She wears tortoise shell glasses and a wooden cross dangling from a black string. But it was the butterfly tattoo etched over heart that caught my attention. When I get to know her better, I thought, I’ll ask her about that tattoo.
At 21, Lisa had already survived a turbulent childhood. Now she was on the edge of a cliff trying, to raise her daughter on her own. She only needed $250 to stay on that cliff — and she fell off.
One day, as she sipped beers with her boyfriend in a parked car, a police officer wrote her a $250 ticket for “open carry.” Without any funds to pay it, she ripped up the ticket and forgot about it until the day she was stopped for speeding.
With a warrant out for her arrest, Lisa was hauled off to jail for 30 days. Once out of jail, she found that she’d lost her apartment, her job, and custody of her daughter.
I could understand a landlord booting her out for unpaid rent.
I could understand an employer letting her go when she didn’t show up at work.
But I didn’t understand how she could lose her daughter — until she told me more.
Her daughter was sent to stay with Lisa’s mother who started the adoption process after reporting to authorities that Lisa simply abandoned her daughter.
Heartsick and furious, Lisa insisted on seeing her daughter. After a number of calls back and forth, Lisa’s mother finally agreed to the meeting, but would not allow Lisa into her house. She made Lisa wait on the curb at the end of her street for the reunion with her child. Lisa’s mother succeeded in adopting the girl, and that was the last time Lisa was allowed to see her daughter.
Portrayed by her mother as an addict, Lisa said she fought taking drugs of any kind for a very long time. Her priorities were getting a good job and taking care of her daughter.
But drugs and the people who used them surrounded her. She finally gave in one particularly stressful day after losing her job and feeling awful about herself. She believed the friends who told her the drugs would make her feel better.
Learning about how she became homeless and hooked on drugs, I tried to put myself in her shoes.
I couldn’t do it.
Me, a baby boomer who’s never had such a depleted bank account that I couldn’t spare $250.
Me, who would never ignore a ticket or an order to show up in court.
Me, who’s never lived without the support of a parent, a friend, or a spouse.
But standing in someone’s shoes didn’t mean I had to own them, it just meant I had to try them on for size.
The second time, I felt their well-worn softness. I felt them still warm from her feet. I felt the thinness of the soles about to rip at any second. Then, I was finally able to understand how she ended up with only the clothes on her back, a leather-strung wooden cross, and a pair of old tortoise shell glasses.
That’s when I asked her about the tattoo. Under the butterfly, it says “Mariposa Treseonera.”
“Google it,” she said, and I did.
Although it’s spelled “Treseonera” on her tattoo, it seems the correct spelling is “traicionera.”
It’s a Spanish song about a mouse caught in a trap that doesn’t kill it, but won’t release it. It’s about pain and love and choices.
Lisa still has her whole life ahead of her. I hope she frees herself from her addiction. I hope that love finds her and that she finds release. I hope she’s not permanently caught in her pain and poor choices.
After all, butterflies should be free.