I was 14; it was late fall in Virginia. I had started working at eight years old, doing yard work for folks around the neighborhood, then paperboy, dishwasher, and grocery bagger, before a great job came along. A friend was working for his stepfather doing high-water-pressure washing of trucks. They got a contract out in the country to use their water to clean the paint off a building and it was short notice; the money was good so I left that day. Now, I wasn't in school, and I'd often be gone days at a time. I'd tell my Maw I was at a friend's and that would be fine by her as she'd have one less mouth to feed. So, it wasn't too big a deal when I didn't show up for a few days, but this job was two weeks, and it just so coincided with a time when she was evicted and had run out of options in Virginia. She got an invite from a friend to move to Texas, and she took it, leaving with my lil' bro' and my two sisters, and without me.
Since we never had a phone, there was no way for her to reach me. When I eventually did return home, full of joy at the proper money I had earned, it was nighttime. It wasn't unusual for the doors to be locked so I broke in. I went for the lights and the power was off; again, not too unusual, but when I called out and got that hollow echo of an empty house, I knew something was wrong.
I slept on the cold floor and, come daylight, I saw the house had been vacated and there was a note on the kitchen counter for me. Something to the effect of, "Dear Myke, I had to go to Texas. Sorry. Love, Ma." And with that, I was on the streets. Winter was coming on hard and I had nowhere to go, but at least I had some money in my pocket.
I exhausted the good will of my friend's parents after a couple of weeks, and there were no more regular homes and couches available to me, so I took to the streets in search of food, water, shelter, and warmth. It was during this winter, when I had nothing, that I became a student of and believer in survival. Not that I knew it at the time; I was too busy trying to survive and being angry at my circumstance, in between bouts of sadness as well. I didn't like it, but I could understand my friend's inability to help me. I learned I could rely on no one but myself. On the whole I guess I did alright; heck, I survived.
I slept in dumpsters and hallways, broke into cars, homes, and offices—anything I could find. I found food in trash cans and behind grocery stores, ate lots of ketchup and mustard from fast food places, drank water from mall water fountains, took baths in public toilets, found heat in the form of homemade fires and the old fave: the heat cranked out from the refrigerator units behind grocery stores. I had to keep slapping rats that were trying to nibble on my head, but the need for heat made them only a small nuisance.
Spring came and I got a real break with a job at a grocery store, saved up enough money, and soon ran into my mother's number-one fall back guy, Earl (R.I.P.), and he took me in.
From there, it's just a story like many others—joining the service and growing up.