Forgotten Voices: The Ballad of John and Misty
PART ONE: GUILT
It all started as a cruel joke.
When I was a 12, I went to the mall with my friends. We were standing outside while I was eating a snow cone. I was so focused on this snow cone that I completely forgot my surroundings. My friends suddenly shoved me towards an elderly homeless woman. “Ask her for a date, she’s pretty hot!” They all laughed, and I have to shamefully admit so did I. When I saw the expression on her face, I ceased my laughter. I saw the elderly woman hang her head and stumble away from our little party. She picked up her belongings and wiped tears away from her face with her worn-out sleeves from this beat-up green sweater she was wearing. My friends didn’t seem to notice her reaction, or maybe they didn’t care. They walked away laughing; feeling victorious in their inconsiderate, shallow little world. As she walked away, I couldn’t help but wonder about what she’s been through. The world was cruel, but middle schoolers were crueler, and that I knew. I wanted to stop her and apologize, but the shame rooted me to the ground and rendered me speechless. I will never forget the look on that woman’s face.
More than 13 years later, I still think about her. Every time I drive by a seemingly houseless person, I see her face and feel a deep guilt. I think about pulling over my car, hugging them, telling them everything will be okay, taking them to dinner, buying them new clothes, reconnecting them with family, and miraculously fixing their lives in the span of a day. But I keep driving.
Awake in my bed in the middle of the night recently, I wondered, “Had society wrought my thoughts and judgments to perceive these people who walk the streets as mere shadows of my life? Was it my upbringing? Was this my family’s fault? Was it my friends? Or was this simply my doing?” The answer: I’m not sure. Later that week my roommate invited me to attend a charity event held in the back of one of Galveston’s many churches. The charity event was to give food, clothes, dogma, and other important commodities to the homeless. Because I had been thinking about the lady I made cry earlier that week, I, naturally, as a superstitious God-fearing Catholic, took this as a sign, and agreed that I would go to the event.
PART TWO: MEETING JOHN AND MISTY
The event took place at eight in the morning on a cold, cloudy day. With a bagel in my hand and a motive on my mind, I scouted the crowd to see who I could talk to. The loud gospel music was nauseating, making it easy to understand why some of these people have mentally checked out. A woman with a pink beanie stuck out of the crowd, and I approached her, hoping to not scare her away. I had no idea what she had been through, or what was her past experience with men; I couldn’t blame her if she didn’t trust me. The world was cruel, but men can be crueler, and that I also knew.
When I got within speaking distance, I totally froze and told her I was working as a writer for Culture Clash and asked her if she wanted to do an interview for the magazine. She smiled, shook my hand, and told me her name was Misty. The man next to her was her longtime partner, John. She told me she would love to do an interview. John introduced himself again and shook my hand as well. John and Misty were not the aggressive, incoherent homeless people my ignorant anxiety had fearfully expected. Rather, they were both articulate, lucid, and, most importantly, were kind. I asked them if I could interview them the next week, and they said yes.
PART THREE: ANXIETY
The next morning, I arrived at the weekly charity event where the homeless congregated. The preacher was going on about his usual ceremony while the homeless gathered early in line for food and clothes. I saw Misty and John. The closest analogy I can describe my sensation is the way that one feels before riding a rollercoaster. I said hello, and asked if they were still willing to do the interview. My anxiety was going through the roof, curious if I was the only one with some inner troubles, I had asked John and Misty how they were doing mentally. They told me they were hanging on by a thread.
John told me he had PTSD, depression, schizophrenia, and BPD, and was prone to snaps. Misty told me she was depressed and had multiple personality disorder. She said one of her personalities was a young girl named Star. Misty called Star one of the nicest and sweetest people I could meet. With this being revealed I said whatever anybody would say, I said it was cold and asked if they wanted to go somewhere to eat. We all agreed on Whataburger.
PART FOUR: CAR RIDE/ WHATABURGER
As we started to walk towards, what I thought was, Whataburger; John and Misty looked around and asked where my car was. It was at that moment when it seemed time ceased moving, and all of Galveston’s 50,596 residents came to a standstill to hear my answer. I’d like to take a minute to explain my brief hesitation having John and Misty in my car had nothing to do with their mental state, or them being homeless. I’ve had plenty of “homefull” people who I absolutely loathed having in my car, whether it be my girlfriend’s shrilling-drunk friends singing off-key slurred renditions of Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”, or a sick roommate who showed me a firsthand example of what urinary incontinence was; I simply was uncomfortable with people in my car.
