Saturday, September 14, 2013

Returning to the Gypsy Life

On the road again—

The sunrises in the desert haven’t changed in fifteen years. The way the light reverberates across the land as we race towards the sun, the east, down the highway, which glistens like a spilt stream of ink. The road is made for writers.

The symbolism of a road is that of a story arc, and the type of path – whether rocky gravel or smooth asphalt – represent the struggles of the protagonist on his or her journey to the end. All roads end somewhere, sometimes at the beginning.   

This particular road, the I-40W, manages to dress itself in various terrains. Cracked highways from desert heat to tarmac smeared with Armadillo entrails. You know what state you are in just by the road kill alone.

I break into Arizona as the day unfurls, the half eaten donut now melting on the dashboard, and my coffee remaining hot from pure sunlight. Even though my return to Chicago isn’t exactly joyful – my mother is having another heart surgery – a smile sticks to my face like the “believe in magic” bumper sticker on my car. Road trips are my happy place, the essence of my childhood, and to quote William Least Heat-Moon, “There are no yesterdays on the road.”

It was over a decade ago that my child-self ventured into Arizona, riding shotgun, keeper of the map and snacks, as my mother, Glynnis, sister, Sabrina, and I journeyed into our new life. We travelled from LA to Chicago, where my mother scored a job, completely oblivious to what the Midwest even looked like, oblivious to the idea that we would no longer be homeless.

That word, “homeless”, the ugliest word for freedom. But that’s what we were. “Glorified Gypsies” is a more colorful and realistic term. We lived in our 1991 navy blue Mazda van, coated with political and pagan bumper stickers, exploding with our possessions and thrift store Afghan blankets. The front seat was the kitchen area, middle seat was the living room/library, and back seat was the bedroom. Though in the end, we slept wherever our heads fell. Sometimes even on the roof of the car during nights that made beads of sweat feel icy.

Parking lots were our safe spots. The Albertsons in Doheny Beach still makes my heart flutter as if an imaginary white-picket fence outlined our designated spot. It was our concrete commune where other homeless – or as we eventually referred ourselves for spirituality and safety, “home free” – people gathered in the vans at night. We would exchange food, medication, knowledge, laughter, stories, and warnings. Over toasted-coconut donuts, we exchanged unfamiliar faces in the parking lot from the night before, as those without cars were a major threat. The “bums” without vehicles were a step lower on the food chain, and with a ravenous appetite for not only food, but malevolence, we had to be weary of all things that go bump in the night. Cops too, though not as harmful, and usually protected us with their presence, still brought attention to our secret community from outsiders as well as true threats, like child services. The wild, wild, west in a parking lot.  

My sister, Sabrina, and I should’ve been taken away. Not because it was the right thing to do, but because in the eyes of child services and law enforcement, my mother was endangering us and abusing us. This just goes to show how thin the sight of society is, because in reality, my mother was opening up a new world for us and exposing us to a side of life that would build courage and diligence and a tainted-free sense of what really matters in life.

After years of questioning, crying, debating, forgetting, embracing I finally figured it all out – it’s eudemonia. Now, for a quick history lesson, eudemonia is a philosophical theory that the ultimate pursuit in life is to find pure happiness, and by reaching that point, one has survived and fulfilled their destiny. Being "home free" isn’t a destiny, but I have no doubts that it is one of the many ingredients.

In my journals, and ultimately with this book I intend to explore the six different stages of eudemonia while collectively piecing them together from my years of traveling as a home free person. I implore that you escape your world, however you please, and take my hand as we journey not only into the world of being home free but the true side of America.

- The Diligent Gypsy

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