Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Thirty-Three

Well, that was pretty fucked up, wasn’t it? Hey, welcome to my mind. That’s how it works. I always default to the worst-case scenario in excruciating detail. I can turn you most basic bad news into Dante’s Inferno in a heartbeat. I do it constantly. And I apologize for that. I had no right to dump that evil shit on you. I didn’t mean to. As you may have noticed, I tend to get really worked up about certain kinds of shit. Mental illness pretty much tops my list. But that’s to be expected. Believe me, it’s not easy living with this shit. Mental illness, I mean. Sometimes I think the worst part of it is that most people don’t think I’m mentally ill. Oh, I get that shit a lot. I’ve been hearing it since I was at least thirteen. Depression? Oh, that’s not mental illness. That’s just the blues, honey. Everybody gets them sometimes. Why, when my team didn’t win the Super Bowl, I could barely get out of bed for a week! But I got over it. Why don’t you? Snap out of it, dear! Pick yourself up by your own bootstraps! Turn that frown upside down! Today is the first day of the rest of your life! Seize the day! Get high on life! Oh, just cheer up, you stupid fucking asshole bitch! Yeah, I’ve heard them all, at least ten million times. And my response is always the same: uh, excuse me? Do you think it’s that easy? Do you honestly think I like being like this? I’m not talking about a case of the blues, you idiot. I’m talking about a devastating condition that you can’t control and that sucks the fucking life right out of you. You can’t think straight, you’re overwhelmed by feelings of misery and worthlessness, you have periods where you lose touch with fucking reality, and eventually it begins to take a toll on you physically. It makes you physically ill. Getting out of bed takes the fucking strength of Hercules, and you ain’t Hercules. The more pressure you’re under; the worse you get. You start losing your grip on reality. Your mind starts racing in a thousand different directions at once and you can’t stop it. You know what’s happening, but you can’t stop it. Pretty soon, you can’t differentiate between what’s real and what’s going on inside of your head. And God only knows where you might end up when that happens. You try to tell people about it, but nobody listens. It just goes in one ear and out the other. They usually respond with something like, “Well, you need to get out more. You can’t dwell on it, dear. You just need to find something that interests you. You’ve just got to put it behind you and get on with living.” Yeah, right! That’s their fucking advice? I’m losing my fucking mind, and they think I just need a hobby and that will fix everything? Oh, yeah! That’ll do it! Gee, why didn’t I think of that? Jesus fucking Christ! And they call me crazy? I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, people. I mean, think about it: I’m really interested in getting rid of this fucking TRD! But somehow, that doesn’t seem to help. So do you have any other brilliant ideas? Yeah, that’s when they start in with the fucking pills. Why, there’s Prozac, dear! What’s your problem? Go to the doctor and get yourself a bottle of pills! Problem solved! Uh-huh! Guess again, Pollyanna! They don’t call it Treatment-Resistant Depression for nothing! I know the drugs work for a lot of people and I envy the living shit out of each and every one of them, but when you get nailed with TRD, you could take every fucking pill in the drugstore and it wouldn’t do you a damned bit of good. I know. I tried. So what comes next? Oh, God Almighty! That’s usually when they shift over to the mystery miracle cures they read about in some magazine or saw on a TV show. Holy fucking shit! Are they for real? And it wasn’t just me, either! People used to drive my mom crazy with their asshole suggestions that they saw on a talk show or heard from a friend of a friend or read on the fucking internet. “Oh, this will fix Miranda right up! It’s the latest thing!” You know, I think that was the closest my mom ever came to really understanding what I was going through. And for every one she had to listen to, I had to listen to fifty of them! Oh, I got plenty of advice to try some homeopathic ancient Indian umpty-bumpty what-the-fuck root boiled into a tea and shoved up my ass by the light of the full moon! Yeah, that’ll clear it right up! God, I just wanted to scream! I wanted to go up onto the roof of the tallest fucking building on earth and just scream and scream until my goddamned head exploded! I never made it to the tallest building on earth, but I’ve tried doing it on a few rooftops around here. A couple of times, the cops actually thought I was a jumper. They even brought the fire engines once. It was that eight-story one on the west side of Meridian. I mean, what were they going to do? Stretch out a net to catch me? That one bought me one of those seventy-two hour holds I told you about. Anyway, I guess they’ll find my body in the morning and say “See? I told you the bitch was a jumper!” Hey, better late than never.

