My work didn’t hold anything real exciting for me that day…April 7, 1993. I needed to check-up on some near forgotten pieces of paper. They, the pieces of paper, represented people that I’d never seen or known. Up till then, they were just hand-writing images of maladies and locations and the people who owned them.
I went to see Mary…for the fourth or fifth time in the space of a month or so. She lived in a small trailer court that looked like old people lived there…43rd Avenue and Maryland or Missouri, something like that. Gene, her boyfriend, was sort of old, I guessed – late 50’s to 60’s – gray hair on his head and body – spots and scabs all over his arms and legs from the scabies that his prostitute girlfriend brought home to him. She, too, looked old…bad old – even though she was only six to eight years older than I was, her body was thin and weary, her teeth were gone – some “date” that went bad – all beat out of her ragged, road-map wrinkled face.
On that particular morning, Gene greeted me at the door in his underwear and tossed hair. The day’s light was making his eyes squint by themselves – “Mary is in the back in bed” – he told me to come in and go talk to her. I squeezed my way between the couch and chair that was blocking the sliding door. The trailer was stuffy and smelled like warm sleeping bodies. Not dirty, just very warm – so much so that you could smell the oil from their skin. Mary’s face was all wrinkly and shiny from sleep – she stumbled out of the door – skinny body bumping into the door jamb.
Mary said that she knew she needed treatment but hadn’t had the transportation to get there – she smiled and confided that “at least I haven’t been out spreading it.” I gave her a card and told her to come see us – very soon. She glanced at the time and told Gene that “we can come down in the afternoon, see….” I nodded my approval and watched Gene scratch his belly.
My senses were aware of the stillness in the trailer – the warm stuffiness – Mary slid open the window on the back door to let it out and I heard mourning doves in the mulberry trees outside. Sounds that soothed me as I watched an old worn-out prostitute wake-up and realized the day was half over – to me – and just beginning for her.
As I drove to the park, I remembered Mary’s daughter from the last time I came to visit. A younger version of Mary – already tall with long straight brown hair – not a lot of meat on her body – sunken cheeks, small breasts, long white legs, clean thin arms that hadn’t seen hundreds of needles and hot pipes. Little Mary’s eyes were questioning and untrusting as I asked for her mom – “Who are you?” was her answer. How intelligent already, looking out for her mom. “Where does she stay when she’s not here?” I asked. A small smile and a single lifted eye-brow belied the knowledge of what a girl shouldn’t have to know about her mom. I hoped I wouldn’t get papers on Little Mary someday. Maybe she was learning what she didn’t want to become when she grew-up. “She doesn’t have another permanent address when she’s not here.” Of course not…a street corner or drug store parking lot or stretch of road couldn’t really be called a permanent address.
There at the park, sitting in my non-air-conditioned Tercel, parked under the shadiest tree I could find, I listened to the familiar sounds of children playing on the merry-go-round, roller blades rolling and clacking on the sidewalk, wind blowing and moving through the leaves in the branches overhead, and doves coo-cooing in the mulberry across the way. Two years earlier, Mary told me that she shared a shack with Little Mary behind some friend’s house just north of the street where she would work. “She knows that I have to do things so we can eat sometimes and have new clothes for school. I always come home when I can and my friend is almost always there in the front if Little Mary needs something.” Instead of roller blades on the sidewalk, it was the sound of Mary sobbing about being beat-up, thrown out of the van and losing her teeth. Instead of mourning doves in the trees over there, it was mice and other scurrying, scavenging, living things under the bed and outside that you could sometimes see through the chinks in the wall.
Were the miles traveled by Mary going to strengthen her daughter’s resolve not to travel the same road, or were they going to condemn her to the same journey? Did Mary learn this road from someone close to her, or did she stumble onto it by herself? What destructive, violent, self-losing act started this? Would it ever end, or would it only continue to repeat itself? I didn’t know; I still don’t.
Like I had said earlier, it wasn’t going to be too exciting that day, only full – full of every thing and emotion and experience. They were all out there and I would only get to see a glimpse of it that day, any day. I got to feel it, though, and smell it…and sometimes only sense it. That was part of why I loved my job; I got to touch the essence of being alive, of being a human struggling to live.
And it continued…as things did and do…January 13, 1997…and on this day, this one particular day, came the final news about Mary. That inevitable end had come. Eugene, or Gene, came to the clinic because he was named as a contact to syphilis again. “Again” was the third time in the seven years that I had been there at the health department doing that type of investigative work. Gene spoke with my partner, Gilbert, and revealed that Mary had been found dead on West Van Buren about four months earlier. She was just found dead – that’s all. The incompleteness of that answer, the pure lack of substance found therein was nearly as sad as the death itself. “Oh, I don’t know. She was just found dead.” That’s all? That’s all he could tell us, this man who slept with the woman for five or more years? She was just found dead? I wondered…and wonder. I did and do. Mary died in August or September of 1996. While we were all bustling about getting ready to begin the school year, trying on new clothes, getting sports physicals for the fall league, setting about to do whatever we were going to do for that particular Labor Day weekend, Mary died on West Van Buren. Was she shot? Did some bastard date pull a hunting knife on her and slit her throat like the guy did to one of her prostitute friends four years earlier? Did he stick the knife into her belly just above the pubic bone and peel open the skin clear up to her chest like he did to the girl with the cut throat? As skinny as Mary was, it would not be difficult to imagine that she had AIDS and was killed by some vengeful date who thought she had given it to him. That was the rumor then, that dates were killing some of the prostitutes they believed have AIDS. That was the rumor, then….
So, Mary was dead, possibly from an overdose of heroin, a bad grade of cocaine or batch of crack. Maybe even by a sour date. I didn’t know and don’t know, and further, I didn’t know if I would be able to find out. It was too late to contact the Medical Examiner’s Office…too late then…and now. And what about Little Mary…where was she living with her mom gone? Where was she the day she died? Was she at school, at work…on the street…looking for her mom? Was she still living there in the stuffy trailer with her mom and Gene, or was that living arrangement as much a part of the past as the rest of it? With as much time as had gone by, she might have been out on her own already. She might have been in school somewhere, living out-of-state somewhere with her grandparents or an aunt. She could have been in as many places or situations as my imagination could have offered or created. It was possible, too, in recognition of life and the reality that exists therein, that Little Mary was on the street herself…working. Her virgin soul might have already been tormented and abused and raped by the same shit that snuffed-out her mother’s life. Time would tell…maybe. I don’t know….
Mary had a little lamb…I wonder where she is now….