The Denver Diaries: Chapter 5 – November 2013 through January 2014
While I had a place to live, and especially a place to store my things, I took the time to better familiarize myself with Denver, learning more about the state’s history, finding out more about its laws, where landmarks and parks are located, and what services are available to the homeless. I continued to apply for work at any viable positions where I might be employed, but only managed to secure two interviews, neither of which landed me a position. Despite this disappointment, I remained hopeful, and focused my energies on volunteering at the church, writing, taking photographs, and applying for jobs. I wanted to keep myself as busy as possible. Again, one of the advantages of having a place to stay was that I didn’t have to carry the abundance of gear and belongings I had brought with me to Colorado, so I was more liberated in my mobility, and I had the chance to do some sightseeing. Colorado is a beautiful state and Denver is a uniquely situated city in the way that it is urban, suburban, and still close to nature. I loved the fact that I could jump on a bus and go drop off applications in the middle of the metro area, walk a few miles to an idyllic park with a beautiful pond and amazing scenery of the mountains, and then walk back to the comfy little house in the suburbs where I was staying. It was like the best of all worlds.
Another benefit, and one that never lost its novelty, was that I had a gorgeous view of the sunrises and sunsets on most mornings and evenings. It was breathtaking to wake up to a golden, late-autumnal sky, and walk amongst the fallen leaves as the sun rose up and heralded a new day and the new potential that it might bring. Equally breathtaking were the evenings, watching the sun descend behind the trees as the clouds were lit up by its fiery glow. My only real regret was that I didn’t have anyone special or with whom I was close to share it with. The beauty of Denver began to fade, little by little, day by day, as I became more lonely in regardless of volunteering. “Somewhere there is someone I want to be with and who I cannot be with,” I would think. And it was true. So, in spite of all that Denver had to offer, and may still have to offer, I found myself feeling the crushing burden of solitude, and feeling it very deeply. I was craving emotional closeness, intimacy, physical contact, and most of all, I was yearning for companionship. I couldn’t enjoy the city without that certain someone there to enjoy it with.
To keep myself busy, I threw my time and energies into volunteering at the church, which may not have fulfilled the overwhelming desire for companionship and family that had gradually consumed me since my own childhood, but which did give me a sense of accomplishment and of helping others. Every Sunday I would go into the church early in the morning, arriving between 4:30 and 5:00, to help set up the dozens and dozens of tables and chairs for the homeless and hungry who would come in for breakfast and to feel welcomed. I spent considerable time cleaning the sanctuary, reorganizing the store rooms, painting the walls upstairs and down, and helping to prepare for the service, making sure that all of the refreshments were ready. Then, regardless of the fact that I’m an atheist, I would stay for the service, more out of respect for the people who ran the church and for the congregation than due any desire to find religion or socialize. I knew I didn’t belong there anymore than I could belong to any church, but I also knew that they needed help and that I could offer that, so I was determined to do what I could.
My health began to slowly decline and I found myself feeling very tired and lethargic. I went to the ER after a cold I had began to intensify, for fear that it might become pneumonia, and was stunned to find out that my hospital bill was altogether over $300, which, of course, I had no way of paying. In addition to my being prone to colds and brief bouts of the flu, I also began having occasional spells of dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and labored breathing. I couldn’t identify any probable cause, though, and so I ignored it for a while. Then one day after waking, I suddenly felt dizzy, the room began to spin around me in a frenzy, I felt my heart racing, and my limbs became heavy and weak. Then I fainted and fell from my chair, only to regain consciousness a few moments later. There was no real indicator of what the cause was, and as something similar had happened almost two years before and the doctors back in Maine couldn’t diagnose the cause, I chose to take it a little easier, but not let it impact my life. Then a few weeks later, a similar incident occurred, this time while I was volunteering. I felt fine that morning, but after setting up the chairs and tables, I began to feel extremely weak, was barely able to stand, and my heart seemed to be working very hard. I sunk down to the floor and soon felt my face, arms, hands, legs, and feet go numb. I had that horrible pins and needles sensation and the room began spinning. A few members of the church helped me to my feet and escorted me into a room where I could rest. I fell asleep, missing the rest of that morning’s breakfast preparation and the Sunday service that followed, and awoke about two hours later. When asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, I was conflicted, because I wanted to find out the cause, but I also had no insurance or income and refused to take on any more debt. I decided to visit the free clinic, The Stout Street Clinic, the following day. They gave me an EKG, performed blood testing, and thoroughly checked my vitals. My heart didn’t show any signs of defect and my blood work came back negative for anemia, hypoglycemia, or any other deficiencies. While a cause was not determined, it was postulated by the doctor that it might have been caused by a muscle spasm in my esophagus, which in turn could trigger my heart to act erratically. This was the first time anyone had suggested this and I considered it a possibility, because my own mother has esophageal problems which cause her to choke, so it didn’t seem unreasonable. I asked what could be done and the doctor said that while it may be inconvenient and even frightening as it happened, that it wasn’t life-threatening, and it wasn’t something that could be treated really without knowing more.
I continued to look for work, but in late December my Maine state identification card had expired, and I didn’t have the money to have it renewed. I was not aware at the time the huge inconvenience this would later pose or how hard it would be to obtain a valid card would be. That aside, I was becoming very discouraged, having been in Colorado for about five months or so, by that point, and applying for well over sixty jobs and not hearing back from more than three. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being offered positions anywhere, especially at the Denver Public Library where I persistently applied since I have five-plus years of library experience, and the fact that I wasn’t even getting call-backs or interviews was all the more upsetting. Winter had arrived and I only had a place to live until early January, so I needed to find some source of income, though my efforts proved futile.
By the time the holidays rolled around, I was feeling deeply frustrated, not only because of the lack of employment, but also because I felt more alone than ever. I had no partner nor family to share the holiday season with. I had no one to give gifts to or even cards, not to mention no way to purchase gifts or cards to begin with, and I felt like an intruder living in the home of a virtual stranger, being around their family, feeling out of place, and troubled by the realization that I had forgotten what having a real home felt like. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever have that again, whether or not I would ever be able to share my life with someone I loved and who loved me in return, and this sent me into an existential depression. I felt useless. Why am I here? What function or purpose do I serve? Why is it that all my efforts are met by failure? Why can’t anything improve for me? What’s the point of even trying when problems and obstacles just become exacerbated? Will I ever know happiness again?
Here I was, surrounded by people, all of whom were working together, having their own lives, doing their best to help each other and to even help strangers, but I felt so disconnected and disparate. I didn’t belong. They knew it. I knew it. It was no secret to anyone. Just the same, the tiny semblance of purpose I had retained was in helping at the church, in knowing that there were other homeless and impoverished people who shared my sense of disappointment in life and who were struggling, and I hoped that even though I was apparently unable to improve my own circumstances, maybe I was helping them in small ways that might grow in time and enable them to improve their circumstances. I didn’t want to believe that life was just a vicious cycle that repeated endlessly until we were depleted of all hope and prospects. There had to be a way out, a way to overcome the adversity that we all faced, and to achieve not only financial security, but also peace of mind. That was the most optimism I could muster.
So, as everyone settled down for their holiday celebrations or gathered cheerfully to help one another, I felt more isolated than ever before. There needed to be more than this. There needed to be hope for those who had lost all hope. There needed to be more than food and temporary shelter and services for the homeless. There needed to be more than houses or apartments. There needed to be homes. And homes are where you are with the people you love, the people who love you in return, and where you can find peace of mind.
To be continued…