Myths Over Miami

Captured on South Beach, Satan later escaped. His demons and the horrible Bloody Mary are now killing people. God has fled. Avenging angels hide out in the Everglades. And other tales from children in Dade's homeless shelters.

"I don't think any more that things happen for some great, good God plan, or for any reason," he says. "And I don't know if any angels are still fighting for us." He pauses and looks dreamily at the twilight sky above the day-care center. "I do think a person can dream the moment of his death. Sometimes I dream that when I die soon, I'll be in some high, great place where people have time to conversate. And even if there's no God or Heaven, it won't be too bad for me to be there."

Research by Harvard's Robert Coles indicates that children in crisis -- with a deathly ill parent or living in poverty -- often view God as a kind, empyrean doctor too swamped with emergencies to help. But homeless children are in straits so dire they see God as having simply disappeared. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam embrace the premise that good will triumph over evil in the end; in that respect, shelter tales are more bleakly sophisticated. "One thing I don't believe," says a seven-year-old who attends shelter chapels regularly, "is Judgment Day." Not one child could imagine a God with the strength to force evildoers to face some final reckoning. Yet even though they feel that wickedness may prevail, they want to be on the side of the angels.

When seven-year-old Maria is asked about the Blue Lady, she pauses. "When grownups talk about her, I think she get all upset," Maria slowly replies. She considers a gamble, then takes a chance and leans forward, beaming: "She's a magic lady, nice and pretty and smart! She live in the ocean and comes just to kids."

Otius envisions her future: Her tombstone, dated 1998, stands beside those of two friends. Her winged spirit (upper right corner) battles Bloody Mary, who has been invoked by a gangbanger. A warrior angels rushes to the rescue from his hideout in the NationsBank building (upper left corner).
Otius envisions her future: Her tombstone, dated 1998, stands beside those of two friends. Her winged spirit (upper right corner) battles Bloody Mary, who has been invoked by a gangbanger. A warrior angels rushes to the rescue from his hideout in the NationsBank building (upper left corner).

She first appeared to Maria at the deserted Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, which Maria calls "the pink haunted house." A fierce storm was pounding Miami that night. Other homeless people who had broken in milled about the building's interior, illuminated only by lightning. Her father was drunk. Her mother tried to stop him from eating the family's last food: a box of saltines. "He kept hitting her and the crazy people started laughing. When I try to help her, he hit me here" -- Maria points to her forehead. "I tried to sleep so my head and stomach would stop hurting, but they kept hurting." A blast of wind and rain shattered a window. "I was so scared. I pray out loud: Please, God, don't punish me no more!"

An older boy curled up nearby on a scrap of towel tried to soothe her. "Hurricanes ain't God," he said gently. "It's Blue Lady bringing rain for the flowers." When Maria awoke late in the night, she saw the angel with pale blue skin, blue eyes, and dark hair standing by the broken window. Her arms dripped with pink, gold, and white flowers. "She smiled," Maria says, her dark eyes wide with amazement. "My head was hurting, but she touched it and her hand was cool like ice. She say she's my friend always. That's why she learned me the hard song." The song is complex and strange for such a young child; its theme is the mystery of destiny and will. When Maria heard a church choir sing it, she loved it, but the words were too complicated. "Then the Blue Lady sang it to me," she recalls. "She said it'll help me grow up good, not like daddy."

Maria's voice begins shakily, then becomes more assured: "If you believe within your heart you'll know/that no one can change the path that you must go./ Believe what you feel and you'll know you're right because/when love finally comes around, you can say it's yours./ Believe you can change what you see!/ Believe you can act, not just feel!/You have a brain!/You have a heart!/You have the courage to last your life!/Please believe in yourself as I believe in you!"

As she soars to a finish, Maria suddenly realizes how much that she's revealed to a stranger: "I told the secret story and the Blue Lady isn't mad!" She's awash with relief. "Even if my mom say we sleep in the bus station when we leave the shelter, Blue Lady will find us. She's seen my face."

Shelter children often depict the Blue Lady in their drawings as blasting demons and gangbangers with a pistol. But the secret stories say that she cannot take action unless her real name -- which no one knows -- is called out. The children accept that. What they count on her for is love, though they fear that abstract love won't be enough to withstand an evil they believe is relentless and real. The evil is like a dark ocean waiting to engulf them, as illustrated by a secret story related by three different girls in separate Miami homeless facilities. It is a story told only by and to homeless girls, and it explains how the dreaded Bloody Mary can invade souls.

Ten-year-old Otius, dressed in a pink flowered dress, leads a visitor by the hand away from four small boys who are sitting in a shelter dining room snacking on pizza and fruit juice. "Every girl in the shelters knows if you tell this story to a boy, your best friend will die!" she says with a shiver. When the boys try to sneak up behind her, she refuses to speak until they return to their places.

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6 comments
donnac84
donnac84

Bloody Mary is not new or original, she has always been summoned by chanting her name three times in front of a mirror.  I first heard of her as a child in the 60's, in New Jersey

cynmccollum
cynmccollum

@donnac84  No she is not new, but I'm guessing you did not grow up with the folklore of the homeless kids. Middle class white kids play with the occult, the desperate live it. Do not condescend to that which you do not know.

fake_off
fake_off

@donnac84 You clearly didn't read the story in its entirety, so why leave a comment?

barefootmama0709
barefootmama0709

@donnac84 The point of the article is the way in which street children are repurposing common legend. 

asjdhasjdkh
asjdhasjdkh

@donnac84 No shit. The rest of the legend is unique though, which makes it interesting. You're not some sole arbiter of secret information.

 
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