Humans of Utah

Humans of Utah is a collection of stories from people on the streets of Utah, curated by Nathan Cannon and Clark Bailey.

Latest Stories

“I wanted to be a screenwriter so I moved to LA for a couple of years and lived there. I still want to be a screenwriter but it was just so expensive to live there so I moved here and got this job at Pioneer Book. I’m still writing but it’s really nice to just have a steady job. I’m going to move in a couple months to Vancouver, Canada, to keep doing screenwriting.

I haven’t written anything that’s been produced yet. I like writing sci-fi and comedy. I like writing movies more than TV shows. When I was in LA I was just reading scripts for movies that were coming into the company.

I’ve lived in lots of different places. Living in LA, I had to try really hard to be true to myself. Outside forces pushed me toward things that were not what I saw in myself. I had to be myself in a world that I didn’t recognize myself in.

A lot of the world’s cares I don’t share. Living in LA, status was really important. Who you knew was really important. I don’t care about stuff like that. It was kind of difficult to focus just on what I wanted to do.

I’d been in LA for a while and I was complaining about this to my dad. I told him I wanted to write what I wanted to write and that I didn’t care what was popular. He told me there was something to be said for being a popular writer: they make money. I told him, ‘Yes, but that’s not what I want to do. I don’t really care if it’s popular because I can have other jobs that supply money. I want to write what I want to write.’ Not that it won’t be popular. I hope it will be, but it’s not going to be formulaic like Nicholas Sparks. I have to do what I feel like is true to myself.”

“My grandparents on the Engh side came from Norway. All of their children and grandchildren, up until my grandfather died, went on their missions to Norway. So it wasn’t completely unusual when I got my call to Norway. We’re Norwegian through and through.

Learning the language wasn’t bad. It’s always a challenge, but you learn from your companion a day at a time, a word at a time. It’s a really good feeling though when you first speak to someone in Norwegian and he understands you and answers you back and you understand. It really is. The first time was in a restaurant. I ordered a meal for myself. Didn’t have to have my companion do it and it worked out. I got what I wanted. I went to Norway in ‘59, came back in ‘62. In ‘86 I took my boys back. We rented a car. I was looking for an address of my cousin. I’d been there before but just couldn’t quite remember. I stopped and asked a delivery guy how to get to this address. Asked him in Norwegian. He told me and I understood it. I had a good time there with my sons.

Just three years ago my youngest son bumped his head on his stairs at home. Died. He was with a couple of friends and he thought he was fine. His friends thought he was fine. His friends went home. He went to bed and never woke up. Before that my oldest son was injured in an automobile-bicycle accident and suffered a head injury.

But you know, life is life. I believe in the eternal nature of the family. We will all be together in the next life. It’s just a matter of waiting to get there. No hurry to get there though. That’s life. I really have no complaints about life. I’ve had a good life. I have a loving family. I have a belief in the hereafter, that it really does exist, that God lives and Jesus Christ is His Son. That really answers a lot of life’s questions. If you live that way, it might not always be smooth, but there’s always somebody there to help you. God does not leave you alone during tough times. You just have to tough it out.”

“I’ve not really had many tough struggles. Since I retired I find it very boring to sit at home. My struggle is to keep busy and do something that is worthwhile. I’m 78. My wife’s 75. We travel a little bit. We go on a cruise now and then. Our last one was we went to the antarctic on a five week cruise ship. We went down the east side of South america and down and around then back up the west side. We had a whole lot of fun. We met some interesting people, and it sold my wife into having more cruises so we’re going on another one this spring. It’s fun to go down there and play with the penguins.

I was a building contractor for 35 years in Oregon and here and in California. One of my proudest things we built was the house for Danny Ainge’s parents in California. We knew Danny very well in Eugene. My wife and his mother were very good friends. I always say, ‘Since I was his mutual basketball coach, I taught him everything he knows.’”

