Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Thirty-Four

Damn, it’s really cold tonight! It’s not as bad as that night at the bus station, but it’s definitely cold. I didn’t see that coming. It was pretty warm just a few nights ago. I guess winter’s coming early. That’s one thing I’m definitely not going to miss. I never liked winter. I especially hate it living on the street, but I never liked it even when I was a kid. Well, that’s not entirely true. I liked snowstorms. Did you ever watch snow fall at night? It’s beautiful. And it’s so quiet; there’s just nothing like it in the world. I used to think it was like being in church. If you ever doubted that there’s a God, then you never saw a snowfall at night. Only God could make that happen. Only he could think it up. I used to stand outside and just watch the snow fall and cover everything. I was always kind of disappointed the next day when people would walk through it and cars would drive through it and mess it up. Not only that, but when I was little, my brothers always used to dump a ton of snow down my back whenever we got a snowstorm. That was definitely not fun. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember the last time I saw snow. I came here to get away from freezing winters. I figured if I was going to live on the street, I’d better go somewhere reasonably warm. I guess I should’ve gone for Miami. I don’t know how the fuck they do it in places like New York or Boston. I’ve heard about how the homeless die in droves every year in winter in places like that. Some of the guys out here lived on the street in places like that. A guy who was on the street in Chicago told me that when it gets really cold, the police go out and lock up everybody for all kinds of ridiculous shit. Any reason they can find. They call them “wind chill arrests.” When the wind chill factor gets too high; everyone goes to jail. They grab you for everything: drinking, pissing in public, spitting on the sidewalk, even tossing a cigarette butt on the ground. Chickenshit misdemeanors. They throw your ass in the big tank overnight and drop the charges in the morning. If it’s still freezing the next night; they do it all over again. I guess it’s better to spend the night in the big tank than to freeze to death. He said the cops call the frozen dead people popsicles. The only thing missing is the stick up your ass. That must be a hell of a way to go. People die here, too, sometimes. It’s not as bad as someplace like New York, but it still gets cold and it rains a lot in the winter. People get hypothermia and die. Other times they just get pneumonia and die. That’s real common out here. You can get it all year long. I wonder if that’s what happened to Charlie? It rained like hell last week. That may be what got him? I wouldn’t be surprised.

I won’t miss the winter, but I will miss the summer. Oh, I won’t miss the summer out here. You sure as hell won’t freeze in the summer, but the shit gets a lot worse out here when the weather gets warm. There are more assholes out and about. Sometimes the heat gets so bad, it drives everyone completely fucking nuts. Summer really brings out the worst in this crowd. No, what I mean is, I’ll miss the summers back home. I used to love summer when I was a kid. I was definitely a summertime kid. It comes with being a fanatical tree climber. The first day of summer vacation was my favorite day of the year. I’d get up early in the morning and stay out as late as my parents would let me. A lot of times, I’d stay out later than that. Mom used to throw a fit when I’d come home really late. I never understood her concern, but after the shit I’ve seen out here, I get it now. There’s a lot of bad shit that can happen to a little girl. Still, we lived in a good neighborhood. Nothing bad ever happened there. If somebody’s house got burglarized, it was the fucking talk of the town. I think it happened twice in my neighborhood. No, it was a great place to be a kid; especially during the summer. Even after sundown, it would be like eighty degrees outside. The humidity made it seem even warmer. The trees would be all green and at night there would be a million fireflies. I loved fireflies. I still do. I haven’t seen one since I left home. They don’t have them around here. That’s too bad. I wish I could see one more beautiful summer day before I go. And a summer night, too. A summer night with a million fireflies. I wish I could play in the park one more time. I wish I could smell the flowers and the fresh cut grass. Maybe they’ll have all that in heaven? Maybe they’ll have fireflies, too? God, I hope so. At this point, I’ll be happy if they just let me in.

When I was a kid, summer was one big adventure. There was no TRD back then. I had a very active imagination, and I let it take me to all sorts of interesting places. I told you I was a little daredevil. It’s true. I climbed every tree in the neighborhood and I fell out of half of them. It drove my mom nuts, but I wore every bruise and scrape like a badge of honor. A lot of the boys were too chicken to climb as high as I did. That just made me want to climb even higher. I’d have tried to climb a giant redwood if we’d had one. There was this stream in the woods near our house, and one time I took a big plate from the kitchen and panned for gold. I didn’t find any, but I had a blast. I was sure I’d succeed on my next attempt, but when mom found out that her plate had been in the stream, she went ape shit. That was the end of my career as a prospector. I caught frogs and crayfish in the stream and brought them home. I tried to find a snake, but I never did. That’s probably a good thing. Mom would’ve freaked if I’d brought a snake home. I did find a turtle once. He was a big box turtle. I called him Harry and dad bought a fish tank for him. He lived for a long time. I loved him. I think he loved me. I took really good care of him. I used to feed him carrots and lettuce. I brought him to school a couple of times. He was a big hit with the other kids. I hope I get to see him again – you know, in the next life. God, I loved those woods. I used to pretend there were ghosts and monsters and all kinds of shit in there. Sometimes I convinced myself that there really were. I used to go hunting for them. All I had was my Girl Scout knife, but as far as I was concerned, it was Excalibur. I’d have dispatched them with ease.