Oh, and then there are the books! That’s right! The goddamned, motherfucking self-help books! God, how I fucking hate them! Those motherfucking books! Have you ever seen them? How could you not? Jesus Christ! They’re fucking everywhere! There’s a whole shitload of books on how to deal with your mental illness. I’m talking whole fucking libraries full of them! Depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, multiple personalities, bi-polar, paranoid delusions, obsessive/compulsive, you name it; they’ve got a book for it. Thousands of books. They’ve all got stupid fucking titles like “Sixty Days to Sanity” or “How to Make Friends with Your Depression.” They’re supposed to teach you how to overcome your mental illness, or at least live with it so that it doesn’t fuck you up anymore. A lot of them are written by shrinks. That figures. What was that old saying? “Those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach.” Or in this case, they write stupid fucking books. Give me a break! If they can’t cure you with drugs and sessions at a couple of hundred dollars an hour, then what the hell good is the fucking book going to do for you? And if that isn’t bad enough, some of them are actually written by people who claim to suffer from mental illness! Can you believe it? Talk about the fucking blind leading the blind! I mean, would you take advice from someone who freely admits that they’re fucking crazy? Someone must, because there’s a shitload of those books out there, too! It’s unbelievable! There are whole sections in bookstores dedicated to books about being crazy. It’s like a fucking shrine containing the sacred texts of the ascended lunatics or something. I halfway expect to find a bunch of psychos kneeling in the aisles and praying to the books. Christ, they probably think that if they just touch the shelves and believe, they’ll be cured. What do they think it is? The fucking Fountain of Lourdes? They usually call it the psychology and self-help section. Sometimes it’s called the psychology and self-improvement section. Buy a book and improve yourself. Oh, sure! Are you clinically depressed? Hearing voices? Split personality? Suicidal? Got the gun in your mouth and your thumb on the trigger? No problem! Buy a book! Yeah, that’ll fix it! Gee, I feel better already! Fucking assholes!

It’s so frustrating because there’s just no way to make you truly understand what I have to live with unless you’ve dealt with it yourself. Even knowing someone who’s got TRD isn’t enough. Sometimes that’s even worse, because you usually end up getting fed up with that person. Eventually, you just can’t take their bullshit anymore. The frustration. The failures. The stupid decisions. The insane behavior. The inability to just get the fuck over it. Believe me, I know. I know better than anyone. By the time I left home, I’d put my whole family through the fucking wringer at least a million times. For years, my mom and dad would tell me how they understood it wasn’t my fault and they loved me no matter what, but after a while, it just wore them down. They started getting angry with me. You know, sort of like, “God! When is Miranda going to grow out of this?” For a while, my brothers actually stopped talking to me. I’d walk into a room and they’d leave. That went on for a couple of weeks. I don’t blame them now, but at the time, I did. I thought they were all out to get me. I was in really bad shape at the time, and I thought they were turning their backs on me when I needed them most. That’s what happens when your brain doesn’t process information properly. You miss things, and the things you don’t miss get all scrambled and you draw the wrong conclusions. I really fucked things up between us at the end. The end. That’s what it was: it was the end of life as I knew it. That was right before I ended up on the street. Oh, God! I was a fucking mess! I was going through these horrendous ups and downs – mostly downs – and I was just fucking losing it! I was barely hanging onto reality. I didn’t know where I was from day to day anymore. Looking back, I was definitely borderline delusional. And I was acting like a total asshole. I’d gotten myself fired from a couple of jobs. I was heavily into self-medication, though I hadn’t discovered the wonderful world of heroin yet. I was dropping a lot of Vicodin back then. One night, I washed down a bunch of pills with a few glasses of bourbon and wrecked my car. I don’t remember much about the crash. I don’t even know how I got home. No one got hurt, but when I called my parents the next day and told them what had happened, they just fucking lost it. It wasn’t the first time I’d been driving drunk or stoned, and they knew it. God, they let me have it with both barrels! And being the fucked-up bitch that I was at the time, I thought they were totally out of line. I mean, I was a grown woman. I wasn’t even living with them anymore. Where did they get off laying into me over this shit? Fucking stupid! I can’t believe how fucking stupid I was! I got all pissed off at them. I just motherfucked the shit out of them and slammed the phone down. God almighty! What was I thinking? I had no idea how much I’d come to regret doing that.

