The first time I met White Eagle he was emerging from an abandoned warehouse with a shopping cart heaped with salvaged electrical wires. He was wearing leather pants and earrings, and looked like he played guitar in a glam rock band. For a guy living on the street, which he claimed to be doing for 13 years, and down to his last five teeth, he was oddly, unexpectedly attractive. He was on his way to the recycling center with his plunder, and his rapid-fire tweaker talk was so animated it arced across the space between us and I felt like I just did a bump myself.
After the murder in the favela last year, I kept an eye out for him, but he proved hard to find.
Tonight I finally met him again by the railroad, dragging a cart. He was wearing short-shorts and boots, and had an American flag hanging from his back pocket like a bandana. From a distance, he looked like the hot chick he had been working toward becoming for some time. With great pins, as the cigar-chomping talent managers of yesteryear would say. Give us a spin, darling…
We recognized each other right off. “White Eagle”, I called out. “How are you?”
“Rebecca”, she corrected me. “I don’t go by White Eagle anymore.”
On that note, I shift pro-nouns.
She told me she was from Rocky Boy, Montana and was half-Cheyenne, one quarter Lakota, one quarter Irish. She was married, to a woman, for 13 years. She was in the Marine Corps for 16 years. How and why these chapters in her life overlapped, then ended, she didn’t elaborate, nor did I pry. For now, no longer was she living on the back side of the 405 or in the Narrows but down off Sherman Way on ‘a trail all to herself.’ There was a downside to operating outside the favela. People tried to steal her belongings all the time.
As we spoke, I wondered what Mapplethorpe would do with her face. It was from the Civil War. It was from Studio 54. It strode the catwalk of history, yet spoke of the ravages of meth. It was carved from onyx. Self-destruction and great genetics had fought here to a draw. I longed for Andrew’s Fuji X camera, but had to make do with an iPhone.
She had some kind of falsies inserted into a bra under her shirt. Trucks pull over for her all the time on Sepulveda.
“Get in,” they order her. She doesn’t do that, she assures me, but they insist. Then she rolls up her sleeve and shows them her Marine tattoo.
She doesn’t take money from people, she wanted me to know, and never handouts. She no longer gets checks from the VA, just medical, and earns $50/day off recycling. She walks ten miles, pulling the cart. It can be lonely.
As we parted, I remembered it was Memorial Day. I thanked her for her service.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” she replied.