Living the life you never knew existed...

The story...

For the past few years I have been raising my son Jordan on my own. I had to drop out of school and take up 90 hour work weeks to make ends meet (although the ends never quite met). We traveled around, lived at Wal-Mart, lived in the Rainforest of the Pacific Northwest living off the land, fought the elements, and pulled through the craziest year of my life. And here's the story from the beginning...

In July 2007 I was happily married with a son about to celebrate his first birthday. I was working at a shipyard in Anacortes Washington as a structural steel welder. It seemed as though my life was right where it should be. The income was good, the bills were paid on time, and I had a wonderful family to come home to each day. That is, until July 25th.

I was climbing the inside of a ship, getting ready to weld up a section of new construction when I slipped and fell 15', landing on some pipes below. A jolt of pain instantly shot from my lower spine down my right leg and I lost all feeling and control of my right foot. I laid in agony for about an hour, screaming for help before I got the strength to drag my body out of the ship. Somehow I hobbled to my site foreman and explained what happened. I played it off as if I was ok, but needed to take the rest of the day easy. My boss put me on some easy work for the rest of the day and I went home hoping I could shake the pain. Unfortunately the pain didn't subside, but got worse. My wife insisted I open a workman's compensation claim and see a doctor, so the next morning I limped onto the jobsite and did just that.

The doctor gave a series of X-rays, nerve tests, and MRIs and concluded I had sustained serious damage to my spine. A desiccated disk at L2-L3 and Facet Hypertrophy at L5-S1. He explained that I had damaged the nerve in my spine that allowed me to push my right foot down and I may not walk normal again. He said I was not allowed to return to work. But I did anyways. I somehow convinced the doctor that I was able to work, 30min on, 30min off with 5lb lifting. I returned to work and was turned away. They said there was no job I could do that fit those requirements. Back to the doctor I went, insisting he reduce my work restrictions. Reluctant, and with me signing a waiver, I was allowed to return to work.

So I showed up each day, limping around, doing the best job I could. I would often lie on the deck of the ship in pain for 30min-1hr before I got the strengh to go home early. I'd tell my boss "clock me out an hour ago" as I headed home to rest. But every day I showed up and tried to be normal again.

The bills piled up and so did the stress at home. My wife couldn't handle it anymore. She packed up, took my son, and left to live with her mother in Arizona. I decided to take some time off of work to heal emotionally and physically. My boss promised to bring me back after a week, but two months went by and no phone call. An eviction notice was slipped under the door one morning and that was it. I sold everything I owned, including my budding welding business I had been starting, and headed to Phoenix to be near my son.

Somehow me and the wife patched things up and I decided to go back to school since I couldn't work anymore. I wanted to be a Fisheries Biologist since I was a child, so I figured this was the time to do it. I enrolled and kept up a 4.0GPA, studying all night and day as I watched my son. Meanwhile, my wife went out and partied. I'll spare the details, but to make a long story short, I left her this time.

I took my son and headed back to Washington to try to start my life over AGAIN.

Luckily, my cousin opened up his house in Port Angeles, Washington to me and my son. Soon after we arrived, I landed a job as a pipe welder repairing oil tankers that came into the port. With my back still damaged, I was worried about how I could keep up with the crew. Even more when I found out my new work schedule consisted of seven 12-hour shifts non-stop until the job was done. The pay was great, and with all the overtime I was looking forward to a CEO salary.

It was a miracle I was even able to land this job. I polled the phone book for every potential employer that may have a position that matched my skill set. The companies ranged from engineering and design firms to general contractors and shipyards. One afternoon I was driving up to one of the addresses on my list and I came across a small shop. I stopped to ask for directions to a ship repair company I had set my sights on. The man standing out front smoking a cigarette informed me the company moved and may not even be in business anymore. I thanked him for his time and put my truck in reverse and then stopped. I pulled forward and asked him what his company did. He told me they repair ships. I asked if he was hiring welders, and he said he was. I promptly handed him the resume I had sitting on my lap. He looked it over and saw it littered with welding and shipyard experience and I had my interview right there in the parking lot. Hired on the spot.

The first job was brutal. I never told my boss I was injured or else I would have never been allowed to work. I figured it was better to work a few days and be fired than not work at all. The first ship that arrived needed about three weeks of repairs, which ended up being about $8500 in my wallet. I arrived with my welding gear and started my day. I sucked it up, tucked away the pain, and did my job. I ran circles around my co-workers, and when my boss found out I was a journeyman carpenter, he resassigned me as a scaffold erector. I was promoted (without pay) to supervise a team of three while the scaffold foreman took care of rigging and made runs from the dock to the shop for supplies. That foreman later died, and by default, I was the new foreman. Not exactly the way I wanted a promotion, but it is what it is. But as soon as the job started, it ended. The mooring lines were pulled up and the ship set off for Valdez Alaska. Me, I had no idea where I was going.

My cousin could be described best as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde...on drugs. I had to move. My son was not safe in that household and I wasn't going to put up with the abusive environment we were in. A co-worker temporarily opened his house to me and my son. He had been in a similar situation before, two kids, no home, unstable job. I accepted his generous offer and moved in with him and looked for more work. There was no word on when the next ship would arrive. It could be days, weeks, or months. I had to spend my money wisely.

I looked for apartments, but was turned away at every one. Even with 6mo rent in hand, nobody would let me rent without a stable job. My co-worker, and now roommate, told me of a homeless shelter nearby that helped him out when he and his kids were homeless. I signed up for the program and was accepted immediately. Now this wasn't the homeless shelter your mind may conjure up based off what you see in movies. This was an apartment complex turned into transitional homes for families. I had my own kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms for me and my son. But nonetheless, a homeless shelter and not somewhere I wanted to stay for long. Not somewhere I was even allowed to stay for long. The terms allowed 30 days, and not a day longer. I did work one more short job while living there, and when the time was up, I left with nowhere to go. Once again I fell back on family, and moved in with another cousin near Seattle.

While living with my cousins, I met a girl, and being desperate to move into a stable environment, I moved in with her after only knowning her for a few days. It was not a smart move and as anybody could have predicted, we broke up several weeks later. I broke down. I didn't know what to do and it was at that point I realized me and my 2 year old son were about to be homeless. I took my savings and moved us into a hotel in Tacoma but the cost was too much to justify. The economy wasn't getting any better and unemployment rates were well into the double-digits nationwide. It was at that point I made the decision to move everything into a storage unit and live out of the truck and try to weather out the storm as I looked for work.

We headed back to Port Angeles and stocked up on supplies. I bought $100 worth of ammunition, several dozen arrows, 50 gallons of fresh water, a tent, a portable stove, and warm clothes to name just a few of the items. It was winter and one of the worst the state had seen in over 50 years. Not exactly the best time to be homeless, but we had no choice. I drove up a logging road and setup camp in the woods.

What a teaser, huh? More coming soon...

-Nick Vellios