Content Trigger Warning: This story contains sensitive themes, including forced outing, disowning, homelessness, sex work, and homophobia. Reader discretion is advised. These elements may be distressing or triggering to some individuals, so please proceed with caution and take care of your emotional well-being while reading.
I was nearly 18 years old when I found myself homeless. It wasn’t the start to my adult life I had planned for myself, but when someone at my high school decided to out me to my entire school, I was forced to come out to my family.
I don’t know that I had even taken the time to imagine what it would be like to come out to my family because that was never the plan. I had spent a considerable amount of energy trying to hide that I was attracted to guys by perfecting my masks that were acceptable to my family and friends – my voice, my mannerisms, and my relationships, all perfected to achieve the acceptance of society.
I honed my charisma and my humor to keep me safe in almost any situation. The whole time not really knowing what it was to be gay. I had lived such a sheltered life that I didn’t know what being gay really meant, much less knowing that there were other people that were like me. We were all hiding. We were hiding so well and so effectively, we didn’t even know about each other until much later in life.
It was the latter part of the 20th century and the most prominent thing in my world about homosexuals at the time was a continuing battle against AIDS and the fact that Ellen Degeneres had come out on national television only to lose her entire career and become the ridicule of the country. Religious and uneducated people were scared of anyone who was different. Can you blame them entirely for the situation? In America, the White House had used words like “gay plague” and “gay cancer” to describe the AIDS crisis, instead of “pandemic” or “epidemic” as they did later for COVID-19. The megachurches broadcast sermons of intolerance and hate twenty-four hours a day.
All this to say, it went as you might have expected for the time period. I was unceremoniously thrown out with a backpack and some cash. I was unwanted.
I did at least have a decently reliable car and it was loaded with everything that I owned. However, I was rarely able to find a safe place to sleep in peace. The police would find me and harass me or, even worse, a group of testosterone-charged jocks would find me while on their joy rides around town. In the coming months, I would be the victim of multiple physical assaults by the locals, death threats, and my car being vandalized.
I tried to sleep a little further outside of the city, but the more remote the area the more unsafe I felt. After the last few months of experiences, the endless darkness in the more rural areas was terrifying on a level that I can’t really explain properly. I could hear myself breathing. I could hear my own heart beating. I could hear everything around the car. I couldn’t find peace.
I did eventually find a job that would look past my living situation, but I barely made enough to pay for my gas, food, and the upkeep of my car. For a time, I couch-surfed from friend’s house to friend’s house, but soon they became fatigued of that and I had to resort to hooking up with men in order to find a safe place to sleep and a hot shower. For all intents and purposes, I become a prostitute. I quickly learned I could use my hard-earned charisma to my advantage. The more I played nice with the men and did what they asked, the more I could get from them. Instead of one night’s stay, I could earn a week or two in their home and sometimes even some cash to stick back. The more I would do for them, the more they would do for me – which meant I could stay relatively safe, while also saving up cash to change my situation.
However, that way of living caught up with me quickly. I found myself sitting in an AIDS clinic a few times too many times, squeezing a friend’s hand while praying with my entire soul for a negative test. I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to change my life. I had to find a different way or a different place.
I decided to sell the few possessions I had, get some supplies, and go West. I didn’t have a real plan and it got completely out of control a few times, but after almost a year of living a nomadic zig-zagging across the country, I eventually made it to the Oregon Coast. I had made it to the edge of the world. Oregon was even more majestic than the magazines and postcards I had seen. It was breathtakingly beautiful no matter where you looked, the weather was nice enough to stay comfortable enough year-round, and the people were great. They at least weren’t as quick to judge me at first sight as many others had. I was able to safely live in my car and for most of the Summer, I could easily find a place to camp or even just sleep on the beach. I felt safer than I had felt in a very long time. I could reliably sleep most nights without being interrupted and you can’t beat the view of the stars over the Pacific Ocean. If you’re really quiet, you can feel your body sync up with the waves slowly coming to shore.
Side note: I absolutely loved camping and the outdoors. That’s why I had set my sights on Oregon to begin with. I had spent my entire childhood in the Boy Scouts, working my way up from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout – year after year. I earned dozens of merit badges, was honored with an induction into the Order of the Arrow, shared my skills as an assistant to the Scout Master, and sat around countless campfires in every season of the year.
On some really special nights along the coast, I would stumble across a group of people, huddled around a fire on the beach, that were nice enough to ask me to join them. It was a win-win situation for me. I could get warm before settling in for the night, get some much-needed conversation, and usually even some snacks or a couple of puffs on a joint. But, all the while, never having to risk getting to know someone only to end up letting them down in some way.
