(Chris and Desiree)
As I was walking up the bike path behind Chris Dumas, a couple approached on bicycles from the other direction. At the sight of Chris and his pit-boxer, Desiree, they swerved slightly to the side.
Chris said he’s used to having that effect on people, with his all-black clothes, chains and piercings and his dog’s potentially frightening appearance.
“People take me as an angry person just because I normally ignore most of society,” he said. “I’m not anti-society, I’m anti-establishment.”
Chris, who’s 32, calls himself an anarchist. He said that philosophy is helping him keep it together during a stressful time. He lost his job a year ago, he said, and he’s got a cyst in his lower spine that makes it impossible for him to get back to work. His girlfriend can’t work either because of a brain cyst that is going to require surgery. They haven’t been able to get disability benefits. And they have a four-month-old daughter.
Chris’s girlfriend and daughter get food from the Women, Infants and Children program, and family members have been giving them hand-me-down clothes.
“I haven’t had new shoes in a year,” he said. “I’m starting to feel the holes in these ones.”
Chris said they’ve sold off all kinds of things, from comic book collections to their washer and dryer. They’ve been washing their clothes in the bathtub.
“I look at it as being old-school,” he said.
Chris has two older children from a previous relationship, but they live with their mother. He’s full of stories about his baby girl. She’s standing up at four months, before she’s even started crawling. They adopted Desiree as a puppy before they knew they’d be having a baby, and the dog took to snuggling up on Chris’s girlfriend’s growing belly and now seems more loyal to the little girl than to the two adults.
Having a baby has given Chris a new perspective. If he and his girlfriend can’t keep their apartment, he said he’ll encourage her to take the baby and go live with her mother. He’d care for the girl during the day and couch-surf or stay outside at night since he doesn’t think it would work for him to move in too.
Chris said he tries to stay laid-back, not to let the drama of life get to him. And he did seem relaxed, even when I asked him some questions that I worried might offend him.
Why does he carry a knife, clearly visible in a sheath on his belt? It’s his dad’s, from the Navy. He gave it to Chris’s mother, and she passed it on to him before she died.
How can he afford the Android phone he uses? He and his girlfriend bought pay-as-you-go cell phones after they realized they could no longer afford a landline or internet access. They got decent ones so they’d still be able to get online. Lately, though, they’ve been having trouble paying for cell service. One phone is out of minutes. Chris’s dad gave him $90 for two months of service, but he had to spend half of that on diapers.
As we walked, Chris worked with Desiree, who’s still quite a young dog, explaining at each intersection that she needed to wait for the cars before she tried to cross the street.
When I said goodbye and turned to walk across the street and back toward my house, a car stopped at the crosswalk for me. Desiree pulled at her leash, trying to follow me across. Chris pulled her back and told her to hang on.
“She’s going that way,” he told the dog. “We’re going back home.”