Michelle’s story

I ran away from home for a combination of reasons, the greatest being that my Mother didn’t believe me when I told her about her man’s repeated advances toward me.  I thought I had somewhere to go, a friends house, but when I got there I was told I couldn’t stay.  I knew that I didn’t leave for frivolous reasons.  I didn’t feel like there was any other adult available for me to turn to for help.  I could not go back to my mother’s home.  I accepted that I was on my own.  I was book smart, not street smart, but I learned hard and fast.  Several times I would meet men that would pay for a motel room and feed me for a few days, saying that they were going to keep me as a mistress.  I was agreeable to that type of agreement, because the fellas were not objectionable and the promise of being a “kept woman” sounded like a Hollywood movie come true.  I had entered the adult world.  What did my mother know?  I can make it in the world.  Strangers are willing to help me and cared about me better than she did.  They really loved me. She loved her man, not me.  Even though she said I wasn’t going to make it in life, I am already on my way because I have likeable qualitites and am open to mutually beneficial opportunities.  I wasn’t a runway, I was informally emancipated.  All I had to do was walk down a street, within minutes someone would stop for me.  I would decline propositions of direct sex for money because, “I didn’t do that”.  If he looked safe I would get into the car and at least get a ride to my chosen destination, the beach, Hollywood, the swap meet or visiting friends from my old school.  I was really learning my way around L.A.  I felt like the world was my oyster with the freedom to decide whatever I wanted to do.  For three weeks I enjoyed my newfound freedom, slowly the illusion began to fade.  As one man disappeared into a ghost of empty promises, another would arrive to save the abandoned maiden, and take her on another 48-72 hour romance.  I didn’t feel like I was prostituting myself because I chose who I was with and what I did and when.  And this guy really likes me, if he didn’t he would get rid of me after sex, right?

One day it narrowly occured to me that I had not eaten.  By the time I had found a place to sleep, I was certain something would come up the next day.  The next day I was hungry.  What was the deal?  Am I not pretty enough today?  I never go this long without being picked up.  Please someone, anyone, think enough of me to stop.  I won’t give sex for money, but I will spend some time for a good meal. Please.

Nightfall.  It’s cold out, why did I leave home in December?  I hope I don’t freeze to death in my sleep.  Don’t be stupid, this is California, it doesn’t get that cold, even outside, with the wind blowing off the ocean.  Still, I have never been this cold in my life.  I don’t know if I can fall asleep being in this cold.  I have so many clothes on.  I feel cold in my bones.

Morning.  What have I done?!  This isn’t fun anymore.  What can I do?  Where can I go?  Start walking, don’t look desperate.  No money, no food, nothing to do.  I’m waiting for something, I ‘m not quite sure what it is.  If I get asked today, what will my answer be?  I keep walking no longer expecting anyone to stop.  Then someone does.  The passenger window is down on his dark sedan.  He doesn’t speak right away, so I do, I don’t want him to drive away.  It is not dark yet, but will be soon.  The sun has already set beyond the foothills.  I am not really familar with this part of town.  Where am I?

“Can you gimme a ride?  I asked bending at the waist toward the street so I can see him, but not approaching the car.  He leans over to the passenger side of the front seat of the front seat, with his hand still on the steering wheel.

“Where do you want to go,?” he inquired, with the both of us aware that this was not the real conversation we were having.  All I could think about was getting some food before I got sick.

“Do you want to make some money?”  As his question hung in the air between us, I remembered the glazed donut, purchased my last coins that passed my lips days ago.  I envisioned the near perfect frost, crinkling at the edges from my fingers gripping it with each bite.  I didn’t remember if I actually had savored it; perhaps I would if I had known how long it was going to be before I’d eat again.  “Did I want to make some money?” I pondered, and my mind drifted back to the donut.  I could almost taste and smell its sweetness as I cherished the delicacy in my mind.  The real question before me was,”When am I going to eat again”.

Getting into his car didn’t come with the promise of food, money or even escaping with my life.  I had gotten into cars with strangers before but this was different.  I had never been afraid of strange men, even though I was aware of the potential dangers. I had always been on alert, ready to fight or tuck and roll if necessary.  This time I was not viligent; for the first time I felt vulnerable.  I did not want to face the powerlessness so I let numbness take over instead.  I had a choice to make.  I was beyond the point of hunger, so my will to survive led my head to nod while my voice whispered, “Yes”.

He opened the door and I got in.  He asked me how much I wanted.  I told him it was my first time doing this, not sure if he believed me or not, or if he though I was trying to say I was a virgin.  “I guess twenty is okay”.

I use to get paid $20.00 a week to baby-sit three children after school; a seven year old, a five year old and a baby.  I was only fourteen then in the ninth grade, that was more money than I ever needed; so twenty in an hour seemed alright.  He was kind and thoughtful enough to offer $40.00.