For all I had been through, I had yet to learn the key to forming a lasting, meaningful relationship with anyone. Eventually, people get to know you, they find your flaws, and they leave. To be honest, though, I much preferred that over ones with bad intentions. The ones who find the hidden chinks in my armor that I had worked so hard to hide from the world. I had spent years maintaining and perfecting it, yet a single well-placed lance could send me into a spiral of panic attacks and flashbacks that would take me out for weeks.
But don’t get me wrong, though, over time I was there for the most important parts of people’s lives. My campfire strangers and I celebrated birthdays and weddings, new jobs and new kids, graduations and divorces, and we even sometimes spread the ashes of a loved one in the ocean. For just a brief moment, I was a member of their family. But, by morning I was set adrift again – up and down the coast, in and out of people’s lives, from town to town, like a vaguely familiar ship in the night, looking for a safe place to anchor for just a few days.
What I didn’t see coming was that the tides would turn in my favor and I would meet two people that would change the course of my life forever.
Lighthouse on the Shore
One day I overheard a conversation between two women about a homestead with gardens, an orchard, and a meditation yurt in the forest. They were speaking to the gas station attendant about how they were looking for someone to help out with the garden work and in exchange, they were planning to offer a room and meals.
At first, I was hesitant to approach them. I didn’t know anything about gardening or farming, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle living with strangers in my current state. But as the days went by, I realized that sleeping on the beach wasn’t sustainable, and I needed to take a chance. So, I gathered my courage and approached the women, who introduced themselves as Maurla and Sarah. They welcomed me with open arms, and I quickly realized that I had stumbled upon something truly special.
Their place was a peaceful oasis in the middle of the forest. They had built their own cabin and surrounded it with a beautiful garden full of vegetables and fruits. They had a small orchard with apple and pear trees and even had a few goats that provided them with milk and cheese. They had a small solar array and a surprisingly complicated-looking system of batteries and chargers. They even had fresh water from a beautiful spring that ran right through the middle of the property.
Sarah was a translator of foreign-published nonfiction books that were looking for publication in the United States, as well as a reiki teacher. Maurla was a retired nurse, who was famous in her own right for being a women’s rights activist who had been very active in NYC in the 1970s. Today she took it much easier. Her days consisted of canoeing down the river when she wasn’t teaching meditation, drumming, and storytelling classes in the small yurt that was in the densely forested area of the property. They were both passionate about living off the land and taking care of the earth. Maurla had grown up on the same property with her parents when the entire area was still off-grid. She preferred it that way. She had once had electricity run to the property after her parents had passed away, but she complained that she could hear the electricity in the walls and had the solar system set up. They were such interesting people in comparison to my short, noteless life that had so quickly devolved into complete and utter failure.
At first, I was really overwhelmed by all the work that needed to be done. But Maurla and Sarah were patient with me and taught me everything I needed to know. They showed me how to plant seeds, care for the animals, and even how to cook meals using fresh ingredients from the garden. It was a lot to take in but to be honest, it was a welcome distraction from the constant re-evaluation of my life choice that was echoing endlessly in my head.
Living with Maurla and Sarah was unlike anything I had experienced before. They were kind and compassionate, and they welcomed me into their home as if I was a family friend. They listened to my stories and shared amazing stories of their own, and I felt like I had found a sense of community that I had been missing.
As the weeks passed, I felt more at home at the homestead. I started to fall into a rhythm. My life was feeling less and less like swimming through a vat of cold molasses. I woke up early every morning to complete my chores and I spent my afternoons exploring the forest and enjoying the peaceful surroundings. Most evenings ended with the three of us around an evening fire on the small rock patio, a tradition that they had started long before my arrival. We would discuss the day’s activities, drink homemade honey mead, and get lost in conversations about things like the world’s religions, philosophies, and the general human condition. It fed my soul so profoundly.
One evening about a month into my stay, as we were yet again sitting around the fire, Maurla and Sarah told me their story. They had met about 30 years ago at a retreat, and they fell in love instantly. They immediately decided to build a life together, so Sarah moved to the homestead to live with Maurla and pursue their passion – spreading love and living meaningfully. I was so moved by their story, and I realized that their love was something truly special. They had created a life for themselves that was full of joy and meaning, full of laughter and friends, and they had opened their hearts to me in a way that I had never experienced before.
One day, as we were picking vegetables in the garden, Maurla turned to me and said, “You know, we’re glad you found us.” I smiled and explained that from my perspective they had found me, and not the other way around. I had been lost at sea and they were my lighthouse on the shore.