Belt and Cloak
Since I came to arrive at this stage in life with a special skill set as Don's challenges unfolded one by one, to see what new options we could create for all he was facing, it seemed the perfect time to put those past experiences and tools to the test. But I was never out to save anybody. We for some reason were lucky when more often others aren’t so lucky, because for some sometimes addiction is just bigger than any one person. It just turned out that the timing was right and the connection between my birth father and I was mutually positive and symbiotic support for the both of us.
From having spent so much time in my past having volunteered extensively with those experiencing or choosing homelessness already spending months roaming the streets with the homeless women of the Downtown Women’s Center with the field trips I took them on to inspire them, as well as having had written that rehabilitation program for the men’s correctional jail - among the many other things that shaped my youth, unbeknownst to me at the time these experiences would ultimately prepare me with ideas and outings with Don. It occurred to me now that perhaps for all of those years, I had been unconsciously searching in the shadows of every homeless person’s eyes to get close to something my biological parents had experienced. And that all of the things that I had done up until this moment in time really did seem to equip and arm me with the awareness to be open to creative approaches as this relationship unfolded. It would be deeply exciting to see Don’s continued positive responses to all of our all the creative solution solving suggestions I devised as he later would come to experience so many new things with me. This, coupled with a desire to truly learn who this human being was, spurred me on.
In order to visit Don regularly in Long Beach daily from my then downtown LA residence, I had been taking the new LA metro for precautions, dressing extremely plain and bringing very little on me; some water, some cash, an id, some house keys, and that was about it. And to carry the few necessities I had since I didn’t want to bring a purse or anything of value on my person, I decided to use a small backpack I had found in a thrift shop specifically designed to hold needles and meds for those struggling with epilepsy that had visible badges on it noting to the public what it was for, which I found extremely interesting. Upon research online, I made the choice to buy and wear it on me each time I went into 'the field' where Don was, which really was a dangerous area, almost as a protective cloak because I discovered while reading that many of them also knew based on their own criminal experience how extremely serious of a crime holding more than one felony with a very long sentence attached if they hurt an epileptic like that. So to bring it along seemed like a worthy idea to me. And my whole time out there on the streets with Don while I wore it, no one hardly bothered me. I’d like to think my protective cloak pack had something to do with that.
Notation, the Medley of Our Adventure
As I started to spent more time with my birth father, I began to observe him and keep a journal writing down the activities Don and keep a journal writing down the activities Don and I did as well as keeping track of his drug use, highs and lows, to better equip myself daily of his habits, with who he was, and who he might want to be. I also asked him his thoughts about the things we did in order to keep a sort of log of his progress and perspective. I’m not really sure why while in the moment, I decided to do these things as none of it had been preliminarily thought out, but our time together was going so well as it was intriguing, and he seemed very interested as well. It wouldn't take long for me to also realize the depths of Don's situation and I wanted to keep him safe and more time to know him. He was attentive as a sponge is to water for all the new things we explored and each activity seemed to provide positive outcomes with him, so I kept the adventures going. I would show up at different times of day to observe and try to evaluate his lifestyle, track his drug use, noting the interval between using, and how his personality and mood shifted based on his use. I also made note of what things felt like home to him and what things felt like freedom for him.
But a rival drug gang who began to notice my visits wasn’t too keen on my presence believing me to be either a high end prostitute or worse yet an undercover narc so they had their eyes closely on me.
Now, as creative and thrilling of a time we were having, we were outdoors with the homeless and gangs so trouble was expected to possibly unfold agt any time so I was as prepared as I could be in any given moment, just in case. There were a few discerning times when danger lurked closer than either Don or I had liked but that just brought us closer, motivating Don to consider changing his life so we could be safer together.
One late night while Don and I were hanging out sharing stories with one another, a gang member from that other gang popped his head over the alleyway pointing a brightly lit flashlight into our eyes. We both knew he was armed and was trying to see what we were up to to check up on us. It seemed he was looking for something, if not trouble, and the best we could do was stay calm. Eventually, Don bought some drugs off him to get him gone, something he often would do I observed.
