Hello, my name is Jim. I’m approximately 45 years old. I say approximately because the last few years have been a bit sketchy. I’m 6’ 2”. I have salt ‘n’ pepper hair. I am Welsh, I am British, I am of Irish descent. I am a father, a husband, a son, and a brother. I am a man. I am a human being. I have socialist leanings. I am from a working-class background. I support Liverpool FC. I like to write and paint and play guitar. I am a pacifist. I am a realist and I am a member of the local chess club. But all these things. These qualities that come together to form my identity are getting more indistinct every day. Like the fragments of a dream that dissipates upon waking, my identity is quickly drifting distorted, hazily into memory. Because I am homeless. And now, food is foremost in my mind. And temperature. I am usually cold. And uncomfortable. And every day, I lose a piece of what I once was. I feel somehow outside myself. That the inevitable pattern of my life has been shattered and the internal, the personal, and the essential have become exposed for all to see. If it continues like this, I wonder where I’ll be in a year, or two, or ten.
I’d heard the saying that everybody is only three steps away from losing everything. I never took too much notice until it happened to me. First, my wife left me for a man at work. I know. What a cliché. That was a shock. I thought that we were happy. Truly I did. But obviously not. Her new man could give her more than me. More love? More money? More fulfilment? I don’t know. They took my daughter. That was the worst. Then I could see her at the weekends. Why is this the case? Because the law says so. They sold my home. And then I lived in a flat. I was now a part time father. I was no longer a husband. Then my parents died. Who’d have thought it? They’d just started their retirement, they had plans, then bang, an articulated lorry had wiped them out. I was no longer a son. Then I lost my job. Unemployed. 40 years old and unemployed for the first time in my life. My savings didn’t last long and then there was no flat.
My first night on the streets I didn’t sleep. I walked around until my feet were tired. Then I sat and stared. Empty thoughts filled my brain. I didn’t feel angry anymore. That was gone. I had been angry. With her, with him, with the government, with society, with the lorry driver who’d killed my parents. But now I had changed. I was on a different path. My fate, my freedom of choice had been taken away from me. I was becoming something which I couldn’t understand. After three months I had lost three stone. I was gaunt. I ate out of bins. I slept anywhere I could find some shelter. I begged and was beaten for it, so I hid inside my mind. I retreated inside myself. And now I’m here. I sit and watch people go by. I have a different perspective now. A different identity. I have no identity. I have no papers, no passport, no driving licence. I have no possessions to anchor my sense of self. It’s all gone. I don’t know where it is. It disappeared along with everything else that used to be me.
It’s strange. I used to long for time alone, time to think. My mind was so active when I had an identity. Any spare moment I had, I would develop my theories. On life, why we are here, society, philosophy, ethics, damn, I even had theories on how to eradicate homelessness. Almost ironic, heh. But now I’ve got time to think. To work out what it all means. To question how we form our identity through childhood experiences, societal and cultural influences, hereditary traits, genetics, environment, exposure to incidents both negative and positive. But now I have the time, my mind is empty. I sit and I stare. Or I walk and I watch. But all I see are empty faces. Empty people echoing the emptiness inside me. When I lost my identity, everyone else seemed to lose theirs too. I know that’s a lie, but it’s how I feel. Soulless.
I always felt that identity was so much more than those traits I just mentioned. That it was somehow innate and was forged in a place before we are even born. I was never religious, but I did believe in an underlying spirituality in all of us. An interconnectivity that transcends blood ties and conscious thought. That we originate in a mysterious place. A place where we will return upon our death. But now. I see the deepest blue skies. They’re so bright now. And when the wind rustles the leaves and sends them tumbling in their autumnal splendour, it makes more sense to just watch than to think. It’s just an excuse because I’ve forgotten how to think.
I was sitting in the park the other day and I saw her. Sienna. My daughter. She looked so grown up. She was laughing with her friends. So positive, so alive. I felt ashamed to be in her presence. I don’t know what came over me, but I followed her. And then she saw me. And she knew. Even though I was so changed beyond recognition. She saw beyond the beard, the grey, the smell, the years of hardship, the scars and the deep lines. She took me to their home. They were out, at lunch. We spoke. We cried. She let me use the bathroom, to shower. She fed me. We held each other and we spoke for a long time. I listened to her and she to me. And I saw myself reflected through her. All my old traits, my identity, my personality were suddenly personified through this living person. I was still a father and always would be. I realised that I had lost my identity. My previous identity. I had become someone else. Life had changed me like it changes us all. She showed me what humility could mean. And she promised to help me.
Now she meets me every weekend. She’s only 13. It’s a lot of responsibility. We go to social programmes and volunteer together. In a few weeks’ time I am supposed to get sheltered accommodation. It’s a step back to becoming a functioning member of society. You see. Our identity is innate. She showed me that through our similarities, through her compassion, through her humility. Our identity is nothing without social acceptance. We build our identity from the day we are born to comply with cultural norms and fit in with society’s boundaries. And when it all falls apart, the two strands of identity, the innate and the socially constructed are so intrinsically linked that they struggle to function alone.
I’ve almost come full circle now. I have a flat again. I see Sienna all the time. I’m building bridges. They know. They weren’t happy at first and there was anger and accusation. But now I think that she, my ex-wife, is glad I’m back on track. You can’t love someone for that long without it meaning something. Our identities after all, were together once. So now I help others who have lost their identities. I acknowledge their value and we find common ground. Lots of them are complex cases. I feel that my identity crisis and homelessness were simple in comparison. They have suffered a lifetime of abuse, neglect, addiction. But they’re so strong and I help them to get stronger and I show them that they do have an identity, they do have a purpose, their lives do truly matter.