Two stories, perhaps 10 years apart:
Her name was Peggy. She was in her early forties when I knew her, but I only knew that because I had helped her get her birth certificate. She looked like she was in her late 50s, but life on the street makes you hard that way.
She was a Survival Sex Worker, which just means she sold sex to people – generally men – for money in order for her to have the resources to survive. There are lots of different sorts of sex work, from pole dancer to cover model to call girl to streetwalker, and all of it is actual work, but the distinction is important to the story.
As one might expect, the sort of people who pay people like Peggy for sex are sometimes not nice people. She also had a drug addiction – if I had her life, I would not have wanted to be sober for it either – and sometimes she traded sex in exchange for drugs. Those people tended to be even less nice, and would often refuse payment after services had been rendered, and Peggy, who had a mouth on her, would protest, and more than once she ended up in the hospital as a result.
Perhaps six months or so after I had met her for the first time, my phone rang at 5:30 AM. The caller ID said it was from the Trauma Center, so I answered.
“Hey Hugh!” she said. “It’s Peggy!”
Peggy tended to talk in exclamation marks.
In my groggy, barely alive state, I asked what was going on.
She said, “I’m at the emergency room, I’m getting stitches. I was on a date last night and he beat me up.”
Now, you should know that I knew she was a sex worker, and she knew I knew she was a sex worker, but we maintained the fiction that I didn’t know. It helped her maintain dignity, and I respect that.
So, I knew she hadn’t been at the steakhouse, sipping red wine over dinner when the “date” went south, but anyway, here we are.
I told her I was so sorry, and that I would be up there in about 20 minutes to sit with her. That was a big part of my life in those days – sitting with people.
She said, “Oh, no, You don’t have to do that. They’re about to release me.”
So, I said, “Well, no offense, but why are you calling me then? You could have just let me know when you see me later today.”
And that’s when she told me that the last time this had happened, the nurse in admission had asked her if she wanted to call anyone.
“And Hugh – I didn’t have anyone I could call. But this time, I did. I could call you.”
# # #
Earlier this week, a teenager who was once one of our foster children sent me a text. We had been in touch several times last year, but then her number changed and we didn’t have a way to find her, and so she disappeared. We hadn’t heard from her in perhaps six months.
“Hey, Mr. Hugh. It’s me!” the text said, but also gave her name, which I’m not sharing with you because of boundaries.
“I was afraid we had lost you,” I told her.
“Haha. No chance.”
When she and her sibling had left our care, we made them a scrapbook of their time with us, and she had one of my business cards taped to the inside.
“I’m sorry I changed my number and didn’t tell you. You told me when you gave me your card that now I always had someone I could call, no matter what. So I wanted to make sure you had my number. So you had somebody, too. ”