Guest post by Tracey Helton
As I slide my back against the hot wall, I can feel the energy being sucked out of my body. Underneath my burgundy sweater and matching burgundy leggings lay the evidence of my plight. I am extremely malnourished to the point that one can easily see all the ribs climbing up my back. I do eat – mostly a pint of Ben and Jerry’s – when I am done working and can finally enjoy my fix. My legs are a series of track marks and bruises, therefore I am covered up on this hot day. I need to look shiny and new.
I am working the corner where the young girls stand. It is a few blocks down from the center for runaway youth. Men who drive up and down this street are looking for young girls; 14, 16, 18, but certainly not me. I am all washed up at the tender age of 22. But I still have a young face – especially when my eyes are pinned from heroin. Unfortunately, today is not that day. I had to pay rent on my room so I am sick, sick, sick. Usually, I would fix first and pay later but I was so far behind on rent that all my belongings would have ended up in the street. To get decent money as a hooker, you need a place to take the tricks. A quick blow job in the car may suffice for some of the customers. I preferred regulars. They were much less likely to kidnap me or cut my throat.
My friend had left this corner one day to do an outcall at a man’s apartment. I had rules – I never went to their place, I never stayed the night, I never left the Tenderloin. Well, she smoked crack and was a little more desperate. She was young, blonde, beautiful, and 16 years old. She charged $35 for quick sex but this man was willing to pay much more for a home visit. When I saw her a few days later, she had just escaped from his apartment. It was, in fact, a torture chamber. He had got her to go inside where he raped and beat her while he smoked crack over her bloody body. She had scrapes and bruises from cramming her long body out a tiny bathroom window. Yet, here she was again.
“Are you alright, Laura?” I asked naively. These things had never happened to me. At least, not yet.
She turned her face to the side so the passing traffic could not see the palm shaped bruise on her face. “I am never going to get a date looking like this,” she told me. “If you get money first, kick me down Tracey. I promise I will get you back.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to her. I knew why she did not go to the police. The humiliation is not worth dealing with, the reality that they were not going to do a fucking thing. Girls told each other of bad dates, of places to avoid, of how to survive. The outreach workers would come by and hand us condoms by the fist full. This was still the area of AIDS. I had heard stories of a girl with HIV working the streets with her oxygen tank. And men would still pick her up. The reality was many of these girls got HIV from their customers. You would hear of some giving out the virus as revenge for their condition.
I would never see Laura again. She was wrong. Someone did pick her up that day. She was part of the crowd of revolving faces that visited the corner in front of the Vietnamese sandwich shop. I left a few months later. In the eyes of my peers, I had moved up in the world. I had found a sugar daddy – a 70-year-old married man. He was willing to help me get off heroin as long as I accepted him as my sole client. I took him up on his offer. I stopped using heroin with a 21-day methadone detox and started using crystal meth a few days later.
There was no happy ending. There was no Prince Charming coming to save me from myself. I just switched from fucking strangers for money to attempting to fuck one man who could rarely get it up. It was safer for me. After a man tried to kill me down by some warehouses, I was ready for a break. My stint as a street prostitute was not a long one. A few months on the corner changed my life forever. I learned how to use sex to survive. I went from a 17-year-old saving themselves for love to a drug addicted junkie covering their abscesses with burgundy leggings.
Burgundy Leggings was originally published on Tracey Helton’s blog.
- An interview with Tracey Helton on her writing life can be read here.
Tracey Helton MPA RAS is an addiction specialist and recovering addict living in the SF Bay Area. She writes about topics related to harm reduction, addiction, and recovery at traceyh415.blogspot.com.
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