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Jim Martin

After a while you get used to darkness. It's not like you get blinded whenever you see the sun or anything, but the more you have to rely on your night vision to survive, the better it becomes. Me, I've spent so long living this way that I'm a master by now.

I'm from a good family that loved me. I tell people that my father used to do things like put cigarettes out on my arm and how my mother used to slap me when I told her that dad had been in my room the night before, but that's all shit. I'm the only one who knows that. I listen to everyone else who lives out here under the stars, and I know that they're full of all the same lies that I am. Maybe a few of them actually come from bad homes, but I bet that most of them come from great families like mine. All those stories you hear about people who live on the streets because it beats the life they had at home are crap. Like I say, there may be a couple of people like that, but most of them are people like me who just never really cared too much for rules. The truth just doesn't sound quite as romantic as the lie.

My story is no big surprise, really. I'm just another teenager who doesn't like being told what to do. My family are good people, but they aren't going to lie down so I can walk all over them by stealing money for pot and making my own rules. They feel obligated to make me a good person, whereas I feel obligated to have a good time. One night we have a fight over my taking my dad's car out to hot box with my friends. The ensuing fight is intense, like the more I rave the more it will feel like what we are fighting about makes any kind of sense. I storm out with a flurry of profanity and leave home.

Since I'm being honest with myself here, I think that I had made my mind up already to get out of the place, and really I was just waiting for an excuse to leave. I guess it is sort of like when you're quitting smoking and you start up again because you had a bad day. Generally, you have already resigned yourself to smoking, and at the next opportune moment you cave. It's not a surprise to you, like suddenly you look down and say, "Holy shit. I have a smoke going here." You knew you were going to do it, and you probably purposely put yourself into a position where you were going to smoke in order to make it excusable.

My first night on the street was perfect. You run downtown, because that's where everyone runs to, and then the party starts. At first nobody really notices you, but as the sun starts to set and you haven't fled yet and don't seem to have anywhere that you're going, pretty soon you start making friends. I lost my virginity that night, to this great girl named Li. We were in this boarded up car park attached to some department store, and we were all fried. This guy James who I met with Li had this really crappy weed, but he had so much of it that we were just flying. I remember just sort of being there with a dumb grin on my face while this girl took it to me. While it was happening I kept thinking that it was like watching a porno, and that would make me laugh, which would make her laugh, which was just about the best feeling I could have had.

I started hanging out with Li a lot. Regular folks would have called her my girlfriend, but that isn't the right word. Sure, we screwed around a lot, but she served a much bigger purpose. She introduced me to all of the people I needed to meet and kept me away from the people I didn't. And as long as she was with me, she didn't have to worry about the disgusting old drunks that crawled on top of you when you were sleeping. Without a boyfriend, a girl like Li had to wake up fighting sometimes, and that's just not much fun for anyone.

There was an interesting lesson in those first few days, however. I had always assumed that life on the streets meant that you didn't have anyone dictating rules to you. That's not really the case at all, though. There is a whole pile of rules to be observed, and missing out on them doesn't mean that you get a stern talking to from dad, or a mean old finger wag from mom. You can wind up in a hospital bed if you don't show the appropriate respect to the appropriate lowlifes.

Li looked after me and taught me the rules pretty well. The problem was that my money was disappearing pretty quickly. I had known that I was going to have to figure out how people made money on the streets pretty quickly, but I hadn't realized just how much life was costing me. And on top of that, I was paying for Li to eat, sleep, and get stoned too.

I remember that last $5 going to a pack of smokes that I shared with Li and about 3 other people who were busy teaching me how to get by on the streets. It was like being back in school, but the courses had names like "Learn your Soup Kitchens" and "Advanced Begging Techniques" instead of trigonometry or phonics. I had always thought I was pretty stupid, but I found that the lessons came pretty easily to me. In retrospect, I think that the reason it was different this time was that I had urgency working on me. If I didn't learn how to be a bum, I was going to die. That kind of urgency never really got into me over passing an exam or writing a good essay. Nobody dies because they didn't bother learning calculus.

The next day, I learned a whole lot of new things. I learned humility, contempt, discomfort, and finally euphoria. When I woke up, Li had gone. I would find out that Li had a history of bouncing from person to person whenever anyone had a lot of money in their pocket. I was pretty pissed off,
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