Episode 6: Loneliness and Companionship

Two weddings and a resume.

“People tend to shy away from me…the unexpected chance encounters are the best ones, usually.”

[Intro music plays]

Dale: “I mean–I’ve died on the streets so many times”

Analyn: I say are you helping me to get out of this or are you taking my kid from me? I just had that feeling.

Marissa: “My new lover now thinks that he keeps saying, “Be stronger.” But I am stronger. There’s the difference.”

Eryka: I would definitely rather walk down an alley than down the street.

Donjuan: “But I was always kind of in the gut of the city, so to speak, looking for things, trying to – curious. Even here, just curious and roaming.”

Nicole: When I get stressed out, I’ll color. Or if my mind starts thinking too much, coloring is how I cope with a lot of – just about everything, actually.

Lucky: and pretty much he saw the crown that I wear on top of my head which is invisible to most, sometimes even me.

[end intro music]

Blake: Welcome everyone, welcome back to When you are homeless. This is episode six of our podcast. This particular episode, we’re gonna focus on an issue that I don’t think either Alison or I would have thought would emerge. But did. And that is this issue of loneliness. Or, on the flip side, companionship. Like what does that look like for people experiencing homelessness? How long do these relationships last? How do they get formed? How do they get maintained? These are all things that I think a lot of people would not, or at least we, did not think to consider as we started this process. So before we get to all that you have hopefully had a chance to listen to Devin’s story, which was released recently. And so we just kinda wanna reflect on what we find to be especially interesting about it. And I guess since I was the one who interviewed him, I’ll just start by saying a couple of things about him. I remember him being really nervous. He wasn’t really sure how he felt about being interviewed. And of course if you listen to this, you immediately understand that it was my first interview, because it was at a coffee shop and there’s all that noise, so I’m really sorry but in a certain way I feel like, it lends a certain kind of explanation to his nervousness, if you picked up on anything of his nervousness — he did not wanna be in this place.

Alison: Telling this story in front of an espresso machine.

Blake: Right, and we were in a tucked away corner, it wasn’t like anyone was listening. But I mean I hardly knew him, I had met him once. And I didn’t want him to feel somehow like he was being interrogated. And the other people I interviewed, I interviewed them in a study carrel in a library which felt a little clinical and a little antiseptic. Which I did, first of all for sound reasons, and also because I felt like those two people had a little bit more experience on the streets and being in this situation. There was a level of comfort with them and telling their story. And you got the sense with Devin — and I don’t know if people got this if they listened to his story — is, it’s sort of new for him. To talk about. No one’s really asked him these things and he hasn’t really been here, or he hadn’t really been here for very long at the time that I interviewed him. So, I think you can maybe tell. Especially in that first couple of minutes, when he’s talking about getting off the plane and walking around, and the quote that we talked about from him last episode about being offered crack; like, his eyes are wide open. And it kind of, if I’m gonna put it in a literary context, like a boy meets world kinda way. Like, wow, I’m in a totally new place, I’ve never been on a plane, I’ve never been in situations like this, I gotta find a shelter, like it was all very new to him. And it really made him quite sympathetic to me. I was really excited to kind of see him describe his situation in these positive ways.

Alison: I think my favorite moment is when he says, “And he used the ‘ef’ word”

Blake: [laughter] Right.

Alison: He has this innocence kind of, yeah.

Blake: Yeah. This dude’s telling me fucking go down to this train station and fucking…and it’s like so incidental to the action, but it’s so new. That it’s still fresh in his mind.

Alison: But he says, “He used the ‘ef’ word,…”

Blake: Right, he would never actually say that word. As I did do…kind, listeners.


Alison: Forgiven.

Blake: So I thought that about his story, that it was very fresh. And he was very empathetic as a result of, to many things, but part of it was the newness of it, for me. He has a lot of aspirations for his life that he’s trying to kick around, and I got the sense that he’s still in the process of deciding kind of what he really wants to do. You heard him mention maybe his potential interest in picking up this trucking training that he had started back in North Carolina. But he’s not really so excited about it. He’s excited about the money that he could make.

Alison: Right.

Blake: But what he really wants to do is something more artistic. And at the end of the day I think he would describe himself — well he did describe himself as sort of a loner. He doesn’t really like to be around many people. He’d like to have some space to contemplate his own art. Which for him means poetry. Which for him means songwriting.

Alison: And interestingly, I feel like he did , he seemed to connect his being a loner with holding him back, actually. Like he saw it as an opportunity, but he also, like he’s so determined to stay in Colorado, but one of the things he says that I really noted, he says, “There are a lot of opportunities for people like me — once I open up a little more, once I get a steady job, things will start changing.”

Blake: Totally. That’s right. Yeah, so he feels that he’s trying to, and the word he uses is “embrace.” He uses this word “embrace” I think at least ten times. Like I’m trying to embrace Denver, or I’m trying to embrace this part of my own personality. I’m trying to embrace my art. And behind that word is a sense that he’s withheld before. I think.

