Please note: Names have been changed to protect my friend's identity. She gave me her permission to write about the details of her life.
It shocks many people when I tell them I never thought I was attractive. In fact, when I go into seclusion, as is part of my routine; my image in the mirror begins to reflect this belief all over again. After years now of the back and forth, I know I will find my beauty again when I am ready to face my reflection -seen through other people's eyes.
Perhaps I feel unentitled to my distress. I haven't survived half of what my friends have endured. Nevertheless, through them, I learn the true value of gratitude for every part of my self.
Kimberly has real horror stories. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. and divorced when she was a young child. By then she had already been molested by her babysitter. By high school, she was dating her preacher's son. He liked to reenact porno scenes, demeaning her; forever damaging her faith and sense of spiritual community. It took an abortion to give her the gumption to leave him and the church altogether.
A few years later, we met as college students. At that point, finally living away from home, Kimberly began exploring her sexuality openly. She picked up guys easily at school. However, as I watched her tire of heartache easily, she opted for more and more one night stands, random hookups. I knew because I was her phone call confessional. Over months and a few short years, I listened to her escapades quickly escalate from making out with a work colleague in the supply closet to posting her faceless body images on Craigslist's casual encounters. Sometimes for sex. Sometimes just to see how many emails would respond.
There were times when I wanted to tell her to stop. Times when I thought she might be in danger. She didn't take precautions often and ended up with more than one nasty STD. Nevertheless, through it all, I wanted to continue being the friend who always answered the phone. I wanted to continue being the friend she called.
Then... When I was in graduate school, two hours away, the calls peaked a new level of concern. Kimberly was talking about needing money and escort services. She figured she might as well stop giving sex away for free-
Although I made my opinion clear (that she could find another way), she wasn't trying to decide. Her mind was made up. The reason she was calling me beforehand was insurance in case she disappeared.
"I am emailing you a photo of what I am wearing tonight," she explained. "I am supposed to meet him at this restaurant in ------- at 9. If you don't hear from me by 10, I want you to call me."
"And then what if you don't answer? I am hours away. I don't have a car..."
"I'll call before 10! This is just in case... Just in case I go missing, you give the photo to the cops so they know what I was wearing, where I was."
It frightened me she would think of such details and still wanted to do this.
"All I'm asking you to do is answer your phone," Kimberly insisted. "Just tell me you'll have it on."
"OK. I'll answer. Be careful," I told her.
By 9:15, I was getting text messages. When I called at ten, she said she would call me back. By eleven, I answered and heard her manic on the other end.
He wasn't "as gross" as she was afraid a man who would hire an escort might be. He was actually nice. She ended up telling him about her financial struggles and green card woes a little more than she had intended. But at that moment she didn't care. She was reeling, as if on a drug.
I hummed in my mind over her description of the consummation of their transaction in the restroom. "It was so fast," she said with relief, as if to assure me she had gotten the better end of the bargain.
But in reality, the agency never paid her. After two weeks, the John was still trying to contact her, offering her help with her visa. Kimberly changed her email address. She was paranoid that he knew too much about her and may somehow get her deported.
I hoped that was the end of her career in prostitution, but within the month she tried cutting the agency out of the equation. This second time, she allowed a strange man into her home. He paid in cash and left as soon as it was over.
This time, Kimberly was disgusted by the John. She described how pathetic he was and why she wasn't afraid she'd ever see him again. Her rent was paid, and she assured me she was finished with selling sex.
Of course I know one cannot interfere in the choices others make. One can only try to make better decisions herself... So, a few weeks later, when Kimberly called, I was ready to listen but not help.
This time she said her budget was balanced. She even had enough to buy a puppy! She found it online, and they would ship it to her... The only problem was that it required a credit card number. Because of her visa status, Kimberly was ineligible for credit cards. Nevertheless, she assured me that she would give me the cash if I charged it to mine.
It may have been the first and only occasion I said no to her.
"You know I can get someone else to put it on their card!" she proclaimed.
"I am sure you can. I'm sure you will. If your mind is made up, you always find a way," I told her. "But it's only been weeks since you said you had to sell your body for rent money. I am sorry, Kimberly. I won't do this for you. A dog is an ongoing expense. I want to make sure you can take care of yourself before helping you add another little life to your household."
She was furious. How dare I... She'd show me... And she did find another friend's credit card to use. She received her mail order puppy and toted it with her everywhere she went.
She never called me about prostitution again, even as her casual encounters continued. I believe her when she says it was just a once or twice thing she tried. Just being on the other end of those phone calls changed me. I cannot imagine what impact it left on her psyche.
Years later, after I prioritized my mental health ahead of my financial stability, I found myself whining about my impending rent to another girlfriend. She wasn't a woman I knew well, but her response changed our friendship...
This woman, who is a self-proclaimed feminist, looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Why don't you go strip?"
I paused, waiting for the joke to land so we could laugh it off. But she wasn't joking. "What? You're hot! It could be empowering!" she insisted.
My face went red, and I quickly changed the subject. Suddenly I knew the rent would be paid, one way or another... Even if it meant moving to a smaller space. Even if it meant couch-surfing. My body was not for sale, under any circumstances.
I do not judge Kimberly for what she did. We both fight impulsive tendencies. On the contrary, some deep-seated part of my mind thanks her for taking me along for the vicarious experience. For now, she is managing her anxieties with prescribed medication while I choose homeopathic and spiritual practices. We still compare notes. We continue to make our own decisions. At the end of the day, I feel we are both stronger for having one another.
Sometimes being in contact with other people feels like an onslaught of questions. When I do not have answers I want to share, I avoid people. But it isn't the company I want to avoid, it's the questions! I suppose that's why Kimberly chose a puppy to keep her company. Through the eyes of a dog, his owner is always a reflection of love, of everything we want to be. Oh, to reflect such an image!