MY LIFE ON THE STREETS by Rotimi Rainwater
Most people think they know what it’s like to be on the street. Or should I say, they think they can imagine what it would like to be on the streets; but they don’t. Sure it’s hard. Most days you don’t know where you’ll end up, let alone where you’ll sleep, but it’s more than that. Life on the streets is lonely. It’s full of isolation, and it can feel hopeless.
I experienced all of those feelings, when I spent almost a year on the streets in Orlando, Florida. It was 1990, I was in the Navy in Mayport, Florida when I found out my mother had Cancer. It took me a few months to get the Navy to let me out and when I finally was discharged I found myself with no place to stay as my mother was already in the hospital and had lost her place.
I spent the next 9 months on the street. First I was in my car, finding girls who would let me sleep at their places, but after 5 months my car got towed and I ended up sleeping around Lake Eola, in downtown Orlando. I couldn’t tell my mother as she had her own fight, so I did what I had to do. I’d make excuses to shower in her bathroom in the hospital and eat when I could.
Life on the streets isn’t what people think it is and neither are the people you meet on the streets. Kids on the street can be extremely caring and supportive of each other. They have a camaraderie that comes from being on the streets. Because every child who’s on the street is there because at some point they were hurt, pushed away or neglected. They’re the forgotten children, and they know that. Kids on the street aren’t the tough exterior they portray; they’re very sensitive. And no matter what’s been done to them they still have a huge need to be loved. That’s why it was important for me to say that I loved my mother. I wasn’t beaten or abused; my mother did that to herself. Instead of taking her frustrations on life out on me, she retreated into her own world of prescription drugs and alcohol leaving me to fend for myself by the age of 13. I guess that’s why I was able to adjust to the streets so quickly.
I learned a lot on the street. But nothing more so than the hustle of how to survive. On the streets one of the first things I learned was that I had the ability to talk. I learned that I had a gift for finding out what someone needed to hear to turn their “no” into a “yes”, and that’s a very important gift. If you take too many “no’s” in one day, then you don’t eat. My friend Jupiter taught me that.
Eventually I found a girl who let me stay with her, and I got my first job in the business as a PA on the film "Passenger 57". My mother won her first battle with cancer, but it came back shortly after and she passed away on August 13, 1993. I spent the next 20 years working my way up in the film business and finally got the chance to direct my first feature in 2011 with Sugar.