I spent a cold week sleeping in a car outside a frozen lake in Minneapolis. I was awaiting the start of a Wisconsin drug study and had time to kill. I knew the city well and so made way to a place I’d been many times before: Lake Calhoun. I first found it during the two years I lived in the Twin Cities. A few times a week I’d walk from my apartment to its idle shores. It was five miles each way but each step was earned and well worth it. I’d circle its perimeter, sun in the sand, and scribble letters on shore.
Even when I wasn’t in Minneapolis I’d visit Calhoun on every trip to the city. It often acted as a living room when my car became a bedroom. Many times I slept at the water’s edge, tucked away in my trunk. I parked near homes whose owners paid more for their pets than my net worth. Those nights were always in warmer months. A time before sloshing water turned to solid ice. This was the end of January and I was here for a week. Though winter was mild this was still Minnesota and the world was cold. I had a week to kill and nowhere to go.
By day I’d walk the frozen lake, looking out at the downtown skyscraper skyline. Planes passed overhead en route to the airport. My shoes stepped through crunchy snow and uneven ice where the lake froze goofy. I soaked up sun for at night I’d need it. I waited out darkness at libraries, art shows, and the discount theater. These things were beautiful and I felt at ease in the midst of creative expression. I drank pots of hot coffee, letting this liquid sift through my mouth for warmth. I showered in porta-potties that stank of weed smoke from hobos and hoodlums. With sudsy hair I’d pour water from my head to the shit hole. It felt good to be clean. It renewed me and brought light to my day. But after stepping from the toilet my hair would freeze in the windy, wintry air. It was a stark reminder that the cold world lays waiting.
It was interesting to retrace my steps in a city where I spent so much of my post college life. It felt empty, a poor attempt at gathering joy from the past. So many places filled me with memories but I couldn’t conjure the feelings they held. I’d been away for two years, perhaps too brief to be awash in nostalgia. I thought of what it was like back then. I moved here knowing no one. My attempts at ingratiating were met with indifference. Things were fine but after two years fine wasn’t enough. So I left. Now I was back but once more on the outside. My connection was fuzzy and fading. From then through now I’d come to know the chasm between expectation and reality. Now I was more settled in my self. More accepting of my relation to the world and those who lived in it. It was telling that I lived here for years but had no one to call for a couch to crash. I wanted to change that.
After a couple days of cold I stepped outside my comfort zone and reconnected with a girl from when I first lived there. She invited me to her place for shots and stories. After that she invited me to her bed. She was warm and brought comfort. Once we finished she smoked a bowl and I asked to shower. She nodded yeah of course, as if it were silly to request something so common. After two nights of toilet showers and sweaty sleep it was nice to immerse in warm water. My muscles relaxed and my mind reset. This was better than car sleep where the temps dropped to single digits. Better than peeping Calhoun as I scrubbed my face and teeth, freshened my armpits and asshole. I hoped she’d let me stay ’til I shot off to Wisconsin.
Before I dried out from my shower I was invited to her bed once more. After that was through our system we drifted off together. She didn’t know I was living in my car. I felt no need to tell her that she just fucked a hobo. I woke up warm and she brought me comfort. I left her place with hopes to come back. We’d text for hours but she was busy with work and the demands of her own life. Each evening the promise of an invitation withered and so I’d park at Calhoun. I’d wake in the morning with a snow covered windshield, full of piss, trapped in the trunk. If only I’d ask I’d be waking to warmth. But that wasn’t the case and so I woke cold.
Walking in winter for hours a day was draining. Sucking down Rockstar and coffee grounds just to get with it was an ever fading salve. Sometimes my socks and shoes got soggy in snow. I’d sit in my car as they dried on the defrost. It carved out time for me to think. I wasn’t miserable. I wasn’t sad. It was just the way things were. Sometimes I’d laugh and tease myself for these choices. Others were harder but I knew that would pass. All it would take is a text to exit this world and enter one better: sex, sleep, and comfort. But I didn’t because my least favorite feeling is needy. The inability to ask often takes me from where I should be. It was a lesson I’d learned but couldn’t overcome. Perhaps I’d hatch from my cave in the next state over.
I woke on my final day ready for Wisconsin. Ready to sit in bed and swallow pills. I decided to clean up in case I saw the girl. I walked to a portable shit bucket to shave, scrub, and piss. With suds in my hair I looked through the porta-potty’s upper grates to watch those on the lake. They were snowkiting, ice fishing, walking hand in hand with their partner. I thought of the girl. She was supposed to be the best connection to my Minneapolis past. But you can’t hold on to things that way. The world and its people are ever shifting. I didn’t know this city anymore and I doubted I’d see her again. Still I yearned to be clean and reclaim my body. To resurrect my energy. I was about to lay in a bed for weeks, having drugs in my body and blood drawn from me. I’d be fed, warm, and have comfort. I just needed to power through ’til Wisconsin. So I tipped my head to the shit hole and poured water across it. I was clean, if only for a moment.