Here we go again….
April 4, 1997 – I went to Estrella Jail this morning to talk with two syphilis cases. I found there, two very different, yet similar, individuals. Mary Lou, who my partner, Sylvia, knows as “Lulu,” is 40yo and has been prostituting for 27 years. She started this mess when she was 13yo. Mary Lou was either kicked-out of the house or simply left at that age and started dancing at one of the clubs in town. She said that she carried herself like a woman and convinced the manager that she was really 22yo. He never asked for her ID. Mary Lou said that as she was dancing, some of the guys would talk about how they wanted to do things with her. She said, “That’s fine, but if you want to fuck me, you’re going to pay for it.” That began her 28 year career as a prostitute in Phoenix. She said that she is ready to retire, though. She is just waiting for that golden watch so she can quit in style. Mary Lou is very straight-forward, a characteristic which Sylvia says has always been hers. They know each other from childhood. Sylvia said that Lulu had always been the black-sheep of the family, her sisters would have relations with several people on the side, but Lulu would at least charge for it. This lady said that it is too dangerous to be on the street anymore. When she first started, a girl could go out on the street and within just a few hours, make about two hundred dollars and there was nothing to worry about. There were no beatings and no worry that one of the dates would turn bad and kill you. Now, she says, the money isn’t very good because there are so many girls on crack who will get fucked or suck someone’s dick for five or ten dollars, sometimes even less. And now, too, you have to worry about AIDS. In the old days, the worst thing around was herpes. Syphilis and gonorrhea could always be cured, but not herpes, and now, not AIDS. So, Mary Lou wants to retire and move up to Globe and get a job, something she’s never had, maybe working at “Jack in the Crack,” she says. Mary Lou is about five-five or six, weighs probably 155 or 165, big-breasted and flat-bottomed. Her mouth is foul and full of the street. She and I are both surprised that she has lived so long. When I asked if she had any children, she said no, “He (looking upward) has taken care of that.” She has had two miscarriages and one tubal pregnancy. Mary Lou said that He knew what her life was like and took care not to allow her to have any kids. That throws a twist into my picture of what God does and doesn’t allow. I know another lady of the street, Von, AKA: Lepizia, who is my age and has eight children; had nine, she said. Being only thirty-five with her oldest child turning 21 this year means that Von had her first baby when she was 14yo. What does God allow and disallow? Who can tell?
Anyway, Lulu is looking to change her life, and that is good, we agreed. She has been smoking cocaine, pot, crack, and all other types of things for these many years. Her mind seems to be all there. The whole time we were talking, Lulu was hitting on me, asking if I was married, telling me that I looked fine. She is a character who, in herself, is a whole book. She said she is going to look me up when she gets out of jail in June. I told her that she, Sylvia, and I could sit and talk for a while.
The next person I talked with at the jail today was a 20yo Hispanic girl named Martha. After talking with Lulu and having a pleasant time, it appeared that things would be different with Martha. She seemed sullen and removed, almost business-like when I began telling her why I was there, explaining her test results, etc. She appeared to be the “typical” hard-nosed Chicana from the street. Her eyes had the dark underlining that is common with some of the Hispanic girls. Martha’s eyes were also beautiful, very dark, almost black. She was missing her top front four teeth, which, I later learned, were lost in a car accident that she had when she was high on crack. Only a steel cable had prevented her car from falling from the overpass at Van Buren Street and the freeway. As it was, Martha lost those teeth and cut a big gash in her right eyebrow. The doctors told her that she was in a coma for seven hours following the accident. When I asked Martha how long she had been prostituting, she told me that she started when she was 14yo, so that has been six years. I also asked Martha why she started selling herself and she explained that an aunt had given her a hit from a crack pipe when she was 13yo and she had to have it from then on. So the prostitution was a way of “earning” the money to buy the crack. Where was Mom at this point, or Dad, or anyone else who could have made a difference? Mom left her when she was six years old and she was sent to live with her grandparents in Payson. Martha explained that she had two different sides of her family. One, she described as living off of food-stamps and welfare, the others were very well-off. Her grandfather or uncle, I forget which, is a judge and is living very well. These are the grandparents with whom she lived after her mom dumped her and ran off with a boyfriend and Martha’s older sister. What does that tell a child, Mom ran off with sister and not you? Well, her mom came back when she was 11yo, and deciding that she was old enough to “wipe her own ass,” as a friend put it to me, she took her with her, back into whatever life she had carved for herself. This became the introduction into the life which she herself now lived, but being of her own mind, having a