Around the Fourth of July, my brothers would get a shitload of fireworks from their friends and we’d set them off in the street, even though it was as illegal as hell. Mom hated it, but dad thought they were pretty cool. Sometimes he’d even join us. We’d get Black Cats and ladyfingers and pinwheels and skyrockets and a whole bunch of fountains. We did some crazy shit with Roman Candles, too. Sometimes we’d even get bottle rockets. They were pretty cool. Zoom! Whistle! Bang! One time we got a mortar and a few of those huge rounds like you see at a professional show. God knows where they came from, but they were a blast! We’d have power failures in the summer when we had a thunderstorm and all the lights in the neighborhood would go out. My brothers would complain because they couldn’t watch TV, but I thought it was great. I’d play with flashlights and help my mom light a bunch of candles. I’d watch the lightning bolts and pretend they were trying to hit me and I’d hide from them. I used to love to go swimming in the summer. There was a swimming pool not far from us and I used to jump off of the high dive, even though I wasn’t allowed. Mom said I’d kill myself. It looks like she was right – although the high dive had nothing to do with it.

It’s funny, I never had a lot of friends when I was a kid. You probably figured that out from listening to me. I told you I didn’t have many friends as a teenager. Well, I didn’t have many friends when I was little, either. Part of it was the neighborhood. There were only two other girls my age on our street and they both hated me. That was OK. I didn’t think much of them, either. They always wanted to play with dolls or things like that. I liked dolls, but I liked playing in the woods or riding my bike a lot more. I wasn’t exactly a tomboy, but growing up with older brothers definitely had an effect on me. And I guess I read too many adventure stories for my own good. I wanted to do exciting stuff. If the other girls weren’t interested in that, then I wasn’t interested in them. The boys were more fun. Unfortunately, by the time I got to be about ten, the boys though it wasn’t cool to hang around with a girl. Six years later, they wanted to do a hell of a lot more than just hang around with me. That’s puberty for you. But when you’re little, it doesn’t matter. I was just one of the boys back then. Like I said, they were more fun to play with. I didn’t like sports, though. I wasn’t very good at them and they just didn’t seem to be as much fun. There was no imagination or adventure involved. Plus, a lot of kids take that shit way too seriously. It’s just a game, right? I did play softball, though. There was a girls’ team every summer. I was pretty good. I even broke a few windows at school. One of the buildings was a little too close to home plate and I had a pretty good swing. A long hit into left field was usually good for a broken window. I think I liked breaking the windows more than I liked playing softball. What does that say about me?

So I guess I’ve been a loner all of my life. I suppose it’s a blessing, because being a loner helped keep me in one piece out here. I mean, I know a lot of people out here, but the only one I spend any time with is Charlie. Over the years, I’ve learned that being comfortable on your own is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because out here, you can’t depend on anyone. If you’re not used to being alone, you can set yourself up for some serious fucking problems. But it’s a curse because even though I’m a loner, I still get lonely sometimes. You’d think I’d be used to it, but it still gets to me every now and then. Sometimes I wish I had people to talk to. I don’t mean shoot the shit. I mean really talk. Sometimes I feel bad because I spend so much time chewing Charlie’s ear. God, he must get sick of me sometimes! I don’t know why he never told me to shut the fuck up and get lost. Maybe he’s just a sucker for a hopeless case? Maybe he’s Saint Jude in the flesh? You know, the patron saint of lost causes? Hey, stranger things have happened. Anyway, ever since I can remember, it’s pretty much been just me. Maybe that should’ve told me something a long time ago? I didn’t see anything wrong with it when I was little. I had my family and my imagination and that was enough. But when I got older, my depression took over and loneliness was the least of my problems. Most of the kids called me a freak because I spent so much time on my own. Of course, they called me a freak for a lot of other reasons. I can’t say they were wrong. I’m definitely a freak. It would take forever for me to explain it to you in all of the million different ways, but in the end, it all comes down to one horrible, terrible, soul-destroying fact: I’m different. Whatever I am, I am not like you.

