Children of the Night is a shelter that reforms any prostitute, 18 years of age, or younger. Here’s my story, of not how I changed one of these girls’ lives, but how one changed mine, and how I later wrote a story in honor of her bravery.
It wasn’t pretty as I grunted, pushing clothing back into a bag that split down its side. Frustrated, because donating clothes and whatnot should be easier than this. Actually, it was, until the local shelter closed down. They used to come to my front door to collect donations. While annoyed, I’m not worrying why a shelter that helped the less fortunate closed its doors. Why that would imply my donation have only altruistic intentions, and not a way to recycle my unwanted, faded, and over-used clothing. Pushing that guilty observation away, I continued on my errand.
I made my way to a new shelter that I’d found. At this point I didn’t have a choice. Our living room was five trash bags deep, full of our castoffs, and they simply had to go.
Upon entering, a stern looking woman: frazzled and thin ignored me as she talked to herself. Was she crazy? Looking at her, and yes, I’ll admit it, judging, she was a hot mess. “Um, hello?” I don’t know why I seemed meek because I wasn’t normally. But, this no-named crazy-woman made me feel like I stepped back into time and was sent to the principal’s office.
“You graduate high school?” I nodded, weird question, but okay, I‘ll bite. “You have any felonies I need to know about?” I shook my head no. “Good. I have an eleven-year-old that needs you for about an hour, maybe two.” What was she talking about?
“No. I’m here to donate clothes.” She just stared and waited me out in full intimidation mode. I broke first. I had nowhere to be, so I guess I could give a couple of hours of my time. “Okay, sure.” Did I get a smile? A ‘thank you,’ even? No. She led me through a door where a bunch of girls sat at different tables. All of them had tutors except for one small girl. “I thought you said she was eleven. She looks… eight?”
“She’s eleven, just malnourished. She’ll catch up eventually,” was her way of explanation. She introduced herself as Ms. Green, the director of “Children of the Night,” a shelter to reform any prostitute under the age of eighteen. She caught me up on Emma’s back-story. Her father, a pimp, and her mother, one of his ‘girls,’ had both been arrested on a slew of charges. When Emma got her period, her mother told her she was a woman now and needed to start contributing. Ms. Green further informed me that her mother is twenty-four years old. After doing the math, I realized her mother was only thirteen when she had Emma: a baby having a baby.
I approached Emma as one would a wild animal. Not that she gave me that vibe, but because I was nervous. Here I was thinking I’d drop some clothes off and be on my way. She looked so small. I couldn’t believe that a man would prey on a child and purchase her body. I felt disgusted, not with her, but the situation. I pushed it deep and sat down. “You’re late,” she said.
Well, okay. “I didn’t know that I was supposed to be here.”
“If that was an apology, than you’re forgiven.” She smiled and I giggled. What a sassy little thing. “I’m already done with math. I just need help with English.” Her homework consisted of a small excerpt that included a grammatical exercise and analytical questions like character motives. Her real frustration was her assigned book report. I listened to her rant about how stupid and lame her school was because they had banned Harry Potter. And, how she picked her current book because it had some ‘young chicks’ on it, but that the book ended up being stupid too. It was Louisa May Alcott’s, Little Women. The book wasn’t too difficult for middle school curriculum, but when she read a little to me, I got the sense that she may be dyslexic. I made a mental note to talk to Ms. Green about it before I went home.
We seemed to hit it off as I helped her draft her paper. There was something there. Like this hazy feeling I had yet to pinpoint. Closing her book knocked me out of my reverie. “Why you here? You bored?”
“No?” I wasn’t really sure I wanted to admit that I had been bamboozled.
“You married?” I nodded. “I don’t see no ring,” she observed as she put her books away.
“Lost them at the beach,” I simply stated.
“That sucks. You got a mama and daddy?” she asked. I forced a smile and nodded again not really comfortable with where she may be going with this.
“That’s good. I’ma have new parents soon,” she added. I nodded once more because Ms. Green said that her arresting officer, Lt. Sgt. Rycroft, and his wife were applying to become her foster parents.
“You got a job?” What is up with all the questions? I blinked a couple of times from the abrupt subject change.
“Yeah. I’m on maternity leave.”
She looked down at my very seven-month-along belly. “Thought you was just fat.” I giggled. This girl. She’s funny.
“I’m thinking about doing something different though.” I don’t know why I just told her that. My husband didn’t even know I’d been considering not returning. I sighed. “Maybe not.”
“You got rich people problems,” she declared. I shook my head. I’m not rich! “Yeah, you are.” I struggled with what she was implying, and then I got it. This girl was schooling me. She wasn’t talking about wealthy-rich, she was talking about the fact that I had a husband, kids at home, both parents, five siblings, and two grandparents: family. We’re talking about me being surrounded in support and love. Yeah, I am very rich.
“You shouldn’t come back here, cuz’ it ain’t safe.” Wait, what? She continues to tell me guys like her father come looking for their girls. That this shelter affected their business and that was a serious security problem for people like me. Like Me? She looked once more at my belly. Ah.
I left, refusing more tutoring sessions when Ms. Green asked. A part of me felt guilty for that, but I took Emma’s word to heart. You ain’t safe. My life as a volunteer was short lived, but she was right about one thing. I didn’t have real problems. If I wanted something, I had the means and the opportunities to change it. I was worried about starting a new career in my thirties as if it were too late. I have love and support to go back to school and start anew. No one judged me. Actually, every single person encouraged me. I get to be the one that picks them up from school and helps them with their homework. I get to be the one who makes dinner. That may sound trivial, but to me, they would be missed opportunities that I could never get back.
I think about all the things Emma’s been through and how she still has so much hope. And, how she inspired me just by being her. She had no idea how much she influenced me. That girl, that eleven year old girl, who held more life experience in her sad eyes than I did my whole life, somehow, in one day, solidified what I’d been to afraid to admit: my need to change my career goals and focus more on my family.
I never lost contact with Emma. I called the local precinct and got in touch with Lt. Sgt. Rycroft. I’m happy to report she attends a private school that caters to her advanced placement in math and manages her dyslexia. So, I was right. That hazy feeling I was having was my interest in teaching. It all started with that impromptu tutoring session.
The last time I saw her I told her I was studying English and she promptly called it boring. When I asked her if she could be the subject for my essay she sassed me, like always. “I’m not your keeper.” That girl.
*** Due to the severity of this story and topic, names have been changed. The only name that is real is the name of the shelter: Children of the Night. ***
STAY TUNED FOR “EMMA,” a short story about a little girl with no choices.