A brief moment of joy in the life of someone who has little of it.
There she was; dancing in the street. I saw her just prior to the dance. She was picking out her partner. It was an unlikely partner, and I don’t know if her first thought was dancing.
The city had just suffered a torrential storm and thousands of basements were flooded. Homes had piles of once cherished possessions and once expensive furniture out on the curb. The young woman, the dancing woman, was bent over a pile as I walked by. Her hand darted in between a sofa, sewage stained beyond cleaning, and some damp cardboard boxes. She was dressed for garbage picking; older, ill-fitting jeans and a hoodie that had seen better days, but I knew that she hadn’t left the house to sift through trash.
The hand between the sofa snatched a piece of fabric and pulled. There was delight on her face, a delight I had never seen from her before.
The fabric that trailed from her hand could have been chiffon, or a tight mesh. (I’m certainly no Tim Gunn). Whatever it was, it was off-white or mother of pearl, or something in that part of the palette, and very feminine. She pressed it to her face.
I almost cried out. My head said the word “don’t!”, but I didn’t allow the sounds that went with the thought to escape my lips.
She pulled some more and the fabric followed, but began to grow taut. She twisted as she pulled and more fabric followed, stretching and bending. Her delighted smile didn’t hint any frustration. As she reached lower on the fabric, which now could have been the beginning of a dress or revealing undergarment, she wrapped it to herself as though she was trying it on.
With both hands clasped to her chest like someone going down a water slide, she twisted and pulled harder, her slender legs bent at the knees. The fabric came loose from the rest of the refuse and she spun out into the street.
At the bottom of the fabric was a light aluminum frame in a spiral pattern, like an over-sized Slinky. The woman had not found a garment. It was a laundry hamper, the broken frame and the mesh more than likely pulled from basement sewage.
The woman danced, like a little girl, until the frame began to brush her legs. She was high, I knew, but it seemed that the moment of joy had been organic. She thought she had found something pretty to wear.When she realized it was garbage, she dropped it to the ground and the smile disappeared.
I had seen her high before,once so polluted by drugs she stood at the edge of a major city thoroughfare, alternately yelling into the air and kicking at things that were not there.
She is a prostitute.
I have seen her so desperate for drugs that she clawed at her own arms while she paced and scanned the street for any face that might be a customer.
I have seen her look pretty enough that I wondered what she was like in high school. It took some imagination to imagine her then.
Tonight her smile, even augmented by drugs, was one that revealed the little girl she used to be. I will not paint a speculative picture of what her life might have been like, whether it was idyllic or horrific. It doesn’t matter.
She is a street prostitute, heavily addicted to drugs and under the command of an unpleasant man who I only know by sight. He routinely carries a broken broom handle. It is not for his protection.
She does not work in a neighborhood that the average American will never see. The “average American” drives by her on their way to a baseball game. The restaurant around the corner has more than one entree that is over thirty dollars. There is no doubt in my mind that some of their patrons discovered the place because they were the prostitute’s patrons first. Two miles east homes routinely sell for $400,000.
This is not Pretty Woman, this is not Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver.
I am not writing this from the shadow of an oil painting of Gloria Steinem.
I am a straight,white American male.And if you saw that young woman tonight, if you saw her glee at a trash picked dress that isn’t even a dress, if you saw the ghost of a little girl who wanted a pretty dress of a life only to realize it was garbage, you wouldn’t use her throat as your sperm receptacle any more. You’d be ashamed of yourself.
No, you can’t save her. I can’t save her. Whoever the experts are can’t seem to save her or millions more like her.
She is a dirty, drug addicted street prostitute. But she was once a little girl and it seems that little girl liked to dance.