New Orleans, LA - 2019-04-07
Duchess: I'm twenty-one, and I'm from Eugene, Oregon. I was raised mostly by my stepmom. My real mom left when I was eight months old. My earliest memories are from when I was like three. There was a lot of physical abuse. She had a bullwhip. She had a really thick leather belt and various wooden things. I've got scars.
My stepmother was with my dad but was also married to this older guy. It was this triangle situation that I didn't really get. He was very old and creepy. I'm not going to go into a bunch of detail about that, but me and my older sibling---he would watch us when we were like six and seven.
As I got older that continued. I didn't have any friends, and nobody in the house was nice to me. I wasn't allowed to talk to my siblings. I didn't say no to him because I didn't want to be alone. He used to bring me chocolate and stuff. Yuck.
My stepmom was Catholic, and that didn't make a lot of sense to me once I gained access to the interwebs. When I was thirteen I learned about Lilith, a character that was taken out of the bible. I don't know if you've ever heard of her, but she's kinda badass.
I was in a really bad place. I was suicidal, so I got into paganism. It got to the point in the house---it was like leave or just die.
My life had always been horrible at the house from as far back as I can remember. My stepmom was a psychopath, and my dad was gone all the time.
BW: When you say she was a psychopath...
Duchess: Clinically speaking, if you look up all of the markers of a psychopath, she's literally all of them. There was intense manipulation, extreme sadism, an intense need to isolate and control everyone around her, getting people to pity her.
So I was fifteen when I tried to kill myself. I just found some pills in the bathroom. I had no idea what they were. Obviously, it didn't work, and I woke up the next day very angry.
I was like, alright, I could try again, or I could be really badass. Lilith came to mind because people tried to oppress her, and she was like, "Fuck you."
BW: It seems like Lilith’s story really changed you.
Duchess: It did. She's the main deity that I work with in my practice. The story is that she was made from earth at the same time Adam was. He tried to rape her because he wanted to be superior. She spoke the lost name of God and flew from the garden of Eden. She mated with various angels and demons and gods and monsters. She's the mother of witches and all of the powerful, ferocious women.
One of her traits is that she can be vampiric. She usually goes to the beds of shitty men while they're sleeping and sucks their lifeforce, and that has an appeal, you know? [Laughing]
After I left home I ended up hitchhiking around the country. My first experience hitchhiking I got raped. Numerous boyfriends and people I thought were my friends have raped or sexually assaulted me. Some of them were people I had known for years---people I called family.
I came here like three years ago by accident and fell in love. I was trying to go to New York City and got on the wrong interstate. I'd get picked up by a lot of long haul truckers. I got in this guy’s truck. He said, "Yeah, I'm going to NOLA,” and I was like, “Okay. Everything is chaos. Why not?"
And I loved it. Then I had to leave, keep traveling, and I missed it here every day I was gone. I got to the point where I couldn't travel anymore. I have a host of mental disorders: PTSD, anxiety and bipolar, and chronic pain everywhere.
BW: What's the pain from?
Duchess: I was severely malnourished and beaten when I was a kid and put through ridiculous physical exertion for years. Apparently carrying fifty pounds on your back and sleeping on the concrete is not good for you. According to a couple of people who have worked on my back, my spine is fucked up. My hips like to dislocate, so I can't work a regular job.
I came back here a year ago in March. As I'm sure you've noticed from seeing me around every day, I can be as weird as I want, and I can't anywhere else. And there's so much magic here. I can do magic [tarot card readings] for a living on the sidewalk, and it's not a big deal.