I wasn’t popular; particularly when I was a teenager. Freaks aren’t popular in high school, even if they’re girls who are willing to fuck your brains out at the drop of a hat. It hurts to be a freak when you’re a teenager. You try to tell yourself that it doesn’t bother you, but it does. And what really sucks is the fact that you can’t hide it no matter how hard you try. TRD just made it a million times worse. Try hiding your humiliation when the other kids stare at you because you have to go to the school nurse every day to take your psycho medicine. Trust me, you can’t do it. If that wasn’t bad enough, I never told anyone about the times I ended up in a psycho hospital. It was a private hospital, but it was still the psycho ward. A rose by any other name. There’s nothing pretty about those places. I know that Van Gogh ended up in one, but don’t think for a minute that I spent my time painting mulberry trees like he did. I wasn’t in any shape to create anything, if you know what I mean. You see, I had a couple of really bad breakdowns when I was sixteen and seventeen, and I got socked away for a few days here and there. I never told anyone why. When I came back, mom would write a note saying, “Please excuse Miranda’s absence. She was ill for a few days.” They never asked what was wrong with me, but I was always afraid that they would. The whole time I was in there, all I could think about was what would I do if the other kids found out? Obsessing over shit like that really fucks with your therapy. There were times when that scared me more than anything else in the world. I could imagine them all saying, “Did you hear? Miranda was in a nut house! Really? God! What a freak! Loser!” That’s the sort of thing that gets you sent to teenage Siberia. It happened to a girl in the class ahead of me. Something pushed her over the edge and she ended up in a psycho hospital for two weeks. Christ, it was the same one they sent me to! Fortunately for me, I wasn’t there at the time. Unfortunately for her, some of the kids found out. When she came back, it was the talk of the school. Everyone treated her like she was fucking Typhoid Mary. It got so bad that she transferred out a couple of months later. I never saw her again. I have no idea what happened to her. I didn’t know her or anything, but I was scared shitless of ending up like her. I had enough problems already. Being on antidepressants and having everybody know about it was sort of like wearing the Scarlet Letter. I wasn’t the only one in that situation, but the fact that some other kids had to take them didn’t make things any easier for me. We were all treated like shit, and it wasn’t like we bonded through our shared humiliation. Hell, no! We didn’t even talk to each other. When you’re fucked in the head and you’re starting to realize that there’s nothing anyone can do about it, you don’t want a walking, talking reminder sitting across from you at the lunch tables. Besides, as far as I knew, those kids were treatable. They didn’t have TRD. The drugs worked for them. I wasn’t so lucky. That just made me envious. To be honest, I fucking hated those kids because of it.

I really missed out on a lot of things back in high school. I regret that. It was inevitable, but I regret it anyway. I never belonged to any clubs or teams or anything. I didn’t have many friends, even during the best of times. Sometimes I wondered if I had any friends at all? I mean, I had friends, but the truth is they were more like acquaintances. They were people I hung out with, but I wasn’t really close to any of them. I’m sure it was my fault, but that didn’t make it any easier. Oh, there were plenty of guys who wanted to fuck me, but I hardly ever got asked out on a real date. I was always sort of in the background. I never really had a place. It’s funny, but I haven’t thought about high school in a long time. I guess I’ve been trying to forget it, like everything else. I wonder if anybody would remember me now? Probably not. I’ll bet even my teachers wouldn’t remember me. Why would they? I had a less-than-stellar “C+” average. I wasn’t much of a student. I wasn’t much of anything. I was pretty much just a face in the crowd. I was Miranda; Little Miss Nobody in the class of twenty-whatever-the-fuck. I just didn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in and I knew it. But I wanted to. God, how I wanted to fit in! I wanted to be like the other girls. I wanted to have friends and be accepted and worry about useless shit instead of whether I’d be a fucking mental case for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to be the best or the most popular, but I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be a normal teenage girl. You want to know something? I never got asked to a single dance. I mean, I couldn’t dance if you held a fucking gun to my head, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to be asked. Yeah, I was definitely on the outside looking in. Jesus, can you imagine if I turned up at my high school reunion? After all of this shit? Christ, I can see it now! Someone would recognize me and it would be like, “Oh my God! Miranda! Remember me? Uh…no, I’m afraid my memory isn’t what it used to be. Well, hey! We missed you at the senior prom! What happened? Uh…I was in a hospital. Really? Were you sick? Uh…it wasn’t that kind of hospital. Oh, well anyway, you look great! You’re so slim! How do you do it? Uh…better living through chemistry. Really? So do you still live around here? Uh…no. I live in the city. Not this one. Wow! The city! Whereabouts? Uh…I live in a little part of town you’re probably not familiar with. You don’t say! Gosh! So what have you been up to all these years? Uh…can I get back to you on that one?” You get the picture. What would I tell them? What could I tell them? I sure as hell couldn’t tell them the truth. What could I do? Lie to them? I’m so far removed from a normal life that I couldn’t make up a convincing story if my life depended on it. I wouldn’t know what to say. I couldn’t very well tell them the truth. What would I tell them? “Oh, me? Well, it’s like this: I was a borderline psychopath the entire time I sat next to you in algebra, and I went completely crazy about ten years ago. Now I’m a fucking junkie who wanders the streets at night and hangs out in alleys with criminals and perverts and talks to herself a lot. I live in an SRO on skid row that I got into after years of living like a cockroach on the street. What do I do for a living? I beg for spare change, I used to collect a few bucks for being a junkie, I occasionally sell drugs, and the rest I steal. Say, that’s a nice necklace you won’t be wearing for much longer! Is there a pawnshop around here?” Oh yeah, that would go over big! They’d probably post a guard to keep me away from the punch bowl, too. I told you I was a major fucking drunk when I was a kid, right? Better safe than sorry.

