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I looked down into the dusky light. Towns stretched out to the north across Arkansas, the development set in relief by the upward reflection of overzealous street lighting. I recognized none of them, unusual for me. I let my eyes close.

When I was young, I expected to see only what of the world I might someday be able to take a bus, or perhaps drive, to. By the time I became a licensed driver, I'd left the state just once, and the trip was aborted before we reached the erroneous endpoint of Conneaut. The idea that I might someday be able to afford more seemed farfetched.

The plane shook slightly, and I looked down again. The lights of a town danced beneath me. I squinted to finally realize there was nothing magical afoot. A cloud was receding far below, slowly revealing more of the grid. I looked away.

When I got my license, cosmopolitan was knowing my way around cities, towns and countryside in a 150 mile radius of my home like they were mine. But at 18, I traveled further: eastern Pennsylvania, then Boston, by bus. Within four years of that, I reached the other coast, visiting San Francisco by air. Another three found me I stepping off a train in San Antonio. That Texas travel had not been so far from this trip, but the journeys were a lifetime apart, or more.

Looking down again, I mused that the shape I saw outlined was Paducah, before confirming my suspicions online. I resumed my work. The next gaze brought Columbus, Indiana, before we hit western Ohio, and I reached a world I knew well.

While I've spent time on both coasts as well as through the hinterlands, so much of my life has been spend within an easy drive of the spot I lived from birth. And my memory provides slices of the moments from so much of it, good, bad, and otherwise.

The Canadian side of Lake Erie became visible in a couple spots, but I saw northeast Ohio’s industrial heart starkly delineated against the murky blackness of the unlit, uninhabited body of water alongside. The swirls of concrete and the patterns of lights made it so easy to pick out so many amazing places I’ve been. After Erie, at least, there'd be a respite until Syracuse. But then things intensified, and I found myself picking out cities, as we converged upon the end of the flight.

After hooking north, our arc traced a pattern I knew. The approach pattern told me which runway I'd see in a moment, and I was not surprised when I saw "9/27" signs flick past on the ground. A friend shortly picked me up at the airport. Inside a half hour I sat upon a bed, greeted by a plate of pickles another friend, my host for so many weeks this year, left as she drifted off to sleep before I arrived.

Eastern Massachusetts and my friends here have cemented a place as loving stewards of a tattered person. If home is where the heart is, then truly I am home.
I wondered if he noticed my brief hesitation as I considered how much I wanted to share in response to what he's just asked. It was an innocent enough question, one about whether I was always a local. How many times had I elaborated variations on this story of late?

"I just moved here after 43 years in Pittsburgh," I replied. "I have an apartment starting the day after tomorrow." I could have stopped there, left it at that. Instead, though, I caught my breath before continuing.

It had been the night before New Years' Eve when my friend showed up. I slumped in his arms as I sobbed briefly, before composing myself. I collected a small pile of clothes and my laptop, and we left to cross the city. For much of the next several months, the spare bedroom at his home would serve as mine.

His family seemed in no rush to have me gone, but I try to take nothing for granted. My barren fiscal standing left me unable to get a place myself, though, and so I hoped I wouldn't be too much of a burden.

"It will be the first time this year I've had my own place to live," I said as I ended the thought. If he was bothered by my explanation, he betrayed nothing. There wasn't really anything different about me anyway: my neat appearance betrayed nothing about my status. Blue hair aside, I looked not much different than anyone else present.

You might well have thought you didn't know anyone who's homeless. Two days, yet, still separate me from a place which is mine, from no longer being transient. In the meantime, I have spent all of this year in places where I had no claim beyond friendship. I leaned harder than I felt any right to. It is an experience which lends additional empathy, but it is not one I'd dare suggest everyone should have.

No, just the opposite: homelessness is an experience *no one* should have.
Her email arrived mid-morning, and I didn't read it til rather later as I was busy working. Perhaps it was for the best that I'd waited.