“Growing up, I moved around a lot. My dad was in the military, so we lived in a lot of different places. We moved 9 times. We lived in Utah, Maryland, Texas, and then California. It kinda sucked. Every time I’d get settled in a new place, we’d have to move again. I had to become really independent and I also learned to rely on my family and become close with my sisters. It’s what taught me to include other people, because I knew what it felt like to feel alone.

In junior high I had just moved to northern California and I didn’t know anyone from the school or the whole town. I felt like I didn’t belong. I had my family and I was fine, but it was really hard, because there were times when I felt, ‘Why does this have to happen? Why can’t I just grow up in the same house?’

My mom would always tell me, ‘This sucks, but you can either take this situation and wallow in it and feel sorry for yourself, or if you are feeling crappy about yourself, get outside yourself and do something for someone else.’ She definitely taught me how to step outside of saying, ‘oh this sucks. I’m in a crappy situation. I’m alone. I’m sad,’ and instead say, ‘I still have so many blessings, and I can go try to make someone else’s life better.’ Service is kinda selfish cause it makes you feel better.

She’s my best friend. We fought of course like any mother daughter duo would, but we became so close because I told her everything. I think it’s gonna be like that forever and I’m grateful for that. Yesterday I was talking to my mom on the phone. She found one of my old high school ID cards and she started crying on the phone saying, ‘I feel so bad we put you through all of that moving and having that crappy junior high and high school experience.’ I said, ‘Mom, it’s ok. I don’t want you to feel guilt for that.’ We both talked about how it has shaped me and shaped her and shaped our relationship with each other and as a family. Me and my two little sisters and my dad and mom are really close. Having that opportunity to be close with my family is invaluable. ”

“In high school I did swimming. I had a lot of talent, but I don’t think I worked that hard. I think I could have been a lot better. Looking back, I wish I’d done it, but it’s in the past.

I’m really tall. I have a perfect body for swimming. I was good. I did try somewhat, but I feel like I never tried really hard in anything before my mission. I knew when I was doing it I could have tried harder, but it would have been a lot of work. I went to State, but I didn’t place. If I’d worked hard I could have gone to State and been getting first in my races.

Whenever our school went to State we would usually get 5th or 6th out of all the teams. There were a couple teams that were just way bigger than us. It wasn’t like we were going to beat them. But my year was really fast in swimming, so when we were all seniors we went to State and hoped to get third.

Everything just went down the tubes. We barely lost each race. In swimming, the first day there are preliminaries and then the next day it’s finals. How you do in preliminaries determines what heat you’ll be in for finals. First to eighth gets in the first heat. I got ninth. That was just one of many things. That happened to lots of people on our team and we didn’t do that well.

After high school I served a mission in Tampico, Mexico. It was really hot. It was really hard work, especially at the beginning. I think it’s like that for everyone on a mission, but especially with a foreign culture, foreign language, foreign everything. It was hard, but that taught me how to work hard.

Everything is in retrospect one of the hardest thing you’ve ever done. I see my life like that. Before, in high school, I think swimming was the hardest thing I’d ever done. The mission was harder. Since then I can do way harder things more easily.”

“I’m from Spokane, Washington originally. Went from there to Juneau, Alaska. My old man was working construction up there and I was a kid going to school. Got snowed in a lot during the winter time. I missed more school than you can shake a stick at because of the snow.”

“What is a good experience you’ve had, your best memory from a time in your life?”

“Can’t rightly think of any. You see where all my positivity has gotten me. There’s a lot of things I wish I could change. But if I went back and tried to change I’d probably do ‘em all over again.
Back in ‘08 my boss in California sold everything off. I wound up without work so I travelled the countryside looking for whatever I could find. Instead I got emphysema.”

“What keeps you going?”

“Nothing. Nothing but the dog. I got Taya five years ago. She was eight years old and somebody found her on the free list. She’s been a dream. I haven’t had to teach the dog nothing. She’s probably the most docile dog you’ll ever meet. Very calming.”