Alison: And, I think, also with that word embrace, he has this sort of, kind of a que sera sera mentality, like…I’m just thinking, he says things like, “okay, that was negative but” — or, when he talks about being in prison, he keeps saying all these negative things happened, but they were all teaching me a lesson. Like he takes these negative things and sees them as maybe they were supposed to happen and I’ve learned a lesson from them.

Blake: And just to remind you, like his prison experience sounded awful. I mean, I’m sure that prison has got to be awful no matter how you experience it, but he described, as you might remember, being chained to a wall in solitary for, like, days, weeks at a time.

Alison: And given drugs, too.

Blake: And given drugs, much like we were describing last time.

Alison: Yeah, he talks about, he was like, “I wasn’t going crazy, I just didn’t wanna be there, and then they’d give me sleep medication” and that would be the day.

Blake: It was just harrowing. And I’m sure, again, everyone’s experience of prison if they ever have been there was probably, is probably terrible, but he was really traumatically affected by it. And willing to talk about it. And always, as you say Alison, just ready to try to turn it into some lesson that he had learned in what felt like a genuine way. It didn’t seem like he was trying to be trite about that.

Alison: For sure. Did you feel like he kind of relaxed as you were, as you continued talking with him?

Blake: I did. There was a certain point where he was talking about how this woman Felicia kept in touch with him while he was in prison, and she was about the only one. And I asked him a question about her and I pronounced her name “Feleesha” —

Alison: –Right. I love that moment.

Blake: And he kind of joked and laughs, alright, if we’re gonna record this, we gotta get this right. Her name is Fe-li-see-ah. So, I felt like that was kind of a turning point in the interview where, like, after that he was like, Okay, I can kind of like joke with this dude.

Alison: He can drive.

Blake: Yeah, it’s okay. It’s okay. And he picked up on that and the rest of the way through the interview he felt somehow more relaxed, I would say. That’s Devin. So, I guess we should turn maybe then to the topic of today’s episode, loneliness and companionship. And we’ve got plenty of excerpts to play for you from a number of different storytellers, in fact almost all of them had something to say on this point. And we’ll start with Devin, actually since we just talked about him.

Alison: And Devin’s a good transition into this topic, ’cause as we just discussed, he seems to narrow in on these few key people in his life. And they seem to be very few, but the few that he has, he really idolizes and he sees them as really being drivers of his positive directions.

Blake: That’s right. And maybe I’ll start with something that picks up from an earlier episode, I think it was episode 4, where we talked about art and we had Devin read for you a poem. But we didn’t really put that poem into context, and he actually goes on after he recites the poem aloud, describe who the poem is about and why it is important. And so here’s an excerpt with Devin talking about that.

Devin [recorded previously]:

That’s “Swift like Music.” That’s the situation with—yo, her name is Tori. I met this chick at my job, man. I wouldn’t call her a chick. I met this young lady at my job. We met up one time. I came to her student housing and all that and, like, she is so cool. Seriously, though, she is dope. She doesn’t really like to be around a lot of people. She’s real quiet. She’s smart as hell. She’s funny. She’s beautiful. The point though is she likes to do things in her own time. So for her to be able to come into a crib and like be there for me to talk to her. I didn’t even really notice because, like, she came from California to come to school over here. She really didn’t have nobody. Like, she was doing everything on her own. So, I started helping her. She had got her card—and I was just—like, simple stuff, not money or anything, but I was there for her. But I seen that she was really trying. I was just helping her when I can. And she was, like, always stable to the deepest point. Like, “Yo, you help me so much, more than anybody else out here.”

But now she’s just a good friend. I really stepped back. If it was meant to happen, it would’ve happened down the line. We’re both young. I could talk to her about anything.
I just talked to her two days ago. I used to talk to her a lot about not knowing who I was.
I was in some gangs back home before I got locked up. I really wanted the leadership role when I came home but I didn’t have the balls to say it. So, she just knows the person that just wanted to get away, and write music, and smoke, and help people, and just be me. She was like I just want you to go somewhere where you can just be yourself. Be you. I see the truth in a person. She used to always tell me that.

Blake: And so what you can really see there, is that the whole purpose of this poem is to provide some kind of thank you to a person whom he had had some contact with who mattered greatly to him. And part of the reason that it mattered to him was that this person needed his help, needed his ear, and he gave it to them. And there was some reciprocation also. It was essentially a friendship. And you got the sense that he was also romantically potentially interested in this woman, but clearly that was not the point of the poem, nor was it the point of him remembering the story.

Alison: And I think elsewhere in Devin’s story he expresses this yearning to be able to help other people. He talks about how his mom mentions he could be this, I forget the job title, but someone who helps, basically like if you’ve been through experiencing homelessness and drug addictions, you can kind of get trained and help others, kind of serve as a mentor.

Blake: Right.

Alison: And he expressed really wanting to do that and that he felt he would be good at that.

