By Bridget Reilly
On August 12th when I came back from my errands in town in the searching mid-afternoon heat. I saw a little note stuck on my camper door, written on n the back of a business card. At first I thought – or hoped – it was from John; it said something about coming back to talk to me later. But when I liked more closely, I saw it was from Mac McFadden. He had been here at about noon when I was gone, and would come back later that evening. This gave me a little glimmer of hope that maybe our future was not as bleak as John imagined.
Faithful to his promise, Mac returned later that evening in his red Ford pickup truck and aid matter-of-factly, “Long times no see!” This guy was someone I had known since the Armitage camp battle of 1992, which had been my introduction to Eugene; the first homeless rights struggle here that my former partner Rich and I had jumped into with both feet and got a lot of local media attention.
As Mac talked to me in his calm, measuring voice, I began to realize that someone really was looking out for our needs and we were not all alone on these miserable streets. This good man was the clear mind and the quiet, rock-steady resolve had been working for us all along ever since the Armitage days. He was also one, who had not lost my trust or alienated me in any way, like some of the other HAC people had. And how he was re-appearing in my life because he had heard John’s voice loud and clear that August 10th meeting and had taken careful note of all he had to say. John had told him the exact location where we were parked, and he took the trouble to come out here and visit us in person (of course not knowing John wouldn’t be here.)
He had apparently been reading my writings all along the latest letter in the Register-Guard. Now I knew that John had done more good than he’d realized by going to that meeting making his fears known. I also saw that he had been mistaken to undermine Mac, just because he couldn’t “troubleshoot” for 2000 people all at once. Mac told me that we were among the people at the top of his list to be moved into save locations when they were made available. This was partly because he had known me as a homeless activist for 6 years, and partly because John as my partner, had raised his voice in such an urgent and justifiable cry of need – a case of the “squeaky wheels getting the grease.”
The deadline was October 1st and this was only mid-august. Mac assured me that my camper would be in a legal parking slot well before the deadline and that I wasn’t likely to be hassled between now and then.
But after he left, I was again physically alone, and I had to take what he had said on pre faith: “this is not a crisis situation yet.” I kept repeating those words in my head like a mantra to calm the fear. I would also repeat them in my next letter to John if he didn’t come back soon. (He had a post office box in town that he checked now and then.)
During the next days I tried to sort all of this out, to see how much the perceived “crisis situation” affected our relationship dynamics. So much of the stressful arguing we did was only because we were in such desperate straits – or imagine we were.
If the factor of our “illegality” could be eliminated, how different would it be? If it weren’t for the threat of my being harassed while he was gone, it would have been much simpler matter to accommodate his occasional need to split for the woods; whether I and my camper went with him or not wouldn’t be such an urgent issue. We wouldn’t need to use the woods as a residence just because we were “illegal” in town. (Of course, John always blurred the outlines between these two needs because he really did think of the woods as his home; it was where he wanted to be in any case.)
At the present time the situation in town seemed impossible to him, so that his only “solution” was to walk out. What if I could make him see that the picture was not so bleak as he had made it out to be? These questions kept going around and around in my head without getting any certain answers. But one thought was very clear; once I did get into a legal parking space, we would be able to sort out what was true and what was not true about us as a couple.
A few days later John returned but only briefly. I told him about the conversation with Mac, but his attitude was still “I’ll believe it when I see it,” and he was still doubtful that I would be safe here in the meantime.
He also couldn’t understand why I was dragging my feet about getting my driver’s permit. He had gotten me a DMV manual to study, but I was plodding through it very slowly, a couple of pages a day. It was the most boring reading I could imagine; there were other things I preferred to read in the morning that were more soul-nourishing. I resented the idea that I was expected to drive my truck just because it was what my house happened to be sitting on.
At this time went on, however, it became more clear that I should go for the permit. However offensive the idea was to me, this was all about learning to “paddle my own canoe.” It was a way that I could be more in command of my own life, and have a shot of being “equal” with John as he wanted me to be.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 41 March – April 2000