in an instant dragging with them everything that truly mattered. Jeff’s eyes moistened as he bitterly remembered the pets he was forced to leave behind along with a piece of his soul.

“It’s only temporary. Don’t worry. Things will turn around for you.” Mac smiled his big brother’s half smile of encouragement.

“You don’t know that, Mac. For the first time in my life, I’m scared shitless.” The coffee cup shook in Jeff’s hands as he fought back tears. “At a time in life when I should be slowing down and enjoying myself, I am alone and broke. The economy has not been good for construction work, especially for older workers.”

“Well, you have the job at the diner, and you have a place to stay here until things pick up. And little brother, you are not alone. You have me. Speaking of the diner, don’t you have an appointment?”

“Yes, yes I do. I’ll get going.” Poor Mac. He was the kind of big brother that offered his guidance, yet was stuck between sibling and parent. The problem was, he could be the exalted king of big brothers and it wouldn’t help. Jeff was dazed and ashamed and depressed and nothing Mac tried to do was going to help. He just hoped this glitch in his life wouldn’t estrange him from the only family he had left.

In sight of the diner, a scuffle was taking place. A disheveled man appeared to have gotten himself thrown out by one of the employees.

“Get the hell out of here, you bum!”

“Come on, man. Just a little cup o’ coffee. Ha’f you no hu… humanity?”

“Humanity, shmamity… sober up somewhere else. Become a paying customer and then we’ll talk. But for now, get your smelly ass outta here.”

The banished man could have been anyone. He could have been Jeff in a couple of months. Did he have a name? The way he was treated was inhuman, as if he were garbage cluttering up the street in front of the business.

“What are you looking at, bub?”

“Sorry, um, my name is Jeff Townsend and I have an appointment with Charlie Deveraux.”

“Yeah. I’m Charlie. You must be Mac’s brother. Great guy Mac is. Come on in and we can talk and set up your work schedule. Don’t mind him. Just walk past him and he’ll go away.”

Jeff looked deep into those eyes staring up at him; thick with pain, untrusting, groveling with the hope that someone’s compassion might arrest, though briefly, the desolation that was his life. A chill touched Jeff’s spine with the fear that one day that could be him.

From inside the warm and comfortable diner, Barry Baldwin looked on this all too familiar scene from his regular seat squirreled away in a secure corner booth. He always felt sympathy for the growing homeless population in Harbor’s Eve, Michigan; the city he called home for over forty years. It could happen to anyone in this economy. Even his job as a mid-level manager at Kinko’s was threatened. He had to watch his every step and the employees under him just recently had their hours cut back. It seemed business owners were afraid of the Affordable Care Act and thought it was necessary for their survival to cut full time employees to part-time. Of course, because Barry was salaried this increased his workload and the number of hours at the store.

Through the diner window, Cubby Neuchester, a cop that frequented Charlie’s could be seen outside coming to the rescue of the ragged fellow Charlie had just accosted. He helped him to his feet and sent him on his way. As Cubby came through the door, he spotted Barry and made a beeline over to the booth where he was sitting.

Barry nodded, “Cubby? Have a seat.”

“Man, this job is getting harder and harder. People are abandoning their homes and apartments. Some have no place to go. I didn’t become a cop to harass people who can’t help what’s happening to them.”

“Yeah. Think what will happen when winter rolls around. Where do they go, Cubby? You can’t help but feel for them, you know?”

“This guy that just left was a History professor at Western Michigan. Can you believe that? He lost his wife and kids in a boating accident and just never got it back together. His pacifier of choice is booze. It’s the ones that are druggies, or drunks or have the mental heebie-jeebies that never seem to find their way back.” Cubby rubbed his fatigued eyes. “Guys like the Professor; they are the saddest.”

“You mean no one tried to help this guy?” Charlie started Jeff’s training immediately and he couldn’t help but overhear and interject his surprise while topping off Barry’s coffee cup.

