I’ve walked about 10 miles. It’s December, but the Arizona sun in the middle of the day is intense. I’m hot, sweaty, and my shoulders ache from all the weight in my backpack. I decide to go to one of my friend’s house, Aaron Cotton. I have no way of knowing if he’s home, out of town, or living somewhere else now. When I arrive, there is no sign of anyone home. It’s dark inside and no car is in the driveway.
My spirits sink. I’m starving and thirsty and hot. I have no plan B. I try and open his front door. It’s locked.
I decide to try the back door, fully expecting it to be locked as well.
When I do, it opens!
I can hardly believe it. I head inside. I recognize all his stuff so I know he’s still living here. I just don’t know if he’s out of town or what. I help myself to some food and drink. It hits the spot.
I sit down at a table in his living room. I’m only there about 15 minutes before I can hear someone trying to come in the front door. My first thought is to quickly hide, but I realize I don’t have enough time, so I sit calmly as if I belong there. Next thing I know Aaron is walking through the door and looking right at me. ‘
He’s a bit startled to say the least.
I smile and say, “Hey Aaron, what’s up?”
I have no idea how he’s going to react.
But, to my relief, he gets a big smile on his face, gives me a hug, and tells me he’s been expecting me. He says he’s just had a feeling I was going to show up soon.
He offers to let me stay at his house; he has an extra room. I’m relieved beyond belief.
I’m thinking, it worked! I left the ranch a few hours ago, and I already have a base to recover and get back on my feet. Aaron lived with us for around 9 months during a difficult time in his life so I don’t feel guilty, just extremely grateful.
Aaron takes me to the store. Literally, I haven’t combed my hair or put any product in it for 6 months! I’ve had no brush, comb or anything. At the store he buys me a brush and some hair product stuff. I look at the price and am shocked at how much it costs.
It’s like $13 for both.
I think to myself, “How can anybody afford anything with prices like this.” It’s amazing how fast the mind forgets. I no longer can fathom having even $20 in my pocket.
Just having a brush lifts my spirits.
Meanwhile, I have no idea where my life is going to end up. My schedule at Aaron’s typically consists of getting up in the morning and going for a jog. Then, I take a shower and get ready for the day. I spend time meditating to clear my head.
Then, well, I don’t do much. I mostly hang out not knowing at all what I should do.
Aaron is usually working, and I have no way to get anywhere except walking, and I have no money.
The only person in my family that will talk to me is my sister, Jennifer. Actually, my mom and dad will now as well, but they’re skeptical of my motives (mostly my mom) as she only wants me back at the ranch.
There is no looking back for me. I’ve made my decision, and it is final. The ranch days are over, come what may.
Jennifer believes in me and for the most part gives me the benefit of the doubt. I have countless conversations with her. She always says the right thing, the thing I need to hear. She doesn’t sugar coat anything. She’s very direct, but loving at the same time. The amount of time she spends talking to me is incredible considering she has like 30 kids. Without her I would not have made it. And I mean NOT have made it. I’ll love her forever for being my rock and safe place as I tried to navigate my way through my own hell.
One thing she still can’t do though is reassure me about Amy. I live with the constant pain of knowing it is a real likelihood I’ve already lost her forever.
In fact, she is livid that I left the ranch. She calls Aaron and rakes him over the coals for letting me stay at his house. I knew everyone would be in an outrage, especially Amy, but my hope and bet is that everyone will calm down over time as they observe my actions.
Plus, and I didn’t tell anyone this, the fact that she is so angry with me leaving demonstrates to me how much she still cares about me. In my mind, if she had already let go of me, she wouldn’t care much one way or another. Her anger actually gives me a little hope.
Still, it hurts to be so completely estranged from her.
After several days of resting and not doing much, I decide I need a job. I walk to the closest stores to see if they’re hiring. I get an application at Home Depot. Then I walk into a fitness center. They give me an application.
I try and fill it out. It’s then I realize, I don’t have an address or a phone number. I don’t even have a bike. I put Aaron’s address on the paperwork and just leave the phone number blank. I figure I’ll just walk there every day and check on my application.
Then the manager walks out and greets me. He tells me to forget about the application and he interviews me on the spot. Then, he offers me a sales job.
Starting pay? Eight bucks an hour plus commissions. I calculate it out in my mind. That’s at least $64 per DAY. To me at the time, it is a boatload of money. I ask for some time to think about it though. I don’t want to be hasty. Plus, I don’t know where I’m going to be living long term, and I have to work at a place I can walk to.
I’ve been meeting with the bishop of the congregation Aaron goes to. His name is Bishop Lund. When I first share with him what has happened and what my situation is, his reaction is like everyone’s. It’s one of complete bewilderment. It’s so bad he can hardly believe it. I’m used to this reaction from others by now. He’s never seen anything like it.
He does his homework. He calls my old business partner, my wife, and others to get the back story from them. He hears some not so good things about me, mostly from my ex-business partner. Amy also holds no punches, but she is balanced in what she tells him. And, what she says is the truth. Bishop Lund thinks she is an incredible woman right off the bat.
His response to the other stuff he hears? He tells them all that the person they’re describing is not the person he’s meeting with. He does not feel I’m trying to manipulate him, and he’s right. I will always be eternally grateful that he chose to trust his own judgment over what a few were saying at the time.
Bishop Lund will literally help save my life, and, as you will see, my marriage and family as well. He is one of the most remarkable men I have ever known. There were and still are many angels that have come to help our family. He stands at the head of them all.