I think the turning point came about three weeks later. Well, maybe it wasn’t the turning point, but it was a disaster of the first order. Like I said, I was in bad shape. I’d hit my lowest point ever. My bills were piling up, I was out of work and about to run out of unemployment, and I was beginning to realize that I might end up on the street. I was under so much stress; it felt like I had ants crawling all over me. I was actually shaking constantly, like I was freezing. You could see it by just looking at me. I was shaking so much, I was even dropping things. I had to drink out of cans with a straw because I couldn’t hold a glass. If I dropped the can, it wouldn’t break. I was hallucinating. I was starting to see shit that wasn’t there. I had Day/Night Reversal really bad. I hardly ever went out in the daylight back then. I’d sleep from five in the morning until about six at night. And when I couldn’t take the stress anymore, I stayed in bed for nearly a week. I only got up to go to the bathroom. That just made things worse. Whenever I force myself to sleep, I end up having terrible nightmares that stay with me for a long time. Trust me, you don’t want to do that when you’re becoming fucking delusional. So one day, a friend of mine got worried when I didn’t answer the phone or come to the door. With all of the pills I was popping back then, she probably though I’d OD’d. No such luck. Anyway, she called my mom. My mom and dad came over to my apartment and let themselves in. I’d given them the key when I moved in; you know, just in case. At first, they were pretty shocked at how I horrible looked. Like I said, I was a fucking mess. I think they realized that I was in big trouble. Worse than usual. I think maybe they realized that this was different. This was worse than anything they’d seen out of me before. But pretty soon, I got all defensive and nasty and I went off on them. I just fucked everything up. They wanted to put me in a hospital and I wanted them to leave me the fuck alone. What could’ve been the moment where I went home and had a shot at turning my life around turned into a major fucking blowout. Before any of us knew it, we were screaming at each other. My dad was furious. He really laid into me: “We can’t do this anymore! When are you going to stop this, Miranda? When are you going to grow up? You’re going to have to beat this thing! There’s nothing anyone can do for you! You’re just going to have to get a handle on it! We can’t do it for you! You can’t keep living like this! It’s time to take some responsibility for your life! No more excuses! If you can’t take care of yourself, then you belong in a hospital!” God, I wanted to fucking throttle him! Didn’t he know how many times I’d heard that shit? Didn’t he think I wanted to do those things? Didn’t he think I wanted to get a handle on it? Did he think I liked being this way? Didn’t he understand that I couldn’t do a goddamned thing about it? Didn’t it occur to him that if a dozen shrinks and all of their fucking pills and hospitals couldn’t do me any good, then what the fuck could I possibly do about it myself? And now they wanted to lock me up again? Fuck that shit! And while we’re at it, fuck you, dad!

Yeah, that was me, all right! It was all about me. Me, me, me! I didn’t stop for one second to think that maybe I’d put my family through hell for over a decade and they were crushed because their only daughter was a fucking basket case and there was nothing they could do about it. Looking back, I know they couldn’t have loved me any more than they did, and I just didn’t get it. Just like they didn’t get what I was going through, I didn’t get what they were going through. Even worse, I didn’t care. All I cared about was myself. And now that I know a lot more than I did then, I know it wasn’t their fault. They just reached the end of their rope. It was inevitable. Everyone has a limit. This far and no farther. How can I fault them for that? How can I say they should’ve been more patient or more understanding? How can I say they should’ve hung in there? Christ! I’m about to kill myself because I’ve reached the end of my rope. How can I do that and not afford my parents the same consideration? We’re all human. Well, maybe with a few exceptions roaming around here at night, but my parents were human and human beings have their limits. I pushed them past theirs. I pushed them past their breaking point. I didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t matter in the end. If I’ve learned anything out here, it’s that intentions don’t count. Good, bad or indifferent; your motivations don’t matter. It’s the result that matters. Maybe you didn’t mean to stick a knife in that guy, but you did, and now he’s dead. Intent doesn’t matter. Intent didn’t kill him. You did. Deal with it.

The very last time I saw my parents was in the parking lot of my apartment building. It was two days after our big blowout. They brought me a few things from home. They were hoping it would cheer me up. I think they wanted to smooth over the last meeting we’d had. No such luck. Between watching my life fall apart and impending poverty and all of the goddamned Vicodin I was popping, I was pretty fucked up. I definitely wasn’t what you’d call reasonable. We ended up having another fight, and this time I actually chased them out of my apartment. I followed them into the parking lot and kept screaming at them. You should’ve seen the look on my mom’s face. I’ve never seen her look like that before. It was like she didn’t recognize me. She didn’t know who I was anymore. Her daughter was gone and this fucking lunatic had taken her place. The look on her face just said, “Enough!” That was it. She was through with me. They both were. They just couldn’t do it anymore. The only people in the world who really loved me and could’ve saved me if I had just let them, and I told them to fuck off and leave me the hell alone. So they did. I was still shouting when they drove away. I wanted them to leave me the fuck alone, and that’s exactly what they did. Be careful what you wish for, Miranda. And when it all finally came crashing down, there was no way I could’ve gone to them for help. At least, I didn’t think I could. I’d burned that bridge right down to the fucking ground. So when I wound up on the street, my pride and my fear and my fucked-up little brain all convinced me that I couldn’t reach out to them for help. I really believed that if I’d called them and said I was living on the street, they would’ve had told me, “Serves you right and you’re on your own and fuck you, Miranda!” And by the time I realized that they’d never do that in a million years, way too much shit had happened for me to ask them for help. I’d rather die than face them after all of the things I’ve done. And all of the things that have been done to me. Yeah, let’s not forget those, shall we? I couldn’t live with the thought of them knowing that shit. So I really fucked things up good. Crazy, stupid and selfish: it’s a hell of a combination. Talk about shooting yourself in the fucking foot! I shot myself in the foot, the gut, and the head all at once. But somehow, I didn’t die. Serves me fucking right, too.

