Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Seventeen

If you had asked me throughout most of my life how it would end, I sure as hell wouldn’t have said by suicide. As fucked in the head as I always was, I didn’t really thing I’d ever kill myself. I thought about it more than once. More than twice, to be honest. But until I ended up on the street, it was like there was this little voice in my head that kept telling me that somehow, I’d get through it all. Somehow, I’d come out on top. I don’t know why. I guess it had something to do with my upbringing. It was so steady and so normal that I always thought that I’d make it, somehow. Pretty stupid, huh? There aren’t any guarantees in life. Well, except that some people are guaranteed to lose. They’re guaranteed to fail. Now that I realize that I’m one of them, I’ve come to realize that even we never see it coming. Nobody figures out that they’re born to lose until they’ve lost it all and there’s no coming back. The world went on without them and there’s no way to get back on it. It’s a hell of a realization when it hits you. It also tends to hit you at the worst possible moment. You know, when you’re in no position to take it. It’s as if destiny decided to make it hit you so hard that it completely wrecks you. Isn’t it bad enough that you found out that you’re finished? That you’re going to lose and nothing in the world can change that? Why does it have to hit you when you’re least able to process it? When you’re least able to deal with it? I can’t begin to tell you how much it hurts. I was at rock bottom and when I finally lost it all and ended up on the street, it hit me like a fucking tsunami. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t figure out what to do. I couldn’t say to myself, “OK, I’m in a terrible position and this is what I have to do right now.” Not even close. I was mentally paralyzed. I could barely remember my own name at that point; let alone try to plan for what was ahead of me. All I could do was let it happen. I couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t prepare for it. It just made it hurt a million times worse.

By the time I regained some of my senses, it was too late. I realized that I was stuck here and this was going to be it for the rest of my life. All I could do then was try to learn how to live out here. Thank God Charlie found me when he did. I would’ve been gang-raped and either had my throat slit or ended up as a prostitute, blowing guys for five bucks in an alley twenty times a night. He saved me from that. He couldn’t save me from being homeless or ending up as a junkie, but he saved me from a lot of things that are a million times worse. Is it any wonder he’s the only thing I’m going to regret leaving in this world? I’d regret leaving my parents and my brothers, but I left them a long time ago and every time I think about them finding out that this is where I ended up, I just want to start crying. I know there’s no way to avoid that. The cops are going to have to tell them. “We found your daughter’s body on skid row. It was a suicide.” The first question they’re going to ask is what was I doing on skid row? Then the cops will say, “She was living there for about seven years. She was homeless and a heroin addict.” And then they’ll just fall apart. I don’t want to do that to them, but I can’t avoid it. At least they’ll know it’s over. They’ll know I’m not out here at night anymore; wandering the streets and alleys and getting high and doing God only knows what else. I think that’s the only way they’ll be able to handle it. I hope to God it is. I’m sorry, mom. I’m sorry, dad. I never meant to hurt you. It was just…unavoidable. I won’t say it was destiny. Destiny makes it sound too good. Almost mystical. There’s nothing good about this place. There’s nothing good about my life. There’s nothing good about me. I don’t have a destiny. I have a fate. I have a sentence. I have a punishment. And it was unavoidable.

I feel the concrete under my feet. I always do. It’s not like you get to walk on a lot of grass around here. In some ways, I really hate the concrete. Not only because it’s so hard and filthy, but because it never hides anything. This place has so many things that should be hidden forever, but they never are because everything’s made of concrete and steel. Concrete doesn’t absorb anything. It resists everything. If you bleed on the grass, the blood soaks into the ground and maybe it even does it some good. But not here. Not in this place. The concrete rejects the blood. The stain just pools up on the surface and stays there until someone washes it off. If they wash it off, that is. This place has plenty of bloodstains that are probably as old as I am. I’ve seen them. Tonight, my blood will be one of them. I wonder how long it will stay there? Maybe a long time? Maybe forever? Or maybe the rain will wash it away before my body’s even cold? Who knows? Who cares? After I’m gone, it won’t matter. They say you leave it all behind when you die. Everything. None of it matters anymore. God, please let that be true. If I can take anything with me, then please let it be the memories of my family and my life before I lost my mind. Before I knew what fucking TRD was. A peaceful place where I can relive those memories forever would be paradise for me. They say heaven is paradise, so maybe that’s what I’ll get? I’ll settle for less, but I’d really like that.

