Jay taught me to fish for eels off the jetty when we were broke and camp off the beaten trail for solitude. He gave me safety and resources in the wild, so that I trust the wild more than I do the civilized world. I feel safer in the woods and with the ocean than I do with humans. I feel unconditionally held by trees and flowers and water in a way that most humans are incapable of holding me. This is how a wild and broken man shaped me and passed on to me the precious gift of resilience. We never went hungry because of him.
Jay taught me about love and inclusion despite being – and because he was – an alcoholic tramp. I am exploring my lineage and while I have no choice about where I come from, I have choice in how I make meaning from it. I also have choice in how I tell the stories of those who shaped me, especially the stories of my people that may never be told if they are not told by me. The reality is that my stepdad was a traumatized man – traumatized by family and then the Vietnam War – who lived most of his adult life as an alcoholic tramp* (he maintenance drank a case of beer a day). He was simultaneously a smart, resourceful, resilient, wild, gentle, loving, and supportive soul who saw me and treated me like a person in a way that my Mom couldn’t because of her mental illnesses. He honored my intellect, taught me chess, and competed with me at Jeopardy. I am afraid to imagine what my adolescence with Mom would’ve been without him to hold and protect my space in the ways he could. I loved him and he loved me despite all the brokenness in us, between us, and around us.
*Hobos are migratory workers, tramps are travelers that don’t work, and bums don’t do anything at all. There are even hierarchies among the intentionally houseless and my stepdad, the man who raised me from ages 10-18, spent most of his life before and after us residing in the middle strata of this culture. I believe this is why I feel no fear toward humans that are houseless, and why in some ways they feel more like my people than the privileged humans that operate the nonprofits that serve them.