Those thin threads

Sean spent his first few weeks in the Castro, befriending a scraggly group of fellow street dwellers. At that point, he still had his cellphone. Even though he wouldn’t accept incoming calls and left his voicemail box purposefully, repellantly full, he did manage to call me weekly. At first he was exultant. The flowering trees, the weather, the groovy people. He was evasive with details of his daily life–locations of where he slept, for instance–but I was at least able to get an emotional barometer and vague descriptors.

I knew he slept in parks much of the time, sometimes in groups. So I imagined a group of Merry Men encamped among the eucalyptis in the Presidio. He did say he tried sleeping in a doorway one night, but it was “too scary.” (This is where imagination begins to leave the mind and travel to other parts of the body: My stomach imagined his jolts of fear as junkies, prostitutes and thugs passed by his doorstep, weighing the prospect of him.)

Sean's bushes

Sean’s bushes by the health clinic

Finally, he seemed to settle in a tiny private garden outside a health center in the Castro where he could sleep by himself without being seen. A few weeks later, when I took a detour on a business trip and visited him there, he took me on a tour of some of his haunts. His tiny garden turned out to be a giant aloe planted in a small curbside garden abutting the building, with blooming shrubs and rich foliage. California is ridiculous that way: Everything flowers and multiplies into soft bowers. He really could sleep there relatively unseen.

I have tried to be if not supportive, at least relatively good-natured about this anarchist enterprise of his. It seemed the wisest course if I wanted to keep avenues of communication open. I should say that this wasn’t the first time I had survived bouts of Sean’s homelessness. He had spent the previous winter, off and on, living in abandoned buildings in Maine with other street kids. In between, he crashed at his father’s studio apartment, though they fought often. At least then I knew he had a place he could go. And Sean is not foolhardy, actually. He would seek shelter rather than freeze.

And then two weeks went by in San Francisco when I didn’t hear from him. This was unusual and it worried me. No, worried doesn’t cover it: devastated, devoured, obsessed. I could think of almost nothing else. I maintained a veneer of normalcy at work, but traveled to a “foreign” bathroom on the 11th floor so I could lock myself in a stall and cry when it got too bad. I imagined Sean stabbed, pimped, addicted, drifting through the streets with his mind blown–the absolute worst places my imagination could lead. I tried a few weak prayers but they even sounded flimsy to me.

When he finally surfaced, he sounded unconcerned by my worry. He had been sick, he confessed, very sick, and was heading out to Marin County to “get his head together.” I was so glad to hear from him that I didn’t press for details. I was just glad that he was going to Marin, with its beautiful hills and peace-loving hippies.