Blake: Right, and think that’s true, and I think it’s something that he’s trying to build up to. In much the way that the quote that you mentioned at the top of the episode does. It kind of shows him being a person who knows that he needs to kind of quote-unquote “open up a little bit,” that he needed to do that in order to be that person. And I’m not gonna quote him, I’m not gonna pull any other excerpts from his story, but I’ll just quickly reference a couple of other things that you might remember from his story. One, when he’s talking about what it takes to get out of bad situations, he says this: “I’ve been in bad situations, one of the things that got me out of it was good music and talking to good people like Ms. Shelby.” That talking mattered. Having someone to say, Here’s what’s going on in my life, what do you think. You take it for granted that you have these people in your life, and I think when you’re a person experiencing homelessness, you don’t get that very often. And when you do, you’re very aware of it. And it makes a huge difference. The other point I’ll make about him just really quickly is that when he was working in Raleigh, he made mention of the fact that he was really good at the job and he was very proud at being good at the job, but what he didn’t like about the job, and what ultimately led him to quit it, as he says, he liked working but he didn’t like working with people. Working with people was just more than he wanted to handle. And at that young age, I mean, even now, I would imagine Devin to be 24, 25, the time he’s talking about he must have been 19, 20. Like, it was just too much for him.

Alison: And I was so curious about that moment, because he said “my co-worker was old school.” And he didn’t say what that meant, and I was just wondering, like it could have been so many things. It could have been racism, it could have been, like, I don’t know, telling him what to do, making him do all the work. But it was kind of like, it was kind of mature of him not to go off on this co-worker, but see it as himself, like okay, I had struggled to work with this other person.

Blake: Right, yeah. It’s not a move that necessarily everyone that we interviewed would have made, I think.

Alison: Yeah, absolutely.

Blake: Okay, so we’ll move from Devin then to Dale. And Dale has lots of stories about companionship and loneliness that come up. Just unbelievably touching. I hardly even feel like I want to necessarily set this up. I just want to play it for you.

Dale [recorded previously]:

You live out an experience, and you live out an experience, and you can’t imagine what the experience is until you go through it. You know, freezing on the street, you know, I mean many nights – a lady named Cynthia Rogers, a good friend of mine in Plymouth, Minnesota. She came and visited me when I was out in Morrison. I went up to the library, and it was taking me – I was at Samaritan – or Salvation Army sick room; it would take me all day to get up to the library, and if the library closed at 4:00 I’d have a five-minute window. And I sent her – the computers were about to shut down and I said, “Send me hope and warmth,” and then the computer shut down because the library was closing.

And so basically I walked – I knew that it was going to take me at least four hours in the cold to get back. And I got to the 16th Street shuttle and I sat – I have it here someplace – I got to the 16th Street shuttle and I sat down on the seat, and next to me there was a purple, 5×7 index card, and I turned it over and it said, “Hope.” What do you do with that? I mean the odds of that happening are one in ten trillion, and I had that here in my pocket until the card was so ragged that I just put it in a plastic bag and set it aside because it was – but I lived off of that. I’ve taken that card out many times.

Blake: I mean I’m about to cry just listening to that, I mean it’s — in fact, every time I’ve listened to that story, that’s the part where I have to pause. I mean, you can see that he choked up at this point. He’s such a focused, driven, ambitious, smart person, and so much of what he wanted to talk about was that. Showing that he was these things. Providing a sense of a plan for how he would use that ambition and his skills and experience to get off the street. And it was all very professionally done. And so, to take the quote that you just heard and put it into that context is to make it even more heartbreaking. Because he has this moment of realizing that it’s not enough. It’s not enough to be smart, it’s not enough to push the cart up the hill. There has to be someone to talk to. There has to be some sense of hope. And we’ve talked, you and I have, about this is a kind of, like, partially uplifting moment, and I think it is, but it’s also deeply sad. Like, he doesn’t have anyone.

Alison: And he couldn’t have time to email Cynthia Rogers.

Blake: Right, yeah, like, that was a miracle that he got to send six words in a library before it closed. He never talked about a response from her.

Alison: Right.

Blake: One of the more, I guess, memorable, two or three of the more memorable moments from his story involve utter loneliness. And heartbreak. And a sense of depression. And so, that he clings so feverishly to a 5×7 index card. It’s just so telling about the rest of that life. In this moment. I mean, it’s just incredible.

Alison: And the other relationship I’m thinking about Dale is with his son, and he says, so my son’s eighteen, things are about to get crazy, I wish he could come here but he can’t stay with me when I’m on the streets, I don’t want him on the streets. So that’s kind of this extra layer of urgency in his situation.

Blake: I think that’s right. I mean, there are so many more things I could say about Dale and his sense of loneliness and companionship. There are other friends and acquaintances that he talked about within his life that were clearly important to him. This man Tom Marsh who was a sculptor in Louisville when he had his business going. Who died by suicide. That was a turning point for him, too, and it was the only other time in the interview where he cried. So both of the most emotional moments for him had to do with losing a friend or gaining a sense of potential connection with another person. Or just with, like, an idea of hope. That was enough. It’s amazing sometimes how little it takes for someone in a compromising position to want to keep going on. In this case it’s a 5×7 index card on the side of a bus.

