Have You Found Her?
In winter 2004, 34-year-old Erlbaum (Girlbomb ) volunteered at the shelter where she herself had lived as a teenager. Dubbed “The Bead Lady” by the residents, she hefted a large, rattling bag of beadworking supplies to the cafeteria once a week, hoping to reach out to a younger version of herself over jewelry-making sessions—to “believe in them and listen to them,” as her volunteer-orientation videotape had instructed. When she met Samantha, a charismatic 19-year-old addict with an unyielding resilience in spite of a horrific childhood, Erlbaum knew she’d found a favorite. Though Sam had been on the streets since age 12, she was well read and quite gifted as a writer—a prodigy, it seemed. The two quickly developed a friendship, which deepened over the next several months as Erlbaum comforted Sam through health problems, abuse flashbacks and rehab, promising her a trip to Disney World if she stayed sober. Erlbaum was determined to save Sam and even offered to become her legal guardian. Erlbaum realized that, at times, details in Sam’s backstory didn’t add up (she was a skilled classical pianist), but these incongruities raised only the occasional, short-lived suspicion. Finally, Erlbaum realized Sam had been lying to her all along (she actually came from a sold middle-class suburb and hadn’t had the childhood she described), snookering her out of her time, attention and affection for a year. Erlbaum’s narrative begins promisingly, her savior fantasies and insecurities rendered with honesty and self-effacing good humor. However, her conclusions fall flat, missing opportunities to ponder larger issues at work in the story and opting instead for a mere cautionary tale. (Mar.)