Beneath a highway bridge, in the warm current of the Rivanna River, a photographer named Ryan introduced me to a couple and their dog, cooling off on a humid July day. Music pulsed from a Bluetooth speaker, and the couple — named Rabbit and Chris — talked and joked with one another, enjoying the otherwise quiet area. The silence was disturbed only by the whir of cars cruising dozens of feet above.
“I was walking and then lost my balance, like a peg-legged t-rex with a bad case of termites,” Rabbit said, pointing to a bruise and several scratches on her leg.
Rabbit, with a hearty laugh and a penchant for whip-smart metaphors, was describing a spill she had taken on the Fourth of July.
Chris looked on, bolstering Rabbit’s story with encouraging “uh-huhs” and “yeahs.” He’s a construction worker, muscular and excited about his job. She makes jewelry and sells it on the Downtown Mall.
“That one’s aquamarine, that one’s New Mexico river rock,” Rabbit said, pointing to pictures of her handmade jewelry on her phone. “And that’s tiger’s eye with river rock.”
Rabbit and Chris moved to Charlottesville in January, making the drive from New Mexico in their white hatchback. They’ve lived here before, four years ago, but this time Rabbit and Chris are facing a struggle they didn’t have last time. They’re homeless.
“The dog’s loving it here ‘cause he’s been sitting in the tent with me in this damn hundred degree weather,” she said.
Rabbit noted the reprieve their pit bull-English mastiff dog, named Oden, felt in the Rivanna. Their cat, Loki, had stayed at their campsite.
Just as Rabbit and Chris are protective of their pets, so too they plainly look out for one another. They’re a permanent family unit, although their backgrounds link them to their own tangled histories, peppered with jobs lost or brushes with the law. Each has family members from whom they’ve been estranged at certain points in their lives.
Each is also quick to smile when talking about the other.
Rabbit, with commanding eye contact and her hair shorn above her ears, beamed at her companion when she said, “My grandfather never got to meet him, but of all the guys I’ve ever dated, I think this one is the only one he would’ve approved of.”
Chris, kindly and bashfully in gym shorts and a sleeveless shirt, beamed back. Oden splashed in the water some more, as if he never wanted to leave.
Rabbit and Chris have been looking for housing in the Charlottesville area for months. Unable to secure housing, the two have been setting up campsites wherever they can. In their case, several obstacles stood in the way. Passing background checks and finding a home that allowed Oden to stay were two such barriers, but it’s clear that Charlottesville’s housing market faces larger pressures that make finding a home here difficult.