Alison: I think Lucky says, “I know that sounds simple, but it’s the simple things that make life worth living.”

Blake: And for Dale, it — Dale seems like someone who would roll his eyes at that and yet, here he is, living it out, experiencing the truth of it.

Alison: Right. So, we’re gonna move on to Analyn, who you have — we’ve only heard a little bit from her so far, we heard from her in our trauma episode, where she was talking about her experience with domestic violence, which is a cycle in her life. And you’ll hear her story soon, her full story. But in this episode we wanted to show kind of another experience with, on our theme of loneliness and companionship, ’cause she just again and again, she gets in these relationships. And the moment you’re about to hear is one where, I think, it kind of just holds everything in it, within this moment, all the different factors that she has been experiencing. So here’s Analyn.

Analyn [recorded previously]:

Later on, I got in a relationship. He’s a crackhead. Well, let’s just say I was homeless then when I left him. I had nowhere to go. I end up meeting a black guy. Turned out, I didn’t know he was a crackhead. Boy, he was something else. He was hiding things and I don’t know.

And he couldn’t work so I decided he’s my baby daddy. Okay. Somebody’s getting work, you or me. So he couldn’t work so I did. I say I’m going to watch my kid – your kids – my kids – your kids and I. So he said okay. So, coming home, I was like a crack addict looking for him. Every time I leave money in the floor or in my purse, it’ll be gone. my man is doing drugs, I’m broke all the time because he stealing my money. Or I don’t wanna lose him so I gotta give him money. Then I realize I’m stupid, you know. I don’t have him anyway. And I sit down and think, I don’t have him, anyway. He don’t come home.

If I give him $100, he take off for who knows where now. So I don’t have him. He’s not helping me financially. He not here with me emotionally. Physically. I lost him already. I never had him from the beginning. He uses me. So either join him or leave him. So it hurts because I care for him.

For one year, I went through this, looking for him. I’m trying to change him to my way and lifestyle that whatever this you’re doing is not good. So every week, every time I get paid, he be out there. I be looking for him to bring him home or take my money that he had. Whatever reason I’m out there for.

Alison: So again, I think you can hear how she’s, Analyn is in such a crappy position. Like she’s looking for someone, first of all, she’s looking for someone to love, I think. She’s looking for a partner. And she has money to worry about, jobs, kids to worry about. And she thinks she finds someone and then he turns out to not be a help with kids, not be a help with money, to be a drug addict.

Blake: Right, when you get a chance to listen to her story, you’ll see that this excerpt is kind of reminiscent of a pattern, right.

Alison: Yeah, absolutely.

Blake: I mean, in some ways it’s like a kind of incredibly extreme version of a kind of middle-class complaining about one’s spouse, right. Like, he’s not worth it, he’s not giving me anything, why am I in this relationship? Except, you multiply it by drug use and you multiply it by domestic violence and you multiply it by —

Alison: Neglecting children…

Blake: Child neglect. Like, the stakes are so much higher, I think, in this kind of situation, versus the one that I was describing. And yet at its core, it’s a question of dissatisfaction with one’s partner that in some strange abstract way feels familiar.

Alison: Right. That’s a really good point.

Blake: We’ve all had those moments, probably.

Alison: It’s a really good point. And I feel like Analyn is so powerful about talking about her identity as a mother, and then this sort of return to this complaining about the partner, this universal kind of, this guy isn’t the best right now, it’s sort of this like, it almost feels like a slip in her, in the story she’s telling. Again, when you hear her story, it’s very, “I am a good mother, and this is why everything went crazy with my kids and why I don’t have them right now.” And this is almost like, yeah, I have all this stuff going on, and I also want to love someone. And I want a partner who reciprocates.

Blake: I’m curious to ask you, since this is one of I think two mothers that we have here. Did you find that for either Analyn or later we’ll hear from Lucky, were those expressions of a desire for companionship? Are those kind of complaints about companions in any way unique from the other ones, or did you feel they were actually quite similar?

Alison: You mean as mothers?

Blake: Right, was there anything quote-un-quote, “motherly,” about their desires for companionship? Were there characteristics of their desires for companionship that seemed connected to their motherhood, or were they in fact quite clearly looking for the same thing that all of us are?

Alison: I think they were looking…hmm. It’s a good question. I will say also, Nicole is a mother, and that came up in her story quite a bit.

Blake: Right.

Alison: I think, in the case of Nicole, Analyn, and Lucky, they all care for their children so deeply — and they want a partner the way anyone else wants one. Like in some cases, it was like — actually in all cases, it seemed like they weren’t finding someone who was helpful in that way, and that was obviously a very challenging situation.

Blake: Totally. I mean, when I look at this description of this dude, and I look at Lucky’s description of the dude she’s involved with, like, one question is, what is the attraction? What do these guys have to offer? ’Cause it has to be something, right? It’s not like you would just pick anyone because they’re there. Or maybe it is. Maybe there’s no room whatsoever for choosiness when you’re in a situation like these women find themselves to be in. Is it that these women feel like they simply don’t have a choice to pick the kind of partner that they would want to and so they are faced with the choice of either someone who’s maybe not ideal — clearly, in this case, not ideal for Analyn — or choose to be alone. And the choice of being alone is just not one that they are willing to make.