Think of the countless stories this place could tell if it could talk. The stories of the lives that were; before they were ruined and ended up here, that is. The dashed hopes. The crushed spirits. The unrealized dreams. The special pain that only life out here can cause. The people who used to have real lives before they crashed and burned and ended up out here. The people that they were and the people that they could’ve been but never got the chance to become. Sad stories, all of them. There are no happy ones out here. They couldn’t exist out here. It’s sort of a maxim: if something exists, then there has to be a place for it. Hopelessness exists. Pain exists. Suffering exists. Fear exists. Sorrow exists. And in some cases, they all exist at the same time, so there has to be a place for them. That’s why this place exists. As long as there are people like me, this place will exist. It was here before me and it will be here long after I’m gone. Why? Because I’m not the only one. Because I wasn’t the first and I sure as hell won’t be the last. Because there has to be a place for the next Miranda. She’s coming. She’s on her way here. She might not know it, yet. She may get here tonight or tomorrow night or next week or next month or next year, but she’ll get here. She’ll wander these streets and alleys just like I did. She’ll ask the same questions. She’ll read the wisdom on the Prophet’s Wall and try to make sense of it just like I did. She’ll cry the same tears and scream the same screams and fear the same fears as I did. And in the end, she’ll probably end up just like I did: dead in an out-of-the-way place; killed by her own hand because she couldn’t take it anymore. I pity her. I pray to God that I never know her. I never meet her. I never know her name. That’s a prayer I’ve said every night for a very long time. I’ve only got a few hours left. We’ll see if it gets answered.

In the meantime, I’ve still got a lot to do. I’ve still got a lot to see. I need to see all of the old places before I die. That’s important. You see, I learned a long time ago that if you leave a place or a situation before you finish saying goodbye to it, it haunts you. It stays with you. You go back to it in your dreams. Maybe I should say, in your nightmares. You have to make a clean break with it or a piece of you will be stuck there forever. That’s a fate worse than death. When someplace keeps drawing you back, it’s a kind of prison from which you can never escape. That’s why I always envied people who never got attached to anything. They just moved through life with the greatest of ease. Why couldn’t I be like that? No attachments, no getting invested, no letting anything get inside you. God, why couldn’t I be like that? I guess I’m not strong enough. I mean, some people might actually envy me. My situation, that is. No home, no attachments, no responsibilities. Total freedom. Freedom to come and go as they please. Home is nothing more than where you hang your hat or rest your head. Today, this town. Tomorrow, a different one. Constantly moving from one place to another. They’d stuff a few things in a backpack and hit the road. They’d walk or they’d hitchhike or whatever; going from one place to the next and never letting any of it touch them. Experiencing life and never giving a shit about any of it because none of it matters to them. Like the wandering troubadours of old, I guess. I thought about trying that once I ended up on the street, but I just didn’t have the strength. I couldn’t see what happened to me as being anything but the ultimate, total failure. Strength. It always comes down to strength, doesn’t it? The strong survive. The strong prevail. The strong succeed. The weak get squashed. Everything gets to us. We get squashed over and over again. We can’t stop it and we can’t fight it and we can’t do a fucking thing about it. Until we can’t take any more, that is. Then we squash ourselves. Permanently. Straight down to the pavement. Straight down to the concrete that will smash our bones and tear our flesh, but won’t accept our blood. No, our blood remains as a testament to our failure. Until someone comes along and washes it away. Then all that’s left is the failure. We don’t even get the testament.

All right, enough feeling sorry for myself. I do that too damned much, and it doesn’t do any good. If it did, then I wouldn’t be here. So fuck that shit. It’s time to get to work. My time’s running out. I have to focus. There’s nothing around here that I want to see, and nothing here that’s going to help me with what I’ve got to do. I know this place. It’s a dope spot and a hangout for some pretty unsavory characters. My best bet right now is to get out of here fast. With all of the cops going crazy tonight, it doesn’t pay to stay in one spot for very long.

What have we here? Someone’s headed this way. He’s moving at a pretty good pace. I don’t think he’s headed directly for me, which is always a good thing. Oh, it’s Vic. I know him. No need to go on alert. He’s all right – for skid row, at least. Jesus, how’s that for a fucking character reference?

“Vic! Over here!”

“Hey, Miranda! What’s up? I see you’re out walkin’ around, as usual.”

“As always. I haven’t seen you in a while. Where’ve you been?”

Vic’s a guy I know from the bus station. Well, before they threw me out of there for good, that is. He used to panhandle there a lot. The security guards used to beat the shit out of him all the time. They beat the shit out of me, too. We’ve both got the scars to prove it. It’s a wonder either of us survived.

“I’ve been around. I’ve been hangin’ out by the docks some.”

Ah, yes! The docks. The docks are the loading docks near the industrial district. If you’ve got the muscles, you can pick up a few bucks a day, loading and unloading trucks.

“Did you make any money?”

“Yeah, I did all right. They were pretty busy for a while, so I just stayed down there. You know what they say: ‘When you’re livin’ on the street…’”

“One place is as good as the next. Yeah, I know.”

“Damn! It’s gettin’ fucking cold out here! How can you stand it, girl?”

“I can’t. I hate it. But I’ve got some shit I’ve got to do tonight.”

“For real? You got somethin’ goin’ on?”

That’s skid row speak for: “Are you planning a crime, and can I get in on it?” Nobody ever passes up a shot at getting in on a score. Everyone’s an opportunist out here. Everyone’s a crook, too. It goes with the territory.