Still, right now, he doesn’t know what to do with or for me. After he speaks with Carson Brown, he really thinks I should go back to the ranch.
About this time Aaron’s circumstances change such that I can’t stay there anymore. I need to be out in the next few days. There is nothing Aaron can do about it.
I have nowhere to go. Everyone is leary of me and imagines the worst. I call and talk with my sister, Jennifer. She shockingly offers to let me stay at her house in Kentucky. I quickly call Bishop Lund and he offers to pay for the plane ride back to Kentucky. I leave the NEXT day.
I remember going to bed that night feeling calm and peaceful for the first time in months. I’m going to be surrounded by loved ones. I’ll be where my family is and that makes it more likely we’ll work things out.
I wake up early the next morning and look at my phone. I have a text message from Jennifer. To my horror it says,
“Jeremy, you can’t come. Noone here supports it. I’m sorry, but until Amy decides it’s OK, I can’t have you stay here.”
This is when all the blood leaves my brain and I feel like I’ve just been shot in the chest by a shotgun blast. I desperately want to call and argue my case, but that’s what the old Jeremy would do. So, I simply text back, “OK, I understand.”
I’ve learned that during this time Amy and my children were suffering intensely as well and I was and am the cause of their suffering and trauma. All of them were going to counseling trying to heal. Me showing up would just open old wounds. There’s just too many triggers. As difficult as it was at the time, my family was right. Looking back, it is clear it wasn’t the right time for me to fly back. I wasn’t ready and neither were they.
So, I have to leave Aaron’s and it’s back to me having nowhere to go. So, I pack all my stuff, strap it around my shoulders and walk out not knowing where in the world I’m going. Don’t ask me why, but I took a screenshot of my iPhone app that measures how many steps you walk in a day and how many miles, etc. As you can see below I took 34,833 steps and walked 16.5 miles that day. Also, you can see by the date that it’s Saturday, December 12, 2015.
I remember walking into a Walgreens. Christmas decorations are on display everywhere. Christmas music is playing in the background. Everyone there looks happy. I think to myself,
“All these people have no idea how blessed they are. They have a car and get to go home to be with loved ones.”
I, on the other hand, am lost. Ha!
Once I get my bearings straight I head back out and it starts raining! Are you kidding me? Rain in Arizona? On the very day I’m homeless and have nowhere to go?
I discover a shack in a secluded field. There’s an old bookcase in it. I have to do some work on the floors so they don’t cave in, but I turn the bookcase over and figure I can sleep on top of that, worst case scenario.
As I leave to walk some more to try and find a better place, I feel grateful that if all else fails, I have a secluded place to sleep for the night. I’m not looking forward to it though. It’s going to be a bone-chilling 33º and raining.
Below is my shack. The wooden bookshelf with the torn up blanket thing on it is my bed. The rest of the photos are of the inside.
It’s still early, but it’s dark, wet and freezing cold. I hunker down in my makeshift shelter. As I lie on top of this hard wooden bookcase, I get a good look at my surroundings, including the moldy, corroded, rotten wall next to me. It smells like wet mold and old rotten wood.
As I stare at it, I compare it to the walls and surroundings of the beautifuly home I lost. The contrast is completely surreal.
I feel as lonely and alone as ever.
I recognize then and there that at this very moment I have hit a new low. I am as homeless as homeless can get. Somehow I find the will to write in my journal. I write of how I’m going to come out of all this on top.
Underneath all the pain and suffering, there is a fixed determination to survive and fight.
I can in no way process what has happened or how I got to where I am right this moment. My entire soul is in extreme shock and I’m flat out traumatized. I pray that night like never before. I pray that I can simply sleep and not feel how cold I really am. I pray that my discouragement and hopelessness will not completely overtake me.
I lie there shivering and a bit wet for quite a while. It’s quiet, except I can hear some cars driving down the road next to the field I’m in. I think about my family and wonder what they’re doing and where they are and what I would give to be with them.
Then, all of a sudden, I’m waking up, and there’s light outside. I’m absolutely freezing cold, but I realize I slept through the entire night. I’m astonished at how good of a sleep I got. I consider it an answer to prayer. My body aches though as I try and sit up. I’m dazed and immediately discouraged as the harsh reality of my life smacks me upside the head.
Be that as it may, I gather up all my stuff, shove it all in the bags I brought and start walking toward Aaron’s house. My plan is to rush in take a shower and walk to church.
So, that’s what I do. I know Bishop Lund must be very concerned about me and wondering where I went. I plan on meeting with him. Little did I know that two other visitors would be there waiting for me as well. James, the ranch director and Carson Brown. They’ve come to take me back to the ranch or at least to inform me I can go back.
Sleeping in a warm bed, having every meal cooked and ready for me, and not having to worry how I’m going to make it sounds extremely appealing, especially after what I just went through that night.
But, I refuse to look back. I made my decision. I knew it was going to be hard and painful. They try everything to talk me into it, but in the end, I won’t budge. I’m not going backward, only forward. I think I shock everyone with my resolve, even probably myself.
Bishop Lund respects my decision, but a plan must be made.
I’ve now hit the lowest point ever in my life so far. There is still considerable pain and hardship ahead for everyone, but the journey of officially rebuilding my life from nothing has now officially begun.
And, what a painful, hard, agonizing, amazing, and miraculous journey lies ahead.