“I’m from Houston, Texas. I came to Utah because I was in an abusive relationship. I just got my apartment. Now I’m waiting on the orientation, so I’m just waiting to get off the streets. It’s been a warpath you know. I stay at the shelter, so I’ve seen people get stabbed. I come down here to the streets to get away from it. It looks like a concentration camp. There are officers there twenty-four seven. It is safer for the females there now you know, because they had a couple of kidnappings of females. They wanted to keep them safe. They call me sunshine; I’m their sunshine. I let them know everything's gonna be ok. It’s gonna get better in time ya know. I literally take my shirt off my back and give it to them. It’s amazing how I am. I let them know that people do care. Whatever I have, I use to help out. I’d give them my last dollar and I’d be without. That’s just the way I am.”

“I was addicted to methamphetamines for about nine and a half years. I thought I’d been through the worst. I got my life back. I had two and a half years clean and I thought, ‘This is it. There’s no more struggle.’ Then I lost my mother. I clung to worldly things, such as alcohol and heroin to numb that pain. Don’t take your mother for granted. She was my best friend. She was my sponsor in recovery. She was the best of the best and just like that she was taken from me. So trust in God and do not take your mothers for granted. That term, ‘earth-shattering,’ I lived it. I’m just now putting the pieces together and getting my life back. It was April 23, 2017, so it’s been over a year and a half. This heroin, it’s hell. That epidemic they’re talking about, it’s real.

Hitting rock bottom, going to jail several times, living out on the street, living out here in the cold, having literally nothing to my name helped me start from square one again. I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ And it just came to me, ‘Pray.’ One thing led to another. They have the clinic at Project Reality where you can get on methadone. They’ll help you get off of it. God is great. If I had trusted in God I wouldn’t be where I am today. Now I’ve got a huge hole to climb out of. But without Him I’d be worse off than I am.

Trust in God. I don’t know about religion at this point: I’m still figuring out if that’s the important part. I do know the relationship between me and God is important though. He has put things and people in my life to help me get to that next step. A lady just blessed me with twenty dollars. Now I can go down and get my ID. I can go to a Temp Agency, get a job, and start putting cash together to get into an apartment. It’s all just coming together. You just have to make that one first step and trust in God always.”

"Don’t let your circumstances define your happiness. One thing I’m super grateful for in my family is my mom always talked about being happy. My mom had bone marrow cancer and so she was super sick for a really long time, but she was always happy and she was always super positive. She passed away two and a half years ago now, but that was something that was huge for her. She had this little necklace that said, ‘I can do hard things.’ And she had so many trials and so many things, so many reasons she had not be happy, but she was always really happy. That’s something that I try to remember in my life, because I haven’t had anything as hard as she had obviously.

Something that helped me get through it is remembering that that moment is so small in the grand scheme of things, and that if we can get through that moment, there are so many more happy things to come. So many more things to look forward to. You’ll be ok."

"I had some really bad struggles for a while in high school with eating disorders. I struggled with self-confidence. The world presents how you’re supposed to look. I got really, really unhappy. Around that time I stopped going to church and seminary. I didn’t really care about it. But I found that I ended up in a really bad place. I was not making decisions I wanted. I was so busy worrying about something, it really cut me off from other people and relationships It cut off my relationships with my parents. There was a time where me and my mom didn’t talk for about a year. I was coming home later than curfew, in trouble all the time.

What changed the most about the way I feel about myself was knowing that God created me and I should love what God created. It’s made me a happier person. I have a lot more confidence now. Not just in what I look like, but what I can do. I know that I am capable of lots of things. My relationship with my mom is a lot better now, but I would have liked to have had a better relationship with my mom. But now I feel better about myself in every aspect."

“Never look back. Always point toward the future. If I look to the past I always end up just kind of sitting reminiscing on the mistakes I’ve made, but if I look to the future it helps me grow into what I’m looking forward to. I was kicked out of my house when I was 17 and I keep thinking, whenever I look back, and try to figure out why my parents kicked me out. I just try not to think about that because that really weighs me down.