The truth is, if I ever did show up at a reunion, I couldn’t talk to anyone. How could I? We’d have absolutely nothing in common. Well, nothing but the fact that fifteen years ago we went to the same fucking high school. That ought to be enough, but it isn’t. It’s enough in the normal world. It’s not enough in my world. Looking at all of those people I used to know and didn’t anymore would just take me back to a time when things were better, and then I’d feel even worse. I mean, some of those people were sort of my friends. I actually liked them. I think some of them might have actually liked me. Well, maybe a little. We weren’t close, but we were as friendly as I was able to be. I went to their homes and they came to mine. We did a few things together. Back then, I still believed I had a future. But that was then, and this is now. I’m not the Miranda they knew anymore. I’m not the Miranda I knew. I’m a totally different person now. There isn’t anything in my life that wouldn’t scare the hell out of those people. Shit, I’d scare the hell out of them!

Maybe I could show up anyway? Maybe I could just keep my mouth shut? Maybe I could stand along the wall and not participate? You know, just look at all the people. That’s pretty much what I do out here. No, that would just make me feel so left out that I’d probably start crying or something. But maybe it would be worth it? Just for a few seconds. Maybe I could step back into it all, just for a few seconds? Maybe someone would ask me to dance? That would make it all worthwhile. No. No one would ask me. No one ever asked me back then, so why would they ask me now? The only thing any guy ever asked me to do in high school was fuck. They’d probably still ask me to do that, as long as they didn’t know where I’ve spent the last several years. If they did, then they might ask me if I could get them some dope. Maybe they’d ask to see my tracks? They’d probably ask me if I was a whore. Living on the street; I must be turning tricks, right? Hey Miranda? How much do you charge? What’s a little half-and-half going to run me? How about two of us at once? Wait a minute: you don’t have any diseases, do you? Yeah, that’s probably how it would go. I don’t know. Something like that, I’m sure. I just know they wouldn’t ask me to dance. That’s too bad. It would be nice to be asked. Just once.

OK, I’m on a roll, here! You’re actually getting to hear a few good things about me. Well, about the old me, at least. There’s nothing good about the current me. But let’s continue, shall we? So what else am I going to miss? Let’s see…oh, I’d like to hear a good song before I die. Maybe something I used to listen to when I was a kid? I can’t go back to my room and get my radio. No, I swore when I left there yesterday that I wasn’t going back. Besides, I gave away my room key, remember? My last good deed on earth. Someone’s probably already taken the radio by now, anyway. They probably broke in just after I left. They do that when they hear someone’s getting the boot. Like fucking hyenas on an antelope’s carcass. Still, I think I’m going to miss music. It was one of the few things I was able to hang onto when I wound up on the street. That’s why that radio is important to me. It’s just a junky little thing that probably cost about fifteen bucks, but I was lucky to get it. It really helped. When I was on the street, I was always afraid that someone would steal it from me. A lot of people tried. That’s where the knife came in. Anyway, I listen to it a lot. Just music, though. I’m kind of afraid to listen to the news. When you’re detached from society, you worry about what’s happening in the world without your knowledge. I’d hate to find out that there was a nuclear war and now everyplace is like this. So it’s just music for me. Sometimes after I got back to the room, I’d lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and just listen to it for hours. It almost made me feel like none of this shit had ever happened. It’s weird, actually. There’s something about mental illness that makes you relate to music. I like all kinds of stuff. I listen to rock, classical music, jazz – whatever. Mostly rock. I always liked classic rock. I never much got into the shit that was new and popular when I was a kid. You know, that pop and rap shit. It always seemed to be lacking something. It didn’t have the substance or the message that the old stuff from the sixties and seventies had. There were a lot of great classic rock stations on the radio when I was growing up. They played Led Zeppelin, Boston, ELO, Yes, The Alan Parsons Project – so many great bands. There were a lot of songs that used to speak to me. Some of them seemed to sum up what I was feeling better than I ever could. Some of them actually seemed to be about me. It was like, whoever wrote it knew exactly what I was going through. There was this one song by ELO called Can’t Get It Out of My Head. God, how I can relate to that! That’s been the story of my fucking life. Have you ever heard it? It’s a sort of slow, sad song. It gets to me somehow. There’s a line in the song that repeats a couple of times. It goes: I just can’t get it out of my head. No, no, no. Right on the money. That’s the story of my life. I’m sure the song isn’t about being crazy, but the sentiment is just too perfect for it. Well, it is for me, at any rate. It was always one of my favorite songs. It still is. It was never a mega-hit, so they don’t play it on the radio very often. I’ve probably only heard it three or four times in the last few years, but whenever I do, it just stops me in my tracks. It speaks to me. It hurts me to hear it, but I can’t help but listen to it. It sums up everything that’s wrong with me so perfectly that I usually just start crying. I just can’t get it out of my head. No, no, no. Tell me about it.

