Marcia Giedd has lived in her car since Sunday.
She is disoriented and terrified. She is losing hope that life will improve.
Everything is gone but her dented Honda with the broken muffler, the possessions crammed inside and her talent. Giedd is an artist, although she hesitates to call herself one and, she admits, an alcoholic.
The 53-year-old did not start painting until 2005. On a whim, she bought some art supplies on sale at Michael’s Arts & Crafts.
The world fell away when she painted. The colors and shapes flowed, uncontrived, from her mind. She began to read library books and online publications, occasionally interacting with artists over the Internet, to learn painting techniques and improve her skills.
The staff at the Long Beach Library on Jeff Davis Avenue, where she is a patron, was impressed enough to allow her an exhibit of six paintings, both watercolors and mixed-media. She set them up earlier this week.
She has other paintings, on paper and canvas, stuffed in the Honda, along with her art supplies.
Homeless services scattered
At the same time, she is learning how tough it is to be homeless on the Coast, where services are scattered and difficult to locate and homeless shelters are nonexistent, save one operated by the Salvation Army in Pascagoula.
She has been trying to get into a transitional apartment, where she could stay until she finds work, but has had no luck for the few weeks she’s been making phone calls.
Kay Deneault, executive director of the South Mississippi Mental Health Association, said the six apartments her agency is allotted are filled and the agency’s grant funds have run out. Most nonprofits, she said, find themselves in the same situation.
Giedd has the additional complication of suffering from alcohol dependence, a health condition believed to afflict about 38 percent of the homeless population, according to a federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimate from 2003. In 2009, SAMHSA reports, 14.8 percent of people admitted to alcohol-treatment centers -- 15,953 nationwide -- were homeless.
Giedd slept in her car at the Pass Christian harbor one night this week. A police officer knocked on her window, she said. He did not make her move. Fear does not allow her much sleep. She is exhausted.
Still, her eyes are clear blue, her soft face remarkably unlined for a 53-year-old. Curls have escaped her ponytail holder. Her gray and brown roots have inched into the auburn color fading from her hair.
Alcohol enters the picture
Giedd used to work as a nurse, in Texas, where she grew up, and in Kentucky. She started drinking in 1983, when her mother died.
“I didn’t know how to cope,” she said. “I was in so much pain.”
She was married at the time. Her husband thought she was a little chubby. Sometimes, he would stare at her arms without uttering a word. He didn’t have to say anything. She knew what he was thinking.
She entered rehab for the first time in 1985, then left her husband when she was released. She met her second husband in a recovery program. They married in December 1991. They found out a year later that she was pregnant and he had chronic hepatitis B and C.
He was a contractor, able to work less and less because of his illness. Interferon did not cure his disease. She was laid off from her nursing job during a merger of two hospital companies.
“We started losing things at this point,” she said. “We moved to Kentucky. A lot of things happened there, none of them good.”
Her husband died waiting for a transplant. She went back to school a year later to upgrade her nurse’s training, eventually becoming a licensed registered nurse in Kentucky. She worked as a circulating nurse on a surgical unit, a stressful job.
Then she met another man, a social drinker. He was not an alcoholic and did not understand that a drink for her led to only one thing. another drink. He grew angry when she wanted to leave a party he hosted. All the drinking made her uncomfortable.
They fought. Her obsession began. She did not want to be different; she wanted to join the fun. She mulled that over for a few months. She had pretty much stopped going to recovery meetings.
Then they went to her office Christmas party.
“Goofy guy didn’t want to get his own beer,” she said, “so after picking up and carrying several beers, I asked for a cup of white wine. And I was the designated driver.” They wound up calling a cab.
Giedd gave up more than 12 years’ sobriety. The relationship soon ended. She has patched together some sober periods since, but eventually relapsed. Alcohol cost her a stable home and job.
Giedd’s talent recognized
She found herself truly homeless Labor Day weekend. She was sober at the time, she said, but the family whose son she was nursing moved from South Mississippi. She stayed for awhile at the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter in Hattiesburg. She eventually wound up back on the Coast. Since then, her housing has been temporary. She was back on the streets Sunday night.
“I don’t do well with homelessness at all,” she said. “Just about every time I end up homeless, I drink. I pray and meditate. I try to do the next right thing and nothing works out. I don’t feel like I have any purpose. I don’t feel like I have any hope.”
She sits outside the Long Beach Library, where her artwork is displayed.
The women at the library know her as a sweet person, talented artist and loyal patron over the last few years.
“She’s just a delight,” said front desk clerk Melissa Szkolnik. “We deal with so many kinds of people in the library. Whenever, she comes in, we always have conversations and chat. I just enjoy her as a patron. She’s just very down-to-earth. You can talk about anything with her. ”
Szkolnik thinks Giedd’s paintings are beautiful. Patrons remark on Giedd’s splendid use of color, her skill at composition.
“I don’t have an eye for that type stuff, but I did have a gentleman this morning come in and use the library,” Szkolnik said. “He said he was an artist as well. He was really blown away. He was just talking about how much he loved her technique; he said especially if she’s just picked up her technique. He just thought they were awesome.”