This is a word that is highly overused. I came to that conclusion in college when I saw that I was using it too much. I was “desperate” when I was waiting for a phone call from boys that never came. When it was dinnertime, I told my roommate I was “desperate” to eat. When I saw a Benetton sweater, I told my father, I was “desperate” to have it. And, all of my characters in my short stories were “desperate” in one way or another.
To get underneath this word that had taken over my vocabulary, my friend Karey, a fellow artist decided we should learn what the word “desperate” really meant. As a painter, she needed to know, too. So, we planned a weekend to New York City to sleep on the streets. It seemed a very good idea at the time. This was the New York City of old, when there were not so many crazy people doing so many cruel and unusual things. At least we felt safe. Perhaps we weren’t safe, just oblivious – as young people often are.
Anyway, our plan was to hang out at clubs (Danceteria or was it the Palladium?) Friday and Saturday night and “hang out” during the days of Saturday and Sunday before the bus left. After leaving the club around 2am on Saturday morning, we realized we still had a long, open-air night ahead of us. We walked and walked and rode the subway and sat on sticky concrete and filthy floors all around the city. It felt less and less “cool” as the night stretched out before us. As we eagerly awaited daybreak, each hour felt like two. The exhaustion that overtook us meant that our laughter became less. With bags under our eyes and a markedly slower gait, we found a coffee shop and tried to make light of how terribly we actually felt. Making it to Saturday morning was astounding. By Saturday afternoon, we were grimy and angry at ourselves. We had had our fill of diner food and we were out of conversation, because we were too tired to speak, much less entertain each other. When our feet ached too much, we rode the subway endlessly, just to get our heads back on straight and to catch some zzzz’s.
Needless to say, the experience was a powerful one. And, not so cool, after all. By the time Saturday night arrived, we had become truly desperate. We had nowhere to go. We couldn’t call our parents, because they would have killed us and we would have had to admit our idiocy. We couldn’t call any of our friends, because their parents would have called our parents and all of them were away at college, which is where we should have been!
At one point, Karey looked at me with tears in her eyes. I knew I had to do something. After all, this was my idea! I found the number of an old acquaintance, an older man who owned a cafe that I frequented in high school. At Kirsten’s urging, I called him and asked him if we could come over to his apartment. He welcomed us and we slept on his sofa for several hours. It was these precious hours indoors that energized us enough to be able to walk the streets again. (However, this is not something I would recommend, today, in the age of rampant sexual assault)
Sunday, we still had until midday before the bus would trudge back up to Syracuse. Completely out of ideas we arrived at the bus station early. We slept the whole five hours back to school. An author friend of mine, always said, “Do if for the art.”
We werehomeless for a weekend and it not only taught me what “desperate” really means, it gave me a tiny peek into the hearts and minds of people who don’t do it only on the weekends. I am now forever careful to use this word and all words, with care. To those who really have no place to sleep, I pray for a kinder world. You are strong and deserving. I am humbled and grateful that this is not my reality.
Used in a sentence, “There are too many broken, desperate people in the world. You deserve a world that sees you.”
Disclaimer: This is a DUMB but true story. It is dumb for many reasons and on so many levels. I would like to apologize for my childish negligence of playing with a life condition that is a horrific epidemic. As young artists-in-the-making, our “experiment” was never meant to make light, it was genuinely thought to be a way to gain further insight into the real world, coming from our worlds, which felt too confining and too precious. I see now that we all are forced to grow from ignorance to clarity. I am clear now: what we all need is more human kindness.