I still like a lot of different kinds of music, but I don’t go looking for them all on the radio anymore. Besides, it’s not like my radio has a bunch of preset buttons. It’s not even digital, if you can believe that. It’s clearly yesterday’s technology. You have to turn the little wheel to tune in each station, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort to pick up a station clearly. If I can get one to come through clearly, I tend to stick with it. Downtown skid row isn’t the best place for reception, I guess. Since I like the music I grew up with best, I keep it tuned to an oldies station. Christ, can you believe it? The songs I listened to as a kid are now considered oldies! What the hell happened to classic rock? All of a sudden they’re not classics anymore? Now they’re oldies? Give me a break! I know they were a little before my time, but come on! I’m only thirty-two! I hear the word “oldies” and I think of Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly. Now those are oldies. What are they now? Prehistoric? I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. I just know that if I want to hear the stuff I like, I have to listen to the oldies rock station. Anyway, it’s nice to hear an old favorite every now and then. They help me forget, if only for a couple of minutes. They bring back memories. Some of them aren’t half bad. The memories, I mean. The songs were always good.

What else? OK, here’s a really weird one for you: I’d like to go to the zoo one more time. I always loved the zoo. That’s something that didn’t change when I grew up. I don’t even know if they have one in this town. If they do, I sure as hell never saw it. I don’t know anyone who has, either. It sure as hell isn’t around here. As far as most people in the downtown area are concerned, we’re the fucking zoo. When I was a kid, I went to the zoo every summer. I never got tired of it. I loved to look at the animals. I wished they let you feed them, but they wouldn’t. I liked the elephants best. I don’t know why. There was just something about them. They looked friendly. They have these really warm faces. They looked like they could relate to me. Maybe it was because they were the biggest animals in the jungle so they didn’t have to worry about anything? Well, anything but people, that is. Why would anybody shoot an elephant? I mean, they’re as big as a fucking house. How could you miss? And they’re not very fast. And since they’re not afraid of people, you can get close enough to just touch them. Where’s the challenge in that? You want to hunt something challenging? Bring your ass down here! Come hunt these motherfuckers! You’d be doing the world a service, and I guarantee it would be challenging! Anyway, I’d like to see an elephant again. And the lions were cool, too. I used to shout at them to try to get them to roar. Sometimes it worked. It was just like you see on TV. They’re the king of beasts, and that roar is enough to let everyone in the jungle know it. I thought it was really neat, but the lions were probably just saying, “Hey, shut the fuck up, little girl!” I don’t blame them. I could be a real pest back then. I also liked the bears. They were cute. It never occurred to me that they’d probably like to eat me. I wouldn’t blame them for that. After all, that’s the law of the jungle: kill or be killed. It’s funny, a lot of people call this place a jungle. They say that because it’s a heartless, kill-or-be-killed sort of thing here, too. But they’re wrong. Oh, it’s kill or be killed out here, all right. But this isn’t a jungle. You see, with animals, it’s never personal. Animals aren’t vicious. They aren’t cruel. They don’t hurt other animals because they get off on it. Only people do that. And animals never lose their dignity. Not even in death. They sure as hell don’t try to take other animals’ dignity away from them. No, this place is no jungle. Calling it that is a fucking insult to animals. It’s an insult to jungles. Animals are better than us. The people on skid row, I mean. They’re a hell of a lot better than us. They wouldn’t stand for a skid row in their world. They just wouldn’t let it happen.

I think I’d like to see the stars one last time. That’s not going to happen with all of these goddamned clouds. That really sucks. I was kind of hoping they’d be the last thing I saw when I jumped. I never got tired of looking at them; not even out here. God only knows how much time I’ve spent looking at the stars in my life. I never had a telescope or anything, but I loved looking at the night sky. Did you ever notice how the stars seem much brighter on a clear night when it’s really cold? I don’t know why that is. I used to like to think I was somehow connected to them. Not like I was a space alien or anything. I mean in some sort of ethereal way. And in a way, I am. Did you know that one of Uranus’s moons is called Miranda? It’s true. I always liked to think that I was named after the moon Miranda. It just seemed so romantic; being named after a celestial body. But it’s not true. My mom said she named me after a character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. That’s pretty romantic, too. But I don’t think it’s true, either. I think the truth is, mom just picked the name because she heard it somewhere and liked it. She probably told me the Shakespeare bullshit because she thought I’d like it better. As usual, she was right. You want to hear something strange? I’ve never met anyone else named Miranda. I’ve seen people on TV and I’ve read about people named Miranda, but I’ve never met one. That’s kind of strange, isn’t it? You go your whole life and nobody you meet has the same fucking name as you? It seems almost impossible when you think about it. I guess I really am one of a kind. God, could you imagine if there were two of me? That would be pretty fucking horrifying! There couldn’t possibly be two people as fucked-up as me in the world. Maybe there’s another me in a parallel universe, but I’d like to think she’s doing a lot better than this.