brain of her own, she said, she is responsible for everything that happens in her own life. Nothing that has happened to her is anyone’s fault but her own, she said. I countered that with the responsibility that her parents, mom or whomever had to her when she was only 13 and 14yo, should have prevented half of the shit that happened to her. Well, she responded, she was witness to her mother’s boyfriend killing her mother’s brother when she was only 11yo. She was the only witness and ended-up testifying against the boyfriend. The mother then hated her, accusing her of trying to ruin her life by taking away her man, rather, having him put away. If this isn’t enough for one person to endure, two years later, Martha watched yet another boyfriend of Mom stab a man and woman to death who were tied into their chairs. Where is God, I wondered? I like angels and have thought that they truly exist, but in situations like this, I begin to wonder if I am not mistaken and there really are no celestial beings whose jobs it is to protect the innocent lives. I am beginning to feel strongly that my wife is correct when she says that there is no God. What loving God could allow this shit to happen? Tell me, Child of God, where is He? Martha spent five months in the state hospital for “crazy” people. “Those people were really fuckin’ weird, talking to themselves all day.” She said that she uses the crack so she doesn’t have to think. I can’t blame her. I asked her what she was going to do when she gets out in August, the day after my birthday, and she said that she doesn’t know. I said that she had been here for two months already and she hadn’t yet figured it out? She said that her mind is just now beginning to get straight. Martha said she was so sick from the drugs that she was down to 112 pounds. She is five-feet eight-inches tall…and she was down to 112lbs. She said that she has gained about 40 pounds since being locked-up and eating three times a day. She wants to go back to the street because she is more comfortable there. “People baby me,” she said. Everything she needs is there and it is exciting. She would go stay with her grandparents, but it is too boring up there. Her grandfather did promise her, though, that if she stayed there for a little while, he would pay to get her teeth replaced, so she is considering that heavily. As I sat there listening to Martha tell me things that had nothing to do with my syphilis investigation, I couldn’t help but just stare into her eyes, realizing how absolutely beautiful she is. It is such a fucking shame that her life has come to this. I know it isn’t over, by far, but where is it going? She graduated from eighth-grade in Adobe Mountain, the state facility for juveniles. She has never had a job and she has a two year old daughter who lives with the biological father. When I was questioning Martha about the one steady contact that she has, a somewhat, but not really, boyfriend, she said that she knows he loves her, and she even admits to herself that she loves him, but she refuses to tell him. She said that if she did let him know in words that she loves him, that is when things would fall apart. I suggested that this might be something that she really needs, to be loved and to love somebody back. Martha agreed, hesitantly, but confessed that it is something that she doesn’t want to do. She added that her boyfriend is probably the best thing for her, but he is too nice to her and she wants someone to keep her in her place. Not someone who is going to be mean to her, mind you, but someone who is more assertive than she is. She says that he’s always kissin’ her ass, trying to make her happy. When I asked if something was wrong with that, she said that she didn’t know, but she probably should try to be with him. The interview ended with her thanking me for making sure she doesn’t get any more shots in the ass, as the nurses had planned, and me wondering what was going to befall this beautiful young girl. Life sure is fucked-up sometimes.
The patients were unremarkable on that particular day, July 17, 1996; however, there was one older man who we treated for secondary syphilis that might be worth mentioning. He was roughly fifty years old and lived around 15th Avenue and Tonto. When describing the situation of his meetings with the unknown people with whom he had sex, he said that it is similar to being thirsty in the middle of the night and going to the refrigerator for a glass of milk. It was that simple. He just goes out to the street, finds some female walking past and asks if she’s interested in having sex. Of course, there are a few dollars that must change hands, and given that this wasn’t one of the more posh districts of town, there were literally only a “few” dollars that must be exchanged. The prostitutes in this part of Phoenix did not require much in exchange for their wares, five to ten dollars, sometimes as much as twenty dollars, was all that one must have to find a willing sex partner on or near West Buckeye Road. Any amount would help them get what they needed in the way of rock cocaine. With the fee paid, they got down to business. They cleared a spot on the alley floor, consummated the act, redressed, and went about their respective ways; the woman continued down the sidewalk and the older man turned the corner and walked back to his house. Free enterprise, supply and demand, capitalism at its finest. Thirsty for a glass of milk in the middle of the night….
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….