I retrieved my backpack from the luggage compartment of the bus. I had $65.00 left, but riding the bus had been a luxury I enjoyed. Three other passengers remained on the Greyhound destined for other parts west, but I hoped this small mountain town in North Carolina held a new beginning for me. Everything had gone wrong in my life. Badly. Though over two years in my past, a morning in 1977 when I had heard voices seducing me over the railing to an Atlanta interstate below by describing a personal introduction between me and a speeding eighteen-wheeler as a positive event, haunted me. I breathed daily pretending fear dogging me like a hungry, street mongrel wasn't there.
From the depot, I walked a block to Burger King, ordered a fish sandwich, and picked out a table facing the day's end. On this June, Thursday evening the BK was empty. I laid my remaining cash on the table by the steaming sandwich. I had never been so low on money and in a strange town with no job lined up. In all my drifting, I had never been this close to nothing.
Steam from the sandwich soon to be supper caught the last rays of the sun in delicate swirls. I have about that much substance, crossed my mind and a stillness took over. Contemplating what faced me was more than running out of money. The muffled noise of traffic faded. I tuned the world out again, a trance without meditation. Silence, the ease of quiet settled over me. I was familiar with moments like this: restful in a sense but unnerving. Always I faced an absence of ... of ... what to call this quiet hole? Self? Soul? My own thought broke the reverie: For the hundredth time: Who am I? I ignored the question because I couldn't answer it. I began eating the sandwich. Despite my emotions, I savored that sandwich. I hungered for fries or a soda or an apple fried pie or all three, but I needed the bit of cash to last until I had a job.
I chewed that last bite and fantasized a futuristic form of entertainment. Rather than watching a movie, you lived it. You paid your money and spent two hours feeling and thinking like the star with a script--a nightmare of someone else but good for a thrill. Only trouble for me was the theater never closed, and I was locked inside. Scripted lines never stopped. I was an act, rehearsed and ready, depending on the scene around me.
Trashing the paper from my meal like a good citizen, I shouldered the backpack containing what I owned at 23 years of age. I had sold first the car, then the motorcycle for cash to spend. I had given the ten speed away. For the last two years, I lived out of a portable closet. I headed for the university a BK employee told me was a mile or so down the road. Maybe I could charm my way into a dorm room for the night. As the day's light mellowed to soft glow, I found myself between the entrance sign of the university and a boarding house named The Beckonridge. (really!) The hair on the head of the lady answering the door had been gray for years.
"Yes, son?" she asked me.
"I noticed the rooms-for-rent sign. How much?"
"Come in. I have one available for one week. $25.00."
I never agreed. Her authoritative tone had done the deal. I entered the house and in a matter of minutes was watching TV with my landlady and her 55 year-old daughter. She invited me to church on Sunday.
"Sure," I said while thinking to myself, What does another hypocrite in church matter? Mrs. Hardin played a hymn on the piano after the television program, and I excused myself as being very tired before she started a second. Maybe by Sunday I will have a job, and that'll give me a reason not to go.
I turned off the overhead light which glared against the pea-green walls and lay back on the over-used mattress. After paying for the room, I had a little over thirty dollars. If a job didn't materialize in a week when this rented stay ran out, I'd have to move on to larger Asheville. Hunger pains from the too-soon digested fish sandwich gave me a second opinion of the situation. I could probably get some cash by ... all my ideas were illegal.
I had little money and no options: nobody to call, no dope or booze, nothing in the past to anchor against, and no plan for tomorrow. Mrs. Hardin on the other side of the sheet-rock wall waited to haul me off into Bible-belt religion, and all my ideas indicated life was over the edge farther than ever before. Considering how close the edge had been in Atlanta, that left me no more lines in the script. I sweated myself to sleep.