The Urban Gypsy

From the June 12 edition of Street Roots

I’m sitting here, looking around my city, hard pressed. I still feel that Portland is full of potential and possibilities.

I wait with the patience of a newly awakened predator. For people’s smiles to fade at the sheer numbers of the newly homeless. It breaks my heart to see the innocence leak out of eyes and faces that shouldn’t be here on the street.

Pardon me if I begin to snarl in frustration. I am speaking directly of the mentally challenged that our overloaded system has tossed to the street.

There are several people in my mind’s eye causing this strain of thought. One in particular who is not new to the streets, but was on the day she got there 30 years ago.Let me show you what I saw. First of all, I would have missed her totally without that second glance at the enclave next to the alley. Up close I recognized what caused the strange hesitation in my approach. However, caught in her gaze, I couldn’t very well back up. So we stood for a moment frozen, sizing each other up. There was a surprising strength to her fragility, which was momentarilly reasurring. Her story tumbled out in a sing-song voice, in between bites of stale bagel. Thirty years outside in this heaven and this hell. Her eyes were eerily innocent and detatched as she spoke of sodomy and rape, of laughter and love, like they were the same thing. She crackled but didn’t cry, even when telling me about things that I have only seen in horror movies.

I, on the other hand, wept like a newly widowed woman. Later that night, safe in my solitude, it made me think that maybe sometimes insanity is a mercy. I wept for the woman she was now because the world would never get to see her specific genius, it having been scattered over the concrete streets of Portland’s potential.

Julie McCurdy resides in Portland and is experiencing homelessness with her Italian greyhound, Maggie. She is a regular contributer to Street Roots.

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