This is the story of two homeless women. They are junkies and their craving is driving them to madness. The frost eats their skin. Homeless woman #1 is a prostitute and homeless woman #2 used to be Mick Jagger’s girlfriend. It is a cold night in the 1970s. Both of these woman will face death in their late 30s. One of them will live.
Fast forward to January 16th, 2010. A thirty five year old gay male drives across Florida in a rented car. His passenger seat is cluttered with Burger King wrappers, CDs by one of this favorite artists, and highway directions. When he left his apartment he wasn’t excited about this trip. Nothing really excites him.
The center of Florida is barren. There’s a certain strange beauty to this lush barrenness. A misty gauze clings to the sky and a chilliness hovers. The wheels spin and he thinks about the lives of homeless woman #1 and homeless woman #2. And about his own broken life.
Two hours into the trip he arrives on the other coast of Florida. Nestled amongst trailer parks and strip malls is his first destination – an ominous biker bar he once saw in a movie. He is too afraid to step inside. The door is ajar. He sees overweight men in flannel shirts. He sees no way to enter unnoticed. He is so fixated by this biker bar he does a series of U-turns. He wants to step inside the bar and touch the car seat where homeless woman #1 once slept. It was inside this biker bar that homeless woman #1 was arrested. Only after a lethal injection would homeless woman #1 feel freedom again.
He is drawn to the story of homeless woman #1. She loved Florida as much as he does. She was used by men and discarded like trash. He understands. He’s been used a lot too. She hated men so much that she killed them. In the darkest places of his mind he has fantasized what it would be like to kill the men that have hurt him most By retracing the last free footsteps of homeless woman #1 he has vicariously acted out a twisted and imaginary fantasy. People used her until her death and he wonders if he will ever stop letting men use him. He takes one last look at the biker bar, gets in the car, and he drives away an imprisoned but free man.
He leaves Port Orange Florida. As he nears the interstate he is amused by strip malls. Don’t ever foolishly get tricked into thinking that American culture hides in stuffy art galleries. True America lies in southern strip malls where flashy signs promise wealth, psychological wellness, and a good meal. The sky remains hazy as he jumps on the highway towards Jacksonville.
The rental car heads north and he hears the voice of homeless woman #2. He loses himself in her songs that crackle with loss, guilt, fury, and sadness. She hasn’t been homeless for nearly thirty years now and she has died twice and come back to life. Her voice is seething rage and bottomless disappointment. He’s never met her. He’s quite sure she’d understand him. At 8:30 pm he will share the same room as her.
He arrives in Jacksonville at 7:01pm. It is raining and streets are empty. It is strange to see the name of homeless woman #2 on a marquee in this small Florida city. There aren’t many things he still loves but he loves Florida and damn he loves her songs.
He waits in the lobby of an old concert hall where Elvis once sang. He feels invisible amongst the lobby of strangers but he is there for the songs. As he awaits admittance his mind races with the normal plague of insecurites. He’s the ugliest in the room. He’s the worst dressed. He’s so awkward and he wishes he was at home. And then the velvet ropes come down.
As he settles into his seventh row seat he realizes he is with friends. He is not in danger. The hall is nearly empty and no one sits beyond the eighth row. He hopes homeless woman #2 doesn’t hate Florida when the curtain opens and she is greeted by emptiness.
And then the lights go down and the curtain opens. She stands before him. She is singing to him and to every single person in those first eight rows. He could never have anticipated the thunder that followed that first song. And the second and third song too. Every single person in that room loves her as much as he does. So forms an unspoken bond with a small crowd of strangers. Each of our lives have been shared with these broken songs sung by a charismatic woman who was once homeless.
She coughs between lines. Her cup of hot tea steams onstage. She applies lipstick twice. She is beautiful and ugly. She is young-hearted and old. She forgets some of her lines. It is these inconsistencies that make her delivery so gorgeously human. And he knows for the people in the room to love her as much as he does…they must be cracked and broken in their own way too. He wishes the night would never end because it feels good to be silently understood.
An hour later he is driving in the country. The night is thick and the roads are narrow. Crosses adorn the lawns and great white churches watch the silent streets. Convenience store parking lots are lonely with two pickup trucks. He is frightened. He wouldn’t be welcome in these parts. Deep in this rainy Florida night he drives slow and inconspicuously. Twenty minutes into the blackness finally he finds what he’s been looking for. Lights. Hundreds and hundreds of lights. As he approaches his destination rain begins to pelt the windshield.
He is at the Florida State Prison. It is on this premises that homeless woman #1 was executed. Inside these wire fences, barbed wires, and cinder block buildings man-made death occurs. It was here that her hatred was finally put to rest via an injection in the arm. He pulls into the driveway of the prison and puts his car into park. He knows he is one decision away from being on the other side of that fence. The night is still and dead. It’s hard to believe it can be this silent when only a fence divides him from immortal hell and chaos. He puts his car into reverse and leaves a free yet imprisoned man.
He is back in Tampa at 2:15am. He doesn’t fall asleep until the sun rises.
This story is dedicated to Aileen Wuornos and Marianne Faithfull.