My favorite constellation is Orion. Orion, the mighty hunter! I guess he’s my favorite because he’s one of the few constellations I can recognize. I can pick him out even if I’m stoned or drunk. I like the stars, but I’m no Galileo. I told you I never even had a telescope. You can’t be a Galileo without a telescope. I wish I could’ve seen Orion through a telescope, just once. I’ll bet that would be amazing. When I was a kid, I used to pretend that Orion was up there looking out for me. I don’t know where the hell I got that idea. I just did. Anyway, it’s a shame I won’t get a chance to say goodbye to him one last time. I wonder what the stars look like from heaven? Maybe they’re the same; just looking down instead of up. I hope you get to see them when you’re in heaven. Hey, maybe I’ll get lucky and I’ll get to go there? I’ll get to visit Orion in person. You never know.

I need to keep moving. My fucking legs are aching like you wouldn’t believe, so I’m not covering as much distance as I’d like to. And my ankle is really starting to bother me. You know that God-awful throbbing pain you get with a muscle injury? Well, I’ve got it. I still have a letter to deliver and a swan dive to complete before sunrise, and that’s not too far off. You know, I’m really glad I got to tell you all of those things. Some of that shit, I never told anyone. Not even Charlie. I told him about my life after it began to go to shit, but not much about what it was like before then. I guess I was afraid that if I told him about what my life was like when I was little, then he’d be disappointed in me. He always said he understood why it all went downhill, and he never got judgmental or anything. But maybe if he knew that once upon a time, I was a really neat little kid with a perfect life, he wouldn’t think of me the same way. Maybe that’s just me being paranoid again, but that’s how I felt and that’s why I never told him as much about my childhood as I just told you. But now that I’ve told you, I don’t regret it. I guess I want someone to know the truth. It isn’t easy for me to even think about those things, much less talk about them. But now someone knows. Well, besides my parents, that is. But hell, I don’t even know if they’re still alive. I may get to heaven tonight and find them waiting for me. It’s possible, right? Maybe they got into a car crash or something? For that matter, maybe they both died of a broken heart because of what I did to them? I wouldn’t rule that out. If our roles were reversed, what I did to them would’ve killed me for sure. So maybe I killed them both and I don’t even know it? Paranoid? Hardly. That sounds like something I’d do.

I actually feel kind of bad because you know so much about me, but I don’t know a damned thing about you. I’ve dumped a lot of shit on you tonight. I did it because I had to. You need to understand that. That’s important. Somebody needs to understand. Somebody needs to know. They need to know what’s happening out here at night. They need to know that this fucking place is everything they think it is, but it’s also a million things they never imagined. Sometimes I think that’s why this place exists. That’s why it’s allowed to exist. That’s why it’s allowed to go on being like this. Some people in the normal world think they’re experts on what goes on out here, and because they think they have a lock on it, they know what’s best. They know what needs to be done. The fact that there’s so much more to this fucking place than they ever imagined goes a long way toward explaining why nothing ever really changes. And the less they know about it, the worse it gets. I hope you’ve got a sense of that now. I hope you realize that you can’t sum all of this shit up in a few easy sentences. If you’d asked me before I got here what I thought about skid row and living on the street, I probably would’ve given you the usual bullshit and thought I was right on the money. How arrogant is that? But now, I realize that the only way to truly understand what this place is all about is to come here and experience it for yourself. And here you are! So you have my thanks, my congratulations, my apologies, and my deepest sympathy. Showing you this shit and explaining it to you are about the worst things I ever could’ve done to you. Because you’ve stuck with me this far, I owe you more than you can imagine. And I’m sorry I won’t be around to repay it. I’ll have to owe you.

You don’t mind if I keep looking over my shoulder, do you? I don’t want whoever’s been following me around to suddenly sneak up on me, even if he’s not real. It’s not just my usual paranoia. It’s a female thing around here. Women living on the street are pretty much the textbook definition of a victim. There are a fair number of us out here, but even then, the men outnumber us by about a thousand to one. I don’t know how that’s possible, but I’ve been out here for a long time and it’s always been that way. Maybe a lot of homeless women find someplace better to go than skid row? If they do, I wish they would’ve told me about it. I wish they bothered to give me the word. Then again, I guess it doesn’t really matter. If you’re a woman on the street, your life is hell no matter where you are. Pure and simple: life is fucking hell on earth. The guys out here aren’t gentlemen. Most of them aren’t even civilized. Some of them aren’t even human. The old-timers are all pretty cool, but the young assholes outnumber them by at least five hundred to one. And if you’re a woman out here, you only have to run into one asshole to turn your life into a fucking nightmare. It might surprise you to learn that the biggest fear isn’t death. It’s rape. It’s a well-justified fear, too. Rape is practically an everyday occurrence on skid row. A lot of these guys are fucking monsters, and they feel like they’re entitled to rape you. They figure that if you’re out here and you’re a woman, then you must be a whore and you’re just asking for it. Assholes! Believe it or not, a lot of these motherfuckers think we don’t mind being raped. I’m serious. They think that if a guy throws a woman into an alley, punches her in the face a few times, rips off her clothes and shoves his fucking dick in her, she’s perfectly OK with it. They think she thinks it’s no big deal. Christ, they honestly believe that! Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised? A lot of the cops out here believe it, too. A woman on skid row reports a rape and a lot of times they just write it off as NHI: no human involved. Next case.

