The Places You’ve Never Been

The last thing you do is pull your savings out of the ATM and hide the cash in a compartment behind the back seat. You flip through the radio, settle on Chvrches. When you first heard this song you were still with him, riding through the twilight of your town, you singing lead and him backup. You turn the radio off, try to plan your next move. Your dog is in the back, tail as metronome, panting then whining, panting then whining.

You tell yourself our ancient ancestors went days without food sometimes. You don’t use this justification for your dog. You learn not to park at Walmarts, where cops like to patrol at night. You find rest stops, forest preserves, residential streets with no traffic. Once a month you drop thirty bucks on a night in a hostel, the stiff bunk feeling to you like a king size bed, showering two, three times that night. You splurge on dog treats after these hostel nights, come back to your dog in the car, all the windows cracked, and spoil him.

You draft stories in your notebook, use your pens till you have to lick the nibs to get them to work, write by the light of streetlamps when your dog’s asleep and the wind coming through the window sounds like a giant going ooh. When the stories are done you head to the library, wash up in the bathroom, type them up, revise. You look at your author bio, your accolades, the picture you took before all of this happened. You try not to cry. You submit.

For physical contest submissions you fill out your SASE with an address near where you usually park, nobody ever home when the mail comes but staking this place out every day anyway just in case, waiting till the mailman leaves to take what’s yours.

It gets so you can only afford one donut every other day, ripping off a piece for your dog. You can handle this until his whimpers keep you up at night. You are able to convince yourself you’re a freegan, that you’re okay with raiding supermarket dumpsters. The fruits and veggies you devour immediately. The meat you check for green spots, excise the pieces, eat. You start fires with a cigarette lighter, discarded packaging. You hold the meat up to the fire with a plastic fork, hope it doesn’t melt. Your dog licks your hand when he’s done, nuzzles you till you must pet him.

You collect quarters from underneath vending machines, sneak into movie theaters and check for valuables under seats. One day you just do it. You pull a fast food cup from under the passenger seat. You collect change, not able to make eye contact, hating yourself because you actually have a “home.” You tell yourself when you get out of this you’ll give ten bucks to every homeless person you see. When you can’t or won’t dive anymore, you go to the shelter, pocket bread and grayish hunks of meat for your dog, ignore the stares. You tell yourself homelessness exists on a continuum.

You crush pop cans, stack them, put them in a basket you scavenged. It gets so the guy at the recycling center knows you by name. You get better at it day by day, till you need two baskets, then a garbage bag, then two. You buy your dog treats and bones and squeaky toys. You write until you slump in your seat, exhausted, waking to your dog biting at the wire binding of your notebook, bending it out of shape, sitting up and wagging his tail when he knows he’s been caught. You go to the library and transcribe two stories, one after the other. You check out every book that was ever written ever.

You bring your latest haul to the recycling guy, wait as he stares at you. He asks if you need a job and you say yes before he can tell you what it is. After you’re hired, he hands you all the paperwork instead of mailing it. Neither of you say anything. Your first Saturday off after landing the job you stake out your “mailbox,” rush over after the mailman leaves. You see an envelope from one of the contests you entered. The biggest one. You skim the letter for “unfortunately.” You don’t find it. You cry when you see how much it is, walk back to your car holding the letter like it’s the Ark of the Covenant. You let your dog out of the car and run, with him, around the block and out past the neighborhood, where even the cars don’t go, to the places you’ve never been.

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