I sometimes wonder about the last time I saw my mom and dad. I mean, did they know that this was it? Did they know they’d never see me again? No, I can’t believe that. If they even suspected that for a second, they’d have taken me home with them even if they had to tie me up and throw me in the trunk of their car. They’d have called my brothers to help them do it, and they’d have done it. There’s no way they would ever have let this happen to me. But I was too dumb to see that. I certainly thought that it was the end. I was actually relieved. Can you believe it? I thought they were gone for good and at the time I thought hey, good riddance! Yeah, that was me. Little Miss know-it-all. I was a fucking idiot then, and I’m still a fucking idiot. I just see things a bit more clearly now. But God, how could I have done that to them? How could I have left them with that as their last image of their only daughter? It’s shit like that that makes me want to throw myself in front of a speeding truck. I hate hurting people. I hate doing it even when they deserve it. What I did to T.C. is proof of that. Mom and dad damned sure didn’t deserve it. I should burn in fucking hell for what I did to them. It’s true. Anyone who did what I did should burn for all eternity. The problem is, I’m afraid that in a couple of hours I’m going to do just that. Oh, I deserve it all right. But that doesn’t mean I want it to happen. There’s a big difference between accepting responsibility for something and enduring the punishment for it. This place taught me all about damnation. I sure as hell don’t want it to be eternal.

Anyway, I was out on the street eleven days later. I don’t know why I remember it was eleven days. I just do. Maybe there’s some significance to it? If there is, it completely fucking escapes me. God, you should’ve seen me! What a stupid fucking bitch I was! I gave new meaning to the term “Fish out of water.” You know where it all began for me? Go west down this street for about…oh, maybe a mile or so. Maybe a little less. Turn right, and go down a few blocks and you’ll see a little indoor shopping plaza between the office buildings. It’s really beautiful. Great stores, too. If you’ve got the money to shop there, I highly recommend it. It’s quite a place. It’s also where the bus let me off. The ride there was at least eighteen hours. Actually, I don’t know how long it was. I think I fell asleep for some of it. I’m not sure. I picked this city because it was reasonably warm and it was as far away as I could afford. I was so embarrassed, I didn’t want to run into anybody I knew. I didn’t want anybody to come looking for me, either. I figured distance was the best way to ensure that. I figured there was no way in hell I’d run into anyone I ever knew, this far away from home. At least I was right about that. I remember I got off at the last stop before they reached the bus station. I hated the bus station where I got on, so I didn’t want to see another one. I guess I was right, huh? I mean, I’ve had pretty bad luck at that bus station in this place over the years. Anyway, it was just after sundown. I was scared shitless. I picked that plaza because I saw it through the window and thought it looked nice and safe and kind of like someplace I wouldn’t mind living. How’s that for being completely fucking ignorant? Yeah, I was ignorant, all right. I was one stupid fucking bitch! I hung out there for three days. I actually tried to blend in with everybody. You know, like I wasn’t really homeless or anything. I was just there killing time, like everyone else. I was window shopping or waiting for somebody to come by and pick me up or something. What a fucking idiot! I’ll bet I didn’t fool anyone. One look at me would’ve told you I didn’t belong there. For one thing, I was terrified. I was shaking and looking over my shoulder most of the time. If I sat down, I looked like I was having a goddamned seizure. You could see the fear in my face. I know, because I saw it, too. I saw it whenever I looked in a window and saw my reflection. I think I was in denial. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I was. I kept telling myself that this wasn’t then end and that somehow, everything would work out and I’d be back to my crappy but familiar life in a few days. I actually believed it for a little while. Well, I believed it for about the first three days. Then I learned the truth.

It wasn’t long before I started to annoy people there. People started complaining that I was hanging around too much. They knew damned well that I was on the street. They started telling me to get my homeless ass the hell out of there. That place was for normal people with lives and homes and futures. I wasn’t a member of that club anymore. I tried to tell myself that I was, but they weren’t buying it. Pretty soon, the security guards were chasing me away. I’d never go far, and it wasn’t long before I attracted the attention of the cops. They didn’t feel a damned bit sorry for me. Back then, I had a lot to learn about the cops out here. As far as they were concerned, I was just another fucking loser on the streets who didn’t belong there. Get along to the missions, baby. That’s where you belong now. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I’d give them some bullshit story about how someone was coming to pick me up any minute now, but they didn’t buy that shit for a second. God, I was worse than pathetic! I was a fucking joke. A very bad fucking joke. They started getting pissed at me because they’d tell me to leave and an hour later, someone would call them back and tell them I was still hanging around. They didn’t like that. Cops really hate it when you lie to them. Then they got mean. Very mean! They were fed up with my ass. They made it crystal clear to me that I wasn’t allowed to stay there anymore. And then they made damned sure that I got the fucking message. Believe me, I got it loud and clear.