"Good morning, Daria Brashear", I'd greeted her at a minute after 8. We'd arranged the call the previous day. She seemed impressed that I'd trivially navigated bureaucracy to tweak an issue with my health insurance, and frankly, so was I. Not that long ago, I avoided making phone calls. Here, in spite of my dislike of my voice, I stepped right up and dealt.

It was the second time we'd talked, and I had already shared the details, good and bad, of my life. My recounting of 2016, particularly, drew sympathy. "But, I live here now," I'd concluded. This time, remembering something from before, she asked about voice therapy. "Yes, absolutely," I replied, and she said she'd send along the information I needed.

The email unfolded in front of me, and I mentally parsed out the details. As I reached the middle, though, I paused, and held back tears.

At the end of the paragraph, after comments about how to get set up with a voice therapist, she told me to get a referral, obtain a letter suggesting follow ups, and submit it. "It will be approved," she explained as she mentioned mandated benefits. The final sentence, though, was the one that made it all so very real for me:

"It is good to live in Massachusetts!!"

Jul. 30th, 2016

I pushed myself along the canal towpath, working against the waterlogged clay surface, into the gorgeous morning. On one side of me was the early 1800s canal; On the other, a broad, placid river. I'd failed at self-care for a few days, and it was time to apply some.

The previous night, after foolishly moving my car, I hoofed it a few blocks to find a late dinner. As I looked north after walking over the canal, a bright light caught my eye. I stepped away from the road, and walked toward the railroad station. I kept moving toward the building so the station sign would come into the view.

We were coming up on a year since I'd first found myself alone aside the river, just as I had the after last night's dinner. On that first occasion, I wept. I realized a month or so prior what I needed to do, but I felt the means to do it would be out of reach, and I feared the consequences of pushing on.

The previous August had brought the realization that the surgery I thought I could do without wasn't optional. By September, I had a plan to pay. In October, I finally told my spouse. By the end of November, I lost that way to pay, and as December ended, so did my marriage. The consequences had all been realized and my fears had come home to roost.

As I came to the next town, I turned the bike off the towpath. Shortly I found myself riding over the river, and shortly turned north. The towpath for the canal along the other side of the river featured a powdered limestone surface, where the railroad that replaced it had previously been. The ride got easier.

With this year, there were changes. Friends took me in as my life fell apart. Throughout the moments where I found myself struggling to keep moving ahead, folks held me up when I foundered. I worked out a plan, arranged to move, and got myself scheduled for surgery.

I turned back across the river, pointed at the spot I'd walked past the night before. As I reached the shore on the Pennsylvania side, the sign naming the municipality echoed the one I'd finally seen when I got close enough to the train station to take a photo.

Jul. 27th, 2016

We'd left the hospital before dusk, when our friend told us she planned to sleep. When I got back to the hotel, I changed into a dress for exercise, pulled my bike out of the car, and clambered aboard for a canalside trip through a park separated from us by a hundred feet of highwayside sidewalk.

The placid pool of the long-dormant canal reflected the things around it as I rode into the increasing darkness. The occasional buzz of traffic on the road nearby pierced the trees as I pushed myself along, but a roar, after a while, reminded me that trains were buzzing by close to 100mph just slightly further away.

It was odd to think that it had been less than 24 hours that I'd been here, but that flight that had pushed back late got only later as we went. We rerouted south due to weather. When finally we emerged from the clouds, I picked out the intersection of interstates 81 and 64 below me, before we headed to the lower Potomac basin and then up the river towards the nation's capitol.

After circling briefly, we were told things were bad, and we'd be landing at Harrisburg. I knew then that it'd be a long night. A direct flight usually means that once you're airborne, you'll make it. But as soon as you are on the ground somewhere, all bets are off. The route into MDT allowed me to pick out the Baltimore inner harbor, York, I-83, the turnpike, and I-81 from the air before we curved gently around to get a gorgeous view of the state capitol on final approach.

When we did land, it took about 90 minutes to fuel and resume the journey, another 45 minutes to fly, and in the end I reached my destination at 2:20am. My friend was due at the hospital at 6. No surprise, then, that rest eluded me.