“Sure, they tried. But, if the heart can’t heal then they just find their way back to the bottle or the needle or whatever else floats their boat. And most of the time, they just can’t get over what’s eatin’ ‘em.”

“Hello, by the way. My name is Jeff Townsend.”

“So, you just started, huh?” Cubby examined Jeff with a cop’s eye.

“Yeah. Lost my job in Connecticut and just moved here to live with my brother for a while.”

“Hey buddy. You gonna bring that coffee?” Another customer yelled at Jeff from across the diner.

“Sorry, gotta go.”

“Wow. That’s harsh.” Barry took a big bite of his BLT and swallowed hard. “But, not all of them are like the Professor. What about them? I mean, like Jeff here. He just lost a job and I heard someone say last week at work that people are losing hours so they can’t make ends meet, so they can’t pay the rent and they get booted.”

“It’s true. Most live with family or friends until they get back on their feet, others go to shelters… look, man… you’re ruining my dinner. Let’s change the subject.”

The diner was alive with the rich smell of coffee, glasses clinking, conversation and laughter, while Jeff was learning how to serve plates full of food without tripping or worse, slopping them into the laps of Charlie’s customers. Becoming a titan of food service was never his ambition and he realized now that it was not a willing effort on his part – this desocialization of one’s self. It separated him from his education and training that in the end redefined him. Hard work, money, and sacrifice went into becoming an architectural draftsman. The ultimate goal was fulfillment. In a twist of fate, he was faced with one purpose, only one, and that was survival. Yet another big pill to swallow; all of those finely tuned abilities, all of the knowledge and experience that reflected years of polishing and honing a profession were… poof… unserviceable.

“Hey, buddy. Need some more coffee over here.” Over the bustle of hungry people, Jeff hurried with a coffee pot in tow. “Yeah, no. That’s decaf, boy. Don’t want that.”

When did he go from Mr. Townsend to boy? His status in the world took a dive. He no longer recognized his role or identity. Just get through the day. Think later.

After his shift, Jeff left the diner in deep thought about the man called the Professor, and walked into an evening accompanied by a brisk chill in the air. There was no doubt that the change of seasons threatened a fading summer. Jeff walked in the direction of his parked car, dodging cold bursts of wind as it jacked his uncovered head. He spotted the Professor across the street, huddled up in the corner of a building doing his best to shield his body from the unfriendly night. He saw Jeff cross the street toward him and hustled away in the opposite direction. Jeff didn’t know what it was that compelled him to follow the poor old man, except the impulsive need to discover what might have happened to him if it weren’t for the love of a brother.

The thought of following someone never entered Jeff’s mind before, so it was odd that his pursuit could be interpreted as threatening by another and as he turned the corner where the Professor disappeared, his body was slammed against the bricks of the building. Two men stopped him from entering into an area where a homeless community gathered under a viaduct.

“State your business here, jackass.” A man with a scruffy face and dirty hands held him tight fisted against the wall.

“Whoa! Wait man. I don’t mean any harm.”

They looked him over. Every nerve in Jeff’s body should have been screaming in fear, but all he could feel was pity and anguish for the lives under that bridge.

“Well, what do you want then?” The other man was younger and less aggressive.

“I, uh… I was worried about the Professor. Just needed to make sure he was going to be okay.”

“How do you know the Professor? You have him in school or something?” By this time the older guardian of the underpass had relaxed his stance and released Jeff.

“No, I ran into him at Charlie’s Diner and just… uh… geez, you know… wanted to check up on him.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re a tourist come to see the homeless people in their natural habitat. Get the hell out of here, man. We don’t need this kind of shit. It’s hard enough out here in the elements without having to deal with gawkers and such. If you want to do something, bring food and water, otherwise leave us be.”

“But, what about the Professor?” Jeff wanted them to see that he meant no harm and that he cast no judgment.

Offended, they turned and walked away from him and a graveled voice yelled back, “Don’t worry. We take care of our own.”

