I met Barbie and Ken (not their real names) at a downtown food line for homeless people. She still has permission to crash on my couch if she needs to get away from him, but I haven't seen either of them since before Easter. Her little plush bunny rabbit is waiting for her on my love seat.
They didn't look homeless. They looked healthy, young, attractive, full of life. He was blond, blue-eyed, well-built, with full lips and a clean-shaven chin. She could have been the model for the Pocahontas cartoon character with her big, brown eyes, pouty lips, black hair, strong bones, and tall, leggy figure. I would never have guessed she'd given birth to twins just six weeks before.
They showed up at the Thursday-night food line willing to help serve. I needed extra help and often get volunteers from the ranks of the homeless people waiting in line. This time, in addition to the usual pots of chili, bread, and pizza, I had 11 trays of quiche appetizers a caterer had donated. I gave the young people rubber gloves and put them to work serving quiche.
While we were cleaning up, our friend Saul took me aside. He was thinking of inviting them to stay in his apartment for a few nights. I was reluctant to advise Saul to take anyone into his small apartment. My attempts to help homeless people by giving them a few nights on my couch had always turned into stressful situations.
He took them home, but by Saturday morning, he was on the phone, begging to come over. Barbie and Ken had been fighting, and he was ready to call the police. "They're okay now," he said, "but this morning I heard them arguing very loudly. Then it sounded like he hit her, and she was gasping for breath as if she'd taken a blow in the solar plexus. When I got up, my shaving mug had been broken, and it looked like there was blood."
He went on. "She's 36 and he's 24. She's bipolar. She needs to be put in 72-hour hold and stabilized with the right medication. She provokes him, and it escalates until he loses control. I'm bipolar myself, so I know how difficult it can be until you get on the right meds."
"Are street drugs a problem?" I asked.
"I don't think so. He had one beer when we went to Hillcrest, and she smokes a little marijuana, but I think that's all."
It was a short walk to his place. When they let me in, I noticed how cluttered his living room looked with their clothes and possessions strewn everywhere. Barbie was busying herself in the kitchen washing dishes. "Do I look homeless today?" she asked. She didn't. "Saul's a wonderful cook," she said. "We had homemade soup last night and pancakes for breakfast."
Barbie showed me the twins' pictures, and they looked like healthy newborns. Her mother was caring for them at her home in Laguna Beach. The couple left before Barbie was fully recovered from childbirth because Barbie's mother couldn't stand Ken. Now Barbie was kneeling on the living room floor folding garments that had been pulled out of a bag. Ken had gone out for a walk. "I get everything folded and sorted," she said, "and he reaches in and gets something out of the bottom of the bag and messes it all up. "I was raped when I was seven months pregnant," she said. "It wouldn't have happened if Ken hadn't gone off and left me all alone. It was right around Thanksgiving, and we were staying at the Pickwick Hotel. We checked out at 10 o'clock in the morning, and he went off and said he'd be right back. I waited around all day in front of that hotel. You know, it's at the bus station, not a very nice place to wait.
"Finally, it was getting dark, so I started walking to the trolley stop thinking maybe I'd see him getting off the trolley. This black man kept looking at me. I tried to ignore him - just act like I was not interested. I've never been with a black man. But he grabbed me and pulled me into the sheriff's parking lot between some cars. I didn't scream because I was afraid he'd hurt me; he weighed about 300 pounds.
"He had me on the ground with my maternity dress up over my head and my feet up. I wanted to get it over with, so I started encouraging him. I said, 'Have you got some alcohol? Maybe we could go to your place.' I wanted him to let me get up. He thought that was a good idea, so when he let me up, I ran. There was a police car in the street, and I ran up to it and started pounding on the window, saying I'd been raped and the man was right behind me.
"Well, they got him, and it turned out he'd raped another woman too. But you know what they did? They took me right from the hospital where they'd examined me to jail. There was a warrant for me in L.A. that I didn't even know about because I hadn't appeared in court for something that wasn't even my fault, so they put me in jail.
"I'm going to have to testify in court," she said. "They say I can get $10,000 for psychological counseling from the Victim Witness Fund." The thought of the money seemed to cheer her up.
I asked her about the fighting with Ken. "It only happens about every two weeks," she said. "He doesn't realize how strong he is. You know, he's had a very tough life. He's been on his own since he was 14. He needs me; I don't know what he would do without me."
I asked her about her manic-depressive condition. "I went off the medication when I found out I was pregnant," she said. "Saul thinks I should go into the hospital, but I can't do that. I can't leave Ken alone for that long. I don't know what he would do." Ken came back from his walk. Barbie punched him semiplayfully, and he punched her back a little too hard. But there were also affectionate gestures; they couldn't keep their hands off each other.