Author describes living out of car for 70 days in Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When Ezekiel Walker packed up his 2004 Dodge Stratus and set off on a 600-mile journey from Durham, North Carolina, to central Indiana two years ago, he was keyed up, excited for an adventure that was taking him to a new city, a new job and a new life.
He created a playlist of his favorite hip-hop songs and rapped his way to Indiana, where he had accepted a job as a case manager for a company in Lafayette called Promising Futures. He was leaving his friends and family behind in North Carolina, determined to make it on his own. At 31, he decided it was now or never.
The journey would prove more difficult than he anticipated, and it didn’t end when he arrived in Indiana. Walker writes about it all in a book borne out of desperation, he said.
“Seventy Moons” documents the 70 days and nights he spent homeless after arriving in Indiana. He will share excerpts in a public reading from noon to 3 p.m. Oct. 27 at Indy Reads Books, 911 Mass Ave.
It was when he hit Indiana — in the middle of November — that Walker’s big dreams started to crumble around him. The weather was lousy, the roads were treacherous, and the job in Lafayette — at the company with the promising name — didn’t pan out.
Walker admits he didn’t plan well. He had a little money saved and figured he would stay in a motel until he could get an apartment, but without a paycheck, even a motel seemed like a luxury. He didn’t want to admit to his family back in North Carolina that he needed help.
So for the next 70 nights, Walker said he lived the life of a homeless person. He slept in his car, he slept in a storage unit, and he slept in a homeless shelter.
The latter was the worst night of the 70, he said, and he would go on to describe that night in a poem: “Hopeless,” which became part of his book. The following are excerpts from the poem he wrote while staying at that Lafayette shelter:
“Night gusts are cold but what else is new / hopeless men gather much more than a few / a long line is formed but no words are said / as they look to hell hanging heavy heads ... Eight somber men share one small room / its stench marinated and stewed in gloom. As my eyes close, their faces are all I can see / Am I looking at them or are they looking at me.”
It was a humbling experience, Walker said, and much as he tried to deny it, he was just like every other man dragging one foot in front of the other up the stairs into the shelter. The “walking dead” is how he described it.
“Everyone has their own story for being there; it’s not just me,” he said. “We were all without that night. I just felt the weight of it. I was grateful to have it, I was happy being warm, but it was a hard night.”
Walker has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, so he knows something about how the mind works. But it didn’t prepare him for a life of relative isolation.
Early on, he would spend his days at a coffee shop or library and write in the journal that became the genesis of his book. “I didn’t intend to make it a book; I had no idea this would last 70 days.”
The journal, though became his lifeline.
“It was almost like a heartbeat,” Walker said as he clutched the worn notebook during a recent interview. “Not a day passed that I didn’t write something in it. The poems helped keep me going.”
He worked a temporary job at Subaru in Lafayette for a short time, and he took the night desk clerk shift at a motel to get by. The motel job even came with a free breakfast some days. But it wasn’t enough.
On his darkest days, Walker found hope in small acts of kindness that he witnessed. One that stuck with him was an elderly couple who were seated near him at a cafe.
The elderly gentleman kept nodding off, unable to eat his lunch. His companion would reach over and rub his back gently to nudge him awake.
“She had his back,” Walker said. “It made me feel like everything would be alright with me, too. It felt good to see that kind of human interaction and that love. I missed that.”
Eventually, Walker found a new job as a care coordinator in Indianapolis, connecting families in need with social services. But it would be another month before he was able to afford an apartment.
That was more than a year ago, and today he says he can look back on his experience living on the street with gratitude.
The son of two ministers, he said he prayed a lot more during his time on the street, but he didn’t share his trials with his parents until earlier this year, long after he had secured a new job and a place to live.
“I had told them I was staying with a frat brother, and they trusted that,” he said. “I still feel bad for lying to them. In our family, we don’t tell each other that things are terrible until we know that things are going to be good. I didn’t want to burden them with this.”
His parents weren’t the only ones who didn’t know how bad things were for a while. Rosalyn Martin connected with Walker over social media.
The two had talked for several weeks, but one day Walker texted Martin after his car broke down near the old Indianapolis airport: Could she give him a ride Downtown?
“It was very random,” Martin acknowledged, “but I might have been the only person he knew here.”
She had been new to the city a few years earlier when she moved here from New Jersey to attend school, so she understood the feeling of being alone.
“I didn’t know until later that he was homeless,” said Martin, an injury prevention specialist. “He’s very resilient. I commend him for coming here from North Carolina and being able to deal with the curve balls thrown at him. It shows determination.”
Walker said “Seventy Moons” wasn’t written to inspire others, but if it helps someone else, all the better. He is working with the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention to distribute 50 copies of the book to shelters in central Indiana.
Looking back, Walker says all those cold nights and lonely days made him stronger, and he doesn’t regret leaving the comfort of home.
“I just wasn’t going to let the experience destroy me,” he said. “I’m thankful for it now. I would hate to still be sitting in Durham right now wondering what I could have done with my life.”
Source: The Indianapolis Star
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com