Iowa Writes--Student Edition

DEVIN VAN DYKE
Excerpt from LAST TRIP


                                       This is a true story.

         By mid-April 1990 I had been on temporary disability from my employment at Sonoma Developmental Center for five months.  It would only last six.  I had been sharing an apartment, and my roommate had vacated and left me with the full rent to pay.  I was sitting on my couch watching TV when a knock came on the door. 
         I opened the door and there stood the landlord.  He looked past me at the full ashtray on the TV, the bedding on the living room couch, and the dirty dishes on the end-table and said, "I didn't get the full rent."
         "Well, I paid my share."
         "If you pay the remainder now I can use your deposit to clean the place up.  But you still leave on the first."
         "Come on in.  I have to think about it."  There were no lights on except the glow of the black-and-white TV where Pat Sajak's voice was barely audible.  The monotony of the game show's questions and answers show reflected my mood.  The landlord sat in a chair with a spilled-drink stained seat cushion.  I resumed my denial-of-circumstances thought-process.  In a couple of minutes, the landlord had become part of my process, kind of like another piece of furniture—present, but not seen and not consciously ignored. 
         He startled me out of my melancholy when he said, "You can write me a check, and then I'll go."

                                       This is a true story.

         By mid-April 1990 I had been on temporary disability from my employment at Sonoma Developmental Center for five months.  It would only last six.  I had been sharing an apartment, and my roommate had vacated and left me with the full rent to pay.  I was sitting on my couch watching TV when a knock came on the door. 
         I opened the door and there stood the landlord.  He looked past me at the full ashtray on the TV, the bedding on the living room couch, and the dirty dishes on the end-table and said, "I didn't get the full rent."
         "Well, I paid my share."
         "If you pay the remainder now I can use your deposit to clean the place up.  But you still leave on the first."
         "Come on in.  I have to think about it."  There were no lights on except the glow of the black-and-white TV where Pat Sajak's voice was barely audible.  The monotony of the game show's questions and answers show reflected my mood.  The landlord sat in a chair with a spilled-drink stained seat cushion.  I resumed my denial-of-circumstances thought-process.  In a couple of minutes, the landlord had become part of my process, kind of like another piece of furniture—present, but not seen and not consciously ignored. 
         He startled me out of my melancholy when he said, "You can write me a check, and then I'll go."
         "Yeah.  Okay."  I went to my bedroom and retrieved my checkbook, sat back down on the couch and drifted back off into my own world.  Pat Sajak's voice droned on, and a passerby's shadow walked past the draped front window in the background.  Staring at the TV but not seeing it, I stopped moving and just sat there with the checkbook open and the pen poised and ready. 
         The landlord's voice brought me back to the present as he spoke just loud enough to be heard over the TV, "Make it out to College Square Apartments."
         "Sure."  My pen went into motion and I knew at that instant that I would start going to the free kitchen the next day.  The slide to being homeless began once again.  I went to the free kitchen once or twice before I became overwhelmed by the poverty and the people and the environment.  If I didn't go I could still manage to deny my own circumstances. 
         In the last weeks at the apartment I survived on seventy-five cents a day and I can't remember where it came from—only that it was spent on a box of macaroni and cheese and a single cup of coffee from a machine.  The store routine was the last vestige of normalcy for me.  On my way into the store I would bum a smoke, and then, after buying the macaroni, I would sit on the bench outside and drink my coffee and smoke.  The brief feeling of belonging lasted as long as the smoke lingered.  After that I would go home and cook the food and watch black-and-white re-reruns for the rest of the day, waiting to be drowsy enough to escape to the long broken sleep of the depressed.
         Transitioning from an apartment and all the conveniences that entails to not having one doesn't necessarily become easier with repetition.  At thirty years old, this time was one of the hardest because I was quickly becoming crazy.  The jolt from having a place to call my own where privacy was assumed to a lifestyle with none took its toll, and my thought processes began to seek a way out.  It was a well-practiced path facilitated by my mental challenges.  The process of breaking down accelerated when I gave up the last of my resources to the landlord. 
         I retreated into a world of my own personal social constructs that were built on the basics of physical survival; I lacked the minimal social skills to be around other people for any length of time.  As long as I didn't interact with the same person on an ongoing basis, I could continue to live in my world, one dominated by confused thinking and fueled by primary needs.  I needed food and I needed to keep warm enough at night to avoid sleep deprivation.  Summer was coming, which meant that it was getting warm enough to only need a light jacket to keep warm, even at night.  Perhaps subconsciously my mind was protecting me by keeping me physically safe while my messed up thought process burned up time until I was capable of focusing well enough to be sufficiently rational, capable of getting along with others in the culture.  When I was confused, time could warp.

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Iowa Writes--Student Edition

This week "Iowa Writes" celebrates the work of talented University of Iowa undergraduates!


DEVIN VAN DYKE

Devin Van Dyke hitchhiked from a camp in the middle of a big city in California.  On Halloween in 2001, he was dropped off in Des Moines, one block from his intended destination by his fifth hitch who had passed him by at his starting point.  He is majoring in History and English at the University of Iowa.

This page was first displayed
on July 25, 2014

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