(as appeared in the Contributor Street Newspaper)
“My name is Ellie. I am significant in the life of someone many of you know or buy papers from, a writer, artist, and Contributor vendor who has frequently graced the pages of the paper with his creations, David Cline. He was also one of the spotlighted vendors featured in the Chris Roberts’ documentary Street Paper.
David and I come from similar enough middle-class backgrounds as only children of loving mothers and alcoholic fathers. His mom remarried a stable non-drinker; my mom and dad stayed together and dad got sober in his 60’s.
Ours are stories of curses and blessings, of pain and peace, David and I. As young and middle-aged adults, however, our lives took dramatically different turns. I was at one time in business for myself. He was at one time homeless. Or, so the script might go. I mean, I’ve always had empathy for David’s years on the streets, but I also held myself as somehow separate too, maybe even, dare I admit, God forgive me, better than.
Ever since I saw Street Paper back in April of 2012, though, something’s been gnawing at my soul, something that won’t let me hide behind my askew perception of my past for a minute longer, something that has markedly reduced any tendencies whatsoever to judge anyone for anything anymore. I learned, quite interestingly, via interviews with some of the spotlighted vendors in the film, a clarified definition of homelessness. My life, here and there, some years ago, fit. Yup. Me too.
When I first realized that my past fit the definition, I thought about the special publishing opportunities availed the homeless and formerly homeless by The Contributor, and as a writer, I felt encouraged. As I thought about it some more, however, and imagined seeing “formerly homeless” beneath my name as an author, I grew more and more stressed and embarrassed. “OMG,” my brain chattered as I pondered it, “What will people think? Who might end up thinking less of me or no longer want to associate with me?”
Then, on the flip side of the coin, I thought it a disservice to those who’ve suffered homelessness at its worst extreme, me claiming such, me who mostly earned the designation by often enough having no home of my own as opposed to those who had or have no home period. When I was without a home for a time, I almost always had some sort of back-up plan, someone who could and did take me in for a while, even if I had to really plead my case and promise to leave after a set period of time, even if I had to experience the dread and fear of the unknown when two of those hosts suddenly shortened my stay and gave me little time to figure out where to go next. I only ever spent two nights on Staten Island, NY and a couple in Nashville actually on the streets with nowhere to go. All told though, I clocked a good two plus years with no home of my own, no official address, and seven months within that time staying twice at the local YWCA Domestic Violence shelter. The reason behind those YWCA stays was pretty well the reason for it all, on some level; an alcoholic, drug addicted, abusive, jail-bird, ex-husband.
Somehow now, upon reflection, I don’t feel embarrassed by the designation of “formerly homeless” anymore. I don’t feel like those experiences were such horrible, shameful things, nor do I feel like they were not quite bad enough to warrant the designation. It seems to me now that it can happen in varying degrees to anyone. That’s anyone. I feel the need to defend my past to neither those who think it could never happen to them and think me somehow “less than” because I “let” it happen to me, nor to those who’ve suffered so badly on the streets with few, if any, options for betterment and a way out that they think my tale mere lip service, me a fake or hypocrite to align myself with those who’ve visited despair in darker corridors of life than I’ve even imagined, let alone traveled.
But ya know, we all have our own stories and our own pain. I suffered tremendously at the hands of a man I once adored and thought to be my soul mate. I lost dear and precious friendships because of him. The relationship twisted me into a distressed and needy version of myself. Maybe I was weak and gullible for staying with R.J. as long as I did and going back several times after leaving. But I sure was strong and brave each time I made a break, never knowing where I was going or what lie ahead. I showed amazing strength of character that first time I left, leaving mate and home, car and income (co-shared with him) and my entire life as I knew it, not to mention my kitty cat. I went to the women’s mission with nothing but a change of clothes in a back pack, willing to do anything to be safe, to regain some self-respect, and to try to have a real life again.
So no, my story isn’t like other people’s stories. But it’s mine and I earned however I speak of it, through more than a lifetime’s worth of heartbreak and disillusionment, through lost hope and dreams I was forced to alter or entirely bid farewell to. I earned the right to be treated with compassion and respect for my trials and triumphs, because of and regardless of specifics and labels.
I’m Ellie, a formerly homeless artist and writer, but more importantly, a human being. Are you a human being? Yep, me too.”