Stomach quivering, partly due to the unexpected aggression of the gatekeepers, but more so because of the panorama of hopelessness under the viaduct, Jeff could not pry himself away. Shielded by the brick cornerstone of the same building he had become familiar with just minutes earlier, he studied the activities of the homeless encampment. There was laughter and chatter and the smell of cooking from someone frying something on a makeshift grill. He held his breath, and observed how each person cared for the other. The ethos developed from mutual respect of circumstance and knowing whatever life blip that brought them there to that place was viewed with complete neutrality and it was neither considered bad nor did it have to be explained. It just was what it was – life being life and sometimes just one trip was enough to hurl you into oblivion. Twenty-four hours, and another twenty-four hours, and another and then another was the goal, like an inch worm moving forward just to stay alive. Leaving them seemed wrong, but Jeff’s life wasn’t their life… yet. If things didn’t go well, it could be.

Chapter One – One Hell of a Slip

It was late summer and Jeff Townsend’s most tragic saga was evolving into a weird skidding trip into a sinkhole where he had no control and no inkling of his life’s direction. There was no foothold, no root or protruding rock to grasp; only darkness all around. It was the time of year his dogs loved to walk the wooded areas around his home. The farm was beautiful during the summer months, but his favorite season was to follow with the magnificence of an autumn landscape. It brimmed and gleamed from bright sunlight, and gentle gusts across the pond shot little ripples onto shorelines where the dogs played. As peaceful and beautiful as it seemed, his life was transitioning downward and that underlying anxiety gutted his inner peace.

He didn’t farm the land. That was a life left behind with the last owners. But, after the loss of Jeff’s wife Madeline to cancer, he needed space – lots and lots of space to walk and think and mourn. Consolation was merely the delight in living such an existential lifestyle alongside the beauty of nature. Dear Madeline, his alter ego and kindred spirit, would have delighted listening to the birds chirp and the skirmishing of squirrels and woodland creatures. For a time, it all filled his soul with such tranquility, pacifying the loss that donned the fringes of his heart. The harmony in nature balanced the aching memories of Maddie writhing in pain. They were comrades the two of them, with an uncommon bond that others did not and could not comprehend. Neither of them desired children of their own, but had only a blinding love for cats, dogs and each other.

Earlier that week, Jeff learned of his termination from work as a draftsman from Mason Construction. A solid career resulted when he went to school late to become certified as an architectural draftsman; a decision made to ease the pain of his loss. He worked twenty years overall, ten of which were in construction. It became his purpose, even though he felt it strange for a man of his age to go back to school for this kind of training. As he fought every day to put one foot in front of the other, not only was school a practical career move, but it proved to be the diversion he had hoped it would be.

The architect that he worked under, Matt Brogan, was thirty-two – a fine age to begin an illustrious career. At first it was weird taking orders from a guy twenty years his junior, but as Jeff did with everything after Maddie died, he adjusted and went forward with a very successful partnership. But, Mason’s was going under. The economy had taken its toll even though the owners tried their best to keep everything afloat. It was time for Jeff to say goodbye, and the search began for yet another unwanted future for him to pursue.

Matt found a job almost immediately, but for a man like Jeff in his fifties, the construction business was cruel. This loss of his in general progressed at a slow, painful pace. So slowly that it was difficult to recognize what was happening; but when it dawned, Jeff found himself hitched to a runaway train with no control over its destination. Since Maddie’s illness pretty much tapped their savings dry that was the first asset to go. But the investment in the farm property was solid… he thought. It turned out that the taxes in the escrow account were underfunded and the property taxes were much higher than what was assessed. Along with his job loss this made it impossible to hold on to the property. Barely breaking even, his beautiful, rustic place of solitude needed to be sold.

Jeff’s brother, Mac Townsend, lived in Michigan and he offered him a place to live. Mac was about fifteen years older than Jeff, and always kept a keen eye out for his brother’s welfare. As he stood back and watched the agony that relentlessly pursued his younger brother, he wanted to offer Jeff some relief. Mac believed he had never seen someone go through such hard times with such courage. Something had to give. So, since all of Jeff’s revenue was gone and he had nowhere else to turn, his next step was the move to Michigan.