In high school my counselor told me to drop out of school. She was a terrible counsellor. She found me a job with a good signing bonus and everything like that and said I was just going to amount to nothing pretty much. I said, ‘Screw you, I’m going to go make something of myself.’

Right out of high school I moved to Alaska and became a manager at a fish cannery plant. Then I got my plumbing certificate, became a licenced plumber, made a bunch of money, and now I’m here studying Art and Recreational Therapy.

I had an art therapist for a while and she helped me through a lot of stuff. She helped me express myself and be open through art. I want to be able to do that for other people. You come in. You sit. You draw, paint, or something. From there, art therapists will look at how you draw it. The pressure of the pencil, what kind of pencil you use, the colors you use, what you draw, the amount of time it takes, the attention to detail, everything like that. From there you can assess how someone’s doing, their emotional state, and then you talk about it.

It really made me find myself. It was huge. Before that I was very closed off, very angry and against everyone. I pretty much hated the world. After that I really started enjoying people. I could see the value in myself and I could see the value in other things. Art is a big creative outlet for people. It lets them express themselves in a way that...I mean some people are going to judge, but those people are dicks. You can’t really judge someone else’s art, so it’s just a way for them to get out their feelings and work through stuff.”

“I have fourteen brothers and eleven sisters. My father has four wives. I once asked him, ‘Dad, which one do you love more? Certainly you have one that is special to you.’ He said, ‘No, I love all of them.’ But I don’t think anyone can have a hotel heart, splitting it between four wives.

In our country you cannot talk to girls. You cannot study with girls. You cannot date girls. It’s freaking hard for me as a Saudi guy. How do you want me to marry someone I’ve never met?

There was one guy, when I came back to Saudi Arabia from the United States, that said, ‘Oh, dude, I’m going to take you to a restaurant.’ I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ We got to the place and I found out it was kind of a new one. Girls and boys all go to that place and chat. At the time it was Christmas, the 25th. On Christmas in Saudi Arabia all the police go outside because they don’t want anyone to celebrate. So there was a police car and I took a picture of it. I was just chatting on Snapchat and sent it to my friends. A girl came up to me, ‘Hey there, how are you doing? Give me your Snapchat. I’m going to chat with you.’ I was fine with that. It’s not a problem to ask for my Snapchat. When she took it and left, all the sudden a police guy came up to me. He said, ‘You! Come over here! Give me your ID.’ I said, ‘Okay, what’d I do?’ ‘Shut up! Hurry up! Give me your ID!’ So I handed him my ID. It was a Utah license and he didn’t speak English at all. He looked at it, ‘This is not the ID I’m looking for. Where’s your Saudi ID?’ ‘I don’t have it. I just came from the United States.This is the only one I have. And this my name, you can search it on your laptop in your car.’ ‘I don’t have a laptop in my car,’ he said. ‘You are a police,’ I said ‘you don’t have a laptop in your car? How do you look up people’s background?’ ‘Oh we don’t do that.’ he said, ‘We take you and we go to our place and we’ll put you in the jail for 24 hours. During the 24 hours we’ll be searching about you.’ ‘Well, okay,’ I thought, ‘I’m going to be having a special day.’ I wasn’t mad. I just wanted to know what he was taking me for. I had talked to the girl so I thought it was for that. But it turned out he just thought I was celebrating Christmas.

Later I talked to the guy in charge at the police station and he said, ‘Oh yeah actually we got you because you were talking to the girl.’ ‘Well actually the girl came up to me.’ I said, ‘Are you guys not taking the girl?’ ‘No because she is a girl so we won’t take her. And when she came up to you and asked for your Snapchat, you should have said no and not given it to her.’ ‘But this is my Snapchat, not a public Snapchat for all Saudis,’ I said. They kept me there in jail for 24 hours for no reason. They made me sign a paper saying I would not repeat it. I’ll probably repeat it. I just wanted to get out.”

