Homeless Romeo

Just because Keith Ford was homeless, didn't mean he wasn't popular with the ladies.

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GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

From PRX and NPR, welcome back to the SNAP. My name is Glynn Washington, and today we're in the business of riding a very "Slippery Slope." It's about decisions, decisions. One small, seemingly inconsequential, decision can change the course of everything, even love - especially love. And for this next piece, sensitive listeners and those with small children should be advised it does contain sexual content. Kaitlin Prest brings us the story about a guy looking for freedom, and freedom comes hard.

KAITLIN PREST: I met Keith Ford in a coffee shop. He looked a little bit like Basquiat. He had a kind of antiestablishment air about him. He'd make me cappuccinos, and I'd linger at the counter chatting and laughing and wondering if he had a girlfriend. We started to have long conversations about his crazy life in Cleveland, Ohio.

KEITH FORD: I was living in this, I guess you could call it, like, a DIY or punk house. I don't recall exactly, but I'm pretty sure I got kicked out. That first night, I still had my truck, and I remember parking it on a lakeside street and just like listening to the lake crash on the beach. And there was kind of, like, the attitude of, like, well, I don't have anywhere to go. But that means I'm free - being free from responsibility, free from financial burden, that I could just wake up and brush my teeth using a bottle of water, go out and see what the day had to give me, which was basic stuff like, where am I going to eat, can I take a shower today, am I going to take a bath in Lake Erie?

PREST: This lifestyle seemed to suit Keith. Most people never even realized he was homeless. He was young. He was well-spoken, and more often than not, he had a girlfriend.

FORD: I think it might be hard for someone who's never been homeless to imagine someone without a home getting into a relationship. But for me, like, getting into relationships - it's always been pretty easy. I'm able to carry myself in a way that is often in opposition to my present circumstance. If I'm utterly desperate, you wouldn't know that because I'll carry myself that way. I smile often, I laugh often and I tell jokes. I'm upbeat. It's easy to fall in love with me.

PREST: Girls would fall in love with Keith all the time.

FORD: So many different circumstances, so many different women, so many different states. I was dating this girl that I liked at the time - came here and started to date this woman - like, earth goddess. She had a great apartment in Brooklyn - who would let me live in her house instead of sleeping on the bench - found out that that's how I was living. And she was like, no way, man, you can crash at my house anytime.

PREST: He spent a lot of his homeless days living in apartments with girls he met.

FORD: At the time, I thought I was just in a relationship. You know, so if I stay at your house overnight, it's not because I have to, it's because you invited me. But it's always kind of like, oh, you probably shouldn't have done that 'cause I totally took advantage of it. Like, it's an imposition.

PREST: These romances had a pretty short shelf life. They'd break up, and Keith would be on his own again looking for a new place to stay, a new situation, a new girlfriend. He train hopped from town to town, which is how he ended up in Rochester living, once again, on the street.

FORD: I was sneaking into the basement of this row house. But the basement was the most frightening place I had ever encountered. When I opened the door, there was, like, this, like, exhalation of air. It was just like like oooh. And I was like, oh, my God, I don't sleep here. I do not want to sleep here. Because I was so scared, I slept on the stairs like sitting up. You know, I did that for a couple nights maybe two or three nights.

I had stopped in this cafe because I was, like, kind of at the end of my rope. There's this woman there who I had seen around. She kind of looked like Mariska Hargitay from "Law And Order SVU," and I've always had a crush on that woman, so I was sold. I'm just kidding.

You know, she invited me to sit down at her table. She's like, hey. We just kind of had a conversation about coffee. I saw her again at a grocery store. And she's like, oh, hey, Keith, you know. It's kind of funny because I was in there stealing food - putting cookies in my backpack. And one day, she invited me back to the coffee shop, and that's when she kind of told me her was husband in prison - they took my kids; I don't have a job; I don't trust a lot of the men I meet because they're not genuine, and you seem like a genuine person. She was like, do you want to come back to my apartment? And I was like, yes.

Her house was kind of, like, this house - old, the bathrooms, like, this huge window letting the sun in. And it's got this, like, black and white checkered tile on the floor. I'm, like, getting undressed to get in the shower with the feet, you know. She kind of just came into the bathroom and was like I brought you a towel and a washcloth. I went to the store. I bought you a toothbrush and some toothpaste 'cause I don't share my toothbrushes. And I started - I was, like, picking up on something. Like, why would you buy me a toothbrush? And she's, like, putting these things away just very nonchalantly.

She was like, you know, like, I want you to stay here. You don't have to keep telling me that you're going to go back to your apartment. Like, I know that you don't have anywhere to live. So if you want to stay here, you can stay here, but you have to have sex with me. And I was like, yeah, I can do that. What's wrong with sex? And the first time was cool. I was way into it. She had a great body. She really liked me. We talked about it afterwards. We smoked cigarettes. She made food. I slept there next to her that night.

Being able to sleep in a bed was nice. There was, like, two windows next to it - right? - so the sun would come in in the morning. She had a lot of pillows. I started brushing my teeth regularly. And it just went on like that for a while. You know, I was happy. But over time, that changed. One time, she gave me 20 bucks. And I suddenly felt, like, uncomfortable. That meant that the exchanges that we were having weren't - there was obvious - she never intentionally made me feel like her plaything or her possession. That was something that I felt all by myself.

There was a point when we were with a group of her friends, and we were sitting at a table. And she got up to go to the bathroom, and I remember there was a voice in my head that was like, you are going to have to have sex with that woman and shame came up inside of me. Over time, I came to dread just being - just interacting with her. I would avoid going out with her in public. I would always, like, make up some excuse. I couldn't let on that I wasn't happy - right? - because then the whole rationale would come crashing down.

We'd be lying in bed together. She's asleep. She rolls over and put her arm across me, and I feel disgusting. Like, don't touch me, ew. I don't want to be here. I don't want to feel your skin on me. She just wasn't pretty anymore.

PREST: Do you remember the last day you were there?

FORD: Yeah. Yeah, we were having sex, and the bathroom door was open. And I was staring into the bathroom, and I lean my head over to meet my own eyes in the mirror. I remember thinking, I don't want to do this anymore. It didn't feel good, didn't feel right, if that even means anything.

I kind of spaced out. It was just - kind of went away. And then I had put my clothes on. I remember she stayed in the bed and just watched me get dressed. And I said, what, to her. She said, nothing. It wasn't, like, a big catastrophic blow up or any real conversation. Just one night, I didn't go back. That experience almost dehumanized sex for me. I regretted it. It's, like, a part of my life that I would like to not think about.

PREST: Afterwards, did you have, like, a little bit more perspective on your situation? Like, you would think that you would have a desire to, like, get a job and get your own place.

FORD: Yeah, you would think that.

PREST: But yet, you didn't.

FORD: No, I did not. You would think (laughing) any normal person would want their own [bleep]. My brain doesn't work that way.

PREST: Do you have anything more to say?

FORD: Nothing that should be recorded.

PREST: Everything should be recorded.

FORD: Will you make love to me one last time?

PREST: No.

FORD: That's the part I didn't want to record, is you saying no.

PREST: (Laughing).

FORD: Now there's a [bleep] record of it.

WASHINGTON: Big thanks to Keith Ford for sharing his story. That piece was produced by Kaitlin Prest and Joe Rosenberg with sound design by Davey Kim. It was adapted from Kaitlin's killer podcast Audio Smut. It's a show that takes a refreshingly unflinching look at matters sexual, and it has some amazing stories that you will never ever hear on public radio for obvious reasons. But that just means you should go listen right now. Download it from iTunes or whatever else great stuff is given away for free.

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