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From the Far Margins 

The beauty of the dream

You're off your meds again. The eviction notice came through. Squatting in your own apartment only worked so long. It was like the way you'd hid in the house as a child, hoping your dad wouldn't find you, pretending it was a game, like hide and seek, only it wasn't.

So there's a strain of sanity in the paranoia. It goes like this: All your life, just when everything was going well, with a job, a relationship, with trying to lose weight or grow potatoes in boxes in the alley, something would go wrong. It's like life is dynamite waiting to blow and it's just a matter of waiting for when. It's come to a point you don't dare let life go well because the pain of having it all explode has gotten to be too much. You go instead for the little moments: sun shining down through rain in the alley; a random cat from somewhere curling up next to you in the night; the garbage can with the whole bento box, silverware and all, sitting right on top, like someone wanted you to have it.

So that brings you to now. The tents along the freeway with people who seem in varied states of hope and cynicism as well. Most have changed jobs as many times as you have; are single; have been through wars, either the childhood kind or the adult people-with-guns-kind; some have decided that the world is more bearable when you drink or ingest something that actually makes you feel—or not feel. You've tried that, spent a month and the last of your savings hoping that smoking the stuff would kill you. Even that went wrong, and made you more paranoid than just being paranoid. So you woke up one day and walked out of the house into the street with nothing. The warm nights felt good. There was freedom to not hoping too much, not being too attached to anything. Every day was different.

At first it was like that. Then it got cold. Then you got arrested for sleeping. Your little hiding holes started to be full of others getting out of the cold. Food was just harder to find. Just when you need it most, the garbage cans are full of newspapers and empty coffee cups.

In the tents along the freeway, people help each other out. You stayed at the edge for a long time, knowing that getting too attached to anything was just asking for it. But you helped out a couple with a kid. He even had a job nights, long past the shelter curfew. They were burnt on churches, on government, so they slept on the street. One guy out there played guitar, was bad on the stuff, said he'd tried to get clean but there was a waiting list to go in somewhere.

There are angry people there, too, like everywhere. And leeches—the ones just waiting to steal whatever you've got. They transcend class, will find you everywhere, from boardrooms to shelters. They get angry when you have more than they do. They'll just destroy stuff, ruin it so you don't have it. So no one has it. You dream of them at night sometimes, that guy at the edge of the firelight whose eyes are everywhere, whose gaze presses like fingers in the dark.

The dynamite's always waiting, always hidden behind everything you let yourself get too sweet after. Sleeping in the same place, sleeping dry, even if it smells of sewer, getting meals warm, looking in on other people's patterns, routines; being alive with a name people call you by.

One day it all evaporates. The few things you've gathered for warmth are taken—tarp, bag, rug, the water bottle you fill with coffee each night to keep your feet from frostbite. Gone. The police come, scatter you all. With no plastic porta-potty or makeshift outhouse hole, you have to use the alley behind a restaurant. These are the moments your dignity feels gone. But the restaurants won't let you in and it's late and urgent.

Somewhere a mayor gives speeches. Your invisibility alleviates guilt, does nothing to make those who scattered safer or warmer. They tell you to go to the shelter but you can't. It is plastic explosive, walls too tight, doors too full of eyes.

Some people go but most roll off back into the bushes, the neighborhoods, hills and hedges. They scrounge for new bedding and tarps, tents, anything to keep the kids or their own bones warm. Age makes the cold whisper cruel things. The young get careless when it all turns upside down. They are more prone to despair and excess; end up frozen in the night when it gets too hard. Some shoot or smoke a bit extra to dull the new rash of suffering and never wake up. Another mother or father wonders where their child is, waits for the Christmas call.

You stumble in the street, sleet falling, numb in your mind more than anything. You ask how much point there is staying warm.

You find a grate where the warm air rises from the bowels of some building. You lie there, looking up as snow falls. Christmas lights come on and twinkle as the sky falls. Soaked, you wait for the officers to come, to make you move. You close your eyes and dream of the bento box, the cat in the alley. You're thankful for the dream. It lets the beauty in life wash back just when it all seems gone. And you don't know if you'll make it to morning but the dreaming is good. All around you in the city you know men and women sleep cold and wet and dreaming. You know their names now, know their dreams, you know they sleep bare, maybe scared tonight, wondering if they'll make it to morning. Dreaming.

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