With this going through my head, I felt the need to answer. I said yes, and showed them where I parked my car. I pulled up my car and they got in. Misty sat in the front passenger seat and John in the rear passenger. We had a brief conversation about how I was maybe the second guy to ever let them in a car. John clarified he had a knife in his bag. Before I could freak out, I rationalized with my anxiety that if I were homeless, and I had to be on the road with so few people to trust, I too would have a knife or some other type of protection in my bag. So, I thanked him for his transparency and we pulled into Whataburger. John and Misty ordered two Mushroom Swiss burgers. I bought their meals and let them get settled before the interview.
INTERLUDE: A BRIEF EXPLANATION
Before I continue with the interview, I should state that I am aware that our self-proclaimed highbrow readers will consider these questions trivial, doltish, shallow, or frivolous. But I assure you, these questions serve a higher purpose. These questions are not meant for interrogation, or the means to call pity upon those who are less fortunate, but rather to call for the humanization of John and Misty and the many people like them afflicted by homelessness.
PART FIVE: INTERVIEW
Q&A: John and Misty
Question 1: How are you?
John: I’m okay.
Misty: Ecstatic, very happy. I’m excited.
Q2: What’s your name?
M: I’m thirty-four.
Q4: Astrology sign?
J: I believe I’m an Aquarius, I was born January 8.
M: I was born on January 20. So, yeah, I was born on a cusp of Capricorn-Aquarius.
Q5: Where are you originally from?
M: I was born in Sarasota, Florida. But I was raised in Texas.
Q6: What’s your favorite song?
J: ‘Adventure’ by Coldplay.
M: Dirty Heads, ‘Vacation.’
Q7: What’s your favorite movie?
J: Sing, I really liked that movie.
M: I’m not sure what it’s called, but it’s that dragon movie from Disney. It was really good.
Q8: What was the last movie you saw?
Both: Soul Eater
Q9: What’s your earliest memory of your life?
J: Feeding emus when I was about seven years old. They were huge.
M: Learning how to ride a bike when I was about six.
Q10: What’s the happiest memory you have?
J: Meeting Misty.
M: Seeing Galveston beach for the first time ever.
Q11: Favorite book?
J: Jane Yolen’s Blood of the Dragon, I didn’t get to read much, but I did enjoy that book.
M: I’m gonna throw it back with Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. It’s amazing.
Q12: Who’s your favorite cartoon character?
J: Scooby-Doo, I like the old-school cartoons.
M: (Laughs) I really liked Cat-Dog.
Q13: What is the greatest gift you ever received?
J: Misty and my son. He’s 15, his name is Lewis Cayden. Right now, he lives in Brownwood, Texas with Misty’s mom.
M: My kids and having the gift to help others. Also, creating art and making things with my hands.
Q14: What’s the worst gift you ever received?
J: A whip, by my dad.
M: A coloring book, it was very strange and it had a lot of scribbles. I was kinda like, “Oh that’s weird.”
Q15: Do you believe in aliens?
J: Yes, of course.
M: Highly. Absolutely. I believe that I was abducted. I woke with these triangles in my arm.
You’ll see UFOs at Crystal Beach all the time. They fly in a triangular formation. They appear and then disappear and appear somewhere else.
J: We saw a good one at Brownwood one time, and they were close, too. It went above us and started blinking.
M: And they would hover, and I knew it wasn’t a drone because it was too high. That’s not an airplane.
Q16: Do you believe in God?
M: I do, but we don’t follow fully.
J: No, but I believe in Lilith the lord and lady.
M: We had it shoved down our throat so much. We do, but just not fully.
Q17: What are your pet peeves?
J: People that chew with their mouth open, or like yesterday at a construction job. Guy just stands around and gets in the way, and I’m asking him to move. I don’t do well if you come up to me and yell at me for no reason. People walking behind me or acting, even playfully, like they’re going to swing at me can trigger me and I might accidentally hurt the person. She has had to stop me several times.
M: The most interesting times is when he gets into it with cops because sometimes they’ll grab him like this. [Grabs John by the neck]
J: I’ve flipped a cop over because of the way he grabbed me.
M: If I hadn’t explained that John had military PTSD he would’ve been arrested. I’ve talked him out of handcuffs I don’t know how many times. [pause] My pet peeves are Shmacking, and smacking with your mouth open. High pitch noises. A messy house, I’m very OCD. Things that are half done. That’s about it.
Q18: Ever had a nickname? What was it?
J: I do.
M: (laughs) The funniest one is when he got the nickname Joker from Six Flags.
