Baltimore. Kelly. 6.11.17

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I have been wondering how to write about Kelly and her story for days now. My interaction with her was so incredibly powerful, that I am not sure any words I write will do it/her justice. However, her story and outlook NEED to be heard, so I am going to do the best that I can; so bear with me.

We had visited the Inner Harbor that day with no real intention of using the time to work on this project. We had photographed a wedding the day before and, although exhausted, we were also starving. Little did I know that our choice to take on the Cheesecake Factory novella of a menu would lead to my getting Kelly's biography.

We had initially passed Kelly on our way to the be seated and while I thought I heard her ask for money, her voice was meek and I didn't want to be offensive. From where we were sitting I was able to see Kelly and once I witnessed her reach out to another individual, I stepped out to give her a few dollars. Upon returning to my table I couldn't concentrate and while I knew we hadn't set out to interview anyone that morning, there was a voice in the back of my head urging me to go speak with her. So...I gave my order, picked up my camera, and began a conversation that I will refer back to often for inspiration.

After her mother's death from colon cancer, Kelly came upon hard times, and in an effort to gain control back of her life, she moved to Florida where she met a man. Unfortunately for her the man was an alcoholic who was deep into the drug scene; the perfect combination for what turned out to be an abusive relationship. Eventually Kelly was able to remove herself from the situation and made her way to Baltimore, where she rented a room and held down a part time job. In time, as you would have probably guessed, Kelly lost her job and her housing and in a way lost her identity; as her ex boyfriend refused to return any of her identifying documents, including her birth certificate, ultimately leaving her with limited options for assistance.

So here she has been, homeless on the streets of Baltimore, for the past two and a half years, all the while - surprisingly - keeping a good head about her and a positive outlook on life. Not once in the conversation did Kelly play the victim, in fact - in her words - she stated "I wouldn't trade any of this for a second. My spiritual values wouldn't be the same. It has taught me to take nothing for granted."

(Note: This is the moment that both she and I started crying)

At this point in the conversation, Kelly went on to tell me how moving to Baltimore and her struggles had strengthened her relationship with God and how she understands that he has put her in this situation for a reason and trusts that he will help her out out of it. Being agnostic, one would think this topic would make me uneasy, contrarily it made me feel closer to her. She believed that God wanted her to speak to me and I believe whole heartedly that my intuition led me to her. So here we were, being what the other person needed at that time.

Kelly believes that she has the "best of both worlds." She has had it all and has learned to live with almost nothing. She went on to explain that her parents taught her all the necessities of life. She could cook, fish, hunt, and garden; all skills that she attributes to her survival.

"Survival" is a good term, given that just a week before she had been hit by taxi cab, leaving her with a fractured hip. The women that were passengers in the cab had to beg the driver to stop and his attitude towards Kelly was nothing but ignorant. The joke is on him, however, as Kelly will be pressing charges. Her plan is to take the money that she wins to "get off the street for good". "I won't forget where I am now" she said "but I am not coming back to this place."

Before leaving Baltimore I spoke with Kelly one last time. I asked her for a photograph so that I could hang it in my office as a reminder of what she had taught me and that, I too, am a survivor.

After a lingering hug I told her that "she was going to be ok", she returned the favor with the exact same words and just like that we ended an interaction that I believe changed us both for the better.

Thank you for being you and for accepting me, Kelly. Here's to surviving AND thriving - you've got this!

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