Behind the Words

My name is Renée Chae, and I was born on May 29th, 1971, in the US city and state called Brockton, Massachusetts.  I was born to parents who loved me very much; however, due to circumstances out of control, I was on my own starting at the age of fourteen.

By not having the typical strong influences of parents, teachers, or any other adults from such a young age, I had the freedom and space needed to create and form my own original perceptions and understandings of the world around me based on my firsthand experiences.  And because I had no family and home that I could look to for guidance, support, and shelter, I had to rely solely on my own abilities and natural instincts to survive.

I was on the streets and unsuccessful at finding a safe place to stay for 2 1/2 years despite my offers to trade a room for work such as cooking, cleaning, babysitting, etc..  I was raised to work hard and contribute so I had no problem in doing those things.

It was during this time I witnessed firsthand the depth of society’s illness, as I saw many other wonderful people with great hearts and the best of intentions with no families and on the streets as well.

In those 2 ½ years, the only times I was offered a place to stay, was when I would soon find out there was an ulterior motive.  I would then have to do something like, excuse myself to the restroom so I could instead make a b-line for the door in the middle of the night.

It was then I began to feel I must not be all that important for this to be allowed to happen to me. I felt invisible, as though I really didn’t matter.  Well, that is except when it came to my body and sex.  Apparently, I seemed to matter and have value when it came to that.

Living a life for the most part was hell.  It was a moment to moment struggle just to eat and find a safe place to sleep, shower, etc…  I found that often I had no other choice but to resort to sleeping between bushes at a beach, with a double-edged knife stuffed in my teddy bear, because I couldn’t find people I could trust, and that cared to help with my situation.  It seemed everyone I met, no matter how promising and “professional” they were, wanted to take from me the only thing I felt I had left, my self-respect, and I would die before handing that over.

The bushes at the beach park hid me well, and I had a little space in between them to lay.  I felt somewhat safe there at night being all by myself.  And it was overlooking the ocean which I loved.

Despite only eating about once a day, I felt great physically. I walked everywhere and for several hours a day.  I loved being out in nature all the time, even if it was paved in concrete.  I was so fit I could outdo the guys in both pushups and pullups.  I felt strong and tough, and was proud of myself for surviving on my own for so long, and for feats like being able to climb over 10-ft. wire fences that surrounded train tracks, and jumping from 2nd story windows.

I was on a constant wide eye alert though, being on guard from predators every moment of every day, with all my senses turned to max.  I figured it was only a matter of time before I would have to kill someone to defend myself, and I was prepared and ready.  Little did I know when I was younger, that my ex-Green Beret Father’s military training that he adamantly shared with me since I was four, would pay off and save me on several occasions.

The confidence alone I gained in knowing what he taught me, helped me hold my head high and back straight, which is crucial to surviving on the streets.  Even if I was crazy delusional in what I thought I was capable of, I made sure to put off a vibe that said, mess with me, and you will die.  Luckily and thankfully, no one messed with me to that degree.  That would have sucked having to kill someone.

I had to become a master at reading and understanding people that came across my path. That way I could better know if they were true colors and someone I might be able to trust.  Or if they were someone who acted shady and twisted, thus avoiding them like the plague.

I found myself really starting to hate people in general, and this world, for what I had to do day in and day out just to survive.  And for seemingly ignoring me, and not seeing me as a worthy person, deserving respect and genuine care.

I found alcohol to be successful in numbing the pain and silencing the war zone in my head.  I’m quite certain it helped keep me alive and cope with what was too much to bear, and overwhelming to process.  Especially, considering the lack of accurate information I had been given on how to interpret and understand this crazy life thing.

There was hardly a day I did not fantasize about killing myself.  I was exhausted and felt 90 years old.  The thought of not having to struggle and fight any longer, but end it once and for all, and to sleeeeep, was very tempting.  It brought me feelings of hope and peace knowing I had a way out if I wanted.

Even though I had a very difficult time finding unconditional love and support, and life was a living nightmare, I do remember often feeling I was not alone.  I remember feeling as though I was being watched by an invisible world, with it silently whispering things like: ‘You’re doing good, just keep going’ ‘This will all make sense one day’ and ‘This is all for a much bigger purpose so hang on’.   Those kinds of thoughts gave me hope that there would be light at the end of this dark tunnel, and they kept me chugging along.

I would also often be able to step back from my life and look upon it like I was watching a movie, and that was a very surreal and dreamlike experience.  I could see how sad and crazy my life was, and yet how interesting and exciting it was at the same time.  I knew I was learning a lot.

I was 14-16 ½ years old during this time, and it were those thoughts and the support I felt, and the alcohol I would occasionally drink, that kept me going.

I will never forget the day when I was 16, nor the exact spot I was walking on Cabot St., in Beverly Mass, when I made a promise to myself.  I swore that if I lived to be an adult, that I was going to try and figure out what is wrong with this world, and understand why people do the hurtful things they do to others.  The world just seemed so sad, absurd, upside down, and lost.  And I hated the thought of anyone else having to go through what I was going through.  At 16 ½, I would later meet my boyfriend who I moved in with for 3 years.

When I was 21, I would be taken under the wing by a young Indigenous man, who too hated what he called “the wilderness”.  He taught me a lot about the ways of his people that he learned while spending summers at his family’s reservation.

I’ll never forget the question Scott asked me one day.  He asked, “why do your people treat you like this?” He knew I was pretty much alone in the world.  I lived in the ghetto, was so poor I didn’t even own a can opener, and had to disguise myself as a guy just to leave my apartment.  My reply was, “like what?!”  I found myself defending “my people”.

But that question planted a seed within me.  Until then, I had just figured I must deserve in one way or another everything that happens to me.  I mean, surely this is just the way life is and there’s nothing we can do about it.  We play the cards we are dealt, suck it up, and we don’t complain.  What’s the point, right?  No one listens.

Thanks to Scott, and all that he passionately shared with me, I started to see life very differently, through a Native, and Indigenous culture’s eyes.  I saw that I did deserve respect, as does all life, with Earth being no exception; it is after-all, what sustains all life.  I also learned what it meant to have a family who unconditionally loves, and has your back no matter what.

That was just the beginning of decades of very painful and challenging life experiences.   My obsession with finding out why people do what they do, and why the world is the way it is, so I could maybe help fix it, started when I was 16, and would last 30 long years.

I used to feel invisible and as though no one cared; however, I have come to realize that’s not the case at all.  That people really do care, and immensely, deep down.  And not just some people, ALL people.  I realize now people couldn’t see me to help me because they could barely keep their own heads above water.  Even the seemingly most successful people; they are struggling to make sense of this world just the same.  Helping a homeless teenager they didn’t know was probably just too much for them to grasp, let alone take on.

On May 29th of 2016, I felt compelled to start writing what I have learned throughout my life.  I see how it all has come full circle.  I can honestly say, I believe I know why people do what they do, and why there’s so much pain, confusion, and chaos in the world.  I also believe I know how this world can get turned right side up with peoples’ openness, understanding, wisdom, and help.  This is the information I share in this guidebook called, This Thing Called Life- Come Full Circle. 

Renée Chae


My youngest daughter and I