It was necessary to sell the furniture and other belongings with all their tender memories as Jeff had no money to pay for storage. His dogs and cat, Maddie’s cat, needed to be re-homed. Mac’s view of the best in life was different from Jeff’s, and animals were not on his top ten list. Jeff’s world was spinning like a top, reminding him over and over that he had to find homes for his pets and it was torture. It beat him into the reality of a loss that burned his soul like a branding iron and forced his heart to crack a little every time he took a breath. Little Jim, his miniature dachshund, knew something was amiss with his relentless jumping and looks of “What’s up, Dad?”

“I know, Jim. I… I can’t take you with me.” Jeff’s eyes started to burn.

But, Shaker, his blood hound, just sat and watched him with the eye of a committed pal who felt the same pain, the same way, at the same time. Jeff crumbled on the floor next to him and hugged his buddy. “Shaker, man. I don’t want this. I have no choice.” He lost control and sobbed into Shaker’s soft neck. Shaker’s steady nature held Jeff together, but his eyes haunted Jeff’s soul. He knew he would miss his pets and their unconditional love and he believed losing them was as devastating as losing Maddie.

Harder than the separation from Shaker and Little Jim was the separation from Tess, Maddie’s cat. This re-homing was the ultimate abandonment. How could life go from living in peaceful autonomy on his little farm with faithful, furry companions to having nothing: and the bills just keep piling up. Numbness veiled Jeff’s existence as he tumbled faster and faster down the rabbit hole. It was surreal that an educated, experienced person with multiple skill sets could not find work. No one wanted him. Even retailers thought he would leave as soon as another job in construction came up – as if, and even if there were a position in retail for him, minimum wage is the enemy of the working man.

Now, he was here in this state of absolute despair and surrender to the conditions in which he found himself, twisting his soul into fragmented bits of the past. Nagging anguish served only to deepen his sorrow and it disgusted him to realize that what once was his sanctuary and retreat from grief was no longer his possession.

Everything on which Jeff rested his unhinged soul, every safeguard put in place to assist in grief management over Maddie’s death had been snatched out from under him. He didn’t realize that a person could shed tears without the sensation they were welling, but the salty liquid just seemed to stream from his eyes without warning. A vast void of emotion waylaid any love, or faith, or hope expected to surface after such losses. As he took one last look at his beautiful property, his journey into a dense forest of misery began and it was either go forward into it with a meager and tattered spirit, or die.

Introduction to HOMELESS

Putting a face on the social issues of our time in the form of storytelling pretty much describes my books and my genre, and Homeless is no different. Homeless captures the sorry state of being that people must endure while suffering through life on the streets. The storyline exposes the brutality and the stereotypes that hold the chronically homeless down, and prohibits their progress back to normal, productive lives. Understanding that the pain and loss that put them on the streets is so profound and so private that they can’t even speak to it, is an imperative. Homeless also shines a light on the numbers of teenagers who are abandoned every day, and whose existence is ignored by those who are mistaken in their belief that these children can take care of themselves and probably deserve their homeless condition. Lastly, it reveals the significance of accepting the homeless lifestyle for what it is without moral judgement. The resulting shame and the self-loathing come at a pitiable price, and those who have no need to fear losing shelter and food, can’t come close to experiencing the loss of self that accompanies the loss of home.

The exploration of homelessness is not quite as simple as you might think. Sociologists study this social problem hoping for clear explanations and what they discover is that homelessness has as many messy layers as there are in peeling an onion and then each layer has its own startling cause. There is no one reason why a person is without a roof over their head. Therefore, the quantification of the issue becomes incredibly difficult to measure, especially when the variables entering into each situation are as unique as the individual. The only common equalizer or the only identifier is the palpable fact that homeless individuals live in a state of poverty. Again, though there is total agreement of this identifier, the degrees of poverty vary. The range starts with abject poverty and abandonment, where the only place to sleep is in a tent or on a park bench, to what is known as “couch surfing” or “house hopping.” Whatever the state of poverty, the fact remains that homeless people live in constant unstable and precarious situations daily and this takes a toll on their mental and physical wellbeing. Because others fear the acknowledgment of the homeless condition, homeless people become irrelevant to the world around them.

