The Nomadic Veteran: On Going Nomad


image –Leo Jenkins

I live in a van. I’m not sure if that makes me homeless technically or not. If so than I suppose that makes me a homeless combat veteran. Growing up I certainly never thought that I would have a title like that. I fully understand the connotations affixed to such a designation. Images of a grizzled, sun burnt, half delusional, bearded man in an old camouflage jacket asking for change on the side of the freeway may dance in your head. Despite having a pretty amazing beard, that particular description is ill fitting. The mental image displayed in your mind’s eye is an example of a heuristic, a kind of mental short cut. Our mind automatically categorizes objects and events without our conscious mind having input. Really it’s a six dollar word for “stereotype.” I digress.

Being homeless affords me a very unique vantage point. There is a certain slow motion to this way of life. From my position I watch the people of Earth gallop through their daily activities, clamoring and climbing over one another. I’ve sat for hours and watched the people on the streets of more than two dozen countries this year. I’ve watched you run red lights and walk past a homeless man asking for food. I’ve sat like a shadow on the wall as the glow of your smartphone has blinded you from the art just a breath from your face. I’ve simply noticed certain things. Are they important things? Perhaps, perhaps not.

This silent solitude is the master of its own slave. Men that hate their lives look down on me for living mine in a different way. You see, I have chosen to be without. I have intentionally purged myself of the chains of possession. How cathartic a process it is to realize that the things that you own do not define you. Eight T-shirts, three pairs of shorts, two pairs of shoes and some flip flops. If it doesn’t fit in my red backpack I don’t need it. I thought that was a minimalistic lifestyle until I met a Buddhist in Australia that reduced himself to nothing more than his board shorts and a tank top and walked into the bush to teach aborigines about poetry. I thought I was poor until I saw real poverty in the streets of Santiago. I thought I was lonely until I picked up a hitchhiker in Northern Canada and listened to his story for four hours before buying him breakfast and parting ways. The truth is that I’ve thought a lot of things and most of them have been wrong.

I thought I could out run my demons. Turns out that Emerson was right, my giant does seem to go with me everywhere I go. So does yours. So this is me. A leaf in the wind. With no pithy punchline or poignant point. I’ve made a choice in spite of those demons. I have decided that this is my life and I will life every minute of it the way that seems to suit me regardless of what others may think. It is easy to say that you don’t care about the opinion of other people, it is much more difficult to toss aside that regard completely. When you do life becomes a much more enjoyable venture. So this is me. Writing the words that are in my heart, the way that I choose to write them. This is me not being afraid to express the love and the hate and the pain and the jubilance of being alive.

So if you have ever been curious what it is like to disregard the constraints of society and run wild this may be of interest to you. If your cup of tea is the mindless dribble of “12 ways your celebrity crush is eating their breakfast” that is being churned out at alarmingly rapid rates then, well, let’s be honest, you wouldn’t have read this much to begin with. Without further ado I present to you the first of many installments of the Nomadic Veteran.

I shit in a grey plastic Wal-Mart grocery bag this morning while watching the sun rise over a mesa in North Dakota. Before you get all uppity and judgmental just remember that brilliant children’s book, “Everyone poops.” The fact is we all have to defecate, some of us just do it a little different. I parked the maroon Dodge behind a dive bar the night before. Waking just before the sun, I opted to start moving south in lieu of eating breakfast. Twenty minutes into my drive the sight to my right was more than I could take. I had to stop and drink from the moment. The small two burner stove brought the kettle to boil as the bacon and eggs sizzled in the cast iron skillet in what had instantly become a road side diner. A cryptic fog settled over the winding river that split the two mesas in the valley below.

The coffee awoke my senses as the bacon danced on my tongue like something out of a Jamiroquai video. Before long a family in an SUV pulled up behind me to share the view. Then a truck just ahead of where I was. That is when it hit me. The coffee seemed to be activating more than just my senses. How far to the next gas station? I had no idea where I was. I have to shit like now. Frantically I attempted to reason with myself but there is no such thing as logic when it comes to emergency bowel movements. Climbing back in the van I did what any responsible soon to be 32 year old would do, I shit in a plastic bag, whipped my ass with a road map of Saskatchewan and proceeded on my way.

A few hundred miles later I would sit down and drink a beer in Sturgis South Dakota, making it the 50th state that I have had a beer in. Of course that meant that I drank more than one beer. I realized when I stood up from the bar stool that I was actually quite drunk. Rather than continuing my drive I found myself posted up in a McDonalds trying to caffeinate away my hard buzz at two in the afternoon while talking to a man that claimed to be the inventor of the things at the end of shoelaces. Pretty much an average Wednesday when you live in a van. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Author of Lest We Forget, On Assimilation and the soon-to-be-released First Train Out of Denver.

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