I’ll never forget the first time a cop hit me. It was the first time anyone had ever really hit me. I mean, the last fight I’d ever been in was on a playground when I was ten. No one had ever hit me with the intention of really hurting me before, but this cop did. Oh, God! Did he ever! Talk about a motherfucking shock! I was hanging out in front of one of the stores and two cops told me to get lost. I was having a particularly bad day, and instead of giving them my bullshit story, I got all nasty and started motherfucking them. I don’t remember why. Maybe I was having a psychotic episode or something? To this day, I honestly don’t know. All I know was that I got in this cop’s face and told him he had no right to treat me like that and a bunch of other really nasty shit. And before I knew it, he hit me in the stomach with his nightstick – hard! He slammed it straight across my gut like a fucking baseball bat! Talk about pain! It knocked the wind right out of me. Every fucking bit of it. I couldn’t breathe. I literally could not breathe! I had no air in my body, and I couldn’t get any in. I dropped straight to the pavement. God, it hurt! It hurt more than anything I could remember! It was beyond devastating. It felt like he broke me in half. I mean it. Those guys practice with those things so they can do a lot of damage with a single strike, and believe me, this guy knew how to use that thing. God, it hurt so much! I was down on the ground gasping for breath. I tried to inhale, but I couldn’t get any air in. I was terrified. Then I started to panic. I was losing it big time. The cops looked down at me and laughed. The other cop congratulated the one who hit me and then they got in their car and left. Just like that. They just left me there, doubled over on the sidewalk, coughing and crying and trying to breathe. I was so damned scared. I don’t think I’d ever been that scared in my life, except in a nightmare. I thought I might be bleeding internally or something. What if I was? A million horrible thoughts raced through my mind all at once, and that just made it a million times worse. I tried to stand up, but it hurt too much. I wasn’t as tough back then as I am now. I wasn’t used to taking a beating. I could see there were people staring at me, but no one came to help. They just stared at me, and the more I thought about all of these people staring at me, the worse that made it. It was so humiliating. I can’t tell you how humiliating it was. The fucking humiliation hurt almost as much as getting hit. I actually begged them not to stare at me. I’m not sure they could even understand me. It probably sounded like gibberish to them. That just made them stare even more. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t get up and I couldn’t stop crying. I was like a little fucking baby who wanted her mommy. I did want my mommy! I think I even called out for her, but I’m not sure anymore. I don’t think I ever felt so alone and so fucking helpless in my life. I was so…broken. I just wanted to die. I just wanted to die right there.

Up until then, I never realized that there were people in the world who were so much stronger than me. By strong, I mean vicious. Cruel. I didn’t know there were people who could do something like that to someone. I mean, you hear about people like that, but they’re not real to you. And now they were. It was right there, happening to me. It was fucking cruel. He didn’t have to do that. I was no threat to him, but he hit me anyway. It was like, “Welcome to my world, baby!” Whack! It was like my whole fucking reality got turned ass-over-teakettle in a split-second. I thought I was fucked before, but this was a goddamned revelation! Was this what was going to happen to me from now on? I mean, my God, this guy was a cop! He was supposed to protect me, or so I thought. I remember thinking: if this is how the cops are going to treat me, then what will these street people do to me? I didn’t stand a fucking chance in a place with such vicious people in it. You know, it’s one thing to know about cruelty; to know it exists in the world, but it’s another thing to be on the receiving end of it. I just wanted to die. God, how I wanted to die! I was so scared and so humiliated that I would’ve thrown myself in front of a fucking bus if I could’ve got up and walked over to the street. Too bad I couldn’t, huh? I don’t know how long I was down there on the ground. It was a while. And when I finally got up, it was like everything was different. I was different. The Miranda that got up off of the ground wasn’t the same Miranda who went crashing down onto it. If I had any dignity left in me, that fucking cop broke it when he hit me. He broke me. He broke whatever was left of me. After that, I found my way over to skid row. There was no other choice. There was nowhere else for me to go. Lying there on the sidewalk with no one willing to help me made me realize that. Whatever I was before then, I wasn’t that anymore. I was one of them now. One of the homeless. One of the dregs. One of those horrible people I was so afraid of. From now on, I was one of them and this was my world, and this was where I belonged. And I’ve been here ever since.