Another time when we were driving to get some coffee and a snack on a night after I finally started bringing a car down with me, a police helicopter flew overhead shining lights from the sky to find someone or something they were looking for. Don got so spooked he jumped out of my car and dropped everything he had out of his hands scattering all in the street and into the dark he ran. They weren’t looking for him that time, but it was at that point that I realized how serious of a predicament Don was actually in. When things calmed down I grabbed all his things and brought them back to him in the shadows of the alley. We were somewhat partners now, and he needed his things. I asked him if there was possibly a safer way for us to continue hanging out for him to come up with some ideas. The one in particular to turn himself in started brewing.
Inject in the Pivot
There was also time when he snuck away to the nearby garage for a few to buy a hit of real crystal meth to settle his fix and to make sure the gang members in the nearby garage by the alley attached to the dwelling kept their cool. As he slinked away into the night saying he'd be right back, I snuck right behind him out of the alley and followed him to observe so I could keep informed of all sides to the reality. He bought a dime bag of meth and proceeded to hide preparing to head back to the area for his syringe. I snuck back to my seat on the ground pretending to wait for him. Now, I had never seen drugs like this up close let alone anyone take them or do them myself, but I didn’t want him to hide or pretend to be who he wasn't and what’s more is I wanted to note for myself the details of his daily plan; when he would take drugs, what he would take, when he could come down, how much that he needed, and how often so I knew who he really was. I wanted to know him just exactly as he was while introducing and sharing things with him so that he would be comfortable to have as much out in the open as possible. By this time in Don's life luckily for me, he had already stopped doing heroin for a few years because of the expense, which would have changed the outcome of our story dramatically if that was the drug he was going to try to kick, but he was still choosing, and he was still using, and he was still an addict.
He came back to the spot where I was sitting, very distracted, seemingly ready to head somewhere for a bit, I assumed to shoot up, and while it may seem absolutely counter initiative, I stopped him and said “you wanna shoot up? That’s what you do right? Well go ahead, don’t mind me, do what you want, do what you need to do” and just kept sitting there. He just stared at me for a long hard second, shrugged and said ok, then proceeded to wrap his arm with a band and get under way with his needle. I had also sensed for a while the place was probably tapped by the police who had been staking out the area for a hit on the big dealer, so in some ways I felt watched and protected and safe enough to decide to go with my own instinct even if it seemed crazy and was actually illegal. And if it wasn’t, well then I must of had an energy bigger than all of us on my side. I sat there as he proceeded to shoot up but it was extremely anti-climactic for him and after that he did he never shot up a lid in front of me again. In fact, he told me a bit later that he had he disliked so much how it felt to have me there with him to watch, someone he was starting to deeply cared about valuing my experience and safety, that it became a turning point for him as to why and how he decided to stop using heavy narcotics and street drugs, and stop for good.
Don: “I knew pretty early on this girl my daughter was society’s child, and didn’t do anything bad, no drugs at all. And in order for anything to work between us the drugs would have to go, both together wouldn’t work. Neither would running from the law. What she didn’t regard was she was hanging around with a felon who was wanted and as long as I kept this life up, she would never be safe.”
The minutes together that we shared in that alley those first three weeks began to turn into hours, which then turned into days. In between walks, donuts, and deep conversations, we would sit and read children’s books together so I could note his reading, processing abilities and of his desire to learn.
Then one day after he proudly showed me his electrician knowledge and electronic skills, wiring up batteries together to better light the area and fusing together a speaker system to listen to some songs he liked while enjoying some terrible instant coffee together, an idea came to mind. I decided after having logged Don's drug habits for several days if there was another yet similar option of something to get high and excited about that he could bond over. The closest thing I could relate to with Don was my intense love for coffee, espresso, and caffeine. So I bought a travel wagon on wheels, visit a Home Depot store, grabbed a car battery, a portable stove burner, and all my coffee and espresso paraphernalia, selecting beans from each known drug country separating and labeling each including sugar and creamer packaging each on in ziplock baggies and brought this portable caffeine station right to his space in that alley. My portable battery operated craft coffee cart on wheels was ready for my new connective experiment. I rolled into the alley with all this in tow and waited for Don’s high to come down to its farthest low as I had documented it, and proceeded to set up this creative station for exploration of highly caffeinated coffee all powered by the car battery for him right away. It was so awesome, that even the local gang members stopped by to drink some and thank me as they began approving my visits which continued on for quite a while.