J: The security guard kicked her in the head when she was in a seizure. The cops told us we can have fun with the security guard, just not kill him. So, we chased him around the park, body slamming him on the ground, kicked him in the head, and the cop yelled stop, and we stop. I also go by Sprite.
M: It means little demon. Cause’ he used to be a hellion kid growing up.
J: She gave me that name.
M: Mine is Moon-mist, ‘cause I’m always fascinated with the moon and my birth name is Misty. Or Red, everybody likes to call me Red, because of my red hair.
J: One kid called you Janice (Joplin).
M: I wish! I wish. Now if I had my longer hair and curly with the oval glasses then, yeah, I might look like Janice- and lose some weight, then yeah.
Q19: What’s your biggest fear?
J: Sharks. And snakes and spiders. My adoptive dad used to torture me with them. He used to throw me in tubs with spiders or snakes as a kid.
M: Losing him. Cause he’s the only thing I have right now.
J: You ain’t gonna lose me.
M: None of our family cares about us, or has anything to do with us, really.
J: Except my real dad, my real dad likes you.
M: But yeah, other than that, if I were to lose him, I’d be alone. And I fear that every day because he has bad health issues that can’t get attended to because we have no insurance. Every day is like a ticking time bomb. You know? I go to bed thinking, ‘I’m I going to wake up with my husband this morning?’
Q20: What kind of health problems do you have?
M: A lot.
J: Heart issues. Half a heart. Half a lung. I had stage two lung cancer. I’ve had four strokes. Five heart attacks. [Looks at Misty] What else?
M: And a bunch of mental issues. He was born a two-pound, nine-ounce baby, with only half a heart. I have seen his birth certificate.
Q21: Who inspires you?
J: [Looks at Misty] You, really.
J: As you can see.
M: Him and art. I get inspired by art.
Q22: Who’s your favorite artist?
M: Bob Ross.
J: I like Bob Ross. I like watching him paint stuff, I’ll sit and watch him paint.
M: I learned a lot of my technique from watching Bob Ross. [Misty imitates painting] ‘I’m just gonna floof a cloud here. I’ll put a little tree here.’
Q23: What was the last photo you took?
J: I took a photo of Misty.
M: The last photo I took was up at the Seawall. I’m a water bug, I love water and nature.
Q24: Who was your first love?
J: Honestly, that one. [Points at Misty]
M: The questions going to go for both.
Q25: How long have you guys known each other?
M: Since we were in diapers. Might as well go ahead and say thirty-something years cause’ we knew each other since we were nearly in diapers. Crawling around on the floor together and eating dog food together. Climbing the rafters of buildings together.
J: See, we both know the views of what each of us went through. We were both there for each other. But sometimes, some days, we both were really not okay. We do manage. Her mom would be looking for her and my dad would be looking out for me, but they couldn’t find us. We’d be three miles down deep in the woods together, they couldn’t find us. We were just trying to get away from it all.
Q26: If you had superpowers what power would you have?
M: [Laughs] Levitation.
J: Throwing things.
M: Levitation or flying. I’d like to be able to fly. That way I can get somewhere, you know?
Q27: What was the last job you had?
J: Brownwood. I worked for a woman named Leslie, cleaning up stuff. She had a shop, an antique shop. I would straighten up things, make it look organized, and throw away stuff she needed to throw away. Tell people the prices of things. Help load cars.
M: I worked at a theatrical theater in Brownwood, cleaning it. It was called The Lyric.
J: We found the owner of the theater was the mayor of Brownwood. We became good friends with him. He would give us jobs.
M: Sometimes he would give us money. He was really nice. So, yeah, The Lyric, we cleaned and even helped build stage props, that was always fun.
Q28: Would you consider yourself homeless?
J: I don’t know.
M: I like to consider ourselves freelancers of life. Hippy travelers.
J: Truthfully, we’re thinking about traveling again. It’s going to be a while. I got to get a beach cruiser under my ass, I can’t ride a gear bike. The gears won’t work, I always mess up the breaks and the gears.
[At this point Misty excuses herself from the table to give her food to a homeless person outside.]
Q29: What would you do if you won the lottery?
J: Get the supplies we need. Get a trailer. We want- she wants a hippie van, a Volkswagen, she wants to make it into a home and then travel around to different states and smoke pot. [Laughs]
[John looks at me]
J: Hey, anytime you want to hang out and just hang out at the beach or whatever, feel free.
Me: Oh, yeah. Thanks, man. I appreciate it.
Q30: And the people you hang out with here, are they your friends?
J: We know them, they just, they kind of get tired of our issues after a while. They can tell usually when I’m not there. And then they just talk to her and hang out with her.