And I learned. I learned the things you need to learn in order to survive out here. I learned never to carry more than two dollars on you at any time unless you’re going to spend it right away. If you have more, you hide it somewhere. A hole in a wall in an alley, a dry pipe along the side of a building – anywhere but on your person. That’s how you keep it. I learned where to get free food and where to get free clothes and where it was reasonably safe to sleep and where it damned sure wasn’t safe. I learned how to do without all of the things I was used to, and I learned how to improvise. I learned that food was food, whether it came on a plate or out of a trash can. I learned that running water is running water, whether it comes from your kitchen sink or from a tap in an alley. I learned to steal soap and toilet paper from bathrooms and how to wash my face and hair under a spigot. I learned how to take a sponge bath in a stairwell and get dressed again before anyone noticed I was there. I learned how to bandage a wound with duct tape and a napkin. I learned how to sew a tear in my coat with old dental floss. I learned how to lace my shoes with the string from a newspaper bundle when my shoelaces broke. I learned how to beg for spare change, and how to figure out who would give me some just by looking at them. I learned how to steal. I learned how to lie to the doctors at the emergency room and the free clinic so they’d treat me without reporting me to the cops. I learned how to stay warm when it was freezing outside. I learned about the holes I could crawl into just to get in out of the rain. I learned how to live with constant fear. I learned how to take a beating and keep going. I learned how to fight. I learned how to carry a weapon and how to use it. I learned how to bend a steel bar to turn it into a set of brass knuckles. I learned how to pack a foot-long slice of garden hose with sand so it would break a skull or a collarbone with one shot. I got my first knife in a trade for an old belt, and after I learned how to use it, I got a better one. I learned how to hide from the cops. I learned how they work and I learned how to use it against them. I learned how to keep my mouth shut and stay out of other peoples’ fucking business, and I learned never to trust anyone. I learned how to disappear in a crowd. I learned how to move among people without being seen. I learned how to go unnoticed. I learned how to vanish. I learned how to be cold and I learned how to be callous. I learned how to look at someone who’s suffering and miserable and not give a shit. I learned how to be evil. I learned how to live without a shred of self-respect or human fucking dignity. And I learned to forsake the daylight for the darkness. I learned how to live at night.

I learned about dope. I learned that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Your high school drug experiences don’t cut it out here. In high school, dope is a game. Out here, dope is serious business with serious fucking consequences. I learned how to spot a dealer and how to spot a narc. I learned about crack and crystal meth and heroin and a dozen other drugs I’d never heard of before. I learned the difference between Chinese white and Mexican brown. I learned how to cook dope and I learned why you had to cook it. I learned how to scrape the rust off of an old needle and burn it so that you don’t end up with tetanus – if you’re lucky, that is. I learned how to be a junkie and then I became a junkie. And I didn’t care. I was living on the street, wandering through the goddamned night in search of a fix and I didn’t care. I was using old needles in the age of AIDS and I didn’t care. I watched people get sick and I watched people die and I didn’t care. I watched people commit every crime you can think of and a few you can’t and I didn’t care. I watched people get beaten to a bloody pulp and I watched them get killed and I didn’t care. I didn’t fucking care. It never occurred to me to call the cops. The cops were the enemy now. My enemy. They were out to get me. They were out to get me because I was a criminal now. I was a junkie. I was a thief. I was a liar. I was a traitor. I was the lowest of the low. I was as bad as anyone out here and sometimes a hell of a lot worse. And in the end, I learned the truth about myself. I don’t know how long it took or when I first realized it, but it didn’t matter. Eventually, I knew it. This was it. This was my home. The only home I was ever going to know from now on. I wasn’t just here. No, I belonged here. I was a part of it, now. I was one of them. This is what I am, now and forever. And that’s when I suddenly realized that my whole life had been a journey straight to this place. To this life. To the night. I finally understood it. I was supposed to end up here. I was supposed to end up like this. It was inevitable. All of the bad things that had happened to me over the years – depression, psychosis, hopelessness – had been leading me here. My childhood, my earlier life, my middle-class upbringing, my nice, normal family? That was all a giant fucking mistake. I wasn’t one of them. I never was. I was like a fucking changeling or something. I was a mistake. I didn’t belong there. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be here. I was always supposed to be here. This was the end of the line and I finally knew it, and now here I was – homeless, filthy, addicted, suicidal, crazy, damned, and absolutely hopeless. This is your life, Miranda. This is who you are. Welcome. We’ve been expecting you.

