"Don't you have a family?" I asked Clara today as we sat smoking and drinking beer -- lazily losing ourselves in the ambiance of the midmorning sun.
"Yeah," Clara said, taking a drag from her cigarette. "They won't have anything to do with me though. My father says I am a hopeless drunk. He was a worse drunk than me, but he was a functioning alcoholic. I'm apparently not a functioning alcoholic since I am homeless."
I told Clara of my family and the relationship I have with them.
"They (my father) think I am stupid and just a mentally ill dolt," I said, confessing. "I have to play the role of the sick son or all hell will break loose. If I show any signs of independence they up the dosages of my medications or threaten to put me in the mental hospital. They also hide things from me and sugarcoat everything to not upset me. It is so frustrating. I get tired of being coddled."
"I wouldn't put up with all that shit," Clara replied, tersely. "That is why I am homeless. My family is nuts as well. I could go live with my father, but would be absolutely crazy in a few weeks. My father is a mean and abusive man. I would rather sleep behind the dollar store."
"I sometimes wonder who is actually the sick one in our relationship," I said of my father.
"I would just walk away. To hell with all that," Clara told me, crossing her arms in a defensive stance. Clara could easily say that because she doesn't have anything left to lose. I still have a lot to lose. Thoughts of Rosa and Maggie came to mind.
"I think about it everyday," I finally replied.
It was so nice sitting with someone who actually understood me and who actually understood the urge to be homeless. I told Clara of Albert Vanderburg and The Panther's Tale. Albert was an artist and an elderly man in Hawaii who just quit his office job, let his apartment lease run out, and lived on the streets of Honolulu. He would make money by returning shopping carts at a shopping center for quarters and would spend his days reading books, eating discarded to-go boxes of food, blogging from a library, sitting on the campus of the University of Hawaii, and drinking quarts of beer. He was such an unconventional, unorthodox, and avant garde soul. I admired him deeply.
"All this is on the Internet?" Clara asked.
"Nine years of his life is written down and put on there," I replied. "It took me a week of continuous reading to finish it all."
"I would love to live in Hawaii," Clara said. "Tropical sunsets. Warm breezes. Exotic food."
"I've been to Honolulu and it is truly nice," I replied. "After reading Albert's tales, I have often dreamed of selling everything I owned and moving there to live homeless. Albert's tales explained how to do it successfully. You would never have to worry about cold winters."
George finally pulled up into the fire lane nearby breaking my train of thought. I walked over to his car to open his door and sat in the passenger's seat as a surly old lady got out to go do her shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. I reached into my backpack to pull out a quart of beer and took a drink. The beer was tepid and warm -- the carbonation harsh on the back of my throat. George was astonished.
"You off the wagon?" he asked with a surprised look on his face.
"I am trying moderated drinking," I replied sheepishly.
George laughed and pulled a bottle of liquor out from under the seat of his car.
"Old times," George said as he held up the bottle towards me in a toast and then took a drink. "Old times."
I told George about how I was about to go crazy in my sobriety. I struggled everyday with urges and all encompassing thoughts of drinking beer. I finally gave in and decided to try a moderated form of drinking -- only getting a buzz, and not getting sloshy drunk. I realize I am playing with fire, but so far all is well.
"A man ought to be able to have a drink when he wants too," my alcoholic friend, George, told me.
I sighed as I took another drink of my Colt 45. I just don't know. I do know I feel better the past two days than I have in months. I realize I am self medicating and in this age of morally indignant Dr. Laura's and Dr. Phil's that is a terrible no-no. The liberal use or abuse of alcohol upsets the delicate equilibrium that our society is founded upon. Inhibitions are lost. Laws are broken at times. Avarice and excess is displayed and shown. I told George that I was just an inch away from disappearing into the woods, forever lost -- to go back to that life I lived the winter of '03 and '04 -- tired of all the conventional souls surrounding me, the souls parroting Dr. Phil and all the moral declarations from friends and family, and the preaching from the pulpit of societal compliance. I realized then, if I were to ever have true freedom, I would have to pay a dear price -- a dear price indeed. I would have to give up everything.