Chrissy Polis can't stand the Essex neighborhood outside, where everyone knows who she is. But she doesn't know how to get out, or where she'd go if she did.
There was a time when it seemed people from all over the country were talking about the 24-year-old. Many wanted to help her; others condemned her.
Polis became an unwitting symbol of the transgender community and the struggle for transgender rights when she stepped into a Rosedale McDonald's one April evening. Two teen girls beat her that night. When an employee caught the assault on his cell phone, the video went viral, making headlines nationwide.
The child of an unstable home made even more complicated by her gender identity issues, Polis would encounter a whirlwind of attention. Reporters dug into her past. A newspaper columnist opined that Polis shouldn't be referred to as a woman. And a group called the Trans Panthers tried to shield her from the media glare.
Polis received offers of help from strangers across the country but came to believe that some people were exploiting her for publicity. She pushed away help from an older transgender woman who tried to mentor her, feeling the advice was overbearing.
And seven months after the attack, Polis ran into trouble with the law herself.
A year later, Polis has faded from the public eye, as do so many others whose personal plights become the focus of broader social debates. But for her, it's hard to forget. She hopes she's made a difference — anti-discrimination protections for transgender people have since been enacted in Baltimore and Howard counties — but she still doesn't know what to make of it all.
"Suddenly, she's catapulted, and she's an icon," said Dana Beyer of the group Gender Rights Maryland. "Chrissy had no clue; she had no training, no experience, and suddenly this fame came pouring down on her and she had no idea what to do with it."
Polis wavers between saying she wants to tell her story to help others and declaring that she wants no attention at all. She doesn't follow politics or take part in transgender organizations.
"I don't even talk to them, or associate," she says. "I'm not trying to be like everyone else, in their groups."
Heather Hock, Polis' roommate and childhood friend, says the attack and its fallout "messed her up big time."
"She's never going to have a regular life and just walk down the road," Hock says.
Two orange kittens bounce around the second-floor apartment in Essex. Polis only planned to get one cat, but she didn't like the thought of the siblings being separated. She has a twin brother herself, and their mother moved them around a lot, Polis says.
Hock heads out for a sandwich from Royal Farms. "You want something?" she asks.
"A life," Polis jokes.
It isn't clear how Polis, who has held jobs at Taco Bell and a flea market, supports herself these days. She says she's living off a loan from a non-bank lender and that she's set to get a settlement from McDonald's.