“No, nothing like that. I was looking for Charlie.”

“Ain’t he down by the tables?”

“No. Charlie’s sick. They took him to the hospital.”

“For real? Damn! What happened?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”

“Damn, girl! I would’ve thought if anyone knew what happened to Charlie, it’d be you.”

“Yeah, some friend I turned out to be. I wasn’t even there for him.”

“Hey, you can’t be there all the time. Besides, what the hell were you gonna do?”

“I don’t know. Something, at least.”

“Oh, now don’t go doin’ that to yourself. You ain’t no goddamned doctor. You ain’t even a nurse. You couldn’t do nothin’ about it. Ain’t no one could.”

“That’s true. But I should’ve been there anyway.”

“Hey, you’ll see him when he gets out.”

“I’m not so sure. They said it was bad.”

“Oh, don’t even think that shit! Charlie’s tough. He’s been out here longer than the both of us have been alive. He ain’t goin’ nowhere. You couldn’t kill that motherfucker with a silver bullet. You watch. He’ll be back.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

I’d better change the subject before Vic starts asking questions I don’t want to answer. He’s what you’d call the inquisitive type.

“So they’re hiring down at the docks, huh?”

“Yeah, girl! Shit, I was pullin’ in about thirty bucks a day.”

Is he serious? Christ! That’s a fucking fortune out here! I’m surprised there aren’t five hundred guys trying to get in on that!

“Damn! Thirty bucks a day? No wonder you stayed down there.”

“Yeah. It’s slowed down some, but they’re still lookin’ for people to unload the trucks. You want to go down there tomorrow? I’ll see if I can hook you up.”

“Thanks, but I don’t have the muscles for the docks.”

“Oh, bullshit! You can do it.”

“They’re looking for strong guys like you. Short women need not apply.”

“Yeah, I know it must be a bitch for you sometimes.”


“OK, all the time. Didn’t you get a job when you got a room?”


“Why not? I thought when you get a room, they’re supposed to take care of that shit?”

He’s right. They are, but it’s emphasis on the “supposed to” part. They don’t always come through for you. And even if they do, a lot of times, it falls apart fast.

“Yeah, well, it’s not so easy, as you already noticed.”

“You mean on account of you’re a girl?”

“Pretty much.”

“What? They can’t find nothin’ for a girl?”

“It’s not really their thing. They’re set up to find jobs for guys fresh out of prison and shit. What are they going to do? Get me a job cutting sheet metal? Working concrete? Lifting hundred pound crates onto trucks like you?”

“They couldn’t find you nothin’ else?”

“They tried. Well, sort of. They tried to set me up with a fucking waitress job.”

“Where at?”

“That diner near the Brownstone.”

“What happened?”

“The guy pretty much took one look at me and said, ‘No fucking way, bitch!’ That was the end of that.”

“Why’s that?”

“He said he didn’t hire junkies, and he sure as hell didn’t hire crazy bitches.”

“The motherfucker didn’t even give you a chance?”

“Nope. I walked in and told him they sent me down for a job and he said, ‘No fucking way, bitch. Not you. I know about you.’ I was fucked as soon as I walked in the door.”

“He recognized you, huh?”

“Right away. I used to slam over there back when Stick was slinging dope. You know, by the cans? He used to deal right in the guy’s parking lot. I guess he knew me too well.”

“Still, he could’ve given you a goddamned shot.”

“Hey, I don’t blame him. I’m a junkie, I’m a fucking mental case and I’ve been popped for stealing. Do you think he wants me anywhere near the cash register?”

“Shit, get me near that cash register! I’d have cleaned that fucker out in a heartbeat!”

“Me, too. Besides, the minute I put on that little waitress outfit, they’d see my tracks. One look would probably make the customers puke.”

“They ain’t that bad, are they?”

“Not really. Certainly not compared to some motherfuckers out here. But that doesn’t mean they’re pretty. Anyway, who the fuck wants to look at that shit when they’re trying to eat? I can’t stand to look at them myself.”

“Too bad. I’d kinda like to see you in one of those little waitress dresses.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you would!”

“Seriously, girl! You got a nice shape.”

“Uh-huh. Better living through chemistry.”

“So they never tried to get you nothin’ else?”

“If they did, they didn’t tell me about it. I went back to Social Services and told them he turned me down flat. They said they’d get back to me. That was a year ago. I don’t think they’re getting back to me.”

“No, I think they done wrote your ass off.”

“Pretty much.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I’m not so sure about that. Even without the dope, I don’t know if I could hold down a job. Being crazy kind of gets in the way. I’ve lost more than one job because of it.”

“Hey Miranda? What did you want to be when you were a kid?”

“What? You mean, what did I want to do for a living?”


“The truth?”

“Yeah. What did you want to be?”

If he’s hoping I’m going to say I wanted to be a stripper or a porn star, he’s out of luck. But this is actually a strange story. At least, people always told me it was a strange one.