I’ve spent every minute of every day that I’ve been out here trying to keep from getting raped. How I’ve managed to avoid it for this long is beyond me. I look at it as nothing less than a miracle. I know women out here who got raped four times in one week. It’s true. I know, because they told me every horrifying detail. Sometimes I ran away because I just couldn’t listen anymore. You wouldn’t want to listen to them, either. I hope every goddamned rapist burns in hell with a fucking chainsaw shoved up his ass for all eternity! Even that would be too good for them! Don’t these fucking assholes know what that does to a woman? Do they think we can just walk it off or something? We don’t. We can’t. It’s impossible. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. I don’t care if you’re fucking Superwoman; you can’t do it. Believe me, I know. I’ve seen what it does. It’s worse than a thousand deaths. When you’re dead, you don’t feel anything. When you’re raped, you feel everything. And I mean everything. And that’s what you feel for the rest of your goddamned life. You never get away from it. I know some women manage to deal with it to at least some degree, and I salute each and every one of them. They must be fucking superhuman or something. I can’t imagine how they do it. I know damned well that I couldn’t do it. That’s one thing I could never handle. I can’t tell you what it’s been like for me all these years, worrying about that shit. Living in constant fear of the ultimate violation isn’t something you can explain. It’s beyond words. You have to experience it for yourself, and I pray to God that you never do. Sometimes the fear gets so bad that I just start shaking. The doctor said it’s an anxiety attack. I get those sometimes. It looks like I’m having a fucking seizure. Some people have seen it and thought I actually was having a seizure. It turns my stomach inside out. My muscles get all cramped up. I can’t move. Sometimes I can’t stand up. I can’t see straight. I feel like scratching my goddamned eyes out. And of course, when it happens, I’m all set up to be the perfect fucking victim. How’s that for a life? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that men have it easy out here. They don’t. They suffer most of the same shit that women do. But for a woman out here, it’s a special kind of hell that men just can’t understand. Let me tell you, women’s lib and gender equality and all of that shit doesn’t mean a fucking thing on skid row. This is where you find out that women aren’t always equal to men. Out here, it’s all about size and strength and viciousness – period. Men pretty much have a corner on that market. Almost every man out here is a lot bigger and a hell of a lot stronger than me. Wimps like T.C. are a rarity. Most of them get eaten for dinner five minutes after they end up on the street. But the assholes don’t eat the women. Not by a long shot. They keep us around for as long as we’re useful, and in this world, a woman is useful as long as she makes for a good fuck. And when she doesn’t anymore? Then they eat them.

So how did I avoid getting raped? Probably by the grace of God. I’m serious. Most of the time, I chalk it up to nothing less than a miracle. God said, “I’ll fuck with her, but I won’t let those assholes fuck her.” If he did, then I’m grateful. Beyond that, I honestly think a lot of it has to do with Charlie. Charlie is the number one elder statesman out here. People respect him. Not only that, but they’re afraid of getting on his bad side because he has more than enough juice to get you killed in a heartbeat. Everybody saw me sitting right next to him and he put the word out that I wasn’t to be touched. I was fucking off-limits. Believe me, that made a big difference. But even that wasn’t a guarantee. Charlie couldn’t protect me all the time. And who was going to? The cops? Don’t make me laugh. Cops are the enemy, remember? We’re us and they’re them and that’s all there is to it. No, you have to protect yourself. That’s something I had to learn fast. That was another thing I got lucky with. It was a little too late to become a black belt in Karate, so I learned how to fight with a knife. A good knife and the will to use it make up for a lot of differences in size and strength out here. God, I was lucky to fall in with the right people for that. Well, maybe they were the wrong people, but I think you understand what I mean.

