1988, Bucs, College Success, Darryl Strawberry, Forbes Quad, Forbes Quadrangle, Handouts, Homeless, Homelessness, Labor Day, Mets, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Schenley Park, Self-Discovery, Three Rivers Stadium, Wesley V. Posvar Hall
It was a quarter-century ago that I think I finally became an adult. Or, at least, was no longer stuck at the age of twelve psychologically and emotionally. I understand that five days without a permanent place to sleep, eat and shower isn’t much when compared to many who’ve lived with homelessness much longer. But it was more than enough to wake me up to the fact that my already tumultuous life was on the verge of being a full-blown nightmare if I didn’t find shelter in the form of a South Oakland firetrap.
From Boy @ The Window:
Tuesday and Wednesday were the worst two days of my life since the summer of abuse. Even with the luggage well hidden [in Schenley Park], I worried that fire ants would get a hold of my clothes or that a homeless guy would steal my stuff. But I had no choice. I saw no one from the second half of my freshman year on campus, so I didn’t ask for any other help. I kept looking and calling places for apartment availability. Whether efficiencies or studios or one-bedrooms, the response was always, “the place is taken.” I spent part of the evening at William Pitt Union, watching the news and the Pirates game, thinking all the while about where I’d sleep that night. The student union was out. Pitt Police were always prowling around and looking into the TV room. Hillman Library was still on a summer schedule, and wouldn’t open for its normal hours until after Labor Day. The other buildings were classrooms and faculty offices, better places to hide. My runaway experience in ’85 gave me that idea.I went over to Forbes Quadrangle (formerly Forbes Field, where the Pirates used to play) and hung out at The Second Plate deli on its benches for a while, pretending to study until well after midnight. Then I looked around for a good place to sleep. Unfortunately, maintenance and security guards locked up all of the classrooms and faculty lounges at night. I settled on the stairwell in the farthest corner of the building away from its two main entrances. I walked up to the fifth floor ledge, laid down on the hard concrete on top of my clothes, and fell asleep. This wasn’t a good sleep, maybe four or five hours. The fluorescent lights were always on, the guard or students would use the stairs, and the ledge was the hardest thing that I’d ever slept on. I woke up on Wednesday and Thursday morning stiffer than I’d been the day before….Before I went to sleep Wednesday night, I got real with myself and real humble with God and started praying. I said, “God, I don’t pray nearly as much as I used to, but I could really use your help. I am your child because of Jesus, and I need you to help me find a place to stay. If you don’t help me find somewhere to live, I’ll have to go home and go to school from home.” I knew full well – and God knew, too – what would happen if I went back home. Nothing. Nothing good, anyway. I was three or four days away from buying a plane ticket back to New York and withdrawing from the university. Thoughts of going to Fordham University or Hunter College crept into my head. They were good schools for someone like me. Living at home, though, wasn’t.
Of course, I did eventually find a house with a room available, one where I’d share a kitchen and bathroom for the next two school years with other Pitt students, reputable and otherwise.
I slept away most of my Labor Day Weekend, except for spending some of my remaining money to take in a Pirates-Mets game at Three Rivers. My Mets won 7-5, on the power of two Darryl Strawberry home runs.
…After what I’d just been through, I learned something new and foreign. That everyone needs folks in their lives – friends, family, mentors and authority figures – if for no other reason than the need to ask for help. I’d come to know at least a dozen people who I could’ve called on during my five-day ordeal, but I never looked through a phone book or gave them a call. Heck, I didn’t even try to keep in touch by getting their addresses and numbers at the end of April. Not to mention contacting Jack Daniel, an Associate Provost at Pitt and the author of the Challenge Scholarship, the one that paid for half of my tuition. If anyone had any incentive to make sure I had a place to lay my head, it would’ve been him. All of these thoughts had been in my head during the week. I didn’t trust them or the instincts or wisdom from which they originated. “I’m so stupid God,” I said to myself, “I’m so incredibly stupid.”
Mom’s constant mantra in my head, of not depending on others for help, was a lie, at least for me. I couldn’t will myself through school. Especially when it came to money. I needed all the help I could get. Besides, my family had now been on welfare for five and a half years. If that wasn’t one of my Mom’s examples of so-called handouts, I didn’t know what was.
My approach to college changed with this revelation…I knew that all the things I shied away from talking about were now things I needed to discuss. But I also knew that I had to draw out my better, more sociable self in order to welcome others in my life with open arms. That meant taking some risks, which meant that I could get hurt emotionally or psychologically by them.
My life hasn’t been the same since, thank God.