Alison: I feel like it probably wasn’t so black and white. I think many of them mention — Analyn and, I think mostly Analyn, made it clear, “things were really good for this year…and then he hit me. And then he kept hitting me.” And she said that many times, like she expressed, this guy he was really good — at first. And then…stuff went okay.

Blake: Okay. Right.

Alison: So I think again, like any relationship, you think something good is there, and then it turns out, it’s not gonna work.

Blake: It does seem clear that Analyn’s notions of companionship are wrapped up in the notion of a partner. Like a romantic partner. Like that’s a thing that she very much wants and is after. Would you say?

Alison: I think so. Yeah. And then, I think we’ll move next to Eryka. Who — when I spoke to Eryka, actually, her sense of loneliness struck me. Like, punched me in the face. It really really surprised me and it made me…it just, speaking with Eryka is when I first realized I didn’t know anything about the experience of homelessness. ’Cause I just always had this notion that people had cliques and friends and a community. And Eryka made it very clear that she does not but that she wants one. And just…well, you’ve already heard her story, but I’ll let you listen to this snippet again that I think kind of really encapsulates her feeling of alone-ness.

Eryka [recorded previously]:

I would definitely rather walk down an alley than down the street.

People tend to shy away from me. And that’s another thing I don’t really understand. Some people tell me I’m intimidating and others say I’m not. And I guess I can see both sides of that. So I really can’t figure it out. I don’t know if I intimidate, but people tend to go the opposite direction from me, which is okay, because I don’t – I had a guy in Salt Lake City get up off the train and move away from me when I sat down. And I don’t care. I want to be around normal freaking people either.

But why did they turn away? I’m really confident. Aside from everything else going on, I love myself a lot and I know who I am, what I am. I know what my abilities are pretty much. Anybody would be lucky to have me as a friend, blah-blah-blah. But people shy away and I don’t understand it.

There are people though that meet me off, cut off guard. And those are usually the ones that turn up through the bus. Like given the choice, somebody meets me, people end up liking me. So the unexpected chance encounters are the best ones, usually.

I’m by myself 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent is usually people that I know or run into from the other places and church. But I don’t rely on anybody for anything, except myself. Because at the end of the day, it’s me that’s responsible for me.

Alison: And I feel in this — what we talked about quite a bit in the last episode, with Eryka, is her sort of, what I kind of see as her having this notion of who she is and that being challenged by her circumstances. I think that’s happening here. She’s like, I’m confident, I don’t need anyone — but why are they turning away? Like, this kind of back and forth, like, whatever, I don’t care — but I do care.

Blake: Actually do care. Yeah. It’s a defense mechanism, I would imagine. Or at least that’s how it would play for me.

Alison: Right. For sure.

Blake: Yeah. I mean there’s so many lines in there that stand out to me. I’m fascinated by the line about how the unexpected chance encounters are the best ones. It has to be that she’s just walking into every encounter assuming that they’re not gonna wanna talk to her. And I guess I’m curious to ask you — when I look at this, I was really thinking about this as I was re-listening to her story, this part about where she says, “Some people tell me I’m intimidating and others say I’m not, and I guess I can see both sides of that”; you sat down with her. Is there anything about her that’s intimidating? Or, when you listen to that, are you like, what are you talking about, you’re not intimidating at all?

Alison: So, she does say — she says she carries around 120 pounds with her. And she is, she’s tall and very, like, strong-looking. She’s over six feet, for sure. And…I mean, I wouldn’t say intimidating. But she is kind of — I mean, when she said that, I felt sad, obviously. I mean, she looks like she’s determined. She has that look about her, kind of like, don’t fuck with me. I think she does have a look. I think, it might have even been cut, ’cause she mumbled it, she said, “I don’t know if I have resting bitch face, or what” — I think that got cut. But she did kind of wonder if her affect is pushing people away. I also do wonder if it has part, if it has to do with her transition. ’Cause she does — like, she’s recently begun her transition, and I know some people are scared of the transgender community. I feel like that has to play a part of her experiences.

Blake: I kind of imagine — I think I have to imagine that going through that transition makes you hyper-aware of yourself and your appearance. And of other people’s responses to you. And I wonder how that plays in these moments of unexpected encounters. That would be fascinating to see that play out. Or to hear her talk about that. Like what, what levels of self consciousness drop away in the unexpected encounters that maybe just have to be there in the moments when you come into it with a certain amount of baggage about how you think others perceive you. I see that as probably pretty, like, consistent and central to her notions of interactions with anyone at this point, probably.

Alison: And she has faced this, like, explicit rejection — in many ways — but particularly she mentioned being rejected from The Center, which is the LGBTQ resource center, and she felt very unwelcomed there. Which I think certainly plugs into and perhaps energizes what you have been talking about, this awareness of “maybe I don’t fit” in places.

