Homeless: Tongue and Groove

Photo Credit: pat00139 via Compfight cc

I am the crazed lady, barefoot and blistered. The annoying pebbles and gritty gravel burrow deep inside the open crevices and souls of my naked feet. I own nothing. I wear tattered, ripped dirty dollar store hand-me-down jeans and some tossed aside beige stained football hoodie. I recall some arguing and cussing, “that’s a football jersey you disgusting, smelly old bitty, not basketball.”

Maybe? Yes, I think so. I think that might be right. I can’t be certain, my memories are a jumbled jigsaw and I flip-flop reality for fantasy. It doesn’t matter. I won’t remember the next thought, word, or sentence. The pencil is a nub and the notepad stuffed in my back pocket is filled with jibber jabber to make sense out of the nonsensical. When I read the words back I get upset and cry sometimes, for the poor person who scribbled on paper napkins and tablecloth scraps? I forget she’s the same as me.

My body is brittle bones, aching sticks and open skin sores. It hurts ya’ know, the ulcers. They bleed, crust, re-open and burn straight through the nerves from the inside. Too many to treat, and so many I’ve lost count. What does it matter? The white noise and chitter chatter patter in my head is so loud it screams obscenities, too insidious to remain inside. The fuck yous, bastards, asshole profanities I scream in tongue at the sky must come out. The footprints and crisscross boot tracks are maps I leave in the dirt. I must move, keep moving down the road, stick to the dirt paths and babbling brooks far and away from the highway, cities, honking cars and taunting cattle calls. I remember that was a very, very bad treacherous path to be cold, mad and alone. No matter how many dead grey squirrel blood guts I pass by, splayed onto the pavement I am the same road kill.


Raped, teased and beaten by the lure of a hot cup of coffee and grilled cheese. I believe the nasty vile boys in the blasé, stereotypical beat-up Chevy.

“Hey stranger, there’s a diner just up the road with nifty quarter jukeboxes and vanilla malted fountain milkshakes in massive stainless steel containers, red leather seats and grilled cheese. It’s your favorite, right? You must be hungry.”

Wait. Hold up. My favorite? How did they? I didn’t say. Did I?

Liar, stupid short term memory. Maybe it was whiskey and burgers, or pizza and beer. I can’t be sure. It’s all the same empty promises. They pissed on me tearing off my already hanging shredded clothes, tossing me by the side of the road, hungry, numb and cold. Always starved and bone-cold even in ninety-degree stick smelly heat. I remember gurgling sounds from my belly, wet mud stuck to my face, vomit in the back of my throat and blood dripping down my legs.

Days? Was it days? How many hours, days, or weeks did I lie paralyzed in a ditch? I can’t say. I wasn’t right in the head. Right? You remember. Lunatic, nutter, stupid, crazy, moron, insane, crapper, bitch, whore, psycho. You name it, I heard it. The unoriginal, unimpressive, classless boring bougie bullshit labels.

I keep moving. I’ll be safe if I don’t stop, don’t stay in any one place too long. Oh yeah, the sweatshirt? It said Cowboys, but the ‘boys’ had long faded and that’s why the mean people called me cow sometimes. That wasn’t very nice, not very nice at all. It didn’t matter much. I’d forgotten my own name a long, long, time ago. I had a real nice family once, a neat home with walls and doors, TVs, computers, modern conveniences and all the latest fanceries. A nice, white-picket proper home and fine family. They were kind and liked my company even though I wasn’t like them. They didn’t mind, and they never poked fun. I had a pretty, cool mommy who made grilled cheese sandwiches and a funny, gentle daddy who took me for fountain-style Vanilla Malt Milkshakes, the soupy and solid frothy kind with whipped cream swirls thick enough to hold a cherry on top. The stainless-steel shaker tastes like cool and smooth like velvety dreams going down and my belly giggles satisfied. That was a surefire, spitfire edge of your seat jump up and down happy and sorely missed all but forgotten memory. It gets buried beneath the layers and layers of bad stuff, the cracks and fissures. I smell like shit, not vanilla. Maybe I shit my pants, and pissed them too? Maybe? Could be. It’s hard to practice good hygiene on the road, homeless, crazy and alone.

Sometimes I sneak into a Hess or Dairy Queen real late at night to wash up at the bathroom sink. I do the best I can. The water’s always too cold, makes my rotted teeth chatter. Bidet, in French, I don’t know how I know that. Maybe I read it and wrote it down in my notebook. It’s funny, the mirrors in the bathrooms are always cloudy or broken, the bulb’s busted, it’s dark and you can never get a good look.

Which is a huge relief because that lady, the old one with the straggly, greasy, wispy white hair, bug eyes, dull skin full of craters and wrinkles as deep as the ocean, is terrifying.

It can’t be. It can’t. It just can’t.

Can it be?


That’s plain nonsense, silly fodder. I don’t know her. She’s frightening, old, and alone.

Is she real or something else? It’s a mystery even I can’t recall. Crazy is crazy there are no sliding scales in my pretend world. It’s make believe, and my shopping cart queen has always been with me. Walking parallel beside and sometimes taking the lead, others, disappearing from view for long lapses ducking into some Laundromat to wash the stink out. She’s been me as far back as I care to remember, way before the cracks and breaks, way before fault lines and sinkholes.

