A couple weeks ago I was hanging out in Eugene, Oregon. If I don’t have people lined up in a particular area to talk to about their lives I tend to get myself to places where there are a lot of people milling about, and I do some people watching. Usually some opportunity will present itself. As I sat in the cafe at the Eugene Library, I sat with a couple people at a little makeshift table and came into a conversation with Dominick.
Dominick talked casually about being a traveler. He sparked my interest with some thoughts he shared about religion and philosophy and how those things can illuminate our individual life paths. He started to talk about how as a wanderer he’s gotten to a point in life that he’s done just about everything and he has no shame about where to sleep, get food or take care of other needs. Admittedly, as I’ve had the audio from our conversation to edit, there’s this part of me that has wondered if it’s worthwhile to share audio from another guy that’s homeless or been homeless. In part I think I was trying to dismiss the poor quality of the audio that I got from talking with him, and avoid editing out his gratuitous swearing. Honestly, the audio wasn’t good for a quality product. However, I do believe everyone’s story is important. And in reality poor audio, or having similar characteristics to someone else I’ve talked to does not diminish the importance of his story.
The clip from our chat that we’re sharing today is Dominick talking about a rock bottom moment devolving into another rock bottom moment. Dominick starts off talking about getting probation for some charges brought up against him and then he goes into his descent into alcohol and drugs and living on the run, and finally being arrested and imprisoned. What is striking about Dominick is that prior to getting into his story, he shared his family background. His mom left when he was young and he found himself with an abusive step-mom. Physical, psychological, and emotional abuse became his life and by the time he was 15 he just wanted to get away. He became a drifter as a young teenager.
Dominick isn’t always articulate and at times the effects of his life with drugs and alcohol seem to come to the surface. Yet there are these moments where a clearly capable mind demonstrates his capacity. He spoke of devouring books while in prison and completing his GED. As he shared his rock bottom moments, he almost blazes past a moment that deeply changed his outlook on life. His story really focuses on the details of getting to those moments of rock bottom. But once there, in prison and isolated, he finds himself doing that devouring of books. “I read probably 5 books a day, dude. On self-help, the mind, religion, philosophy. Right as I needed it. Right as my mind understood one concept, on the book cart would be something pushing me along,” he said.
There was a small part of our conversation after he talked about his rock bottom that was extraordinarily potent. Dominick demonstrated a great deal of self-reflection and honesty that I think is rare. He talked about his ex-wife and love and noted that so much of the issues, the problems, the drugs, alcohol and violence was about love or the lack thereof. As much as his marriage was filled with difficulty, misunderstanding and an inability to satisfy each others’ needs, it did provide the opportunity for love, the hope for love. He noted that to this day, he’s searching for even just a moment of feeling that connection.
Maybe as I talk to people there’s a bit too much of a reflection of myself in my assessment of their stories. Maybe it’s just me that yearns to tell the story of needing to connect. But it does seem undeniable that love and connection is something so important to us generally as humans. While Dominick’s story of finding rock bottom may just be a series of wild episodes in the life of an unstable person, I can’t help but hope we understand that under it all is a hope for love.