“I wanted to be a flight attendant.”

“You mean like on an airplane?”


“How come?”

“Vic, you don’t really want to hear this shit.”

“Yeah, I do. Come on, give it up.”

Oh, what the hell? Why not?

“When I was about ten, we took a vacation and it was the first and only time I ever flew on a plane. I remember the flight attendants were really nice and they gave me a set of wings. They were all really pretty and they smiled a lot and it looked like fun. And I just got blown away by the planes and the airport and how exciting it all was. I thought they had the greatest job in the world, so I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to rush through airports and ride on airplanes and be nice to people.”

“So what happened?”

“What do you think happened? I went crazy and my life went to shit. It just kind of died like everything else. It’s funny: my brothers used to tease me about it all the time. You know, the whole ‘I’m Miranda; fly me’ thing. They were fucking merciless.”

“Brothers are like that.”

“They said I’d be nothing more than a waitress with wings. I told them there aren’t many waitresses who’ll save your life if the restaurant crashes into the ocean. But they never let up on me. Not even once.”

“They thought you could do better, huh?”

“Yeah. And look at me now. I’ll bet they’d give anything for me to be a waitress with wings. Shit, they’d give anything for me to be a plain old waitress.”

“Yeah, I guess so. Looks like both of us came up short.”

“So what about you? What did you want to be when you grew up?”

“Me? Hell, I just wanted to work on cars. That’s all I used to do. I was pretty good at it. I figured if I could get paid for it; I’d be set.”

“So what went wrong?”

“I took to stealin’ the motherfuckers instead! Wound up in the pen!”

“That’ll do it. So I guess we both blew it.”

“Big time.”

You, me and everyone else out here, Vic. Oh, the ties that bind!

“So where are you crashing tonight? Down by the docks?”

“No, I got to find someplace warm. It’s gonna be too cold tonight. You can’t build a fire down there. Not by the warehouses. They get you for that. Shit, I heard it might even rain.”

“Bite your fucking tongue, motherfucker! I do not want any fucking rain tonight!”

“Hey, winter’s comin’ early this year. They say it’s gonna be worse than last year.”

“Yeah, I was lucky to have a room. With all of that rain, I probably would’ve died of pneumonia or something.”

“Tell me about it! I got sick as a motherfucker!”

“I remember. We damn near lost you in February.”

“Look, I’m gonna grab me a couple of beers before the stores close. You wanna come? It’s on me.”

“No thanks. Like I said, I’ve got things to do tonight.”

“OK. Sorry to hear about Charlie. But don’t worry. He’ll be back. That motherfucker always comes back. He ain’t got nowhere else to go. I’ll catch you later.”

“Hey, Vic! Uh, keep your eyes open tonight, OK? The cops are on the warpath.”

“Yeah, I saw that already. I’m lookin’ to stay warm, but not in jail.”

“I hear you.”

“Maybe I’ll see you later?”

“I’ll be around. I’ve got nowhere else to go, either.”

“You and me both, girl. Take it easy. And you watch your back.”

Words to live by, Vic. Especially when you’re a woman out here. You take care of yourself. You were a good guy. You deserve a lot better than this shit. Goodbye.

Vic’s a pretty nice guy. Well, he’s a nice guy in that he’s nice to me because he wants to fuck me. He’s made that clear on more than one occasion. At least he’s decent enough not to try to rape me. That’s a lot more than I can say for a lot of guys I know. Christ, out here at night, that practically makes him a saint. Maybe I should’ve fucked him? Hey, it’s the last night of my life. It’s the last chance I’ll have to get laid. And it’s the last chance I’ll have to do anyone a real favor. And I’d have gotten a few beers out of it. I think Vic would’ve appreciated the gesture. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t? With the way I fuck, it wouldn’t be much of a favor. I was never the greatest fuck, and I’m a little out of practice. I’d hate to disappoint him. Oh, well. If he’s been making thirty bucks a day for the last couple of days, he won’t have any trouble finding some girl to do him. A bottle of beer and a decent meal – that’ll make him a pretty good catch. I hate to sound so cold about it, but for us, sex is just a commodity. It’s something to trade. It’s something you can use. That’s how it works out here. It’s not romantic, but it works.

Vic was right about the weather. It’s getting cold tonight. Damn, it was pretty warm just a couple of nights ago. Winter really is coming early this year. I was hoping it would be warm and clear on my last night on earth, but it looks like I won’t get my wish. So what else is new? God, please don’t let it rain. I hate rain. I hate being soaked. I don’t want to die in the rain. That may seem ridiculous to you, but it’s a big deal to me. Hey, I’m crazy, remember? You don’t really expect me to make any sense, do you? If I were a sensible person, I wouldn’t be living out here. The whole point of this was for me to finally take control of my fucked up life. That was supposed to include having control over my death. Well, I guess I can’t expect to control the weather. That’s up to God. All I can do is ask him to hold off on the rain until I’m finished. Of course, there’s always the chance that I’ll end up someplace that’ll have me wishing for rain and a cool night for all eternity. Yeah, it might be pretty damn hot where I’m going. I don’t like thinking about that, but it’s a definite possibility. I wish I knew for sure. I know there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m pretty sure my fate in the next world is already set. I wish I knew which way. Oh, what the hell? In the words of Caesar, Alea Iacta Est. That’s Latin for “The die is cast.” So it is. All that’s left to do is to cross the Rubicon. Or the River Styx. I’ll finally learn the truth about what’s waiting for us on the other side. I just hope I don’t end up regretting it, if you know what I mean. One way or another, I’ll find out in a few hours.

