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The Origins of an Impostor: JT LeRoy's First Story

Read the first story written by the pseudonymous author who scandalized the literary establishment.

Photo by Michael Marcelle

This story appeared in the September issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

In 2005, the writer JT LeRoy—then best known for Sarah (2000), a picaresque novel that allegedly drew on his experiences as a cross-dressing teenage truck-stop whore—was revealed to be a 40-year-old woman named Laura Albert. The literary world, scandalized, quickly labeled LeRoy's work a hoax. This month marks the release of Author: The JT LeRoy Story, a VICE Films production, and the first documentary to present Laura Albert's own side of the events. To coincide with the film's release, we're republishing the first short story that Albert wrote as LeRoy. It originally appeared in a regional Connecticut newspaper. This story is also included in a new edition of her book The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, which was released August 23 by Harper Collins.


It was something I always knew. Heroin coming in balloons was a special message to me, that heroin comes in balloons. The Mexicans keep it in their mouths, little knotted balloons, spit it into your hand if you're for real, swallow it if you're a cop. Crayon used to joke that I bought the heroin just for the damned balloon, 'cause I never cut the balloon, only if I'm on a run and getting sick. But even then I feel like this guy in some movie I saw where he slices open his loyal dog and puts his hands in it just to keep warm.

I sit there and pick at the knot on the balloon, drive anyone with me crazy waitin' for me, but they know better than to snatch it from me and rip it open.

I save all the balloons. I save them because the truth is I do buy for the balloons. Yeah, I smoke, shoot, the dark tarry clump inside. I have to do that; like buying baseball cards, you gotta chew the crappy gum that comes with them. But the balloons are the only thing that's really going to save me, and they know it and I know it.

I am the Holy Ghost coming for their redemption, whether they like it or not.

I keep them hidden in a cigar box under some bushes in Golden Gate Park. As soon as I get ten balloons, I dig up the box and carefully place the new ones inside. I like sitting alone, in the silence of the park at night, shining my flashlight on my collection. I bury my face in their sticky, damp hollow bodies and inhale their rubbery glue-like scent, then I lie on the grass with the torn balloons that were my mother's draped over my closed eyelids like coins on a dead person, and I'm so comforted and soothed, I drift right to sleep.


One Mexican on 16th and Valencia sold for-crap smack, but he had Day-Glo silver balloons, so I bought from him instead of the Mexican with good-deal in black balloons.

No one knows about my collection, and I won't tell until The Time. I've had my plan forever, and I can't just go buy balloons; they have to be special magic balloons, baptized by saliva, made holy by the fear of getting busted with them, and transformed to the sacred by all the desires floating in the tension surrounding them. Our sweat, our fear, and my love. In my box, I still have some of the red balloons my mother would slash apart with her long red nails. When I would try to open them my way, picking the knot apart slowly, she'd scream for me to fill up the goddamn works or she'd die, and I'd slash 'em open too. But one day I knew I'd buy my own balloons.

I go to sleep at night and dream of my balloons; I try to decide how many I will need. I put my hands between my legs and rub where it feels good, and I imagine them filling the sky, as they will, like a leaking gumball machine in heaven.

The heroin inside, to tell you the God's honest truth, is just to tide me over until it is The Time. It will be a clear day, no clouds, no wind, just blue buttermilk sky. Crowds will gather, smiling and joyous. A clown with oversize shoes with yellow pompoms on the ends will breathe life into my balloons with helium-filled red lips. People will surround me and slowly attach one filled balloon after another—my silvers, my blues, my greens, my yellows, tying them to my outstretched arms and legs. I will announce to them all that it is finally The Time. They will cry and tell me they will miss me, but they know this is a miracle—this is the plan, as it always has been and must be.

I feel myself getting lighter as branches of balloons spring from every limb. I tell them not to cry; I must rise for their sins. I am the Lord's outcast and will face him for all outcasts. I will refuse to leave heaven, and I will offer up the black heroin I once hid from my mother and wouldn't return to her, even as her fists beat against me, even as she lay shaking and sweating, howling like a trapped fox, and I sat, ignoring her, watching TV. The sacrifice of my gift shall cause Jesus to weep at my feet. I can barely feel the ground, and with one more dark red balloon—repaired from my mother's fingernails—I am released. I fly like I do in my dreams, the cheers below becoming distant, up into the blue, up to God and Jesus…

I am the Holy Ghost coming for their redemption, whether they like it or not. This is the plan and always has been, since I saw it done years ago on TV, on Sesame Street—a little boy lovingly encased by balloons, flying out from the cheers below, while his absent mother dies somewhere below.

This story appeared in the September issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.