Portrait by Kelly Bjork
I meet Kristin at the Mercury, a private club in a tucked-away building with a nondescript door. It’s shadowy inside, with black booths and red accent lighting. A progression of Kristin’s friends drop by our table to chat. They wear silver chains and black mesh, and have shaved heads or intricate hairstyles. Some outfits are dungeony, others have a Renaissance finish. It’s harder to categorize Kristin’s look. A petite woman in her 40s, Kristin has a round, pale, make-up-free face and long, full, salt-and-pepper dreadlocks. I ask about the various pendants dangling from her necklaces. “It’s rose quartz, and ocean jasper, and moonstone. They’re healing stones, very spiritual,” she says. “The seven-point star is known as the fairy star, or the Elven star. Each point means a certain quality, so it essentially has the same five qualities as a pentagram, or pentacle, or five-pointed star. Wiccans will often wear the pentagram. The septagram has two more points with different qualities, but I’d have to Google it to tell you what they are,” she said. “I’ve studied a lot of fairy folklore. It started with college courses and art classes and tattoo ideas. Three of my four tattoos are of fairies,” she said.
“What’s the fourth?” I asked.
“A peace symbol with a rose,” she said, then went on. “Being as my nickname is Faerie, I realized my personality was very fairy-like, very fluttery, very all-over-the-place,” she said, but as she sits before me, Kristin projects a resoundingly practical quality, from her forthright deliveries, to her neatly folded arms, to her steady eye contact. When I imagine Kristin as a fairy, she’d be the kind that materializes during fairytale chores, then puts herself to work: tidying bottles of spices, or coordinating a team of forest critters, or procuring supplies from thin air.
We go over her recollections from the night she witnessed a shooting at the Twilight Exit. Here and there, some memories have slipped away from her. Perhaps they were replaced with other, happier ones. I get a feeling she doesn’t think of the event often, though she mentions it surfacing whenever the setting is reasonably formidable. If she’s alone, for instance, and it’s late, and she’s walking home.
“I’d just moved into my apartment, which is up the street from the bar,” she said. “I was brand new to the neighborhood. I’d been up ‘til midnight the night before, getting all the boxes. The karaoke was supposed to be kind of a hello, a celebration to welcome me into my new place,” she said. “It didn’t seem like an unsafe neighborhood overall, but afterwards, the shooting would shape my impression,” she said. Kristin’s move occasioned a new roommate. “He was 21, so he was a bit younger. It was his first night out in the neighborhood too,” she said. On their way to the bar, Kristin’s friends Raven and Christie picked them up, and the four arrived together. Kristin often accompanied the couple to karaoke, though she never sang herself. “I’d go to support my friends,” she said.
In the moments before the gunshot, Kristin’s group had gathered at a table in the center of the dining room. “We’d been there less than fifteen minutes. I’d just taken off my jacket off and hung my purse, then I hopped up to get dinner menus and brought them back. I knew what I wanted, but I wasn’t gonna order right away. I was literally just getting settled into my chair and opening the menu when I heard the shot fire, and then I heard screaming. All of a sudden the furniture around me was being pushed out of the way. Everybody was automatically huddling under the tables. Then we were on our knees, and like, scuffling and scurrying out the side door. I tried to, you know, stay down, but get out,” she said.
“Were you worried the shooter would try to kill everyone in the bar?” I said.
“No. That didn’t even cross my mind,” Kristin said. She seemed a little taken aback. Her response compelled me. Nearly every witness I’d talked to had weighed the possibility James was an active shooter. “I didn’t know what was happening. I was scared and nervous. I couldn’t see the person shooting,” she said. “I just wanted to get out of there.”
By the time she made it outside, plenty of police had surrounded the building. She heard a burst of gunfire. “It was obviously the cops who were shooting,” she said, and I asked her to weigh in. “I know there’ve been other situations where cops were not in the right, but in this case, there was a guy with a weapon who was raising it at people inside a bar. There were other lives at stake. The cops did what they needed to do. They did their job,” she said. Kristin’s summary of James’s and Whitney’s behavior carried a similar efficiency. “It was extremely irresponsible for both of them to leave their baby alone. Beyond that, I don’t know enough about them to pass judgement,” she said.
Kristin couldn’t recall the quality of her sleep the night of the shooting, or her temperament in the days following, but gradually, the incident would draw out memories of her earlier encounters with criminals. “I was working at a Winchell’s Donuts in Las Vegas. I was 16. It was my first job. I’d make the donuts, and I’d run the cashier. One evening, a man came in. He seemed really nervous. That’s all I can remember about him. I was alone. He must’ve known that. I think he’d cased the joint,” she said.