Wait! What the…? Did you see it? Shit! There it is again! I thought I saw someone back there! Vic? No, it wasn’t Vic. He went the other way. Christ! I am seriously fucking cracking up! Now I know I’m hallucinating! How’s that? Because I’m pretty sure whoever I thought I saw had a weird head. It was too long. Like freakishly long. I could swear I saw it! No way, Miranda. You’re fucking imagining shit again. Believe me, there are some seriously weird-looking motherfuckers out here, but they don’t have fucking heads like eggplants. That’s what it looked like, at least. A fucking ghost with an eggplant head. How’s that for being psychotic? Even my delusions are completely fucked. Damn! Goddamned paranoia; that’s what it is. See what happens to you when you live on the street at night? You can’t even trust your own eyes. You can’t trust your brain, you can’t trust your eyes, and you can’t trust the people. It’s a hell of a way to live. I guess that’s why I don’t consider it living.

Well, what’s next? I’ve got a lot to do and not a whole lot of time left to do it. Maybe I should eat something while the stores are still open? I know I said I already ate my last meal, but that was the day before yesterday. I think I’m starting to get hungry, but I can’t tell. I can’t tell if it’s hunger or if the stress is just tying my stomach in knots. Stress will do that to you, you know. When I was on the street, there were times when I was so stressed out that I wouldn’t eat for days. Well, actually I couldn’t eat for days. I couldn’t keep anything down and the thought of eating anything just made me feel even sicker. I’ve never been a big eater, but it really sucks when you can’t eat anything because your own body won’t let you. And I don’t like puking! Since I’ve been here, I’ve done enough puking for a hundred lifetimes. I fucking hate it! Anyway, I’ve got three bucks left. That’s enough to get something. Not much, but something. I could get a bag of chips or maybe a candy bar. Jesus, there’s a hell of a last meal! Here lies Miranda: her last meal on earth was a fucking chocolate bar. Hey, who am I kidding? There were times out here when I would’ve killed for even that much.

I didn’t talk about food, did I? I guess I should tell you about that, since it’s probably not what you think. In fact, most people would be surprised by it. So what do the denizens of skid row eat? That’s a good question. You probably think we all have to scavenge for scraps; eat out of garbage cans and shit like that. We do that when we have to, but there’s a lot more to food out here than most people think. Oh, we’ve all gone hungry more times than we care to remember, but the truth is there’s stuff to eat out here if you know where to find it, and a lot of it is free. That’s right: free food. During the day, they give it away at the shelters and at the missions. Think of it as feeding time at the zoo. That’s what we like to call it. They call it feeding the masses. Jesus was really big on that, so the missions are, too. Modern-day loaves and fishes. You don’t even have to have a cot in there to get a meal. You just get in line with everyone else. It’s always a long fucking line so you’d better get there early. And they’re not Jesus, so they do run out. The different places try to stagger the times they feed you so that if one of them runs out before you get any, you can go to one of the others. The idea is that eventually, you’ll get a meal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. You want to know what’s fucking crazy? Some people make the rounds and hit them all damn near every fucking day! Can you believe it? You can be homeless and destitute and still eat like a fucking pig. If you ever wondered how someone could live on the street and still be fat, well, there’s your answer. There are more than a few fat motherfuckers walking around out here at night. Shit, Charlie’s one of them! He usually has someone get him his food because he hates walking very far on his bad leg. The food from the shelters isn’t great, but given the alternative, it isn’t bad. And it’s free, so you’re in no position to complain.

