By Rachel Singer
Two years ago, I met Laurelle. She was on the bench at the Santa Clarita Soccer Center suited up for the “Sunday Women’s Open Play.”
I introduced myself and thought what a beautiful young lady she was with her long black hair and hot pink highlights.
Laurelle told me she was “new” to soccer and hadn’t played very much. I actually believed her. Within ten minutes she was dribbling circles around everyone, shooting and scoring. I was glad she was on my team…..
We shook hands all around after the game and I told her I hoped she would be back the following week.
She was, and over time we have become good friends.
It is not easy to chat and get to know someone when you are (in my case) dodging a ball that is sailing past your face, so Laurelle and I decided to meet up for lunch.
I really didn’t know much about her except that she was a manicurist in Canyon Country who loved painting murals and creating Styrofoam gravestones for Halloween. Yes, she was a girl after my own heart.
We met up at Rattlers, and over salads, I asked, “So Laurelle, what’s your story?”
I expected to hear of a childhood filled with AYSO, art classes, and make believe.
I could not have imagined the story that Laurelle would share with me that afternoon.
Laurelle’s Hometown Story was not easy to hear or easy to write. It may make you ache, but then I hope it will make you appreciate. She would like you to be inspired.
At 3 years old, Laurelle’s youngest memory was not of playing dress-up with her two older sisters, but being beaten by her father.
Laurelle like all children came into this world an innocent soul filled with promise. Circumstances she could not have foreseen and poor choices by those who should have treasured her took her into an unthinkable place.
Laurelle was born in Santa Clarita in the fall of 1981. Her parents were married and there were already two toddler sisters at home.
Her father, a Vietnam war veteran, worked in the construction industry and her mother was a local elementary school instructional assistant.
Laurelle’s dad earned a good living and provided his family with a nice home in Newhall. Looks can certainly be deceiving.
What went on in that home was anything but “nice”.
Laurelle recalled, “My father was mean. He was a cruel alcoholic. He would drink before work, during work and after work. I guess he was lucky that he could function at his job.”
He would disappear for extended periods of time. When he returned, Laurelle was usually the target for his misplaced anger.
She continued, “We had no family in Santa Clarita, so I was very isolated. What happened within the four walls of our house, definitely stayed within the four walls. There was no way I wanted anyone to know what was going on at home. I always tried to be the ‘good girl’ so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself.”
When Laurelle learned to speak up, the verbal and emotional abuse would escalate. By the time she was 9 years old, the physical violence became sickening.
Staying overnight at a friend’s home was the only respite she had.
In answer to my question, Laurelle responded, “I do not remember seeing my sisters being hit by my dad, but my mother was at times the object of his drunken rages.”
“I realized that no one was going to take care of me. I had only myself. “
My memories of age 10 are of playing high jump in the backyard with my favorite cousin Patrice, laughing and giggling like two young girls should. Laurelle at 10 was making her own meals, getting herself off to school and learning how to hide her shame.
“For my mom,” Laurelle explained, “denial was a happy place. She disassociated herself from what my dad was doing. I guess it was how she was able to live with herself.”
Ignorance is not always bliss. You cannot escape your subconscious. Her mother’s inner turmoil manifested itself in physical ways. She suffered from terrible depression where she could not rouse herself from bed for days at a time. All three of her children were emotionally abandoned inside their home and left fending for themselves.
When her father wanted to spend quality time with his then 11-year-old daughter, he would take Laurelle to his favorite local bar. “I didn’t want to make him mad, so I would smile while sitting next to him at the bar sipping off of his drinks. Being drunk at 11, was better than being hit by him.”
Laurelle still bears a scar on her ankle when a glass was shattered during a bar fight.
Her meticulously manufactured ‘good girl’ façade was bound to fracture sooner than later.
After a particularly severe beating, she went to school intentionally wearing shorts that revealed bruises in varying degrees of healing along with the fresh imprint of a large hand. Her sixth grade teacher took her to the office.
Social Services was called, but unfortunately she remained in her home.
By the time she was 13, Laurelle could no longer pretend. “I was so angry and pissed at the world. I hated what my life had become. I began smoking weed…. a lot of weed. “
Not surprising, Laurelle crossed the boundary that led into a world where immorality and rebellion were the laws of the land.
She continued with her story, “I ran away for 6 weeks in the summer between 7th and 8th grade. My 18-year-old boyfriend took me to his friend's house where I lived for 45 days. I returned home only to leave again.”
“The second time I ran away, my parents called Social Services because I left a note saying, “I hope God can forgive me.” The police found me in the San Fernando Valley and I was taken to Northridge Hospital and put on a 72-hour psychiatric hold.”
After the evaluation, it was deemed by Social Services that Laurelle should be removed from her parent’s home.
Eighth grade began for Laurelle in a shelter for “bad kids” in Los Angeles. After four months she was moved to “Hathaway,” a facility in the Little Tujunga area that housed 200 troubled children ranging in ages from 4 to 18. Hathaway is situated in a remote location, deep in the canyons. Security was therefore not as tight.
