"Like how is that even possible? What are the logistics of it? Does she take a breath alternating with sucking a dick? Are they just like paying $10 to fuck her..." I take another sip of my coffee. I never drank coffee until I got off drugs. I always hated that jumpy feeling so, of course, I started using meth. I also remember the time 3 different hospital staff people used to hold me down to give me vaccinations yet a decade later I was giving them to myself.
Working at an agency that deals with sex workers and people who use drugs leaves little room in my head space for self care. Everything around here is URGENT. This is URGENT. Lives are at stake, we are told. This is at the same time our paychecks are late or we are told to wait to cash them. Taking a lunch outside the facility is frowned upon. You are somehow seen as not serious enough about the "mission" of the agency. I double fist caffeine while I suck down my cold lunch. Charts are strewn all over my desk. There is always something left undone at the end of the day. I try not to let it gnaw at me, like the stories that haunt my dreams. These are not the stories of the clients, these are the stories of the sex workers who are long gone. Taken my the virus, murdered, or just plain disappeared.
"So, you mean to tell me her grandfather is her pimp?!" The clients ask me if I will try to find this person in the jail. They tell me she needs my help. I never find her but I find ten young women that are just like her. My brother/uncle/cousin is my baby's father is a common theme. Or I was sold to ten pimps by the time I was 14 years old. I worked in a brothel with my grandmother or my mother helped me turn my first trick. For many of these people, the drugs came much later. The drugs were a way of numbing the pain, one small consolation prize in a world full of hurt. I tried to understand, though my frame of reference was limited by my own ignorance.
I remember back to when I walked the street at night on the way to the dealer, I wondered about the sixty year old woman who shuffled back and forth between the two corners. There was a newspaper stand on one, a fire hydrant on the other. She would shift her hair from side to side, depending on the direction of the traffic. She would point to one place or the other, directing them to stop if they wanted to sample her wares. As I drank from my 40 oz, waiting for Pablo or Flacco or Pedro to arrive, I thought to myself "look at that disgusting old ho there. Who the fuck would want to buy that pussy?" My 22 year old lens saw the world in narrow parameters. As a 28 year old caseworker, I imaged that same woman as a 15 year old child tossed around from man to man. All those years had worn away her spirit until she knew nothing else. She became a distillation of what everyone else say- just a person known for what they can take from her. Colostomy bags, prosthetic legs, and oxygen tanks. Nothing stops the flow. Nothing. I don't know why these things even shock me anymore.
As I take another sip of my increasingly bitter coffee, I think back to where I was a few years ago. Every chart on my desk is a person with a story, a story not unlike my own. Heroin for some people may be a form of recreation. For others, it is their only means of escape. I don't know the type of pain each individual carries around with them but it isn't my place to judge what pain pushed them into their choices. I am simply lucky I made it out alive.