The alternative – when you’re broke – is to eat out of garbage cans. Yes, we actually do that. Not everything you see on TV is bullshit. We do eat out of garbage cans. It may sound disgusting, but out here, you do what you have to. You have to eat. Sometimes you can’t get to the missions in time. Like I said, the lines are long and they do run out of food. Sometimes you can’t go near the missions or the shelters. Maybe you’ve got a warrant. The cops make the rounds during feeding times every day, and I’ve seen them snatch lots of people out of line and hook them up. Maybe someone out here is looking to slit your fucking throat. That’s where they’ll look for you, and there’s no safety in numbers out here. They’ll kill you right there in line. Maybe you pissed off the staff and they won’t let you into the missions or the shelters anymore. That happens a lot. Maybe you’re too sick to make it there, or you got your ass kicked so bad that you can’t even crawl. I know what that’s like. Whatever it is, you can’t go to the regular places. So your only choice is to eat something from the garbage. Food is food, and dignity is a luxury none of us can afford – especially if you’re hungry. Hunger really gnaws at you. I know. I’ve eaten out of more garbage cans than I care to remember. For me, it’s usually a side-effect of living at night. You see, the missions give away food during the day. If you live at night, they’re not an option. If you live at night, you can actually starve out here. But you have to eat, so you suck it up and do what you have to. At night, you can find leftovers in the garbage cans behind the restaurants past Meridian. Some of them actually have a line of people standing out in the alley waiting for them to toss their leftovers. That way, you get the food before it ever goes into the trash. Unfortunately, most restaurants don’t like having a line of homeless people standing out behind the place, especially at night. They have enough problems without having a health inspector shut them down because a bunch of crackheads are taking a shit by the back door while they wait for a chance to go rooting through the garbage for their dinner. The Chinese restaurants are the best because they stay open the latest, so their leftovers are the freshest. Sometimes they’re still hot. Out here, we don’t worry about trivial shit like whether or not there’s any MSG in it. Most of the time, we don’t even care what it tastes like. We’re hungry. It’s food. It’s something to eat. Something to keep you alive. We can’t go to the missions, so who cares if it’s fucking garbage? Who cares if it’s food someone else wouldn’t eat? Out here, it isn’t a matter of choice. Sometimes it’s a matter of life or death. You do what you have to in order to survive.

Now, if you do care what it tastes like, well, then your only option is to buy something you like. This, of course, requires money. Not surprisingly, most of us don’t have much. A lot of us don’t have any. But if you’ve got money, there are plenty of places to get something to eat. There’s a 7-11 not too far from here and it’s open twenty-four/seven. So are the gas stations. There are two gas stations right on the edge of our sector. If you look clean and you’re polite, they’ll even let you use their bathroom sometimes. That’s probably more important to a woman than a man. Men can piss anywhere. I may be crazy, but I still like to use a real bathroom whenever I can. Anyway, the gas stations have a little snack area where they sell the most God-awful junk food. I’m surprised they can legally call it food. But hey, food is food, remember? Who cares if it’s not nutritious? It’s not like I’m counting calories or something. I don’t give a shit if it’s fucking cardboard. When you’re hungry, you just want something that’ll satisfy your hunger. A bag of chips will do that just fine. And you don’t have to cook a bag of chips. You just have to tear open the bag. And take it from me, sometimes that’s a hell of a lot more difficult than it sounds. Maybe it’s something about this place at night, but I’ve seen people have a total fucking meltdown because they couldn’t open a bag of chips. I’m not kidding. I actually saw a guy take out a gun and shoot a bag of chips because he couldn’t tear it open no matter how hard he tried. People out here have a low tolerance for frustration.

If there’s a drawback to the gas stations, it’s that you can’t always go inside and pick out what you want. That’s because they won’t open the door after eleven o’clock. Can you blame them? I mean, would you let someone like me into your store in the middle of the night? I didn’t think so. That’s a problem if you want something to eat. You see, some of the better stuff they sell has to be cooked – you know, burgers and shit. You can’t eat it when it’s frozen. But the oven is inside the place and if they won’t let you in, then you can’t use it. They’re not going to cook it for you. So much for hot food. Oh, well. At least the coffee’s hot. The other thing is that once they lock the doors, you have to buy something that fits in the sliding drawer because that’s the only way you’re going to get it. Fortunately, most of the things they sell do. You tell the guy in the booth what you want and he goes and gets it for you. Then you slide the money in and he slides the food out. I like to think that it’s just like a vending machine, only with people. Oh, another thing is that the shit from the gas stations is fucking overpriced. Since selling junk food isn’t their main business, they charge more for it. It’s not a lot, but when you don’t have much money to begin with, it makes a big difference. And don’t bother asking them if you can go ten cents light on something. Christ, the way they react; you’d think you just asked them to donate a fucking kidney!

If you have to have cooked food in the middle of the night out here, there are always the roach coaches. The lunch trucks. I think roach coach is a more appropriate term. Actually, I think it’s pretty insulting to cockroaches. Take it from me: if you want to eat their food, don’t ever look inside one and see how it’s made. Not ever! You’ll be one sorry motherfucker if you do. I’ve seen shit in roach coaches that was worse than anything I’ve seen crawling underneath a dumpster. Every time I buy a sandwich off one, I check it for bugs and rat shit. I wish I could say I never found any. Roach coaches are sort of a fixture out here at night. There’s always a roach coach open for business because the truck drivers and the cops who work graveyard provide enough business for them to stay open all night. You can usually find them right next to where they sell dope. By dope, I mean heroin. That’s important. You don’t see them much at the spots where they sell crack because there’s no money to be made there. Crackheads don’t eat for days, but junkies do. So do the dealers. Of course, a lot of times junkies can’t keep anything down, but that’s another story. And not surprisingly, sometimes the guy in the fucking roach coach is dealing dope, too. That makes things a lot easier for us junkies. You know, one stop shopping: a sandwich and a side order of smack. It’s a hell of a diet, but it works.