Blake: Right. She wears it on her sleeve, you can see it throughout the whole story she tells. Maybe we’ll transition now into a little bit of an excerpt from Marissa. And in this case, we have another person, like Analyn, whose sense of companionship is mostly tied up in a notion of a partner, a romantic partner. Here’s what she has to say about that for herself.

Marissa [recorded previously]:

Other strength that helps me is like a significant other. They help build you up and make you feel that you’re worth it. And I also build them up so it makes it super strength, you know. And I mostly build them up more and I kind of like work on myself.

Blake: So there’s that quote and then I’m gonna provide another that kind of elaborates on this particular person that she’s with and what her hopes are for her own life in conjunction with his.

Marissa [recorded previously]:

So if we both get our ducks in order, we can pull ourselves out of this so like we can get into a housing. That just shows him with my culture these kind of people don’t really want me around but this was my native ground before. I met him in prison. And I’ve always thought that men from prison is better lovers than men out here because they’re so free. They don’t know the reality of the rules of what they need to abide by. They don’t care about hurting your feelings. Out here. But in prison, they learn how to be faithful and they start realizing they were fucking up in the beginning, you know what I mean?

Yeah, so I just like – I’m happy that I met this new person and I don’t want to do drugs anymore. And I told them in order to be with me they’re gonna have to be sober. I want you to want it, not because you’re on drugs. And they agreed of course. I said because somebody that really loves you wouldn’t let you do that.

Blake: So you can see that for Marissa, she draws strength from this person. And she likes the idea of providing strength to this person. Both of those things are really important to her as a sense of her identity and her sense of hope, really, for the future, is tied up with this person whom she’s met. I don’t know what else to say about her. She had some really fun stuff to say about her partner and her preferences for men who have been in jail that were kind of interesting.

Alison: Yeah, that was interesting. I guess you all haven’t heard her story yet, but it is very fascinating to hear her talk about; she says she prefers men in jail —

Blake: Or who have been in or who are in —

Alison: Yeah, I think both. Because on the outside, men are free, so they don’t know, they don’t care about hurting feelings —

Blake: Consider this a teaser for the Marissa story —

Alison: Right.


Blake: It’s actually quite thoughtful, what she says.

Alison: Yeah, it is. Also, what I’m thinking with Marissa, there’s the quotation y’all have already heard about her role as mentor with her, quote, drag daughters, and how that, she gets so much satisfaction out of being a mentor for other people who’ve been through her same experience. And how the sharing of that experience is what’s really important and kind of also boosts her own confidence, I think.

Blake: Yeah, that’s a common thread between the excerpt from her story we just heard and those experiences, for sure. And here’s one more Marissa quote, of her talking of the importance of a support system of any kind.

Marissa [recorded previously]:

I think having that support system would help them achieve their self-esteem and make them know that it would be okay to do it on their own. Some people don’t want to be alone because they get lonely and depressed and need some compassion. Maybe get an animal, a lover, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, whatever floats their boat or activities they can do.

It’s a lot of loneliness. Nobody ever thought of it that way, but yeah.

Blake: What’s interesting to me about that quote from Marissa, is she seems to be speaking from a place of being beyond that in a certain way. She has this companion and she’s remembering what it was like to not have one. Trying to almost provide this kind of advice to people, or a generalized notion of what it might mean to be homeless. When she says, “it’s” a lot of loneliness, the “it” there is homelessness. There’s a lot of loneliness, that’s what she’s talking about. And I think, you know, in many of the excerpts you’ve seen here, you get that. You get a sense that these are people who are in many ways, maybe without even knowing it, really striving for a connection.

Alison: And I love that she mentioned maybe get an animal, a lover, and I wonder what the novel you read, or, the memoir you read, Blake — ’cause the whole point is that he’s — well, not the whole point, but a large part of the memoir is that he’s travelling with the dog.

Blake: With the dog. Oh, and he makes it super clear in the intro: I had some ground rules, I would not go any place where I thought I would be putting the dog in danger; I understood that this would limit where I could stay or for how long, but it was a non-negotiable, he was going to be with his dog. And there’s plenty of times along the journey where he kind of does this things where Lizbeth was just like shameless in how she, like, acted like she was haggard when we really needed a ride and how she, as soon as we got one, she would perk up —

Alison: Awww [laughter]

Blake: You get that sense of a kind of a —

Alison: A partnership —

Blake: Partnership, which he’s also very explicit about. He’s like, look, I’m not gonna try to overly romanticize this, like, if you have a dog you understand what this is like and that’s what this is like for me, too, it’s no different. So yeah, that was very much a part of that story.

Alison: Yeah, so I think it’s so keen that Marissa picked up on that, and it sounds like she’s never had an animal, but she understands that.

Blake: Right. And now I’m trying to think, did we have any — I don’t think we did, we didn’t have any of the eight storytellers mention a pet.

