This piece was first published on The Tattooed Heart's blog on April 26 2011. It went viral in New Zealand and was quoted in the NZ Herald, stuff.co.nz & at Margaret's funeral service.
This morning, after breakfast at my local on the K, I was walking towards my shop when Frances, one of the street’s perennial change collectors, called out. “Did you hear? Margaret died last night.” I stopped in my tracks, and sank to the seat next to Frances, something I have never done before. My relationship with K Rd’s alcoholics/glue sniffers/beggars has been one of polite distance for many years now. They know me, I know them, and so we know enough of one another to know where we stand: I don’t like being asked for change 5 times a day and they have pretty much given up on me. Also, as a survivor of my own family’s mental illness, I feel almost allergic to other people’s craziness. However, there remains some sort of familiarity/contempt on both sides; I have been a K rd local since I was 16 years old (I am now 32), and this street is a community, one way or another. There are icons walking this street. Icons of their own making, of which Margaret was one. We are one people at the end of it all.
Margaret. One woman, many rumors. I’m sure someone out there knows the truth about her, how she came to be on K rd every day, rain or shine, drinking. Always drinking. The romantic story goes that she was a successful model once, but was derailed by a severely broken heart, leading to mental illness and chronic alcoholism. What I know for sure: Margaret was tough. She sat there on public benches on either side of K rd for at least 20 years dealing with abuse hurled her way and with the other unpredictable street people and their various social sicknesses. She was funny: if she saw you coming with a cigarette in your hand she would put on her most charming demeanor. “Got a spare cigarette love?” If you refused there would be an almighty change of season: “WELL FUCK YOU THEN!”.
Margaret’s exterior was a decaying body, living. People on the street would remark to each other if she were looking more unwell than usual; people were concerned about this wild woman living firmly outside of society. At the end of last year there was a lot of talk that Marg wasn’t looking too hot. She had broken her hip, her arm was in a sling, and the color of her skin (usually pretty sickly at best) had turned a wine-dark purple around the ankles. Still, for the raging alcoholic she was, Margaret looked not too bad really.
She died at home, I heard through the K rd grapevine. Our landlord, Glen, remarked that it was a blessing she didn’t have to sit through another freezing outdoor winter. Looking out onto the street today, the weather is hinting at what is in store for us, and it will be cold. It will be colder without Margaret, for sure, for as another friend, Little Elliot said, she was like the sun, rising and falling, just something that is always there to be relied upon. Yelling, drinking, smoking, or just sitting quietly, as was her way these last few years.
Margaret – you certainly won’t be forgotten by anyone on K rd, ever. When people refer to K rd as a “character” street, as “edgy” and “bohemian”, it was largely a reference to you, really. You were the ironic saint of the street, an icon, and someone whose legend will undoubtedly live on for the rest of our lifetimes. For myself I can say this: I cried when I heard you were gone. Rest In Peace.