School Days

Self Portrait by Eva Andrews //

School Days by Christian Wood //

“School days, School days, good old golden rule days, taught to the tune of a hickory stick,” I sing the words softly in hopes that they could carry me away to a time when I felt safe. I remember this being the way that my mother used to get me up to go to school each morning and this song is the only memory that I have left from her (my mother had died about 10 years earlier from breast cancer).
The crash of thunder abruptly brings me crashing back into reality and the nightmare that my life has become. As the sound of the thunder fades away; the pounding of rain seemed to increase. I shivered as I looked out into the night from under the garbage bags that I was using as a cover. Lightning flashes, giving a brief glimpse of the empty lot before the inky darkness consumes the night again. I let the garbage bag drop down to cover me again as I lay huddling against the block wall that makes one side of my sleeping spot. In the darkness of the garbage bags, fear is the answer to every sound. Shelter doesn’t just mean a place to keep you safe from the elements but it is also a place to keep you safe from the things that go bump in the night. 
The wet towels that I use as a bed work as a gateway to allow the cold of the night to burrow in deeper. Slowly the cold is wearing away at my desire to keep going; the hope that somehow, some way I will find my way out of this mess. The desire to give up and never get up is slowly growing with utter despair. 
Misery fills me as I think back on the events that led me to live in these conditions. A year ago I was on my motorcycle when the accident happened. I was thrown from my bike into a parked car. For someone who had never broken a bone before in their life, I sure made up for lost time when my face hit the bumper. My upper jaw, both of my cheek bones, my left eye socket and my skull from my hairline back about 4 inches had all been broken in the impact. I would have to have 5 plates put in my face and a rod that would go from cheek to cheek. When I woke up in the hospital and saw the way my face looked all I could think of was that someone had replaced large parts of my face with raw hamburger.  
In the months that followed the accident I would lose not only 30 pounds from being on a liquid diet due to having my jaw wired shut, but also my job because I looked like nothing but skin and bones with a bad haircut. For all the pain of that I dealt with right after the accident, the real pain wouldn’t hit me right away. Slowly in the months following the accident I realized that I had lost almost all the memories of my life before I was 16. Looking at family photos from before my mother had passed away I don’t feel the connections (the memories of her) that are there for my father and my little sister and brother.  
Over the time I had spent living homeless I had watched how everything wears down and starts to break apart. Soon there is almost nothing left but a few loose pieces. These loose pieces are basically all that I have left of my earlier life. Trying to recall something of my life was like the feeling of having something stuck on the tip of our tongue; you know the answer is there you just can’t bring it up. The answer was always just out of reach hanging above the abyss that always threatened to drag me down into the depths. 
I had become a zombie walking around without any direction or purpose in life. All I really thought about was trying to recover my lost memories, to fill whole again. My confidence was low after the accident and being fired from my job but it really hit rock bottom when I couldn’t find a job for any reason. Who wants to hire someone who is so lost in their own world that they don’t even seem to know where they are?  
They say that with a whirlpool the current starts slow but soon becomes much faster; this is how it was with me and the plummet to the very bottom of humanity. The accident happened on October 18th; I tried to return to work on December 6th and they let me go on the 9th; by January 1st even my parents had had it with me and told me to get out. 
Being homeless in Arizona is both a blessing and a curse. It means that you face temperatures from the low 30s in winter to as high as the low 120s during the summer. You most likely won’t freeze but you might get heatstroke or dehydrated really quickly if you are not getting a lot of water. Also everything so spread out that to get anywhere you have to do a lot of walking. There were days that I would walk over 30 miles over the course of the day. 
Within two months of being on the streets I had no place to live, no vehicle, and even the shoes I was wearing had holes in the bottom but all of this didn’t matter if I couldn’t get my memories back. What kind of person couldn’t even remember their own mother? 
At first I would donate plasma in order to get something to eat but even that would fade away as I wasn’t eating well and I would soon be turned away from the donation center. I didn’t know any soup kitchens or food banks that would give me money so I was soon left with stealing books and then returning them to make a few bucks and hopefully have some food in my stomach for a few days. There comes a point when being always hungry moves past the hunger and into just another pain to move on with.  By this time I was down to around 112 pounds and sleeping on towels under a bush in a field.

When the rain had finally stopped the next morning I decided to try to walk myself dry. I hadn’t anything to eat in two days and needed to find something to eat. Oh what I wouldn’t give for something warm to eat. As I walked the realization of what I had become hit me; I knew that if I kept focusing on the past and on my lost memories, I wouldn’t last much longer. If there was any hope for me to have a future I would have to give up on the past and move forward with my life. The loss of my memories had been become an anchor dragging me down. It was time that I use the anchor of my life to start dragging myself up. While it wouldn’t happen that day or that week, within a couple weeks I had a new job and was sleeping on the couch of a guy who worked at the convenience store where I stopped most days. I finally began to realize that my problems didn’t happen because of the accident or the other events but in how I responded to them; in the end I was both the cause and the answer to my problems. 
I still deal with the lost parts of my life years later. I am constantly asked, “Don’t you remember when?” or “Being told that my mother was one of the nicest people they ever knew” but for me there is still nothing there. Every time they ask it is like pulling a scab off a sore that is almost healed. For as hard as I have worked to move on with my life there is still a part of me that feels guilt for letting go of the battle to remember my mother. 

“School days, School days, good old golden rule days, taught to the tune of a hickory stick……”
There is no room. How can there be no room when there is holes waiting to be filled.