There is this period in my life where I did not have a home. I slept on sidewalks, under monuments, and in hospital waiting rooms. Some nights, fearing further assaults from people who get their kicks by violently oppressing people simply for being homeless, I walked around and looked at my city and tried to figure out myself. Maybe I was figuring out everything that wasn’t myself. It seemed like a lot of us were walking through this invisible fog of poverty whose mist hangs in the lungs until it becomes part of you.
Some nights, I would walk to the Alamo and stare at it until it became a pile of limestone rocks with slumping shoulders rounded by caustic weather. I would face it, sit, and slump until I dissolved, likewise, into a meaningless pile of limestone rocks that were slowly eroding under the acidic, damp nights of San Antonio.
My sit bones would nag at me to shift my weight on the limestone retaining walls that lifted soil beds for great oaks while rats made their activities less discrete around a shrine of ironic liberty. The limestone ground, cracking before me, showed the eventuality of things: rock bottom. Humans would love to build something that lasts forever, and here is the open air limestone cavern — the Alamo and its plaza — that we attach ourselves to despite its fretted symbolism degrading inside the heart of Texas. And there I was, idling on desanctified grounds, washing away as limestone does.
You look at something long enough, and it starts to lose meaning. It’s expression as a symbol becomes indiscernible lines and shapes, and that is what happens when you stare at the Alamo too long, and that, too, is what happens when you stare at yourself long enough.
One night, I decided not to walk around and maybe get some sleep over at the Prospect Courtyard. This place is a gated, concrete forum where a person can get a mat and a meal. The services are arguably more comprehensive, but for the sake of brevity, let’s just say it’s the “safest” place a person can be in downtown San Antonio.
I was walking down Martin St. when I encountered the spirit of Stevie Nicks, who was walking down Flores St. She was blonde, barefoot, and holding a clear hospital discharge bag that contained paperwork, a water bottle, an apple, and a pair of gray flip flops. She was wearing a long sleeved, witchy black dress that draped her middle aged form. She stopped me and asked for a cigarette. Her white face was tanned like bleached leather and cracked like the Alamo.
“Hey,” I said, “why don’t you wear those flip flops in your bag?” I handed her a cigarette. She asked me for a lighter. I handed it to her too.
She said, “Oh these things? They’re broken. I just got out of the hospital.” She pointed north-ish. Her baggy sleeve revealing a medical wristband.
“Are you by chance walking to the courtyard tonight?” I asked.
“Uh maybe. Hold on. Can you smoke a cigarette with me?” Her quester’s aura shined through her nervousness. “You seem like a good guy. Can you stay with me for bit?”
“Yeah that’s fine, but I do have to leave after this cigarette before the gates close.”
We smoked and fumed the intersection with idle chatter about where we were coming from and were we were going. It turns out, she was curious and looking for klimax, which is the San Antonio lingo for spice or kush, which are colloquialisms for a synthetic cannabinoid (maybe) that is sold by the blunt, which is a hypocorism for a makeshift cigar that has its filler replaced with other ingredients, for $5.
“I heard it messes you up,” she said.
“Yes it does, but it’s really bad for you. I see a lot of people passed out on sidewalks and in alleys after smoking it.”
“Really?” She chuckled. “Sounds kind of fun.”
“Sure.” I moved on with the conversation.
She was inquisitive. “Where is this courtyard you speak of? I have a six bedroom house on the east side, but I don’t know which buses will take me that way.”
“I don’t know either,” I said facing west on Martin St.
“Hm… do they have a place for me to sleep at this courtyard?”
“Yes,” I said probably too eagerly. “They serve breakfast in the morning, and you might be able to shower and get some hygiene items while you are there.” It’s connected to Haven for Hope.
“Okay. Let’s go!” She settled enthusiastically.
“You wanna walk with me?” I asked.
“Yes. Let’s go. I feel safe with you. You seem like an all right guy.”
“All righty, let’s go.” We started walking.
A few steps in, I said, “I’m Dominic by the way.”
“Hi, Dominic By-the-Way,” she quipped. “I’m Sassy. Can I be a By-the-Way too?”
“Sure. That sounds great.” I smirked and shook my head.
“Ha… Hm… Ha… I like that… Mr. and Mrs. By-the-Way.” She said while picking up her elbows in a proud strut. “Meet the By-the-Ways.”
We walked a couple blocks and when we approached another intersection near a ditch, she seemed to get something in her mind. “Woah stop. Woah. Do you see those people over there?”
There was no one.
She said, “There’s bad people over there. Those are very bad people. I have to go Dominic By-the-Way. Do you know where the 26 picks up?”
I said, “Walk south on this street, turn left when you see the cathedral, and look for the bus line-ups. They have one or two more routes before they stop the service.”
“Okay. I think I know where I’m at. Thanks for the directions. I hope to see you again Dominic By-the-Way.”
“Bye Sassy By-the-Way. Be safe.” I waved to her back as she walked creek-side into the dark, potholed obscurity of San Antonio.
I walked toward the courtyard, and I saw no one on the way, which was surprisingly more unsettling than when having to pass by the familiars that usually haunt this route.
At the gates of the Courtyard, I made sure I didn’t have any contraband with me. Some people were finishing off bottles while others were obviously cooking shots or attempting to walk after plunging one. It smelled like formaldehyde. Someone was smoking klimax. Probably more than one person.
If you stare at yourself and this world long enough, you will eventually make less sense of it than if you only observed it with passing glances, and you will damage the sensibilities you brought with you in the process. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Maybe it’s just sickness in hope of a less sick cure. It’s hard to get your head around it, and maybe that’s because it’s chaos. There’s no order to it just like the pile of limestone boulders that is the Alamo, this city, and myself. You fit one stone after another upon finding stones that fit, and maybe some shape comes to fruition that can either be defined by its decay or by a personal and rigid aesthetic.
That night, I slept on a slab lined with limestone boulders for benches, and it was the safest place that I and about 700 others could sleep. These nights, I still think about Sassy By-the-Way and the serendipitous union that lasted two blocks, but I prefer not to think about the Alamo.