There’s something else. Something really nasty. Something evil. About food, I mean. It’s something I have a hard time talking about, so bear with me, OK? You see, sometimes you’re just out of options. Sometimes you can’t get anything from the missions and it’s a holiday weekend and the restaurants are closed so there’s no garbage, and you don’t have any money to buy anything. Then you’re really fucked. You have to eat, but there’s nothing to eat. When that happens, the only thing left to do is to steal it from someone else. I don’t mean steal it from a store. I mean steal it from a person. Someone out here. Someone who’s just as down and out as you are. You have to steal someone else’s food. You can’t imagine what that’s like. It’s an evil thing to do. Pure evil. I speak from experience. I’ve done a lot of horrible things in my life, but that’s got to be one of the worst. Sometimes I think I’m sure to go to hell if for no other reason than that. I’ve stolen all kinds of shit since I’ve been out here, but none of that ever bothered me. Well, not much, anyway. I could always rationalize it, or else I was so fucking pissed off at the time that I just didn’t give a shit. But I could never do that when it came to stealing someone’s food. It always made me feel like the lowest piece of shit on earth. Whenever I did it, I told myself it was because I was hungry and maybe I was sick and either way, I needed to survive. But I knew damned well that the person whose food I was stealing was hungry and sick and needed to survive, too. So what happened to them when I stole their food? They went hungry. Maybe they wound up going hungry for a long time. If they were sick and needed that food to get well, then maybe they died. That’s not an exaggeration. That happens out here. I could never get past that. I mean, what if that was the case? What if they needed it that much? I probably could’ve done without it. Maybe they couldn’t? It’s a miserable fucking thing, being hungry. But it wasn’t like my life depended on it. As hungry as I was, I wasn’t on the verge of starvation. I was hungry and I wanted something to eat and stealing it from someone else was a lot easier and safer than stealing it from a store. I did what was best for me. Look out for number one. That’s the basic rule of survival on the street. It’s not a crime to be selfish when you live like this, right? Yeah, sure. Too bad I know better. Stealing a hungry guy’s food is beyond fucking selfish. It’s evil; plain and simple. It’s evil and it’s cruel and it’s sinful and there’s no fucking excuse for it in the world and I did it anyway. More than once. Is it any wonder I can’t even stand to look at myself anymore? I told you about how I’ve broken a lot of mirrors out here. There you go.

You want to know one of the worst things about it? I can’t lose myself. Oh, I can lose myself in this fucked-up place, but it’s not the same. I can’t lose myself. I can’t get away from myself. Remember what I said about the old me torturing the present me? I hate myself so much and I hate what I’ve become and I hate the fucking things I’ve done, but it’s still me. It won’t let me go. You see, a lot of people out here become these horrible things and it’s like there’s this stranger living inside them. They don’t recognize themselves. They’re like sleepwalkers. I call them that sometimes. They become something else and it takes over and everything they used to be disappears. They get to blame that thing that takes over for all of the fucking evil they do. It’s like they get a free pass or something. But not me. I became this thing, but it’s still me. Every bit of it. I look in the mirror and I can’t believe what I’ve become, but even if I don’t recognize my face, I know it’s me. I know myself too well. I can’t say that someone’s taken over my body and I don’t know her. I do know her. She’s me. She’s always been me. I can’t get away from her. I can’t get away from Miranda. Whatever she does, whatever she becomes, it doesn’t matter because it’s always still me. It’s always my fault. No one stole my life. No one stepped inside me and did these God awful things. I did them. Evil didn’t turn me into someone else. I turned evil. I did it to myself and no matter how bad it gets, I don’t get to blame it on anyone else. I don’t get the luxury of knowing that the real Miranda is somewhere else; maybe some other dimension or something. I don’t get to believe that somehow she’s safe and whole and untouched by all of the things that I’ve done. She’s not. She’s right here. She’s always right here. I’d give anything to get away from her sometimes, but I can’t. I’d give anything to be able to blame it all on demonic possession or some alter-ego or something, but I can’t. I’m not possessed. No self-respecting demon would touch me with a fucking stick. And I don’t have an alter-ego that takes over my brain whenever she wants. It’s all on me. I’ve got no one to blame but myself. I’ve been tried by a jury of one and found guilty on all counts. There’s no greater guilt in the world. There’s no way I can explain to you what it feels like. I pray to God you never have a fucking clue what it’s like. I pray to God you never know how anyone can hate herself so much and deserve every fucking bit of it. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, motherfucker. The church sure got that one right. So that’s pretty much why I hate myself so much. I know exactly what I am and what I’ve done and what I’m capable of doing, and I can’t lay one fucking bit of it on anyone else. It’s just me. It’s always been me. I’m the evil fucking bitch who stole some hungry guy’s food and maybe it killed him. And then I did it to somebody else. And then I did it again. So I deserve every fucking bit of it. Forever.

