The Denver Diaries: Chapter 6 – January 2014 through June 2014
My time on Oneida Street came to an end early in 2014. The Winter season had well begun and I was going to need to find a new place to live. Fortunately, someone at the church where I had been volunteering suggested me as a potential roommate and caregiver for one of the congregation members who had terminal cancer. He was an ex-con who had turned his life around and had been a volunteer at the church himself for years. After miraculously recovering from stomach and throat cancer, he had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, and between the excruciating pain that he experienced on a daily basis and the effects of all the medications he was on, he needed someone to help him do shopping, accompany him to medical appointments (including frequent ER visits), and keep his apartment clean. He had turned to art in the last year or two of his life and this provided him not only with a means to pass the time, but also a sense of accomplishment and a way of expressing himself outwardly when he was effectively bed-ridden and unable to socialize. I did my best to provide him with good company and would regularly walk from the apartment to the library to pick up DVDs for him to watch. Sometimes we would watch them together. I introduced him to Game of Thrones, which he became addicted to watching, and we sat through the first three seasons together. We also made a trip out to the Denver Art Museum.
Meanwhile, I continued to look for work and volunteered at the church, but I remained depressed and felt defeated by the lack of response to the now 80 plus applications I had filled out. Adding to this despondency was that my new roommate smoked medical marijuana multiple times on a daily basis. Unknown to me at the time was the fact that I am quite allergic to marijuana smoke, which causes me to become very dehydrated, depressed and lethargic, feverish, and increases my appetite as well as causing me severe headaches and dizziness. Though the first month or two with the roommate went relatively well, things began to fall apart as my health worsened, as his health worsened, and other factors introduced themselves. He had a couple of friends who would come to him and borrow his money or would illegally buy his pain medications to get high. I wasn’t entirely certain how to handle the situation and my one attempt to address this ended rather badly with his friend accusing me of being a freeloader living off of a dying man, which was as far as I could tell hit much closer to the mark of what she was doing. He eventually became more withdrawn and reluctant to go out to the church or on social outings, and then as the chemotherapy decreased his energy and caused him to vomit regularly, made it so that he rarely left his room at all. We stopped watching films and television series together around this time. Then to make matters worse, when we finally did decide to watch Aliens, as I inserted the disc into the DVD player, his flat screen TV, which was balanced on a shoe box and the DVD player, fell on my head shattering the screen and leaving me with a concussion. Fortunately, we were able to get a replacement TV and I offered him my Blu-ray player that I had shipped out from Maine as consolation.
Due to my allergies and general sense of ennui at the small shared apartment, I began to go on frequent long walks, anywhere from four to twelve miles. I would walk from the apartment on Colorado Boulevard down to the Denver Public Library on Broadway or go for walks along the various creeks and bike paths. I took long strolls down 16th Street Mall where I took photos of the holiday decorations, the celebratory flashing lights, and all of the families and happy couples gallivanting through the city. It was bittersweet. On one hand, I felt good being out of the apartment, away from the sickness and despair, but on the other hand, I continued to long for a greater purpose and real connection to someone who might enrich my life. The smiling faces I would see on my walks would only remind me of my own isolation. The other faces I saw were the sunken, pale faces of the homeless, whose ranks I had been a part of and whom I would again be joining before too long. So, it seemed to me at the time, that I saw the future that was denied to me and the future that was inevitable, and those walks ceased to be the respite I needed.
I watched the seasons slowly change outside of the apartment’s ground-level basement window and I watched as my roommate become more and more sick and more and more withdrawn. I felt empathy for him, profoundly so, but I also felt frustration. I watched him consume junk food, smoke marijuana constantly, and then refuse to have visitors or go out all the while complaining of being trapped in his apartment and lonely. My efforts to lift his spirits or to engage him were met with increasing resistance and then finally with indifference altogether. I spent many days just reading, listening to music, sleeping in late, and filling out job applications without hopes or expectations of hearing anything back.
I would stay on Colorado Boulevard for five months before moving on to the next phase of my journey, which took me to yet another precarious living situation with a far more detrimental effect on my emotional health, and then from there I wound up on the streets.
To be continued…