I allowed myself the luxury of enjoying the canalside jaunt before returning to my laptop to work, take a brief goodnight call, and fall over. If I were to be supportive for the rest of the week, taking the rest when I could seemed like a necessity.

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Jul. 25th, 2016

"We were supposed to be airborne 90 minutes ago," I thought, as we pivoted onto the end of the runway. The sign we'd just passed pointed the way to 34R.

I closed the e-book I'd been reading, and directed my focus to the window. My mind was elsewhere, reeling with the memories, and had been all morning. A number rolled by outside as we accelerated along the runway.

10

I'd arrived in Seattle by rail, 4 days prior. I'd been working from the train, but took a break to get myself and my stuff to the flat I'd be sharing before continuing. After a bit more work, I met a friend for dinner before getting some flowers and heading to the airport.

Distracted by the window, I watched another number flash past outside.

9

The first of my companions arrived. The flowers weren't for her, but she half-suspected I'd surprise her at the airport. We hoofed it to the light rail and got a small bite one stop over before returning to the airport to wait. Our time was a mix of light chatter, heavier conversation, and flirting.

8

We arrived back at the airport just as our other companion landed. Zie was quite late, but it was a small wonder zie made it at all. Hir connecting flight had been cancelled that morning, and it was only by the other two of us nudging hard and coughing up some miles that zie got there at all. When zie entered the concourse, we popped out to surprise hir, with the flowers, but also simply by being there. Shortly, we'd summoned a ride and were heading back to the flat. Before sleeping, we collapsed into a pile of cuddles. The day had been stressful, but moreover we'd been apart a while, and that period had been rife with its own stresses.

7

After too little sleep, we arrived for the first day of the conference. Unlike most other tech conferences I'd been to, this one was much more about people than the technology itself. The focus was divided between taking care of the people building the technology, and ensuring those affected by it were also carefully considered by those doing the building. The first day covered a range from bringing rehabilitation back to prisons, to bringing diversity and inclusivity to a workplace with outward-facing functions, to expanding how we empathize. An ice cream social followed dinner, with the sprouts of a new relationship showing for one of us as the other two looked on, before the day ended as the previous one did: a moment of shared emotional intimacy and vulnerability amongst the three of us, before we collapsed to sleep.

6

The second day was no less deep than the first, as we heard about human factors in complex systems, ethical concerns in the the world where all our devices are connected, and so many aspects of bringing empathy into your work.

Dinner followed, then hanging at a coffeeshop. At the conclusion of the evening, we parted company. Upon returning again to our flat, we first unwound together before collectively collapsing in a tired, snuggly heap on the bed. In many ways it felt for me not just like coming home, but coming home to people who loved me. It was a luxury 2016 had not been especially forthcoming with.

The numbers were flicking past rather quickly now.

5

Unlike the previous days, Sunday morning would be unrushed. We awoke without an alarm, in that same heap. A trip south toward the center of the city followed, with a lovely bookstore, an elegant brunch, a leisurely stroll, a ferry ride, and dinner with a longtime friend of one of my companions, as all the while in the background the budding relationship that had started the weekend began to bloom around us.

The evening ended again with we three together, with the comedown from a fantastic conference washing across us amongst a sea of other emotions. In a continually changing series of awkward poses on the floor, we took turns listening and holding each other up -- literally and figuratively -- before collapsing on the bed for one final night.

Outside my window, we took to the air, finally, lifting slowly away from the ground.

4

Cleaning up the flat was quick work, and we shortly headed to the airport. Our flights were spaced such that we'd see off one person, then I'd go, then the last of us would board hir delayed plane last. There was plenty of time for emotional goodbyes at each step, though we expected to see each other again in weeks instead of months. Still, each of us climbed aboard our planes carrying our own emotional weight. I wondered if I'd make it off the ground before I cried. Thanks to the 90 minute delay, I didn't.

