“Why keep giving it away when there is money to be made,” said the smooth talking older man to me. I was 17 years old, had been expelled from high school and was running the streets of my Las Vegas neighborhood with the other misfit kids.
“Let me help you and we both can make some money, baby,” he continued.
The next day I agreed to have him send me a cab to take me to a hotel on the Strip where I would “entertain” his drug dealer who was in town. I was promised $100 if I would take good care of his friend.
I dressed my teenage self extra carefully. I put on my tightest jeans, my girliest blouse and slipped some high heel boots on. I painted my face with extra make-up. I was turning myself into a cliche of what I had seen on tv and of the streetwalkers I had seen around my city when downtown or on the Strip. It was like putting on a costume.
I waited at the small neighborhood shopping center for my taxi. My friends — a term I use quite loosely — milled around, smoking cigarettes, swapping stories about how high they got the night before as if they were war buddies. This was the hang out, a little strip mall that hosted a 7-11, a mom and pop diner (which is where I learned to play pinball), and a tax office. It was a weird place for bored teenagers to hang out, but it was central to where we lived, our version of a town plaza. So we gathered there, day and night, smoking cigs together, scoring weed and other mind-altering substances, and it’s where I waited to be picked up for my first paid gig as a sex worker.
“We know what you’re doing,” said one of the guys with a bit of I-know-your-secret in his tone.
I was startled. I had not told anyone, not even my closest friends. The only guy who should know about this would be Robert, the fucked up older man who obviously had no problem preying on vulnerable teen girls for his own gain. But Robert had called the payphone to message me that the cab was on the way. Whoever took that call apparently got the 411 on why a taxi was coming to pick up one of their own. This was back in the day, way the fuck back, when payphones could be called and without cellphones or internet, we learned that payphone’s number in that tiny little pathetic strip mall to message each other. Even Robert the older guy who did not hang out in the parking lot knew that number.
With his pronouncement, I was soon circled by the parking lot misfit kids who wanted to know how much I was gonna make. Commentary soon took place of whether or not it was fair. “Don’t get ripped off,” advised one guy. “When do you get back?” asked another. “You can buy a lot of weed and beer with that $100. Partaayyyy !”
I laughed and smiled, weirdly enjoying the attention of my parking lot peers who were celebrating my apparent good fortune. Yet in the pit of my belly there lied a cobra of shame coiled and ready to squeeze the life out of my morals. There was a knowing, an inner knowing of some kind beyond my years that I was standing at a crossroads. Robert Johnson had his crossroads with the devil who gifted him with magic hands to play the blues. My crossroads was with a devil of a different type.
In the cacophony of all the revelry a quiet voice spoke to me. My friend Charles had been sitting there on the ledge of the cement planter having said not a word nor even looking at me. He was a strange one, always had been. He had long blonde hair, a skinny ass and the most bizarre laugh especially when he was high and belly laughing. I had slept with Charles several times and found him to be kind-hearted. I used to have a crush on him. He was older than the rest of us, just barely 21-years, so of course he was our favored liquor buyer. Charles was good people.
“Wanna go to my house?” he asked. He lifted his head and looked me right in the eye. “Wanna come over?”
It was as if everything froze. My anxiety about going to service someone for money was gripping my body like a strait jacket. My imagination was full of all the different ways I could spend that $100. Charles, with those blue sky eyes of his stared at me with intent as his invitation hung in the air. Together we stood at my crossroads.
A burst of wisdom showed up and with her a trace of courage to defy Robert and his fucking drug dealer and taxi cab. “Yes,” I replied in a soft voice, ‘Yeah, let’s go.”
We both got up and began to head to his house where he lived nearby with his parents. Kids partied at his house all the time, his parents too drunk too care. As we walked away the parking lot crew began shouting, “Where you going ? Your taxi is coming. Robert is gonna be pissed if you’re not here!”
“Just keep walking,” said Charles.
When we got to his room I thought for sure he would want sex, and I would have submitted for he had provided me an escape from what I knew would have become a life-defining choice. Instead, he asked if I wanted a glass of water and then left the room, leaving me in solitude with all of my angst, confusion and shame. I burst into tears.
Charles and I got high together. We made small talk. He did not ask about Robert or the drug dealer or the $100. We just hung out. To this day I have no idea if he ever knew how significant his invitation was to me. He later overdosed on LSD and accidentally shot his brother’s arm off. He was never the same, his mind too fucked up to recognize his friends or lovers.
Robert called me the next day, cussing me out and telling me I owed him. I was numb to his anger.
There would be two other men who would try to pimp me out before I finished my teenage years. I lived in Vegas, there truly was money to be made if a girl worked her sex.
When I was 18 years old someone invited me to a Christian concert. I went only because they also had coke which we were supposed to enjoy after the music. But when the singer asked people to raise their hand to ask Jesus into their heart, I found my hand going up involuntarily. I didn’t want to be a Christian (boring!), but I was having some kind of spiritual encounter that felt like Love had come to town. It was a different kind of crossroads than that damn parking lot.
My life changed that night. I stopped being a wild party girl running the streets of my Vegas neighborhood. I got a job. I went to church and bible studies and later my zeal took me to Hong Kong as a fulltime Christian missionary. I lived in that city for almost seven years. Christianity saved me from a life that I’m sure would have included drug addiction and prostitution if not prison or an early death. I needed to be born again into a new Pam who didn’t fall prey to scheming low-lifes. And I was.
That was so many years ago. I no longer consider myself a Christian – that’s another story, a rather long story for another time or two – yet I will always be grateful for my Christian history. I have nothing but respect for those who are bonafide Christ followers. It was Love and Acceptance demonstrated by Jesus People to me when I was as fucked up as they come that helped shaped my tenuous young life. People of faith literally guided me out of the valley of shadows and death.
I’m not sure why I needed to write this today, but there you have it. I’m looking out the window of my art studio at a gorgeous Northwest blue sky. My life is clean, healthy, vibrant and centered. I have the most amazing tribe of friends and my creative business is taking shape. I am one grateful woman.