Well, that was seriously fucked up, wasn’t it? The story of my fucking life, from bad to worse. Well, more like the story of how I ended up on the fucking street, anyway. Pretty fucking horrible, huh? If it made you puke, I apologize for that. It always makes me want to puke. Then again, that’s what this night was supposed to be about. I was supposed to reflect on the big questions one last time before I cash in. I was supposed to come to terms with what’s happened, or at least try to. Trying hasn’t worked so far. I guess that’s to be expected. So much has happened. I can’t believe how much has happened. It’s like I’ve lived ten lifetimes in the last six and a half years. Maybe I have? Time is a relative thing; at least out here, it is. It’s a constant on paper, but it’s how we perceive time that counts. You learn that out here. A year is a quantity, but this year is a personal experience. It means different things to different people. Since perception is everything out here, and since each person’s perception is different, then that means that no two of us ever live in the same year. Time is as personal as experience. So there’s really never more than one person in your universe out here. Which means that everyone around you is either an illusion, or they’re something besides people. They’re like a million little universes, all of them living alongside yours. Does that sound crazy? Good! It means you’re learning. Hey, everything else about this place is different from the normal world. Why not time? If it means different things to different people, then isn’t it genuinely something different? Something unique? Isn’t the reality of it different? Different perceptions lead to different effects. Effects determine reality. Ergo, reality is subject to perception, which means that reality is an entirely individual thing; incapable of allowing for more than one person at a time. Not bad, huh? And I’m not even stoned! A concussion, maybe; but stone cold sober! Think of it as my contribution to quantum physics. I should carve it into a wall before I go. It might actually be worth something. Maybe I’ll get a theory named after me? That’s assuming I’m right, of course. Maybe I am? I’ll have to remember to take it up with Albert Einstein when I see him in a few hours. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get my name in a book, right next to his? Stranger things have happened.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for answers in books. Not those God-awful self-help books, mind you. I mean real books. Even before Charlie got me reading everything I could get my hands on, I looked for answers in books. I wasn’t getting them anywhere else, and a lot of writers seemed to understand things better than most people. I figured that’s why they wrote them in the first place. They had answers they wanted to share with everyone. Did you ever read anything by Hemmingway? I told you about how I read The Old Man and the Sea to Charlie when he was sick. There was always something about Hemmingway that spoke to me. He was good. He understood things. He had an insight about life like you wouldn’t believe. Sometimes I felt like he must have spent some time out here at night. Some of the things he wrote apply perfectly to life on the street. I remember this one passage from A Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those who will not break, it kills.” Damned right. I can relate to that. This place breaks you. It breaks everyone. But not everybody ends up strong at the broken places. Some do, but I didn’t. You see, the only way to survive what this place does to you is to give in to it. You have to give in to it completely or else it’ll kill you. Maybe all at once; then again, maybe just a piece at a time. That’s what Hemmingway was talking about. And that’s the problem. I never gave in to it a hundred percent. Oh, I got swept up in it. Big time. I told you before: there’s no place more fascinating than fucking skid row at night. It just sucked me in. In some ways, I love it. I love the way I’m such a part of it. But I never gave in to it all the way. I don’t know why. I could never figure it out. For some reason, I just couldn’t do it. Maybe it was my upbringing? That’s possible, right? As far as I’ve fallen, I can’t escape the fact that I’m still my parents’ daughter. Maybe they instilled something that wouldn’t let me surrender to all of this? Something really deep. Maybe it’s the TRD? That’s a definite possibility. TRD makes you live inside your head, and nobody spends more time in her own head than me. So maybe that’s the only place where I can fit in? Maybe I’m such a fucking loser that I can’t even fit in with the biggest losers on the planet? I don’t know. Maybe Hemmingway knew? Unfortunately, he’s not around for me to ask. He killed himself, you know. He put a shotgun in his mouth and blew his fucking head off. So I guess I’ll have something in common with Hemmingway. Too bad it’s not the writing. I never wrote any great books. I never wrote any great anything. I didn’t even write a very good suicide letter.

I miss going to the library with Charlie. I really do. We used to go there a lot. Actually, a lot of homeless people used to hang out there. It was free and you could go there and read books all day long. You could read the newspaper if books weren’t your thing. Sometimes you could use their computers and look at the internet and shit. Every once in a while, they’d have a lecture and you could go in and listen and maybe learn something. Even if you didn’t, it was worth it. You could sit in a comfortable chair. It was clean and quiet and it was warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And when it rained, it was a fucking Godsend. Being in there could let you forget just how fucked up you were for a while. When you’re living on the street, a break from yourself is worth more than gold. Even if it’s only for a few minutes. Unfortunately, it’s off-limits to us now. The homeless aren’t allowed in the library anymore. The regular patrons got tired of seeing all of these filthy, stinky homeless people in there. Some of us would go in there just to sleep, which really pissed off the librarians. Eventually, they got so many complaints that they just started throwing the homeless out. Then one day, one of us went completely ape shit and attacked a bunch of people in there. I don’t remember who it was. I guess it didn’t matter. That was the last straw. We were all banned for life. They wouldn’t even let Charlie in anymore, and he’d been going there for years. Christ, he even had a library card! I don’t know how he got it, seeing as he didn’t have an address or anything, but he had one. He was really bummed when they wouldn’t let him in anymore. The library was like a fucking temple to him. He takes reading and knowledge very seriously. That’s something he learned on the street. He said the library was one of the few really valuable resources available to the homeless. He was right. The only thing you can improve about yourself out here is your mind. Unfortunately, you need books to do that. That’s why they have libraries, isn’t it? They’re supposed to be for everybody. Yeah, right! Everybody but us. Now we can’t get to them. It’s not fair. I understand how people didn’t like us being in there, but we weren’t bothering anybody. Well, most of us weren’t. We were just doing the same thing they were. I guess they figured we didn’t need to improve our minds. Our minds were for frying with drugs; not for building with books. We didn’t need them out here. Boy, were they wrong. You can’t imagine how much we need them. We need them more than anybody else in the world. I don’t even want to think about where we’d be without them.