The three most recently defined types of homelessness are touched upon and displayed in the plot of Homeless. They are transitional or temporary, episodic, and chronic (Barrett, Tyler, Wright, 2010). Some homeless individuals find themselves in a position where they are on that glassy slide trying to find the right place to stick a foothold and it becomes more and more tenuous. This is what is known as transitional or temporary homelessness. It is the kind of homelessness that requires tenacity and continuous confidence that the right job will come and whisk that person out of the impoverished conditions they are in. It usually means they have social capital, in other words there are relatives and friends available to help them through the dark times. Unfortunately, if the condition lasts for a long time, feelings of worthlessness and a lack of ambition can put a damper on their social progress and put undue hardship on those who have made themselves available to house and feed them. For some, it leads to a life of alcoholism or drug addiction. If an entire family is transitional, the pressure to succeed becomes that much greater.

A person who is considered living in episodic homelessness is one who finds one of those footholds, starts to make some kind of living and then loses the job for any one of a multitude of reasons. Many jobs currently in American society span from part-time at only twenty-nine to thirty hours per week at minimum wage, to seasonal. More professional jobs can also be seasonal or have minimal duration, or can depend upon the state of the employer. An example is in the case of someone with a post-graduate degree, such as an adjunct professor, where stability is contingent upon the number of classes scheduled from semester to semester. In order for someone to reach that place where they are no longer economically threatened, they must have a consistent form of income which neither a part-time job nor a seasonal job provide. There are a variety of ways a person is not secure financially and is susceptible to episodic homelessness.

Employers are always more concerned with keeping their businesses afloat by cutting down on fulltime employment hours, eliminating employee benefits, and letting higher paid employees go and replacing them with younger, less experienced employees. Their bottom line is most important.

Finally, according to HUD in 2009, about twenty to twenty-six percent of the homeless population is considered chronic. This means that their social position and condition of homelessness is constantly affected by drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness. The accepted average for anyone to conquer their addictive demons, as observed by professionals who work daily with addicted individuals, is around the fifty-first attempt at getting clean. No matter how they try, the extra baggage of addiction and psychosis continually stands in the way of their social recovery.

A qualitative approach was taken in the compilation of events and storylines and especially the character developments. Each character depicts a different kind of homelessness. Approximately three years of participant observation and ethnographic research was accrued due to personal circumstances beyond my own control, and through work as the Executive Director of two agencies that dealt with poverty and homelessness.

Unless a person has walked in the shoes of people living in financial ruin, or has lived on the edge of insanity driven by the inability to find work, they cannot fully appreciate the panic that accompanies life without hope. The experience leaves people in the throes of individual trauma. The stories in this book are deeply personal and real. Even though they are portrayed by literary characterizations, they are adapted and molded from actual people and, with a few exceptions, factual events. My only objective is to school others about homelessness in all of its forms and to expose it as not only a physical threat as in any experience with poverty, but also as the demoralization of the human spirit and henceforth the demoralization of a caring and responsible society.

This work is also in part an offering of gratitude for those people in my life who stepped out of their own comfort zones to rescue me during episodic homelessness. To my daughter, Amanda Bakle Fazzaro, and my sisters, Dianne Erb Ross and Kathleen Ocken, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to disrupt your lives until I was able to get back on my feet. Your love and loyalty are not forgotten.

To the majority of people who have never experienced the trauma of homelessness, I say, look beyond your own world. Understand the desperation, and imagine the circumstances as if they were your own. Wallace Stegner states it best in his book Angle of Repose, “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”     ~  E. M. Duesel