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We Lived in an Apartment Complex Sauna

And it wasn't that hot.

Marnie Grundman and "Lawrie Taveinni"  

Every now and again I search for the girl that took me under her wing when I lived on the streets so many years ago. Lawrie was a huge part of my life for a short period of time. It might have been 6 months give or take, but it felt… feels like 10 years. I don’t remember how we met, I only remember that she became my “family” in an instant; I even took on her alias last name making us official cousins to anyone who would ask. We were 2 girls, 14 and ? on the inside, 19 and 24 on the outside. We lived homeless floating between cocaine houses and apartment complex saunas.

Lawrie got me off of park benches and out of abandoned buildings. She taught me how to steal Fritos and bean dip from drug stores and changes of clothing from department stores. She taught me how to pretend partake in drugs by cutting cocaine, preparing lines and in threatening situations to dab it on my teeth to fend of a coke-head when they believed this 14-year-old girl to be a narc. I survived because of Lawrie.

My only two arrests were with her. One time for stealing food from a grocery store and one time for breaking and entering; we were living in a house that unbeknownst to us didn’t belong to the cocaine dealers who we our “hosts." One SWAT team later I found myself in the back of a police car holding back tears as Lawrie quietly whispered “how to keep from being sent home” nothings in my ear. She taught me how to lie about my name, tell the truth about my age, keep my past hidden, and how to hold tight while waiting to be released to a foster home or group home.

Our main “residence,” a.k.a. home base was an apartment complex sauna. When we got arrested and separated our unspoken plan was to make our way back to our sauna home. That’s where we always returned when we became separated. One day Lawrie didn’t show up. My cousin-sister was gone and eventually so was I. Not long after our final separation I fell into a job as a cocktail waitress and managed to secure my first flat; I was 14 and a half years old. I wondered where Lawrie was, but I kept moving forward. Having a job and a place to live was a strong motivator to not move back to sauna life. Eventually, Lawrie went to live in one of my compartments labeled “distant memory.”

In the half dozen or so times that I have searched Lawrie Taveinni on social media and Google I have come up blank… until today. I am deeply saddened by what I found; I am deeply grateful for where I am today. People often ask how it is that I made it off of the streets so whole… together… articulate, etc., There is a part of me that brushes it off to “we just do what we have to do get through.” Another part feels like a fraud because I know that I am messy on the inside, I’m only sort of whole. The rest of me is just grateful for the lucky breaks and the innate mindset that I was blessed with. My mindset, my knowing that I would make it through is at the core of why I am here today… whole-ish and messy.

The contrast of seeing Lawrie, the girl who gifted me with street smarts is jarring. To this day I do not know her real story. In fact, until finding her online I did not know her real name.

I could have easily ended up just like her. I understand where she ended up. There is a point where some people are just too broken on the inside to know how or want to repair themselves. On the streets we learn a way of life that is difficult to move through or past. I carry the remnants of that with me every day. My instinct to run is ever-present; it’s accompanied by a small suspicious soul. To this day if someone comes up behind me, stranger or friend I jump out of my skin. Sitting in a restaurant I prefer my back against the wall in a I will go out of my way to have it kind of way. Facing the demons… the pains of the past is a necessary evil of becoming whole… of healing. I remember feeling like I was going to evaporate… to drown in the sea of tears and pain as I relived what I needed to let go of. Beyond the complexities of what placed me on the streets is the damage that occurred there. I’m always aware that a slightly different turn (decision) and I could be living the life that Lawrie is living right now. I could have easily have left behind a rap sheet with a trail of names just like hers… actually my street name alias is on her rap sheet. I find it interesting and even a little heart warming in the most heart breaking way. She never forgot me as I have never forgotten her. By the grace of…  

Marnie Grundman was a homeless youth living on the streets from the age of 13. Read her full story in MISSING a True Story of a Childhood LOST.

Once upon a time I was a missing child, a child of the streets. I began running away at the age of five after my mother dropped me out of a two-story window. Two broken arms later I was sent to live with my grandparents... the creators of my mother. I spent the rest of my childhood running, for the last time at the tender age of 13—this time for good.

Missing: A True Story of a Childhood Lost is a story of a young girl's survival, a woman's surthrival. It is a story of suffering, of rising up against all odds and discovering an appreciation of life.

"I decided that I was going through this hell as a kind of pre-payment for a good life. From a very young age I always knew that better days lay ahead. Now I had an explanation as to why: I was paying up front. I decided that I was destined for greatness and I just had to power through."

Follow Marnie through her journey from stolen childhood to empowered woman as she details firsthand the power of the human spirit to heal and love.