I turned off River Drive, and drove alone into a parking lot by the river to find a place to sleep. Why me? I thought. How could this be? Me without a home? I had just had a drink with George, a friend I had made at karaoke, and we talked about our worries. We were both out of work. I had lost a job as a customer service representative at a call center. He had lost a job as a mechanical engineer at a factory. I was living in my car, but he had a house.
He said that he felt sorry about my situation, but I couldn’t stay with him. He was working on his house and could use some help, so he offered me a job painting the ceiling in his living room. I figured the money could help me live another day.
In the parking lot that night I watched the sailboats bob to the rhythm of the river. It was a Friday, and George had said that I could stay there by the water without notice. A gate by the dock was chained and padlocked. After sunset, the skies had faded to a deep shade of blue. I warily watched a sports utility vehicle parked down by the padlocked gate, watched as it finally drove away, two ribbons of light cutting into the night.
I grabbed my pillow and rested my head against the driver’s seat, alone with my shame. College friends and relatives were hundreds of miles away. The life I had known seemed like a distant dream. Clothes, blankets, a lamp and my books filled the car. There was more in the trunk. I turned on the dome light for a while and read from a book of poetry that George had given me. He said that he didn’t need it any more. Everything reminded me of the life I had lived in another part of town.
Neon lights from bars in the village district glowed. People played softball in the park until the lights went off. A stream of cars and trucks moved along River Drive, and kept going. I settled into a restless sleep, waking often to make sure that no one would bother me. The occasional train horn woke me; with each waking the night grew darker. I watched the cars and trucks passing on the road, kept seeing what looked like the same yellow cement truck pass, took it as a sign. I had to rebuild my life.
The early sun woke me to a group of woman who had been walking along the nearby bike path and had stopped to talk. I looked at them, hoping they wouldn’t look at me.
After a quick bite at a convenience store, I went to paint the living room in George’s house. He got me two cans of pop from the refrigerator and made me a bologna sandwich, then went upstairs to his office.
The stucco ceiling was rough, and the house showed its age. I struggled to cover faded paint with a fresh coat of white. He came down and asked how I was doing. He showed me where more paint was needed, and told me to cover every sign that he had smoked in the room. The house would be put up for sale. He looked sad. When I finished he reached into his wallet, to pay me what he could for a morning’s work. We shook, eyed one another, let the loss pass between us before I departed.