But äRRiel was also very sweet — her dad says “she never lost the innocence of a child” — as evidenced by an intricate black-and-white illustration of a little girl cuddling her cat, posted prominently on her page. In her MySpace photos, her pierced septum is juxtaposed by rounded cheeks and inquisitively penetrating eyes that recall a baby doll’s guileless innocence.
She had charisma. Even on MySpace, äRRiel was a magnetic figure. “She was punk before punk was ‘cool’; a MySpacer before MySpace was ‘cool,’ ” writes MySpace friend “-mrk-”in a blog entry. “[She] made free layouts before they were all over the place.”
Strangers actually begged her to be their friend like lovesick high schoolers. One girl named Misty wrote, “Everyone wants to be your friend because you are so damn cool . . . IF you ever decide to add me that would be swell.”
A major allure of äRRiel’s online persona was the gorgeously rough-hewn, deftly narrated, and frank first-person prose on her MySpace blog. At 14, she ran away from her Woods Hole home, eventually ending up in San Francisco. She told everyone she was four years older than she was, “As if no one would notice the under-ripened breasts beneath my slips and fishnet stockings, and the chubby cheeks I hid behind a mask of Robert Smith make-up and teased hair.” She recalls squatting in a burned-out church on Dolores Street in a debris-filled roomand being in a Haight Street alley in San Francisco, “smoking crack and waiting for my heart to explode, thinking, ‘This would be a perfect time for the credits to roll.’ ”
They didn’t. After five months on the road, äRRiel phoned her parents from Boulder, Colorado, and told them she wanted to come home. She ended up back in Boston, surviving as a bike courier, spare-changing on Cambridge sidewalks, and helping homeless kids in the Pit in Harvard Square. She created a superhero alter ego, the Smelly Avenger: the homeless, dumpster-diving protagonist in her self-published zine The Dirty Gurl Chronicles who gets her powers from a rubbish-picked leotard and uses them to fight the MBTA police.
But bad things did happen out on the road. For äRRiel, it was heroin addiction and Hepatitis C, two struggles she writes about with honesty in her MySpace blog. In the past year or so, Hepatitis C severely weakened äRRiel to the point where she couldn’t pedal a bike anymore — and she’d been clean for nearly three years. She was set to undergo 24 weeks of chemotherapy that doctors said could offer a 90 percent chance of cure. But at the last minute, one doctor decided she wasn’t going to let äRRiel go through the treatment because her patient had a history of depression and feared äRRiel would commit suicide — even though her family had already arranged for an extensive network of supporters.