One of the saddest things I’ve learned from being out here is that it’s the people who have the most to lose who always seem to lose the most. That’s kind of profound, isn’t it? I really should write that on a wall somewhere. Yeah, right. One more line in the great skid row epitaph that nobody will ever read. Besides, I’m not good enough to rate a spot on the Prophet’s Wall. Well, at least it serves as proof that we actually understand this fucking place. But that doesn’t change the fucked up fact of it all. It really is true. You want proof? Take a look at these people out here. Take a look at the homeless. The junkies. The losers. The psychos. The first thing that hits you is that on the whole, they’re all pretty young. Most of them are my age. A lot of them are younger. Old-timers like Charlie are the exception. A lot of us haven’t even had a chance to really live yet, and our lives are already over. They were over before they even got started. Try to imagine what it’s like to crash and burn forever before you’re even forty. How can you even call that a life? Think of all the things we’ll miss. We’ll never have a family or a real home or a career or anything. We’ll never find our callings, or even whether we have a calling. We’ll never find love. We’ll never see a single dream come true. We’ll never know all of the amazing things in life that you’re supposed to discover when you’re young. We’ll never get hurt and lean on a friend for support and come back from it stronger and wiser. We’ll never accomplish a fucking thing except failure. We’ll never make a damned bit of difference in the world. Christ, we’ll never even get a decent night’s sleep! No, the only thing we’ll ever know about is hell. Think about that for a minute: no one’s supposed to know about hell until they die after a long, wasted, evil life. And yet here we are; some of us still young enough to get carded at a bar and we’ve already lost the whole rest of our lives. And what did we get instead? We got hell. Abandon all hope, motherfucker. It’s just not fair.

That’s one of the reasons why guys like Charlie amaze me. How do they do it? How the fuck do they come to terms with this shit? How do they do it day after day, night after night, year after year? You see these old timers out here and most of the time they’ve got a fucking smile on their face, and it’s not because they’re drunk or high. How is that possible? How are they able to look around at all of this bullshit and say it’s not so bad? How do they keep on believing that the glass is half-full? It’s like they’ve got this invisible shield that won’t let this shithole get into them deep enough to take them down. How? Fucking Charlie’s been on the street longer than I’ve been alive! How the fuck does he do it? How does he stand it? How was he able to come to terms with all of this shit and just accept it and get on with his fucking life in hell? I’ve seen Charlie drunk, stoned, sick as a dog, mad as hell, and happy as a pig in shit. But I’ve never once seen him miserable. I’ve never seen him crushed or broken or so sad he just wanted to cry his eyes out. I’ve never once heard him talk about ending it. Not once! This place never got to him the way it got to me. He beat this place. He made living on the streets his own. He mastered it. How? How did he do it? I’ve asked him a million times and even he can’t explain it. Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I be like him? Why can’t I just accept my fucking lot in life and stay out here with the rest of the fucking rejects until I die of pneumonia or OD or get hit by a bus or something? Why can’t I be hard and mean and not feel a fucking thing like everyone else out here? Why do I still feel things? Why can’t I just let go of the old me and everything that happened before this? Why does everything always hurt so much? I guess it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it does, and I’m stuck with it, and that’s that. It’s the hand that I drew in life. And like Charlie always says: if you don’t have the cards, then all you can do is fold. So I’m folding. Permanently. Forever. Finally.

Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to go off on a fucking tear. I shouldn’t have dumped that on you. That’s just me feeling sorry for myself again. I’m ashamed to say, I do that a lot. I hate it when I do. It’s a sign of weakness. It just makes me hate myself even more. God, I hate being weak. I hate the way I let this place grind me down. I should’ve been tougher. I should’ve been stronger. I should’ve been able to beat this place the way Charlie beat it. God knows he taught me enough that I should be able to do it. He taught me to know this place and everything in it like the back of my hand. But he couldn’t make me strong enough. I failed him on that. I let him down, just like I let everyone down. All of that time and effort wasted on a piece of shit like me. God, why did he even bother? Couldn’t he find someone who would make good use of it? I’ll never understand why he thought I was worth it. I sure as hell didn’t give him any reason to think that. And now I’m going to kill myself and I won’t even have the chance to say goodbye. I won’t have the chance to explain it to him, save for a stupid fucking letter. If anyone could understand this, it’s Charlie. But now he won’t get the chance because I spent the last few days cooped up in my soon-to-be ex-room, feeling sorry for myself. All he’ll get is a cheesy fucking letter. Can you believe it? My last great failure in a lifetime of complete failure is going to be to fuck over the only friend I’ve got left in the world. The best friend I’ve ever had. Now there’s an epitaph for you. I swear, no one deserves to be in this shithole more than me. If there’s any justice in the universe, I should be stuck here for fucking eternity.

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