We met with 28-year-old, Taylor, on a Wednesday afternoon, late August, in the Jacksonville Public Library. He agreed to speak with us about what his life was like on the streets in Jacksonville and what challenges he faces.
After he greets me with a “nice to meet you,” and shakes my hand, I immediately notice his haircut. He’s quick to offer up an explanation. The inspiration for it was a character from a video game who was very aggressive and would fight against Taylor’s emoji.
He adds, “It’s to remind me I’m bad.” The haircut is long and full on the top with the sides and bottom completely shaved. With his full beard and tall, lanky frame, he stands out in a crowd.
Originally from Jacksonville, Taylor grew up with his alcoholic mother, father, brother, and two sisters. He also has a half-brother and sister. There is no contact between himself and his family members currently. When I ask if this bothers him or them, he says, “No, because they know what I’m doing.”
“Doing?” I ask, waiting for clarification.
“Mastering my emotions,” Taylor explains, as he mentions famous philosophers and their schools of thought on achieving mastery over themselves. He describes the need to maintain inner peace regardless of what is going on around him, and in his mind; specifically, when anger rears its ugly head.
“Isn’t it ok to be angry once in a while? Isn’t it justifiable at times?” I ask.
Taylor avoids a direct answer to my question but continues his explanation, which includes past sexual abuse at the hands of an older boy who he was friends with as a young child.
“He told me everyone does this,” Taylor says. There was manipulation to participate in, what he later discovered, was not the norm.
“I would sit in my kindergarten classroom and stare at the other kids. I wondered if this sort of thing was happening to them, too.” It would be years before he would realize he did not have to participate in the abuse. Certainly, this could be a legitimate source of anger; as he describes being robbed of an innocent idyllic childhood that everyone deserves.
Taylor adjusts the necktie that rests over his hot pink t-shirt and shifts the conversation back to philosophy. If I didn’t know better, I was listening to a soft-spoken college philosophy professor pontificating as he casually stroked his beard. “It’s much easier to be away from lots of people,” Taylor explains, “to get control of your emotions.” These circumstances are the primary reasons for not staying at shelters. “Too many people,” he says with a wave of his hand, brushing off that option. Sleeping under a bridge is preferable to a crowded shelter, although he still has challenges sleeping when a runny nose or headache ails him. Taylor uses positive mental imagery at these times to transport himself to a more comfortable place.
Eating isn’t too much of a problem, Taylor tells us, as many churches and shelters provide meals various days/times of the week. Taylor laments on the need to eat at all but accepts the fact that we all have a body whose needs we cannot usurp.
All of these experiences, Taylor sees as helping him to “train his emotions.”
His last job was working at a weigh station on Blount Island. He decided to go to NY, sold his car, and lived off the proceeds for a while before returning to Jacksonville. A local pastor and his wife housed Taylor briefly before he returned to living on the streets almost two years ago. What would his dream job be?
“Some sort of strategic job, I think. In education, changing school dynamics.” Taylor believes that teachers allow their own opinions to shape how and what they teach. “Opinions should be kept out of it.” He guesses he’d have to work with the State Department of Education in some capacity to make the changes he feels are necessary.
Where did Taylor see himself in five years? He answers without hesitation.
“Hopefully I’m still here, mastering my emotions.”
***The interviews are told from the interviewees’ perspectives and are not verified beyond their word. If there are untruths and inconsistencies, there are also many truths, enough that we as readers can step into their world and understand the need for change.