“I kept up on my school work, but after six months, I was told that I would have to stay an additional six months. No way, I wanted out.”
“It was arranged behind closed doors with a friend, that her brother and boyfriend would help us to break out.
They parked their car down the hill from Hathaway. We snuck out and left behind what had been home for six months.”
Laurelle, a 14-year-old child, had no way to know that this joy ride that began on a dark two-lane canyon road would hurtle her headlong out of control.
“We drove to East Los Angeles where we stayed. It was a terrible situation with never any money for food or basics. I flirted with liquor storeowners and mini mart employees so that we could eat. It went on like this for two months. “
A move to Huntington Beach brought warm weather, beautiful beaches, and Laurelle’s arrest for two counts of second degree robbery.
“We were in Orange County and found ourselves once again with no money. $20 could feed the four of us for two or three days and robbery seemed our only choice.
“I was a passenger in the car and watched as my friends mugged two people on the street” she said. “We were arrested and I was charged as an accessory and placed in Juvenile Hall. I was 14.”
The trial lasted three months and Laurelle was sentenced to one-year probation. In an ironic twist, the Juvenile Hall allowed Laurelle the freedom to change her focus from survival to obtaining credits for her high school diploma.
After the trial and her subsequent release, Laurelle was given the choice to go to probation camp or back home with her parents. She made the wrong choice.
There was no buffer at home, as her two older sisters had graduated high school and moved far away.
The abuse by her father began immediately. Laurelle, no longer a scared little girl, called her Social Worker who gave her mother a choice: “Get rid of your husband or lose Laurelle.”
Her mother’s reply was stunning, “Take Laurelle, she doesn’t want to be here anyway.”
That ominous sentence in 1996 was the last conversation Laurelle has ever had with her mother.
She became a ward of the State of California, with all of her parents’ rights relinquished. She was now housed at “The Way In,” a group home in Hollywood.
When you are a child on the streets fighting to survive day to day, blessings can come in the strangest of packages.
“The Way In” was a stable environment where Laurelle was finally able recieve the therapy she so desperately needed to unravel the relationship with her damaged parents. A motivated student, her high school diploma was now within reach.
“I decided I wanted to do nails. Being a manicurist was something I thought would be fun, allow me to make money and most of all, I would be able to support myself.”
Laurelle applied and was accepted to the Newbury School of Beauty in Granada Hills.
“The Way In” was too far away from Newbury, so Laurelle was sent to live with a foster family in Granada Hills. Not only did she work and attended beauty school, but she took a train and a bus back to Hollywood each week to complete her schooling.
Her 16th birthday did not bring the thrill of getting a driver’s license or a new car, but for Laurelle it was even more momentous; she graduated high school and three months later, graduated from the Newbury School of Beauty.
Her 17th birthday present was being able to take the state test for her manicuring license. She passed the first time.
Laurelle moved back to Santa Clarita as an adult, ready to begin her life, her way.
She has worked the past 11 years at Boulevard West Salon in Canyon Country. She is an “in-demand” manicurist specializing in gorgeous acrylic nails and luxurious pedicures. Her dramatic hand painted nail art is amazing.
Laurelle’s artistic endeavors are not limited to the small canvases of her client’s nails… In her first apartment, she had cats and was unable to have a Christmas tree. No problem, Laurelle painted a true to life rendition of the perfect Christmas tree on the wall.
“When I showed the picture to clients and friends, they thought it was a real Christmas tree,” Laurelle laughed.
Word got around quick. Laurelle recalled, “I began getting phone calls not just for nails but for murals also. It was great. When I was 21, the owner of the Londoner Pub had a private art auction featuring my work. He displayed my canvases and sold all of them.”
Laurelle has a website: ArtworksbyLaurelle.com where you can view her beautiful artistry. It is well worth it. One day you may be able to say you knew her when…
In October of 2007, Laurelle fulfilled a goal that seemed unattainable; she became a homeowner. She bought a house in the hills of Canyon Country.
In the blink of an eye, her dream almost went up in smoke. She remembered, “Three days after I closed escrow, the Buckweed Fire was raging. I lost part of the backyard when my enclosed outdoor sauna burned to the ground.”
Thankfully that was the worst of it for her.
Laurelle has come full circle back to the Santa Clarita Valley. From a house of horrors to a home that is a haven filled with her own artwork and friends.
Laurelle’s journey is one of inspiration and determination. But that journey is far from over. There are still roads to travel, walls to paint, soccer balls to kick and somewhere an empty dance floor is calling her name.
Not long ago, a lady stopped Laurelle and said, “You look like you were struck by pink lightning!”
Hmmm, lightning is a brilliant and vivid electric spark discharged in the atmosphere.
You know what, I cannot think of a better way to describe my friend Laurelle.