When I was 13-years-old I lived on the streets in Miami during the cocaine cowboy era… I ended up on the street because I ran away from home.
I spent my first couple of days sleeping on the beach. Like most children who run away from home, I didn’t have a plan; it was a knee-jerk reaction to abuses taking place in my home.
The beach quickly proved to be too hot by day and bathrooms were scarce. I decided to head to a public park a few miles away in North Miami. When I arrived there I got myself cleaned up in the public bathroom as best I could and settled onto a nearby park bench which became my home for several weeks.
By this point I had gone at least two days without food and the hunger was becoming unbearable. I remembered that there was a 7-11 convenience store nearby and decided to go there in the hopes of somehow finding something to eat; I had no money.
The 7-11 ended up being a pretty good thing. Not all the time, but more times than not. On what I call the really bad days there would be no food at all. In fact there were times I went hungry for three or four days at a time. Then there were the good days when some of the regular coffee and six pack buyers would bring out a hot dog and/or bag of chips for me. On the great days (which were few and far between) one of the managers would invite me in to straighten up shelves or sweep the floor; for my labour I would receive a little more in exchange and access to the bathroom. Being able to wash up in the bathroom was much better than the park restroom because of the privacy. I had no change of clothes, no toothbrush, no tampons. With privacy, I could actually remove my clothing to clean myself up. I would "brush" my teeth with my finger sans toothpaste; and I had figured out how to make tampons from rolled up toilet paper.
There was one man in particular who would hang around the 7-11 a little extra. He was really nice to me. Unlike most people he would actually talk to me AND I could always count on him for extra food. He was a day labourer that looked like a hippie. He was tall and skinny with long straggly hair that hung to his waist. One day he invited me to his house for a shower and hot meal, which I happily took him up on without hesitation.
When we arrived at his house he gave me a see-through wife-beater and shorts to wear while he laundered my clothes. I sat on the edge of the couch covering my almost non-existent breasts. I was shy by nature, but this was different. This man I had sort of come to know was now making me feel uncomfortable. I had been raped a year earlier and suddenly the memory was omnipresent. I wanted to leave, but had no idea of where I was and my clothes were still in the dryer. I was trapped and said nothing, hoping for the best. We ate dinner and he told me I could stay the night (as if I had a choice). I went to lay on the couch and he told me I had to sleep in his bed with him. He tried to get me to smoke pot, told me I needed to relax, and that it would be fun. I refused and started to cry. Lucky for me, he just wanted to take advantage of a young girl; not actually rape one.
The next morning he took me back to the 7-11 and as soon as he pulled away, I ran to my park bench. I stayed away for a few days not wanting to run into him again. A few days went by and hunger set in; not having any other alternatives I went back to the 7-11. I had decided I would leave if I saw him pulling up and that I would not go anywhere with him no matter how hungry I got.
Days passed without much change and then it happened! My favourite kind of day, the manager called me in. Unfortunately, it ended up being a horrible day. The manager told me that his boss had seen me and that I could no longer hang around the shop. His boss told him that I was an eyesore and a nuisance. I can only imagine what I looked and smelled like. I know I no longer had the fat ass my mother accused me of having since the age of 9 (not that I ever really did). By now I was skinny... no, I was skeletal. I can remember that my clothing was hanging off of me.
Disappointed, I went back to my park bench with no plan in mind. I was falling asleep as the sun set, when a disheveled, rotund woman came up to me. She reminded me of our Bahamian au pair's mother, a woman I loved dearly. There was something about her tone that was gentle and welcoming.
With full knowledge of the answer, she asked me if I was hungry. I looked up at her and nodded my head yes. She said, “Well, come on then. Let's get you something to eat.” I followed her to her home, a one room stand alone bungalow. It was clean, but worn from years of neglect; a low-rent space barely one step up from the projects. I took a shower washing myself with the leftovers of a bar of soap. I dried myself off with a towel that looked like the worn out heel of a sock about to give way.
As I came out of the bathroom I could smell Chef Boyardee Ravioli. I remember it so clearly because it was my favourite after-school snack. The efficiency barely had the basics. There was no couch, only a double bed off to the corner, a small plastic table with two chairs and a counter top with a hot plate that was her kitchen. I began to shovel the ravioli in my mouth. “Slow down, darlin’. Ain't nobody going to take your food. I’ll make more if you want,” she said. I don’t know if she told me her name, I was just so happy to be indoors eating a hot meal to the kindness of her voice that nothing else mattered.
When I finished eating, she said, “Do you want to stay the night?” I nodded my head yes. “Alright then, I only gots this small bed there. We will have to cuddle up real close but it’ll be okay.” I crawled onto the inside of the bed and she laid behind me. As she wrapped her arms around me I choked back tears. It was the first time I had felt safe and cared for in a very long time. The next day she told me I had to leave, but could come back in the evening. She said she would turn her porch light on to let me know it was okay to return. I made myself at home on a park bench that overlooked her place. I laid on my side staring through the slats, never taking my eyes off of her front door. I looked on as men went in and out of her flat all day. Finally the light went on and I excitedly bolted for her front door.
On my final morning with her (after staying for a few days), she looked at me and said, “Do you know what I do?” I nodded my head no. I didn’t know and I also didn’t care. All I knew was that she was kind to me.
She went on, “I sell my body for sex. I sell my body for sex because I do drugs. Or maybe I do drugs because I sell my body. I don’t know anymore.”
“Little girl, you need to go home. This is no place for a girl like you. I need you to promise me you will go home.” I nodded my head in promise, all the while promising myself that I would not do drugs or sell my body.
I lived on the streets for another year and a half and kept that promise I made to myself. This beautiful woman who seemingly had nothing to give... fed, sheltered, and educated me. More that that, she saved my life. I will never be able to thank her or even know what happened to her. I will forever be grateful to her and hope that she found an angel like she was.
"Once upon a time, I was a missing child.A child who belonged to no one, a child of the streets. Missing at the tender age of 13, Marnie experienced the worst of humanity firsthand. I began running away at the age of five after my mother dropped me out of a two-story window. Two broken arms later I was sent to live with my grandparents ... the creators of my mother. I spent the rest of my childhood running away, until finally, at the 13, I stayed away for good."
MISSING: A True Story of a Childhood Lost is a story of a young girl's survival, a woman's surthrival. It is a story of suffering, of healing, of rising up against all odds and discovering the power of the human spirit to heal and love.
"I decided that I was going through this hell as a kind of pre-payment for a good life. From a very young age I always knew that better days lay ahead. Now I had an explanation as to why: I was paying up front. I decided that I was destined for greatness and I just had to power through."