I had a very vivid dream last night of the period in my life I was homeless. In fact, it was of the first night I slept in the streets. I've never written about this, though it's a long time ago. Dreaming about it last night made me realize maybe I should get this story out of my system.
It was late one Tuesday night. I counted myself lucky, because at least I had one of those old cotton lumpy sleeping bags. I had found an okay place to sleep, not too dark, public enough that if something bad were to happen, at least I could cry out and probably be heard by someone, while not being in anyone's way.
The place I picked was the portico of a shop. They sold art supplies, picture frames, oil paints, brushes and the like. It was more of an entrance than a proper portico, but at least I would be out of the rain. I didn't expect any, but it's Holland after all...
On the opposite side of the street, slightly across, is a small church. I distinctly remember a guy and a girl, late teens, coming out at ten-thirty-ish. It was late in the year, so it had been dark for a couple of hours, but I saw them under the streetlights. There must have been some youth activity in the church, maybe they stayed to clean up.
They must have seen me too, because they suddenly stopped when they reached the curb, looked at each other for a second, then decided at once they didn't have to cross the street quite yet. Without a single glance back at me, they walked off on their side of the street.
I'd never realized how quiet it gets at night. And cold. So very cold. Although I was off the ground, the entrance was still paved in stone. Some kind of polished concrete I think. Whatever it was, it got cold pretty early in the night, a cold that crept through my sleeping bag, through my clothes. I'd taken off my shoes to use as a makeshift pillow, but was fully clothed in case I had to get up quickly. And besides, I didn't have a change of night-clothes, nor did I care.
I had thought the layers would keep me warm, but I was mistaken. Especially after the wind picked up, I was soon chilled to the bone. The sleeping bag, being plain cotton, obviously did nothing to stop the wind. The next night I would use some scavenged plastic garbage bags to wrap my sleeping bag (taking off the bottom, to slide it around the sleeping bag). I thought I was pretty smart, but this turned out to be a big mistake.
The plastic kept the wind out well enough, but it also didn't breath. It probably made things even worse. The condensation made my clothes and the sleeping bag damp, while the cold still crept in from the ground. Later I learned that cardboard is a pretty decent insulator if you put it under you, while a few sheets over you stops most of the wind.
Anyway, back to that night. After those kids had left, the place was pretty much deserted, apart from the occasional car passing by. By about two in the morning, even the cars stopped passing and I was pretty much alone in the world.
I kept barely slumbering and waking up every half-hour or so, maybe because of the cold, maybe because I knew I had to be gone there before shortly after six in the morning, before shop owners started to arrive and kick me out, or worse, call the police on me. It's silly, but I still cared about such things then.
When I broke up camp that next morning, it was still dark (in Holland, in winter time, the sun doesn't rise until after nine in the morning and sets again at about five in the afternoon). I was exhausted from lack of sleep, cold to the bone and hungry. My plan for the day was to find something to eat, find some plastic to keep the wind out the next night and come up with a plan to get off the street.
Then I woke up and realized this had all been a dream. A very vivid one, but still just a dream.