Though they rarely wanted for money, her parents struggled with infidelity and addiction on a regular basis; her father had a habit of putting certain things up his nose, while her mother found younger men to be an irresistible temptation. And while they were more than capable of playing the parts of a stable, normal family to outsiders, the fighting behind closed doors was earth shattering. Though they always resolved to "stay together for the kids," the incessant conflict forced both children to find their outlets. For Marcus, it was alcohol, staying out late, and eventually dabbling in the same vices that their father enjoyed. For Zelie, it was art, promiscuity, and self-loathing.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zelie was branded a 'gifted' student, one who seemed to pass her courses with ease and little in the way of studying. For her, school was an escape: the more extracurriculars she participated in, the less she would be at home. The better her grades were, the less her parents had to get angry over. In her downtime, she indulged in any kind of artistic expression she could get her hands on: pencils, paints, sculpture, and so on. By the time she graduated high school, it seemed a given that she would go to college and do something great with her life. Instead - much to her mother's chagrin - Zelie chose to apprentice at a local tattoo studio, rather than follow the traditional school-college-career path that her family expected.
Apprenticing was a thankless job. As the only woman in the studio, Zelie started off fetching coffee and lunches, washing cars and bikes, and running errands for the artists as they did their jobs. Eventually, they taught her to make needles and use the sterilization machines, how to blend inks, and how to assemble the liners and shaders. She started off small, but picked up quickly; four years later, she became a licensed artist at the shop and began amassing her own clientèle.
For five years, Zelie poured herself into her work: tattooing was her life, her livelhood, and the only thing that kept her mind off of her twin's slow, downward spiral, and the eventual divorce of her parents. Stressed out, an artist friend suggested she take a break, and she heeded the advice - somewhat. Rather than quit art cold turkey, she applied for - and was accepted into - the illustration program at the Rhode Island School of Design, and moved out of state to pursue the higher education she had put off. Three years into the program, the inevitable finally came true: her father overdosed and died while on holiday, and her mother was inconsolable. Devastated by the loss, she pulled out of the program and returned to New York, relocating to Queens in an attempt to remain slightly independent (and sane) in the face of the mounting inheritance drama.
Despite leaving her education unfinished, she found work at a local studio on the strength of her portfolio and professional connections. Unable to face her father's death - or come to the terms with her twin's growing addiction - she continues to pour herself into her work, keeping her head down as best she can.