Alison: I don’t think so. I mean, I’m wondering if that’s location. Like, I was in a place where I don’t believe animals, except for service animals, were allowed. So people visiting there, or those with pets maybe don’t come to The Gathering Place — I don’t think they’re allowed in St. Francis Center —

Blake: I’ve never seen a dog in the shelter.

Alison: So in that way we had this sort of unintended filter, maybe.

Blake: Right. I mean, certainly walking around Colfax —

Alison: Riding the buses —

Blake: Riding the buses. I’ve seen people with dogs who are pan-handling. So I don’t know whether to make that connection at all. But it seems like a natural move that I would make if I were in that situation.

Alison: Right. So, in a very similar way to Marissa, Lucky also kind of ends her story with having a partner. And she ends it in a sense of hope; she feels hope with this partner. And, I’ll, maybe we’ll give you the quote, then we’ll discuss it after. So here’s Lucky.

Lucky [recorded previously]:

Currently right now, I have a fiancé. He loves me and he takes care of me. Every night, I’m sleeping next to him. He’s there to tell me and boost up my confidence in being able to go get my daughter. I see my daughter more often. Yes, it’s not as much as I would like and each visit is not how I want it to go, but it’s okay because I know I’m gonna get to a point where she has her own room in my house where we sleep under the same roof every night. Pretty much what this man is giving me and what he’s allowed me to give to myself is hope.

And yes, we still do have our drug habit. Like, he has the same drug habit as me, but he doesn’t let it take control of him emotionally like I do and he doesn’t let it pick and choose how he’s gonna live life or control his decisions like I maybe sometimes do. All I know is that I’m thankful for him. I’m thankful for my new outlook on life and I’m thankful that I’m getting back on track.

Alison: And I think Blake and I wanted to end with Lucky’s because we both felt the sort of sense of ambivalence, a little bit, in the way we were feeling about this quotation from Lucky. Like it — on the one hand you have, it’s like her hope card, it’s like Dale’s hope card. This man Lucky kind of sees as her hope card, “what he’s allowed to give myself is hope” — but then, and this is probably our outsider judginess, they have this drug habit that they share. And I think right away, it’s sort of like, oh, is this gonna work?

Blake: Especially when you remember the earlier, deeply troubling, vivid, incredibly reflective, well-told story about hitting it in the back of a car with a stranger basically, and how that was a clear turning point for the worse. And so, yeah, it’s, you wanna believe that this can work; and yet, when she’s so self, with such self awareness, mentions, yeah, we still have our drug habit, I wanna believe her. Do I? Well, I don’t know. I mean, she seems to say that she lets it take control of her emotionally. She says it, right? But he doesn’t. I hope she’s right about that. And I hope that in fact the companionship that she has with this person, who, if she’s right about him, will sort of do the thing that Marissa talked about and like be this support system and boost her up, super-strength. Certainly I think she’s better off with someone who she feels that way about than not. I would hope, I don’t know. What do you think?

Alison: Well, yeah, and it is making me think. I feel like, I’m wondering how much our privileges, so to speak, of not having these really, like, abject situational challenges, affect how we’re looking at relationships. I’m thinking about the question you asked earlier, Blake, about mothers and finding relationships. And here, like, my first thought with Lucky, with what she just told us, is, I’m like, uhh, red flag. Like, you don’t want a guy to make your whole world better. Like if a guy’s making your world better, that’s probably not gonna last, kind of thing. But maybe that’s not the case when you’re having, when you have a drug addiction and you wanna get your kid back and you’re trying to get back on track.

Blake: The stakes are so high. Right. That I wonder if a lot of these sort of like 21st century therapeutic terms sort of go out the window when you’re in a situation like this. Like, sure, we could throw out the word co-dependence here, and maybe we could try to be armchair psychologists about this situation, but we don’t — we have no place to say what’s best for her. And I think it would be dangerous to kind of try to, to put those — well, it makes me wonder: are those luxuries that we in the middle class get to ask?

Alison: Totally. All these clichés. Like, you have to love yourself before you love someone else. Like, I feel like we’ve heard several storytellers say, he taught me how to love me. Or Lucky says, he showed me the crown I wear that I sometimes don’t know myself.

Blake: That’s right. Yeah. God, we’re really — we’re clearly getting out of our depth quickly here.

Alison: I know [laughter]. Maybe, maybe pull back out of the weeds.

Blake: But it is worth asking the question about, like, what are the dynamics of how someone experiencing homelessness negotiates romantic relationships versus how do those not experiencing it negotiate it. Are we even talking about the same ball game, or not. I guess I’m unclear on that. And I do wanna add that we’ve sort of mostly focused, by happenstance I would say, in this episode, on those women who seem to be looking for romantic partners with other men. I think the men that I interviewed spoke on the issue of companionship, romantically-speaking, and both in the case of Donjuan and Devin — and Donjuan doesn’t have an excerpt in this episode, but he had a couple of really fun interactions with people, women, whom he seemed interested in. But he didn’t really push it and he didn’t really seem like he was necessarily looking for a long term companion or a girlfriend. I would say the same was probably true of Devin. And both of them were kind of introspective on this kind of, like, journey of discovery that they’re more focused on at this point. And for Dale, Dale’s been married before. And he’s no fan of his ex-wife, clearly. And so, all of the things that he had to say about romantic relationships were tied up in the stress that came out of being in what he perceived as a really bad relationship; and now it’s affected his kind of situation with his kid. But I didn’t get the sense at all, from him, that that’s something he was looking for. Though he did speak a little bit about these chance encounters with people on the street. In a very philosophical way about how important it is to sort of, like, be there for each other in those ways. He wouldn’t have said it nearly as tritely as that, but I just kind of wanted to address this issue of how the men that we’ve described have thought about these issues. I want to actually end on the story of the kind of relationship that comes from a weird thing that sometimes happens at the St. Francis Center —

Alison: I’m so glad you remembered this.