My biological past began to intertwine and embed itself with the present moments Don and I were sharing as he would share stories of his life with me. Connections, similarities and an unbelievable sense of fulfillment ran through both of us, an alluring electrical current bonding us in our time together. My instinct was to let every moment we shared unfold naturally lead by the impulse of whatever made sense, but more than often I felt a deeper energy guiding me. It was profound. I was also surprised at Don’s openness and willingness to spend time with me so quickly. Not once did he take any money from me or ask anything of me. On the contrary, he was extraordinarily giving, open and excited to do whatever it was that was presented to him.
Don: “I quickly realized that by just sitting back and letting her do what she wants to do, I'm winning and she's winning and that all makes sense. Here was this person doing things and getting involved in my life, and this was bringing me a type of happiness that I've never felt before. And then I felt an attachment to this person. I really started to get attached to this person. This person indeed was my daughter.”
Final Turning Point
One night in between visits about two weeks in while I was back at home for a few days, the longest I was away, I started to get this real nagging feeling inside of me to go and visit Don right away. The feeling came on so heavy and strong that the time it usually would take me on the metro seemed too long. For the first time I jumped in a car and got there as fast as I could as late as it was, and kind of by fate for when arrived he was actively overdosing from being sold a bad batch of crystal meth. I gave him my jacket and gave him my socks and asked him if he wanted me to take him to the hospital. After he threw up all over the ground and helped him to relax so he could come down, he chose to rest outside there in the alley.
When he woke up then next day I had returned to help him clean up the area and walked him to a nearby laundromat and to my surprise he didn’t actually know how to use it. After we washed his bedding and some of his things we still needed to clean what he was wearing so I asked him if he wanted to walk down to the beach since there were no showers and he mostly used buckets or toilet bowls, using the ocean seemed a lot more comfortable. So he followed me. When we arrived at the beach, we entered the water together with our clothes on; this was one of the most profound rebirthing experiences we both may ever have had. And in fact, I think this was the final turning point for him when he finally decided to change his life.
Don: “On the night when I almost overdosed for the eightieth time in my life, nothing new for me, my daughter just happened to show up. Kind of a good thing because I had just been sold some bunk dope and she kind of saved my life. Instead of leaving me there like I thought anyone would do, she actually stayed and helped me. When she came back the next day she came back and took me to the laundromat and had me wash my clothes there for the first time then dragging me into the ocean with her and a bar of soap to clean myself off which was kind of a rebirth in a way, I started to think this girl was something super different than others and I started to not to want to let her go. No one else had ever done such nice things for me. Not anywhere like her anyway.”
Family Fun Field Trips Begin
After that close call even though the local gang started to fizzle away and seemingly get busy with other things, I decided to mix our routine up a bit and started to take him outside of Long Beach on what I would call 'family fun field trips' where it seemed safer and was new presenting opportunities to see him outside of his element in the event that transition away from street life would one day be an interest of his. We did many fun things during the first weeks I spent with him and I began to stay with Don for longer and longer periods of time.
We started to explore areas of downtown LA and he showed me all the spots he would chose to set up his world to live alone outside but to him they were his homes, hidden away from everyone under freeway on ramps usually placed near the commerce casino to double his change to get drugs and food for the night. He also directed me through all the neighborhoods where he grew up and told me stories about my birth mother and his past, telling me pretty much anything that would come up. We also began taking day trips to the downtown public library and even went to a museum. We ate BBQ, with him insisting he pay for his own meal and saw a live music show. We even spent a day riding the metro to explore the Los Angeles area in general where I showed him a recovery facility that I knew of which also happened to have a recording studio on its premises. Then he told me that he had been to so many in his life sharing the stories of oppression and sadness he had experienced there which instigated why he would run. Taking more notes and processing all I let each day naturally unfold as I began to see a larger picture from his perspective on what may or may not work if he wanted to transition towards something different. The truth was he had been exposed to and experienced so little in the realm of opportunity and creative support that a change in outcome would never come to transpire for it would never be able to sustain. When back in Long Beach, we started to seek out more peaceful places outside of his normal routines, found a neat craft coffee shop called Lord Windsor Coffee to do craft coffee tasters as the barista was real nice to us, and shared a we love for the English theme, and day or night we also went to the beach a lot, that was our favorite place.