Shopping Cart Queen is the figment of my imagination and persona non grata reoccurring bad dream I do not wish to be. She is the fate I fear most, the scenario that terrifies and scares the breath out of me.

To be the forgotten nuisance who was once loved and cherished but long discarded less than an afterthought. Alone with lunacy, shopping cart queen and me kicked to the curb with the recycled trash left out on a Sunday evening. Come Monday morning the receptor bin is emptied and the contents go missing for good.

Who has time for some annoying, illogical trivial person and trashy inconvenient matters of the mind?

I do.

This parable is not lost on the discarded, ill-forgotten, unlucky souls. I scribble fast before memory no longer serves and I am swallowed whole.

I hope if tomorrow comes and I’m still here I remember something different, something delicious, and vanilla scented. Won’t matter much since the days and days and days are disappearing quickly and speeding up.

Pretty soon, I won’t have to run at all.

Pretty soon, I’ll be in some trash bin next to a beloved, rusted, beat-up shopping cart with busted wheels.

Pretty soon, and soon enough I’ll be nothing but nuts and bolts, tongue and groove.
If you meet someone along the highway who speaks a different language, in a foreign tongue that scares you please be kind, and just listen. That might be me, or someone very much like me. No one is immune to shopping cart queen parodies, and misery does not pick or choose easily.

Because this life is the only one we’ve got.


Jacqueline Cioffa

Jacqueline Cioffa was an international model for 17 years and celebrity makeup artist. She is a dog lover, crystal collector and Stone Crab enthusiast. Her work has been featured in “Brainstorms, the Anthology” and numerous literary magazines. Living with manic depression, Jacqueline is an advocate for mental health awareness. She's a storyteller, observer, essayist, potty mouth and film lover who's traveled the world. Her poignant, literary fiction debut THE VAST LANDSCAPE gives new meaning to intense, raw and heartfelt. Fans of the emotional, soul stirring first novel will not be able to put GEORGIA PINE the exciting sequel down. “The essence continues because you do. Harrison leaves the door open a crack. I seize the opportunity to revisit my whole, healthy self a bit longer, live in the mystic beach home I adore, dream eyes open. Hope is our greatest asset. To choose hope against the worst possible odds is the true measure of life.” The Vast Landscape by Jacqueline Cioffa

7 thoughts on “Homeless: Tongue and Groove

  1. Mary Rowen

    I hear you, Jackie. My family history is filled with addiction, and many have been lost to its clutches. The emotional damage and scars run so deep. Sadly, not everyone is born equal. One of my biggest fears is that one of my kids or I will slip into that place where escape is so incredibly difficult. I guess all we can do is keep trying, keep being good to each other, and keep taking care of ourselves. xo

  2. Jacqueline CioffaJacqueline Cioffa

    Thank you for understanding the depths of this piece, perhaps better than I and with a razor sharp perspective. Your insights mean the world to me and to the lost, despairing soul who you will seek out offering a smile of recognition and human connection…as should I.
    As will I…following your lead.

    For the beautiful sentiment, I thank you.
    X Jackie

  3. Jacqueline CioffaJacqueline Cioffa

    It’s true Mary, I can’t help but wonder as well when I see a homeless person.
    How did they get there, what’s their story?
    Living in NYC, it became an everyday occurrence and one becomes desensitized.
    Too many are like your friend’s brother, it’s so sad and unlucky. A few missteps, wrong choices and
    good people are potentially lost forever. Watching family members struggle with mental illness, live out of their car at times, running from paranoia they can’t escape has been a part of my history. The laundromat scene was real, a relative in her underwear washing her clothes. Thank god, we lived in a small town where people were compassionate although years have passed and society is cruel.
    My fear and shopping cart queen are the reality we don’t have to look very far to find.

    I truly hope your friend and her brother both find peace and shelter.
    X Jackie

  4. Stephan

    heart-wrenching~ what a staggering look, a little bit closer view at a soul which most scurry past… to go unnoticed…to be alive and see yourself as nothing more than unnoticeable. Devoid of purpose…lacking the hope it would require to even remember fear…not enough self-worth left to feel loneliness, not enough value present to feel, without expectation~without enough identity remaining to even recognize ‘you’… Alone. ..even you’ve disassociated from yourself….numb to all but basic bodily functions, breathing the emptiness that is left of what was once you~ tormented only by the pain of fragmented memories…blurry- they pop up just to hurt you…they never stay, but they won’t go away.
    Thanks Jacqueline…i will seek out someone homeless and spend some time with them today. ~SSS69~

  5. Mary Rowen

    Stunning story, Jackie. Every time I see a homeless woman, I wonder what she was like before things got bad. I used to work with a woman–a lovely, well educated, woman from a well off family–who told me her brother had been homeless for years and she had no idea where he was. She told me his story and it was so sad. He’d had trouble holding a job, then got involved with drugs, and finally his parents had kicked him out and he’d ended up on the street. The woman I worked with was heartbroken about him and said she looked for him whenever she visited a city. She also said he’d been a pretty normal, happy kid. Thank you for writing this and giving this woman dignity.

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