I made it through. That’s the point of this story. Anything is possible. Perseverance and endurance are requirements. So is meeting a kind person. A helpful organization. Let me stop here and hit the rewind button.
I’m fucking cold. Not it’s sort of chilly out. Not brrr or damn I need an extra layer. No, I’m talking bone cold. Your veins aren’t navigating the blood correctly. Your mind is a fucking ice block. Details: I’m in a parking garage. This is my current home. It’s connected to the courthouse. The temperature is in the teens. It’s early January in Ohio which means I’m freezing. I’m in the glass-encased stairwell, where it might be a couple of degrees higher than outside at best. I’m trying to sleep on concrete. I have no blanket, just a black peacoat which I received from a local church. Sleep is hard when you can’t get warm. And when you feel worthless. And alone. And scared. And suicidal because that’s always an option. It has to be when you have nothing, you are nothing. I fantasize about jumping off the top of the garage. Splat. Goodbye. My story over. Fade to black. But I didn’t actually jump or I wouldn’t be writing this. Let’s go a bit further back.
2009 – 2011
I’m a degenerate gambler. I love to bet the horses. And by love I mean the unconditional kind. Love gambling more than my children or why else would I spend every nickel to my name on a bet? Christmas gifts? Fuck that noise. Birthdays? A card with no cash. Everything else? I’m just a ghost at the track. A depressed ghost. A sick in the head ghost. A selfish piece of shit ghost. I am everything besides a good dad. I chase the dime instead of spending time with my tiny girl or older son. I care about nothing but exactas and trifectas and superfectas and longshots who are longshots for a reason. It’s a compulsion. I can’t stop nor do I truly want to. I sell my food stamp card to gamble. I con my mom out of money to gamble. I steal metal from factory dumpsters and sell it to a scrap yard for money to gamble. Like I said, chasing the dime, except the dime is an elusive rabbit and I’m an inefficient hunter. I’m awful at gambling because I honestly think I’m more intelligent than speed figures and breeding and past performances. I’ll chase that dime, that high until I land in a parking garage.
I’m halfway asleep when I hear a car approaching. Headlights flash over my frozen body. Cops. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. Two officers, but only one speaks. He’s young. He asked me what I was doing here and whatnot. I mumbled my usual bullshit answer and he eventually said something about we didn’t see you here. His way of saying go back to sleep, you’re not in trouble. I was relieved.
Roughly two hours later and another car approaching. I’m bathed in headlights again. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. A familiar face, the young cop has returned in his personal vehicle. He has stuff for me. McDonald’s. A quarter pounder and fries. A gift certificate. Gloves and toboggan. A puzzle book and pen. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug him. He told me about a place where I could get help, Transitional Living. He knew the woman who ran it, gave me her card and told me to call her tomorrow. He also said he was going to call her. This place helped the homeless and mentally ill. He knew I was in trouble and he went out of his way to intervene. An absolute saint. He pulled away and I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I kept thinking about the kind and caring police officer. A good man. A good human. The opposite of me. I also thought about Transitional Living. Hope on a business card. I would eventually get in touch with them and start the long process of getting better. Years of therapy. A case manager who worked her ass off to transform me. Medication for depression. A new chapter began. A new me was born. I became a real dad again.
I made it through to the other side because of a young cop. Because of Transitional Living. Because I was resilient and wanted to change. I embraced it. This story ends with me in my own home, warm and cozy, writing about the past. And hope. Because hope is real. Clutch it like it’s a newborn and never let go. Hope saved me many moons ago. It can save you, too. You must believe in something you can’t see or touch but is always there.
Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere, You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.Attachments area