I asked Kristin to give me a visual summary of herself as a teenager. “I had short hair, and I used to feather my bangs so they went up and back. I think I had to wear some kind of uniform. Probably an ugly polyester shirt with the Winchell’s logo on it,” she said, then continued.
“The guy pointed a supposed gun at me. I don’t know if it was really a gun. It could’ve been his finger. Whatever it was, he kept it hidden under his hoodie. At the time I thought he had a weapon, for sure, but I was naive back then. He told me to give him all the money, and I did. It was only a couple hundred dollars. Then he told me to lie down and count to a number, some big number. So I got down on the floor behind the register and started counting. I was supposed to reach the number before I was allowed to get up, but I didn’t count as high as he’d asked me to. I got up after a little while, when I was sure he was gone. Then I called my boss and the police and my mom. The guy never got caught,” she said. “I kept working there, but I was a little scared afterwards. I spent more time looking out the windows. I wanted to be sure no one was watching the place,” she said.
A second robbery occurred when Kristin was in her late 20s. “I was working as a change person in a casino. It happened off-camera. I had my cart right next to me, and I’d stepped into my change closet. The door was blocking my view. I didn’t see the guy stick his hand into the cart. The cameras showed him walking through the casino with the money. They didn’t catch that guy either. I got fired. My employers were making an example of me,” she said.
Kristin moved to Seattle not long after that, but “getting fired wasn’t the main reason I left. I picked Seattle because it’s everything Vegas is not. The greenery, the hiking, the camping, the spirituality. People are more laid-back, they’re friendlier. I came out by myself in 1999. I brought my three cats: Mischief, Wish, and Louie. I loaded up a Dodge Caravan and opened the windows. I wasn’t scared of the drive ‘til I hit the hills in Oregon, and my car started sounding strange. I had kind of an epiphany, so I pulled the car over and broke down crying for a while. I’d had this letter from my ex. He told me he didn’t want me to open it until I got to Washington. I’d only just crossed the border in Oregon, but I decided it was time to read it anyway,” she said.
“What’d it say?” I asked.
“He was telling me how much he loved me. He wanted to get remarried. Six months later, he let me know he wanted to come up and visit me, but I told him no. I just wasn’t ready to see anybody from Vegas yet,” she said. “I haven’t talked to him since.”
“You probably broke his heart,” I said, dazzled by Kristin’s ability to shift from one vibrant story to the next. The effect recalls the play of colors on opalescent glass. When I asked about her current job, Kristin named a multi-tiered parking garage downtown, where she occupies the service department. “I help get people out of the garage when they’re having trouble. They’ll push a button on the ticket machine and talk to me over an intercom. I work from an office in a different room,” she said. “Maybe they’re an employee so they need to get in and out, but they forgot their fob that day. Other times, they’re calling because their ticket got jammed. Or maybe the person is putting it in upside down, even though there is a diagram on the machine. I’ll walk them through the right way to insert it. The bars on the ticket are supposed to go up and to the left. If that doesn’t work, I’ll vend them through the garage. That’s what we call it when we disable the barrier and move the car through,” she said.
Just before this, Kristin shuffled two part-time gigs into a full-time schedule. “I was working concessions in a stadium. It was a seasonal job. There were some rude customers, but otherwise, it wasn’t that hard at all. We sold clam chowder and fish and chips. Our chowder was considered the best in town, but that’s just what I heard. I’ve never had clam chowder in my life. I’ve been a vegetarian for 24 years,” she said. The other job was in housekeeping. “It was very hard, very physical work. Lots of bending and contorting and getting down on your knees. I had kind of a pattern I’d do. I’d start with the bathrooms. The showers with sliding doors were the most difficult because I’d have to get into an awkward position to clean them. I’d take the hair out of the drain. I tried to not think about it. I got very fast. In my team, I became the pro of doing the bathrooms. I just wanted to get in and out,” she said.
“I could’ve stayed with either job and worked my schedule around, but I decided to leave them both for what I have now. I’m glad I did, because I love where I’m working. It’s low stress, I make decent money, and I get the right amount of social interaction,” said Kristin.
When I ask if she’s living as before, in the same place in the same neighborhood, and with the same roommate, Kristin answers yes and no, respectively. She met her current roommate when she was working at a Hot Topic. “He had green curly hair and glasses and wore a trenchcoat. I asked him out for a drink and he said he wasn’t legal for another couple months. I was like, ‘Oh.’ He was 20, so we had a 16-year age difference. We started talking, we started dating, we moved in together, we got engaged. It didn’t work out, but we’re still roommates,” she said. “He’s a gamer. He doesn’t leave the house often, other than for work. He’s one of my closest friends.”
“Cool,” I said. “I’d say things are pretty good for you. You like your job, you like your roommate, you like your apartment, and you have lots of friends.”
“Things are pretty good for me,” said Kristin.