“So I was snowboarding up at the Targhees in Idaho and I’m going down this big canyon, and I’m thinking you know, ‘I’m gonna go as fast as I can and I’m gonna see how high I can get up the other side.’ You can see where this is a flawed mentality. So the snow is super soft, but I hit the bottom and I start going up. It’s as hard as a rock. I hit it. My board nailed it, and I start somersaulting up the hill. Like physically impossible, but I’m tumbling going up the hill. I ended up making it fifteen to twenty feet up this hill just by flipping around. My goggles fell off, my beanie’s somewhere, and it was just icy. It was like a cat went ham on my face. All shredded. My cheeks were scratched because it was so icy and sharp. I was there with my brother. He thought it was hilarious.”

"I have six sisters and one brother. It’s pretty fun. I’m the middle child, fourth of eight. We range from eight years to twenty-two or twenty-three. I can’t remember how old the oldest is. We play a lot of board games together, so we have a pretty decent board game collection. Our favorite family board game tends to be Settlers of Catan. It’s a good one. It’s usually between my brother and me. Sometimes the goal is just to not let him win.

I also play a lot of basketball. Back in 8th grade I was thinking about joining the middle school basketball team, but after the first day of trying out I decided to not follow through with it, and I gave up on it. I kind of justified it at the time by saying I didn’t have time for it. But I’m on a rec ball team right now. I play either center or power forward. It’s really fun. I like scoring points a lot. I play with a couple of my good friends Nick and Parker. I have a lot of good memories with them. I think the best memories were at scout camp where it was just me and Parker, and we got all the other troops in the camp to know our daily cheer, because we always did the same thing: ‘We’re the hillbilly hicks from troop seven eighty six and we like to eat our chicken on sticks!’ On the last day we even had somebody copy it."

"I struggled a lot last semester with school. I’ve always had a 4.0. Last semester I had a lot of financial struggles. I had a lot of emotional struggles. I had some family issues. I was also taking a bunch of classes that I hated. The thing I learned is that you are only responsible for your own actions and feelings. You just get to be a leader within yourself. You don’t need a big group. You don’t need a big title. You don’t need anything. Just that confidence and that self-awareness of being a leader.

Being from Idaho, I don’t have family down here, so I think it’s so instrumental to find a support system. I didn’t move down here with a bunch of my buddies. I moved down here, rented out a room in some apartment, they set me up with some roommates. It’s not like I came down here with a game plan. I just came down here to find myself and figure it out. A year and a half in it’s finally really starting to happen. That’s why it’s so important for people to have some form of a support system.

My best friend Jennifer is the most amazing person on the planet. She’s an instrumental part of my support system. We’re really different. She’s really shy. I’m really obnoxious, loud and outgoing. She kind of helps keep me grounded. My favorite thing to do with Jen is just driving her to work. We’ll listen to music and sing songs together. It’s good to know that we like the same things, we feel the same way. I’ll purposely be really annoying and obnoxious when we’re listening to music. I’ll turn the music down and sing really bad, but it’s okay because I know we both think it’s funny. It’s something I can only do with Jennifer."

“Well here’s my bus so I’ll give you the short version. I’m a recovering addict. I’ve been clean for a year. I just got baptized Catholic and I’m studying to become a minister so I can help other addicts recover."

“I was born here but I was raised in Arizona. It’s a different mentality down there. I know everything out there. And then coming out here, to Utah, you do something once in your life and you’re that way forever. It’s really bad, like if I go find a job and someone messes up in front of me, I lose everything. I gotta start all over. I dedicated myself to a certain person. Bouncing around, watching her be with other people was discouraging. I was just trying to do it right. But you gotta keep your head up. I’m doing my best not to give up yet. There are drugs and stuff that get involved when you grow up. Things like that happen around you and you’re just trying, trying to stay away from shit like that. That’s the biggest thing: just keep trying to do the right thing. Even though you’re gonna go through some shit, you gotta get it right. Bouncing in and out of work having to do stuff like this is hard. Just living. Just living is hard.”