Don: “She came over every day and started taking me to the library, and out to lunch and dinner - places I've never been before. She also brought this coffee thing on wheels and showed me different types of coffee beans making coffee for us then later took me to a really nice expensive coffee shop and introduced me to a type of coffee I've never drank before in my life. And then there was the day when she pulled us into a senior living home that had a black big piano in the window. She sat me down and began to play for me and the seniors in the hall and I nearly cried. I couldn’t believe how incredibly good she was at playing and singing these songs she said she wrote. I had no idea she was that damn good, It was really something. Not but a week later and my favorite moment together was when Cami brought me to LA and allowed me to play guitar with her at a music show she had. For the first time I saw all her original cds and the music name she was known under. She was opening her life and her world and her music to me and it was something really incredible. To play music with my very own daughter was like finally having the band I wanted to have; and like having the family I always wanted.”
By participating in Don’s life night after night and day after day, I also came to fully learn of the serious dangers that followed him living on the streets and being surrounded by drugs, gangs, and crime. Though I knew this is how he was used to living and that he has survived just fine on his own all this time, I began to value his safety and life and inside me grew an instinctual desire to spread a protective energy field around him.
The Depth of a Man
Also in these first few weeks, I got to witness a man of his depth and intellect discover for the first time the high you get from espresso and watch him enjoy the new things I’d introduce him to with more joy than I had ever seen. The contrast between his willingness to spend time with me in order to get to know me was in stark contrast to his drug and crime life. The chasm seemed so vast, and it didn't take me very long to see that his spirit had never been exposed to so many of the things that I was fortunate enough to experience when I was adopted that now I was starting to feel committed to sharing with him. I also came to discover quite quickly that one the contrary to what others saw, Don was actually generous and kind. A highly intelligent thinker, with a remarkable capacity to retain information and collect information in order to apply it in such a way, I believed he could eventually be inspired with talents and guidance to play a part in how I often tried to live my life as well, with a value called tikkun olam- which is helping make the world a better place with talents and life experience. The more time we spent together, the clearer it became that there was a specific reason why I wanted to know the depth of this man: there was a heart of a spirit in him that no one had ever come to know and I was somehow granted the privilege to see this about him and it was truly amazing the first times I did. I came to know it as fact and it didn't take long for me to realize how much love I had for this man. I knew him even though he didn't raise me. He was a part of me and I was a piece of him. He was my biological father, the person who gave me life. Why shouldn't I help him with his?
It also seemed that Don enjoyed being seen as a kind of father figure when I shared personal things, such as my desire to start a family myself. He wasn’t the 'father that I never had' because my adoptive father Bill played the role of father perfectly well. Rather, as I took an interest in guiding Don, he took an interest in guiding me too. And this symbiotic bond would eventually unfold into the most profound journey together both of our lives had yet to experience. I learned more and more about who he was before we had met and of his bravery and survival skills that inspired me so – as he let that other man of himself slowly go and embrace who he was open to becoming - it was remarkable.
Ironically, but not so unusual, seeing this new man emerge began to mirror to me all the kinds of qualities I would want to see in the type of man whom I would want to fall in love with and maybe even marry one day. He seemed to help me get closer to what compatibilities I should be keeping an eye out for.
Don: “I kept thinking that after a short while of her being with me after we met - like maybe a few days at the most – that she would get tired of walking around with me and being around me and that she would start thinking to herself, “Well, he’s a nice guy and all that, but I gotta go. I can't be just running around with someone like this.” But in actuality, the exact opposite thing began to happen. She began showing me all sorts of new things and an unconditional love instead; I didn't even really know what it was. This is what won my attention. I have never had unconditional love before in my life ever and I truly started to love her.”
Homeless the Soundtrack, The Subjects
V. JOURNEY OF TOGETHERNESS
In those early first few weeks of our reunion there were so many adventures that unfolded each day as the hours together increased, but there was one in particular that seemed a pivotal turning point lead us to a new step forward....