I’m Charles. I was 19 and fresh outta high school when I married my high school sweetheart. We were from a rural town called Middletown in Minnesota. After saving up for a couple of years, we moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado. She wanted to attend Colorado State University for pre-med and I wanted to be by her. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with Colorado. The views of the Rockies were beautiful and the weather was perfect. I found work at a lumber yard, and we both had demanding schedules so it was really hard to make time for each other. As hectic as our lives were, we couldn’t have been happier doing it together.
A little while later I was offered a job working in oil fields, and I knew I couldn’t pass it up; the money was just too good. I would go out to the oil sites and my wife would stay in Colorado to continue her studies. My job was to keep the rig clean and help set up the parameters for safe and efficient drilling. It was by far the most bizarre job I ever had; it was hard work but there was a nice cash out for all the abuse I took.
If I wasn’t working on an oil rig in Colorado, I’d usually be in Wyoming or Kansas. The typical oil rig was 135 feet tall. They towered over everything. I worked on the rigs at about 90 feet up in the air, or higher. I got used to the fear of falling but I won’t say I was ever really comfortable. At the end of a shift I would be drenched in a layer of oil, and the smell would just reek even after showering. It wasn’t all bad though; I worked with a great group of guys who I loved spending time with after work, sharing a beer or two. It was actually bittersweet when I left rigging behind.
I came back to Colorado in 1985, and went back to working construction. I figured it was time to settle and get back to something that felt familiar. I worked project to project in and around Colorado for 20 years. It was pretty stable, but then in the early 2000’s, I was laid off. I think through the frustration and hurdles we faced, my wife and I no longer felt the connection we used to have. After separating I was living at my own expense, I couldn’t find any work and in a matter of a couple years, I was homeless. I was living on the streets, struggling to even get through a day at a time. Out of all of my experiences of being homeless for five years, I think the worst was how invisible I was to others. I knew the ins and outs of how to make it on the streets, but I wasn’t prepared for what ended up happening to me.
It was the dead of winter, and it was so cold that my toes began to freeze up and eventually became numb. The freezing sensation made its way up to my knee. I’d say it was probably a couple of weeks that I tried my best to bear through the pain. It got worse, and one morning when I tried to stand up, I immediately collapsed onto the floor. I knew it was serious then and I had to get help. I made my way to the hospital, and in the emergency room they inspected my leg. I think they knew right away that it was frostbite, but they just said they couldn’t help me and turned me away.
I came back to the hospital for help four times, and every time I was turned away. Keep in mind that my leg and toes were worse and worse with each visit. After the fourth try, my leg was black as night, and I had completely lost feeling. I was at a bus stop near the hospital one day when a nurse walking to work noticed the condition I was in. He ran to the hospital to get a wheelchair to bring me into the emergency room. I knew at that moment what was coming next, and when the doctor told me he needed to amputate my left leg from the knee down, I wasn’t surprised. It was ridiculous to not only endure the pain of losing my leg, but to be treated the way I was by the hospital. Just like any other day, I had to adjust to a new lifestyle being wheelchair bound.
Around 2014 my case manager recommended that I go to EarthLinks. I came to orientation and was just amazed at how much was blossoming in the garden. I went through my orientation and I remember on my first day how nervous I was. I think what made me so nervous was that it had been a long time since I’d had the chance to work and to try something new. EarthLinks has helped me go in a positive direction after all I have been through. I’m grateful that the EarthLinks’ staff helped me find housing, and are helping me transition to a more ideal housing situation. With a lot of support from the community I went to physical therapy for 6 months to prepare for my prosthetic leg. The leg feels great, but it’ll take some time before I can really hit my stride with it.