How a White Trash Girl Stumbled on Grace

Her father was a thief, her mother a drunk, but Billie Livingston was determined to be a writer. She succeeded, then it got hard, and then the magic happened.”>

I am a writer. It seems unlikely yet inevitable that I should have become one. I didnt go to college, have no degree, but I do have what they call, a past. I was named after my father, Willie, a con artist, card sharp, and sometimes garden-variety thief. For the first years of my life, we lived under an assumed name. My parent was wanted for grand larceny. I was three years old when they caught up with Willie. They shipped him off to a federal penitentiary.

My mother, Irene, had been a schoolteacher when she took up with him, but soon observed herself resentful. Why should she be the only working stiff in the family? So, she ceased teaching and took up drinking. When Willie was apprehended, Irene stayed in bed for weeks, drunk or sleeping it off. Eventually she got up and went down to the welfare office.

I found out quick what they called welfare people: White trash.

Although Irene took Willies last name, my mothers never marriage. At a slumber party I listened to the other little girls talk about their parents weddings, the white garments, and churches. I found out that night what they called a kid like me: Bastard.

I learned how to lie.

I lied for Irene, but she was hard to contain. She did what she could to keep the wolf from the door. Sometimes the wolf got by her. There is only so much a kid can do. In and out of foster care, I left home at sixteen.

For the first half of my life, that world, those people were my secret. In my 20 s, I wrote poetry and tales, much of it raw, rent from my own headlines. I proved some to a boyfriend. Jesus, he said, incredulous. Youre white trash.

White junk. Again. It felt like a sucker punch. It felt true.

I left the boyfriend. But I couldnt leave myself. So I took the junk with me.

My mothers were at the heart of everything I wrote. They were what Id come from. Theyd stimulated me, but did that stimulate me them? Was I genetically doomed?

I started writing a novel and told my mother. She sputtered, flummoxed, You think youre just going to write a book and someones going to publish it?

Aristocrats wrote novels. Bright lights. Not people like us.

I did it anyway. I didnt want to be people like us.

When I got the offer from a publisher, my legs went soft. I was in a phone booth in Bodega, California calling home for messages. Receiver to my ear, I slumped against the glass of the booth and stared at the ocean. I hit replay as the tears streamed. I hit replays and replay and replay. This was it. No more dirty-faced welfare child , no more junk. I was an author. I would be a bright light.

I wrote more books in the coming years. Woven through them was all Id grown up with, the larceny and fury, the boldness and dread. But not one was published outside of Canada. I yearned for New York. If I could make it there, I could make it anywhere.

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