Me: Yeah, I got you, man.
[Misty returns back to the table]
Q: What would you do if you won the lottery, Misty?
M: Buy a home. Probably buy my kids a home or put some investments for my kids. Save the rest of it in a bank. And then help out people who needed it. I’d also like to get a hippie van.
Q31: If you could meet anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
J: My grandma.
M: Janice. Janice Joplin, I’d love to be able to meet Janice Joplin. Probably go on a few psychedelic trips. You know it was good back then. Ain’t nothing wrong with the ’60s.
Q32: If you can do anything without failing, what would you do?
J: Open a shop, a mechanic shop.
M: I’d open an art shop. I want it to be like handmade beach decor and art.
Q33: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Q34: Do you have any tattoos? If so what’s the story behind them?
J: We have a lot of tattoos.
M: I think the most interesting one is the one behind my back, he’s the one that did that one. It goes all the way across. It’s a huge butterfly, and has both of our twin daughter’s eyes that passed away at a very young age. They would’ve been eighteen- nineteen already by now. I was like thirteen when I had them, they passed away when I was fifteen.
Q35: Where do you think we go after we die?
M: Me? I think the spirit world really, just floating in between, because there are so many hauntings and ghosts, you know? So, I think we linger around on Earth. I don’t think we go anywhere.
Q36: If you could be any animal, what would you be?
M: [Laughs] Cat. I’d be sitting there getting ear scratches all day.
J: [Laughs] Ferret.
M: Ferret! Yeah! You have the attitude of a ferret. Mischievous little thing.
Q37: How often do you eat?
M: Twice a day, try to.
J: Depending on how the money is that day.
Q38: What is the average amount of money a day?
J: On a great day it’s thirty, but lately it’s been five dollars daily.
PART SIX: JOHN AND MISTY’S STORY
“The way we ended up homeless was we were neglected by our families,” Misty said, “and then it went from being neglected by our families to our mental health issues. Pretty much just knocking on our door giving us a hard time, keeping us from getting jobs, keeping us from getting a home, or staying stable.
“Or every time we get a home it always felt like we got boxed in. The way I tell it to people, it feels like you’re climbing a ladder and then you get knocked off. We kept climbing and kept getting knocked off. We finally were like, ‘Okay, let’s just be travelers. Let’s just forget about trying to get a home right now. Let’s just travel around on bicycles.’ First it was on foot. Then we got bicycles when we got here in Galveston three years ago. We started bicycling in and out, in and out, all over Texas, all over Arkansas, and Louisiana. I mean, we just bicycle everywhere. We sleep on the side of the road whenever we’re tired. We travel at night. We try to find work whenever we can. Sometimes it’s not legit work, so it can be really shady.”
When asked to clarify what she meant by shady, Misty replied, “There are some people who we’ve worked for that didn’t have the license to be doing what they’re doing and they’re going out hiring people and doing shady stuff. Sometimes it causes people to get hurt, and they don’t have any insurance or coverage if something happens to people.
When asked how long John and Misty had been dating, Misty let me know briefly about the start of their romance. “We were eleven or twelve when we started to date. I was like ‘Okay, we’re going to date. You’re mine and nobody else’s.’ Pretty much.”
When asked when was the last time they kept in touch with their children, Misty responded, “Our kids? It’s been since October of last year.” John then chimed in to say, “I got a hold of him on Facebook, but he said he didn’t want to talk to me anymore, and I was like, ‘Okay.’ Talking about my kids can be a sensitive subject. I can hardly ever see them. I’m pretty much just waiting until they’re ready to come find me, or ready to be in my life. I’m not going to push myself, or ourselves unto the kids when we’re barely in their lives anyway. Being in a teenage mindset right now and having a girlfriend, having sports, and he’s got friends. I don’t want to push myself into his life when he’s got all that going right now.”
I asked Misty if she could say anything to her children what would she say. She responded, “I love you, I really do love you. Hope you know it’s not all my fault for not being in your life.” She added, “I also have a daughter, about to turn thirteen. She has autism. She’s not all there, but she’s just the perfect special little gem to me. She’s the main one who has not been in my life the most. My son on the other hand actually knows us, and hangs out with us. However, my daughter is very shy.”
PART SEVEN: POLICE
“We’ve been through so much together. We’ve been through some battles. Battles with other people as well.” When I asked Misty what she meant by battles she told me that she and John had issues with the police. “Up there at the skate park two years ago, it was pretty much police brutality. I had just gotten out of the seizure, was lying there, just coming out of it. He’s [John] lying there beside me making sure I’m okay and monitoring my breathing because I wasn’t responding at first. I snap out of it to an officer standing over me saying, ‘Put your hands behind your back, you’re going to jail.’ I’m like, ‘Why are we going to jail?’”