He made a U-turn in the street and pulled into a motel that was half a block away.  I waited in the car while he got the room.  He motioned for me to follow him and I did.  I’d had plenty of sex with my part-time boyfriend,k but I didn’t have a clue what to do with this stranger.  He approached me naked with a creepy grin.  I smiled back,”cause that is what you are suppose to do, right”?  Make him like you, well at least like the sex enough that he will become a ‘regular’.  Okay, smile and do whatever he says, look pretty, be pleasant, keep smiling so he thinks you are really into him.  That is how you make money, right?  Okay, so I am not very good at this game yet, but I’m a quick study.  If I can get through the next twenty minutes with this disgusting, pot-bellied, hairy, sweaty, grunting monster, than I can surely deal with whoever might come along next.

When he was satisfied, he dropped me off at a fast food chicken restaurant.  I knew my body needed food, but I had no appetite.  Also, I could not bring myself to spend the money.  I just clutched it in my hand, wanting to put as much distance between myself and the time I would have to do that again.  But in a way it didn’t matter when the next time was.  I had done it.  I had sold myself.  I’m a whore.  There’s no turning back.  I can’t say “I don’t do that” anymore.

So now that I’m a real hooker, let me go to work.  I have a strong work ethic.  I am willing to earn money.  If this works, then I’ll work it.  Okay, where do I go?  Where is a busy street?  How much do I ask for?  It seems smart to get the money upfront, but do I turn them down if they way they want to pay after?  What if there is a cop?  WHAT ARE THE RULES?!  I don’t want to die out here in the streets. Okay, I will ask for forty, I know I can get that, but no less than twenty.  I don’t really have sexy clothes like the women on TV.  I’ll roll up my skirt, okay, I think that is short enough.  I don’t have high heels though, I ‘m only fifteen, my mom would never let me have high heels.

One trick, two, three, four.  Okay, I’ve got nearly two-hundred dollars.  Wow, that was fast.  Two hundred times thirty days, …six thousand dollars a month!  I don’t need that much.  I won’t even have to do this every day; or I could just do less.  In a while I will find something else to do.  But this is easier than I thought.  I should find a  motel room to sleep at.  Lemme get somethin’ to eat first.

I walk by a liquor store.  I joke to myself about needing a drink.  I don’t drink much though, I know my father is an alcoholic and I don’t want to get addicted.  I am crossing the driveway to the parking lot and a car stops in my path.  There are four guys in a car with the windows down.  “Hey, do you want to go to a party”?  “What kind of party? I’m done working for the night, but I could use a good time.”  I immediately think I shouldn’t have said the last part, but still wearing my short skirt, I figure my appearance was telling.  “It’s a bachelor party” he replied.  The expression on my face said ‘uh-oh’.

“I dunno…a bunch of guys, I protest. “Naw baby, it’s cool.  We already got two girls there.  We just want you to dance.  No one is going to even touch you,” he assured.

No touching, okay.  More money for less work, that’s gravy.

I go up the stairs to the apartment door.  Sure enough, I see two strippers dancing in the living room as soon as I cross the threshold.  I go to the far side of the living room opposite the two who appear to be “together”.  I don’t want to invade their space so I start swaying, not in a rush to get undressed.  I don’t know how many men are in the apartment.  The music is loud, heavy smoke clings to the air.  I can barely sense the numbness coming over me.  Then someone takes me by thehad and says, “I want to talk to you for a minute”.

Okay, (smile).  I follow his lead down a hallway that seems too long for an apartment.  The brown wooden doors are all closed.  There is a hazy glow barely illuminating the walls painted burnt orange.  The dense colors continue into the bedroom on the left.  He ask me to sit on the bed and tells me he want to have sex with me.  I give him the price and he hands me the money.  I lay back and we start.  He kisses me.  I think that the rules are no kissing, but I do find him attractive, so I kiss back.  The lights are dim.  We don’t make eye contact.  In a flash I see the door open, lights turn off and silhouettes moving about until the door closes.  I feel hands holding my arms and shoulders pinning me to the bed.  At the same time I feel a transition on top of me and start to scream.  I hand clasps my mouth and I try to bit it.  I get a good one in, hear cuss words, then a punch to the face.  I am stunned and go limp as my limbs are being held by hands, arms, bodies I could not see as each one took his turn.  I don’t know how much time elapsed before they eventually left the room.  I rolled off the bed to the floor.  I drew myself into a ball and wept.  When I found my clothes, I discovered I’d also been robbed.  I slowly dressed myself and began to contemplate how I was going to get down the hallway, traverse the living room, get out the door and down the stairs.  Should I tiptoe slowly and try to sneak out, or should I just run for it?  There’s no way I won’t be seen.  I don’t want to die in the streets.

Eventually one guy came back into the room.  He apologized that his “homies were trippin’ and asked if there was somewhere he could drop me off at.  I did not know where to go.  I wanted to be as far away from there as possible.  All I could say was, “Please just walk me out to the street.”  I wan’t sure that I could get off the premises on my own.  We sat in his car for a few minutes, but there was no where he could take me.  It wasn’t 1 am yet.  I still had time to make enough money to get a room to sleep in for the night.  So I got out of the car and walked back to the boulevard.

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