HANGING OUT AND TALKING ABOUT LIFE
Oregonian, The (Portland, OR) - Thursday, July 7, 2005
Author: Vivian McInerny - The Oregonian
They're hanging at the square again. Christie Stovall, 19, slouches on one end of a park bench. Rayline Minthorn, 25, stretches out on another. Sometimes they make snarky comments about people walking by to make each other laugh. Most of the time they just sit saying nothing.
They bus in from Beaverton. Stovall's husband is best friends with Minthorn's boyfriend, and the four share an apartment, eking out a living pumping gas, delivering papers and babysitting.
They make just enough money to be disqualified for food stamps but sometimes Minthorn relies on private charities such as Sisters of the Road for clothes and food. Most days, Stovall and Minthorn leave the suburbs and head downtown. They've both hung out at Pioneer Square since they were young teens.
"Ever since my stepdad went to jail," Stovall says.
"After my mom died," Minthorn says.
Office workers on lunch breaks hurry past. No one makes eye contact. Stovall and Minthorn are well-versed in the art. They wandered around the square for months not making contact even with each other until a mutual friend introduced them last fall. Gradually, they started talking, sharing stories from their pasts. They feel better for it.
"Both of us have somebody to talk to," Minthorn says. "Not somebody who went to school to learn these things in books, but somebody who knows."
Minthorn and Stovall know these things: The terror of seeing your mom beaten to death by her boyfriend; the desperate loneliness of running away from adults using you for sex. They've both had professional counseling. But there's nothing like talking to each other.
"Lately, we talk about being pregnant," Stovall says.
Stovall's baby is due in November. Minthorn's third child is expected this summer. Her oldest son lives with his father. Her 2-year-old sometimes comes along to the square. Minthorn's boyfriend and Stovall's husband also come on their days off. All four met at the square and still run into friends there.
"People think we're all bad. They're afraid of Jessica's killers," Minthorn says, referring to the street "family" that murdered Jessica Williams in 2003. "But there's people like me who want to help."
When Minthorn and Stovall meet someone new to the streets, they tell her where she can get free meals. They tell her about agencies set up to help youths.
"It's my duty to protect," Minthorn says.
Minthorn figures she'll return to work in retail some day, maybe buy a trailer home. Stovall is testing for her G.E.D. She wants to become a certified nurse's assistant and support her husband so he can go to school to learn a trade.
"I've always been a strong person," Stovall says.
Minthorn scoots close to Stovall on a bench. They playfully throw their arms around each other, drape over each other like overgrown puppies, giggle like the girls they never were.
P.S. My 12 year old daughter was with me for "Take Your Daughter to Work" day and I wanted to show her that everyone has a story to tell. I loved the innocence of these two "hardened" girls hanging out on the streets. Their sad stories proved true with a quick check of public records. I saw them months later with babies in arms. Raylene has stayed in touch with me via Facebook and I'm proud to say she recently earned her GED. We've both lost track of Christie.