Blake: Yeah. So what happens not so often, but every once in a while — in fact, I’ve seen it twice in nine years, is that Duncan, this guy that I often talk to — he’s great and he’s super smart and he works at the shelter, and he handles, you cannot even imagine the number of different things that he handle. He’s a really great guy, and I’ve seen him twice in the Center in nine years, or however long I’ve been there, actually come out and officiate a wedding in front of me.

Alison: Wow.

Blake: Like, I’m sitting there at the table that is right by the entrance —

Alison: With a handwritten sign —

Blake: The handwritten sign is there; this one person came in one day, and she’s like, “Oh, what is this?” And I was like, “Oh, this is the Writing Center, we help with writing.” She’s like, “Can you help me write a song?” And I’m like, “Um, yeah. Okay. What kind of song? I mean I probably can’t, but I’m happy to listen, you know.” She’s like, “Well, I just wrote this song for my friend who’s getting married.” And I was like, “Oh, wow, that’s really exciting!” And she’s like, “Can I sing it?” I’m like, “Yeah, that’d be great.” So she did and I was like, “Oh, that’s great! When’s the wedding?” And she was like, “I think it’s in about three minutes.”


And then these two people came in, Duncan came out, he said the most basic of words, pronounced them man and wife. And then they left.

Alison: And did she sing her song?

Blake: She did.

Alison: Okay.

Blake: And that was it. And then they left. And then you know, ten minutes later, someone wants a resume.

Alison: Did the whole chaotic room stop and cheer, or?

Blake: No!

Alison: Like, no one else was looking?

Blake: No one stopped, like people were literally walking by them as the words were being pronounced.

Alison: Wow.

Blake: Duncan said congratulations; the friend who sat down with the song with me, said congratulations; I waved and said congratulations


Blake: — but that was it.

Alison: Did they look really happy?

Blake: They did. The looked sort of like, I guess I would say like, cutely embarrassed at how weird it was that it was happening.

Alison: Yeah.

Blake: But you know, like, holding hands and like rubbing each other’s shoulders.

Alison: Yeah, wow.

Blake: And the other one, you know, was very similar but by then, like, oh my god, these weddings, they happen all the time.


Alison: Always getting in the way of these résumés.

Blake: Yeah. I’m trying to help this person with a résumé, and these guys are trying to get married in here, what’s up with that?


Alison: I’m really glad you remembered that.

Blake: And I think we had said, or if we didn’t, we’re gonna end this episode with a completely unrelated excerpt from Dale. Here it is.

Dale [recorded previously]:

People everywhere are becoming more of what they actually are. That’s what I see. And I see – and it’s easier to see it in street people. I mean, there was – you know, and it’s so easy to make judgments on people when you don’t know them. And, I mean, obviously you’re down in city mission you don’t know any of these people, right? But there was a lady that was trying to walk, and she kept falling down. And this lady that I knew remotely just came over and just wrapped her arms around her and said, “It’s going to be okay,” and stayed with her for like probably 45 minutes before the paramedics. And she tried to walk a couple more times.

And I see – you know, it’s not an inherent goodness it’s a developed goodness. It’s people deciding that they’re going to exercise empathy and kindness. And then on the opposite side –I mean, I was upstairs in the chapel sleeping, and someone just started shouting on the other side, and there were two people that were holding knives, which that doesn’t go over real well in the mission – knife fights really don’t fly. But I would say that there’s an enormous, higher degree of transparency on people that are on the street.

[exit music starts]

Alison: For web design and sound support, thanks to Jonathan Howard.

Blake: Our theme music was composed by Geoff Stacks

Alison: For support for interview space and scheduling, thanks to Melanie Deem and The Gathering Place

Blake: And at St. Francis Center, thanks for Andrew Spinks for permissions and support. Also thanks to the DU—the University of Denver and its Executive Director, Doug Hesse.

Alison: And another special thanks to Juli Parrish , Director of the University of Denver Writing Center

Blake: Thanks also to Kateri McRae for sound support and equipment, and to Andrea Sanz for social media outreach and photography.

Alison: Thank you, Chris Bunch

Blake: And thank you, Sarah Hoffman. See you next week.


St. Francis Center in Denver, Colorado
The Gathering Place in Denver, Colorado
Travels with Lizbeth by Lars Eighner