The first week in February, 1984, my parents disowned me, I dropped out of school, and my house burned down. My boyfriend, first serious love and English professor, Mack, had been trying to break up with me the week before, and we were in the midst of negotiations when the fire started. I heard something in my room in the basement and saw the flames. I told Mack to call the fire department, tried to fight the fire myself by batting at it with rugs. It sputtered, caught the curtains, and raged to the ceiling.
I ran outside down the street for help, but no one answered. I had my favorite purple peasant shirt with fancy embroidery on the bodice and cuffs, a pair of jeans, and white tube socks: all I had in the world. The police came and warmed me up in their back seat, but my socks wouldn’t dry. Somebody called my parents, maybe Mack.
I padded sock-footed through Kmart after my father, and he bought me some boots. He asked which of his books I had, and mourned the loss of a whole set because two were now destroyed. He told me that my mother had been too upset to come. Someone gave me a pink coat, I remember, quilted fiber-filled. That first night I spent at Mack’s; he made it clear I couldn’t stay more than one night. I wore that purple shirt to bed, still smelling of smoke. I wouldn’t take it off. I engaged in lovemaking as payment for the bed, and Mack said that the purple shirt was the sexiest thing ever. Oh. The next day he drove me back in his Toyota to my burned down, now drowned home, and helped me pick up some pieces, two Macy’s bags of pieces. $50 was hidden under a book, and had somehow made it through unsinged. I picked up my two Macy’s bags and walked to work.
They turned on a new song full blast when I walked in the door: Talking Heads Burning Down The House. They laughed and cheered and told me it was going to be all right. I smiled. They had collected $160 for me somehow, although we only earned $3.35 and hour. At 1 a.m., Sonja had a place ready for me to stay with her while her roommate was out. We had hot chocolate with chocolate chocolate-chip ice cream, Kahlua, and a tiny taste of cocaine.
After Sonja’s roommate came back, I stayed with two or three different people, but luckily did not have to sleep with anyone again to pay rent. I went to my beloved ashram, but was turned away (with a cup of chai) due to too much karma to burn off. Wicked hallucinations from bipolar rolled in and out. For six months, from day to day I kept my eyes open for empty floors in case I needed to move quickly. Finally, I got a room in a house again, with my own key and a big yellow hippy-flower key chain. I guess you could say I had been one of the mentally ill homeless.