Running, Living, and Dying in Saint Paul

The Rossmore Building on Robert Street (Photo: Patricia Bour-Schilla)

I came to Minnesota back in the earliest of the 1990s when the floods washed out levees and flooded barns. It seemed as if it rained for two months; maybe it was just four weeks. I’d been on the road doing a vision quest, which means I didn’t know where I was going or where I would wind up. Minneapolis gave me a place to lay my head and offered to fill my belly. But it would be Saint Paul that I would eventually call home; it was quieter, smaller, cleaner; and I still believe it loves me.

But that didn’t stop me from running away from Minnesota twice; I was afraid of getting stuck in a winter wonderland. I ran to Oklahoma (I grew in Oklahoma). I ran to Colorado (I loved Colorado but it broke my heart). I even returned to my hometown of  Washington, D.C. (My father died). I ran and ran until I answered a call from my Saint Paul friends. They asked why I would run away from people who loved me.

When I returned later that year, the city saw me first. Saint Paul seemed to exhale and whisper to me that I was forgiven for abandoning the garden. The trees waved red-rust autumn leaves as I walked through Frogtown. The sunlight shimmered through the breeze. People actually said “Excuse me” when I bumped into them! I effortlessly found a job as a coffee barista at Kapernicus on Prince Street years before it would become the Black Dog—one of the best jobs I ever had. There I became “Queen of the Coffee Bean.” We had Spoken Word nights. Teens felt safe enough to hang out, and we would sometimes give them coffee. They were our kids, too, weren’t they? They didn’t need to run away; we would love them just as they were. Eventually I would move into the Northern Warehouse Lofts above the new café.

Welcome to an old-school artists’ community! I had found a community that reminded me of the old days in San Francisco. The Rossmore was like San Francisco’s Project Artaud, an artists’ co-op in a renovated warehouse. At the Rossmore, on Robert Street, artists, musicians, craft people, veterans, and some losers coexisted over shops, restaurants, gay bars, and an employment office. It was a jacked building; we were not supposed to be living there, but we were—surviving and thriving, like hippies from the ’70s. These were my friends, my new family now.

Depending on how one counted time, Saint Paul seemed at least ten to twenty years behind the curve, and that was just fine with me. Time slowed down enough for me to catch up. I have found my way to a new life and to new folks to love back. With myself in tow, I’ve just resigned myself to living and maybe dying in Saint Paul. It’s not been such a bad place to live. The sky is wide and quiet, and there are lots of babies here. White babies, Black babies, brown, tan, mauve . . . all of them are new babies. That’s the thing about babies—they are all newcomers; little swatches of newcomers! Might not be such a bad place to die. Simply lay my body upon a quilt made of many swatches and light the fire high.


Deborah A. Torraine has worked as an theater artist in the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, DC, and Minnesota. She is an award-winning short story author and has written five locally commissioned children’s plays. Deborah’s hobbies include making pudding out of bread and turning water into wine. Deborah speaks survivor French and Spanish. Her favorite sayings include “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” But if you want to know what that trouble has been . . . buy the book.

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