She looks like any other kid hanging around Yonge Street in downtown Toronto—T-shirt, green army pants cut down into shorts, ankle-high Doc Martens. Her long, fake fingernails are painted black, and chipped. Like any other kid, that is, until she plops down on the sidewalk and starts asking passers-by for change. “I never really decided to live on the street,” explains Twilight (her street nickname), a 16-year-old runaway from Calgary. “It’s just what I was basically forced into doing.”
According to Twilight, her childhood was rife with conflict with her mother, a single parent whom she describes as “emotionally and mentally” abusive. She says that her mother would routinely throw her out of the house, only to call the police to report her as a missing person. “One day she took off for three days and left me locked out of the house,” claims Twilight. “So I broke the window to get in and she charged me.” That earned the then-13-year-old a two-anda-half month stay in juvenile detention. What followed was a demoralizing group home experience and a short stay in her abusive, alcoholic father’s house. When her mother refused to take her back, Twilight ran to Vancouver. “I didn’t know where I was supposed to be,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.”
While in Vancouver, Twilight earned her nickname for her eagerness to experiment with hallucinogens, among other drugs. In more than two years on the street, she has slept in parks and sold marijuana to survive. She has also had an abortion. And while
Twilight has compassion for her mother, she remains puzzled by her behavior. She still phones her weekly, but her mother persists in sporadically reporting her missing. While visiting her daughter in Toronto, she apparently filed such a report. “I don’t understand why,” says Twilight, “because she knew exactly where I was.”
As Twilight sits in a downtown Toronto park, she empties a pocketful of change onto the grass. She runs her fingers over the mixture—mostly pennies—and muses about the future. “I’m going to save all my pennies because they don’t make them anymore,” she says. “I heard about some guy who saved his pennies for his entire life and when he took them to the bank he was a millionaire.” She pauses. “Actually, I think it was $80,000 or something. Anyway, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Twilight and her boyfriend, another member of the street culture, scrape together enough money each month to rent a one-room apartment in a run-down part of the city. They eat their meals at a downtown youth drop-in centre. Occasionally, they will splurge for a hot dog; cigarettes are considered a necessity. At the end of the month they plan to move to Vancouver. Maybe, she says, she’ll find a job. Maybe she’ll go on welfare. Maybe she’ll go back to school. She even mentions the possibility of hosting a film festival out of the house she will someday rent. But if Twilight is uncertain, almost deluded about where she is headed, she is very clear about where she has been.
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