The numbers, the runway, the land, peeled slowly away below me, count ended short. Once again I had no home. Most of the width of the continent stood between me and my next itinerant stop.

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I'd excused myself after the meal for a moment, telling her I'd be back after dealing with my biological imperative. Stepping around the corner, I was rebuffed as one of the staff held the door to the women's room open for her colleague as he tried to clean. "It's pretty bad in there," she explained as she asked me to wait.

After a few moments where I was awkwardly pressed against the wall to stay out of the way of the staff passing in the narrow hallway, they conspired amongst themselves to confirm the men's room was empty. "I'll guard the door for you," she told me. Two others repeated the offer.

I might have been tempted to decline were my need not so urgent. I knew what to expect. Indeed, I left the busser outside the door to step inside, and found that it hadn't changed since I last saw it in 2013. Slipping into the stall as I always had before, I took care of my need, washed my hands, and walked back out, thanking him as I passed.

Perhaps it's an overcompensation: even when faced with a single-occupant restroom, a colloquial "one-holer", I reliably bypass the ones marked men unless there's obvious signage explaining why there's no other option. After being forced in the moment to contemplate my reasons, I wondered if perhaps I could afford to be pragmatic even as I contemplated my peers for whom it wasn't and might never be true.

As countless friends had pointed out, I'd gone from being scared of who I might be perceived as to being unapologetically myself. It's a gift I hope others can find in themselves, and if I can figure out how to help them find it, I owe it to them to do that.

Jul. 7th, 2016

I'd placed the video call while sitting in the car atop a remote hill. The state park campground hosted my tent as well as a dozen friends, and tho I'd be staying only one night, I was anxious for the respite.

As we chatted, zie told me my stream had become choppy. "I'll drive out to the road for better signal," I told hir. Slipping out one earbud and tossing the screen aside, I started the car and headed toward the entrance.

Partway out, a car appeared ahead of me as I exited a hairpin turn. It moved aside, then pulled in tight behind me. I knew what was coming.

Sure enough, when shortly after exiting the campground I turned off, the car pulled in behind me and turned on its flashing lights. I rolled down the window, shut off the car, and made a show of tossing the car keys on the roof above me.

Zie chatted with me between moments with the officer. He verified my information and that I was allowed to be at the campground, and let me go on my way. When zie commented that it had gone smoothly, I could only reply that of course it had. "I'm white."

I can't indict every official involved in law enforcement, but more critically I can't excuse a system which ignores, or worse excuses, the culpability of individuals who show themselves to be undeserving stewards of the trust we have placed on them to pursue the peace in the guise of the whole public.

Being unable, or more likely unwilling, to protect all of us means you cannot be trusted to protect any of us. And that these failings are allowed to continue without any effort to understand how to ameliorate the issue let alone hold accountable those who have abdicated their duty to us means the entire system must be treated as unworkable. Its failure is our failure, and the lack of change is our shame.

Jul. 2nd, 2016

What if everyone is wrong about me?

Periodically, I ask myself this very question. It comes to mind the most after offers of praise, whether it be for reasons emotional, empathetic, or physical.

I'm actually more scared they're right. At least if they're wrong, every little bit of pain and anguish makes sense.

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Jul. 1st, 2016

I sat facing the wall, a window to my left. The desk in front of me held a laptop, which I occasionally gazed on at. Through the closed door, my colleague was asleep. 48 hours earlier, I was surrounded by folks whose experiences I knew intimately well. The dramatic change in circumstance, almost completely to my detriment, did not suit me at all.

Rationally, I knew it would be fine, but the flame, the passion for life that burned inside me felt like it was dimming. The silent hotel room offered no comfort. I had no inkling where to turn, what to do at 1am.

Even in the midst of executing a plan for life which I felt assured would set me on a level course toward the support I needed, here was my reminder that I didn't have all the answers, that I was still fragile. I suspected rest might bring me stability, so I took the only action that seemed likely to fix it: I did my best to set my vulnerability aside and sleep, despite the lack of anyone to hold me or even whisper that it'd all be fine.

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