Charlie taught me what he knows about knife-fighting, but he was never an expert. He learned some moves in the army, but he said it wasn’t enough. Not for a woman out here. I needed the post-graduate course if I was going to stay in one piece, so he set me up with a guy called Texas Sid. Great name, huh? I never did know his last name. I quickly discovered that I don’t need to know it. Everyone out here knew about Sid, and that was enough. Now, Sid was a fucking expert on knife fighting. He was also a lunatic and a stone-cold killer. If I wasn’t so fucked up, I could probably have gotten a book out of him. He was that interesting. Sid was a big, lanky, half-cowboy, half-biker from Amarillo who’d spent most of his adult life in one prison or the next. Christ, he probably spent most of his childhood there, too! I believe it. Talk about being institutionalized! He was without a doubt the most dangerous motherfucker I ever met! Sid was the sort of guy who would have ninety-nine percent of the human race shaking in their boots. Even the cops were afraid of him. Every time they saw him, they’d instantly draw down and prone his ass out. I think they lit him up with a Taser once or twice, just for the hell of it. Jesus, he probably liked it! He was the perfect teacher. Charlie knew Sid from playing dominoes over at the tables. Not a lot of white guys play dominoes, but Sid did. Charlie taught him how to play better and Sid took a liking to him, and I guess a friendship was born. Anyway, Sid came here when he got out of prison for the umpteenth time. He pretty much hopped on the first bus he could find. He wanted to get the fuck out of Texas and that annoying little rule about parolees not being allowed to leave the state didn’t seem to concern him. What a crazy motherfucker! He’d just finished doing something like eight years for fucking manslaughter! He told me about it once. He said the asshole had it coming. That was the be-all and end-all of it for him. And you have to understand, those eight years were for one fucking body! I don’t have a doubt in the world that Sid was good for at least a dozen. Hell, he might have been good for a hundred. I wouldn’t be surprised at that, either.

Sid was a major fucking meth head. He’s got to be the worst I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. In Sid’s case, it was without a doubt the worst possible combination. You see, meth makes you completely fucking crazy, and Sid didn’t need any help in that department. You’d think Charlie would want to keep this psycho motherfucker as far away from me as possible, but Sid knew everything there is to know about knife fighting, so Charlie told him to teach me enough to take care of myself. God, if my parents knew I was hanging out with someone like that – let alone that he was teaching me how to kill people with a knife – they’d drop dead on the spot! But you do what you have to do, right? Sid showed me how to fight, all right. He was good. He was very good. He must have known at least a thousand ways to kill somebody. Hey, you spend most of your life in prison; you learn shit like that. And those Texas prisons are supposed to be absolute motherfuckers. It got to the point where I actually liked having him around. He was good to me. I liked him. I liked him and he liked having someone who paid attention to what he said and wasn’t an eighty year-old black guy. I just felt safe around him. Everybody was scared shitless of him, and people began to think that I was his girlfriend. No one would lay a finger on me because they were scared to death of Sid, and that was just fine with me. I mean, I’d have been his girlfriend if he wanted. Hell, I was so scared back then that I would’ve let him fuck me in the ass while I fingered his balls and sang The Yellow Rose of Texas if that’s what he wanted. It would’ve been worth it for the protection. But fortunately, I didn’t have to. Oh, he wasn’t gay or anything. No, it was the meth. You see, that’s one of the nasty little side-effects of crystal meth. Well, if you’re a guy, that is. You can’t get it up. No fucking way. Too much meth kills your ability to fuck, and Sid took that shit by the handful, every goddamned day. As a result, he couldn’t get it up with a fucking crane. It didn’t matter to him, because Sid was all about his meth. He took being a meth head to new heights. He’d smoke it, snort it, shoot it, and sometimes he’d do all three in the same day. He’d go for weeks without sleep. I think I saw him eat twice. It could be freezing outside and he’d be sweating bullets. He was constantly stoned, and his dick paid the price. I don’t think there was enough Viagra in the world to get him hard, but he didn’t seem to mind. Besides, he obviously liked kicking ass more than fucking. God, he was a crazy motherfucker! I actually miss him. He had a neat sense of humor. He’s back in prison now, and he’s not getting out anytime soon. Not after that last one. Double murder. He stuck the living shit out of two guys behind the Shepherd Mission a couple of years ago. The three of them were motherfucking each other over some useless shit when one of them threw a beer at Sid. He went fucking ballistic! He slit the first guy’s throat right down to the bone, and then he went to town on the other one. He fucking gutted him. There must have been a hundred people watching, but Sid didn’t give a shit. I was right there. I saw it go down. It was like watching a cow get butchered. I thought I was pretty tough by then, but when I saw that shit, I fucking lost it! I just puked my guts out. Do you have any idea what it looks like when some maniac sticks a guy ten times in the gut and all of his fucking innards spill out into his lap? Trust me, you’d puke, too.

So I’ve been lucky. An old man, a crazy motherfucker, a sharp knife and the grace of God all got together and kept me from being raped for almost seven years now. It’s a hell of a combination, but it allowed me to dodge that awful bullet. Maybe that’s why more than a few of the women out here hate my guts? They got raped and I didn’t. Some of them have probably been raped fifty times already. I guess I can’t blame them for hating my guts. If I ever got raped, I’d hate every woman on earth who didn’t. I’d spend the rest of my life asking why me and not you? I don’t think I’d ever get past that. Why me and not you? I’ve said that more times than I can remember when I think about being crazy. Why me and not you? I used to think that to myself whenever they came out with some new fucking wonder drug that turned other people’s lives around but didn’t work on me. Why me and not you? Why was I the one it didn’t work on? Why wasn’t it you? It’s bad enough asking that when you’re crazy. I’ll bet it’s a billion times worse when you’re raped. Thank God that after tonight, I’ll never have to worry about it again. See? There’s definitely a lot of advantages to being dead.

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