“He wouldn’t tell us,” John said. Misty continued, “Wouldn’t tell us our rights. Wouldn’t read us our rights. I’m like, ‘Tell me why we’re going to jail, or me and you are going to fight.’” John added, “I’m trying to help. The cops grabbed me by the feet and I kick them. I start fighting the cops. Then they take about six cops- she’s three months pregnant at the time. Eight cops pick her up, after they handcuff her, and chunk her off the amphitheater stage.”
“Then they grab me by my hair,” Misty continues, “and pull me around like I’m a ragdoll, laughing at me, mocking me, and using my mental issues against me. It was total mockery, it was not right.”
“They took us to jail,” John said. “When we get to the jail, they strip us of our clothes and throw us in the psych ward. We got out, went to court, and told the judge the same story we told you. The judge was really cool and tossed out the case. He asked what cop it was and I said I didn’t remember his name. All I knew he was my size, but he was a little bit more built and had an attitude of an asshole. The judge said he thought he knew who I was speaking about and threw out the case. The same cop has harassed us for quite some time now.”
When asked if they could say anything to the Galveston Police Department what would they say, John responded with a simple, “Fuck you.” And Misty with, “Get your head out of your butts, and do y’alls job better. Because sometimes they arrest people or mess with the homeless for no reason.” John added on, “Quit treating the homeless like ragdolls.”
It was then that policeman walked through the door. We left.
PART EIGHT: WALMART
We got in my car and I asked them where they wanted to go. They told me Walmart. On our way to Walmart, Misty would lower the windows to holler at somebody she knew. She told me she felt great. She’d point out various locations where she and John had camped out. In the back of a Red Roof Inn, an abandoned building, or simply on the beach. The world seemed to be at their disposal. Maybe this is irrational to say or even to think, but there’s something free about calling the world, and not some apartment complex, your home.
When we got to Walmart, I let them pick out what they needed. John got a new bike pump and a bike tire. Misty bought some crafts to make necklaces, she told me that making necklaces was how she made her money. John and Misty had a phone. They even had a TikTok account. I bought their stuff and we left.
PART NINE: SEAWALL/GOODBYES
As the day came to an end, I knew I had to say my goodbyes. I asked them where they would like to be dropped off. They told me on Seawall by Academy. While we drove there, they thanked me for my kindness, and I thanked them for theirs. We talked about life and its ceaseless deliveries of ups and downs and turns and twists. We got to the destination.
We sat on a bench to talk about their travels. Misty told me about her plans to go to Florida on bikes with John and go find her father. We were smoking a cigarette and watching the waves crash on the shore when one of their acquaintances pulled up on a bike. As he approached, Misty informed me that Randy smoked meth, but assured me that he was still one of the good guys. “The problem with being homeless is that everyone thinks you do drugs, which isn’t always the case, you know? But even then, if you do, like Randy, doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy. Sometimes the worst guys are in suits and ties, walking out of high-rises.”
The sun was shining off the waves unto our faces. We sat there so peacefully, listening to the waves crash on the shore. I thought about the lady I made cry as a kid. I thought about the snow cone in my hand, and I thought about my friend’s laughter.
As I finished my cigarette, I got up, thanked them for their time, and said my goodbyes. Misty gave me one of her seashell necklaces. A piece of me wanted this to end like one of those John Hughes movies, with John, Misty, and me crying in a group hug, while some ballad about journey or trust plays in the background. Credits roll. But it wasn’t like that.
It ended how it started, with a handshake and a smile.
ENDING: A MEMORY
On my free time, I go to Seawall and sit at the bench where we had our conversation. Sometimes I see seashells discarded on the floor and think it was them picking out the right shell for the necklaces. When I had lunch, I would go to the bench and bring more than I was going to eat. I would sit there and watch the waves, waiting for John and Misty.
Until one day I saw John and Misty’s friend, I asked him if he had seen them. He told me John and Misty went to Florida, biking all the way there. I was happy for them. I walked back to my bench. I thought about our small experience and smiled. There’s no doubt they made it to Florida. Those freelancers of life would find a way.
I’d like to think they changed my life, but I can’t tell you I changed theirs. I can’t tell you if they remember my name or not. I can’t tell you I miraculously fixed their lives in the span of a day. All I can tell you is that I’ll never forget the look on their faces.