While we’re on the subject, another place they don’t let the homeless in anymore is the bus station. That doesn’t bother me like being kicked out of the library does. As far as I’m concerned, getting kicked out of the bus station is kind of like getting kicked out of hell. I told you about I hate that fucking place, right? It wasn’t just because it brought back memories of my grand descent into this shithole. Oh, no. For me, it was much more than that. You see, the bus station used to be a big deal for the homeless, but for me, it was always one gigantic fucking nightmare. The security guards there are particularly vicious. I think some of them are off-duty cops. I don’t know for sure. I’ll say this much: most cops aren’t that vicious when they’re in uniform. I can’t imagine that they’re that much worse when they’re off-duty. Believe me, the guards there do shit to you that the cops could never get away with. And that’s saying something! Whoever the fuck they are, the bus station security guards are a pack of goddamned sadists. They especially loved fucking with me. I don’t know why. I certainly never did anything to them. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, but whatever the reason, I was always one of their favorite victims. I used to hang out over at the bus station when the weather got really bad in the winter. It was filthy and the whole place smelled like piss, but it was warm and it was open twenty-four hours and it had lights and bathrooms. That’s what made it a magnet for us. It also made us easy to pick on. That was especially true of me. They were fucking merciless to me. I hated them for that. I still do.

I remember one time when the security guards there kicked my ass really bad and threw me out in the rain. I guess that wasn’t enough for them, because they took away my coat before they threw me out the door. It was the middle of winter and it was freezing and pouring rain, really hard. It was coming down in buckets. There wasn’t even an overhang to stand under. Why did they do it? I didn’t do anything to them. I didn’t do anything to anybody. I was sleeping in one of the chairs and one of them came up and cracked me on the knee with his nightstick. It felt like he popped my kneecap out. Talk about a rude awakening! Then the other one bent me over and hit me on the ass as hard as he could. I guess he got off on spanking women. Of course, this asshole spanked me with a goddamned nightstick. Then they tossed me on the ground. They hit me a bunch of times while I was down on the floor, in front of everybody. One of them kicked me in the stomach. Then they ripped off my coat, grabbed me and threw me out the door. God, it was cold! It was like standing in the shower with freezing water pouring on me! I was drenched in about five seconds. I tried to get back in, but they locked the door. They wanted a show, and I gave it to them. I pounded on the door and screamed at them to give me back my coat. They just stood there and held my coat up and laughed at me. They started asking people inside the station if they wanted a free coat. Thank God no one wanted it. I know they would’ve given it away in a heartbeat. They ended up throwing it in the trash. Christ, it was the only coat I had! They didn’t care. They’d have burned it if they could’ve. They just laughed at me through the glass and grabbed their sides and pretended to shiver like they were freezing, just to taunt me. It worked. I was completely soaked, and it was so fucking cold. I thought I might actually freeze to death. The cold went right through me like a knife. I started to get really scared. Plus, I couldn’t breathe very well thanks to the beating they gave me. I really started to lose it. Just what you need when you’ve been beaten and now you’re soaked and freezing and scared shitless: a goddamned panic attack. Fucking sadists!

I finally broke down and started crying and begged them to give me my coat back. I promised them I’d never come back there if they’d just give it back. They told me to get down on my knees and beg, and I did it. I was down on my knees in the pouring rain, crying and begging and apologizing for coming into the bus station and making them angry. I said it was all my fault and they were right to kick my ass and could I please have my coat back. Christ, there must’ve been twenty people staring at me the whole time. I’m sure that was the idea. The asshole guards wanted to make it as humiliating as possible. They succeeded. They made me stay on my knees for about an hour. At least, it seemed like an hour. Anyway, they finally gave me my coat back, right before they got off of work or something. Fucking assholes! And the humiliation was just the beginning. I ended up getting really sick from being out in the freezing rain for so long. I wound up with bronchitis or pneumonia or something. Whatever it was, it was serious. My throat got so sore; it was like I had a piece of broken glass stuck in it. Every time I tried to swallow, it felt like I was getting my throat cut. Coughing was even worse. I could barely stand up for a couple of days. I sure as hell couldn’t walk. Charlie had to do everything for me. I could barely feed myself, and swallowing food was murder. Out here, you can’t just switch to chicken soup when it hurts too much to eat solid food. You eat what you can get; pain be damned. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t die from it. Not that those assholes would’ve cared. They’re like every other motherfucker out here: they don’t care what happens to you as long as it happens somewhere else. As long as it doesn’t happen where they’re working. That’s why they’re there. Their job is to keep you out. They enjoy it. Can’t you read the sign? Keep out. No trespassing. No subhumans allowed. Get back out in the street where you belong, motherfucker. You’re not welcome here. No, I don’t miss the fucking bus station. If it were up to me, I’d burn the motherfucker to the goddamned ground!

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