She smoked weed in cemeteries, pissing on tombstones and chasing after the
deer who galloped over the graves. She shopped out of dumpsters and combed the streets for tossed treasures. She would not shower for a week or change her
clothes for just as long--not out of poverty but by choice. Her hair hung in
blatantly uneven strands with large sections shaven down to the scalp. Not a
trace of make-up tainted her face and she stared at you with owl eyes behind old
man spectacles. Shoes, she figured, were only necessary when it snowed. In my
head and head alone, I called her my "street urchin Venus."
I fell for her untameable spirit just hours after meeting her. She was stirring a steaming load of half-gone vegetables and brewing tea as we discussed everything from Christian philosophy to the cult of frugality. Somehow, she made slicing onions seem cool. She even chopped tomatoes nonchalantly. Her nails, though gray with filth, were still femininely long and elegant. Her over-sized sweater emphasized her litheness and despite her groggy mutterings, I sensed she was an articulate and well-read woman. Meanwhile, I was some overgroomed Southern girl who'd never stepped foot inside a steelworker's home, let alone lived in one before. The fact that we were both writers--her with her food stamps and private school education and me with my pining for the American Dream--stunned me. Often regarded as a bohemian, I suddenly felt so straight-laced compared to this guttersnipe. Was my cage smaller and more thickly-barred than I realized?
No, I discovered as my month with her progressed. Hopelessness is the cruelest prison. While I still believed in fairy tales, my street urchin Venus had no illusions. She, four years my senior, had intentionally leapt from her wholesome upper-middle class to the depths of a minimum-wage lifestyle. She had hated the bourgeoisie and now she hated the working class. She was jaded because grad school wouldn't accept her and her neighbors did welcome her. She wandered
aimlessly and indulged in drugs and alcohol as a means of escape. Yet she saw no
escape. My escape was, and remains, constant creation. I spent that month writing and drawing my way through everything. She spent that month drinking and feeding the wood stove. I did not judge her or like her any less, but day by day the mythology crumbled.
I would not become her. I would not harbor disdain for the dark sorceress
who had trapped me--I would act and find my way out of the tower. I would