"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Saturday, June 19, 2004
prey Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English preie, from Old French, from Latin praeda; akin to Latin prehendere to grasp, seize -- more at GET
1 archaic : SPOIL, BOOTY
2 a : an animal taken by a predator as food b : one that is helpless or unable to resist attack : VICTIM
3 : the kind of human that human predators look for.
She was walking down the road, backwards, looking at the bumper to bumper traffic flying by just a few feet from her at eighty miles an hour.
I had been fighting this breakneck traffic for hours and by now was in the middle of North Carolina, the part of the state where there are a lot more pigs than people, and it smells like it. The big towns are way off and the exits from I-95 feature bland Exxon groceries, McDonald's or Burger Kings and maybe a little hotel or two. Everybody on the road just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.
I was in the far left lane surrounded by semi trucks when I saw her. You could tell right away that she wanted someone to stop. But nobody was stopping. Well, I could.
By the time I could cross traffic and pull over, I was a good half mile away and on the other side of a bridge so I couldn't back up. I could just barely see her in my rear view mirror, a little white dot in the distance. I figured I would wait, and if she got this far I would give her whatever help she needed. I did not even know if she had seen me or not. I put on my emergency blinkers.
She came closer, and still no one was stopping.
I stepped out of the car and stood behind it, shading my eyes from the blazing hot sun. The heat index was well over 100 degrees, and just the act of standing there was breaking me into a sweat. The only breeze was the heavy gust of wind when a semi truck roared by.
She got closer, I could actually see her legs moving now. She was definitely hurrying towards me.
Sheesh, what a hot muggy day to be stuck on an interstate. I could not believe no one had stopped. I had no idea how far she had walked, there was no broken down car in sight.
She crossed over the bridge. I watched her come closer, she looked about twenty or so, incredibly thin, brown hair. She shaded her eyes and looked back at me as she hurried forward.
When she got about forty yards from me I shouted "Do you need any help?" But I was drowned out by a passing truck five feet to my right. She didn't answer until she got right up to me.
"Do you have air conditioning?" She was flushed, out of breath and soaked with sweat.
"Absolutely." We walked over to my car and she flopped down in the passenger seat while I maxed out the air.
"I am so hot, I am soaked," she said. She made herself at home with the vents.
I let her sit for a minute while she cooled herself in the breeze.
"Car trouble?" I asked.
"No," she said, turning towards me. "I'm a ho."
That set me back a moment. I had not expected that.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I'm not really a customer."
"Why not?" When she said it it wasn't so much a question, but more like a challenge. It was like the words just spurted out and flopped on the seat between us. When she spoke it was really fast, very sudden, and gave the impression that the conversation was more like a game of tennis and she was returning every serve with confident and quick strokes.
Of course, there were lots of really good answers to her question. The first being that I am a Christian. The second being that I am married. However, I'll bet that both people confessing to be Christians and certainly married people have availed themselves of her services. I did not want to get into that discussion.
"Well, I'm a preacher," I said. Technically, this is true, since I have preached on occasion, albeit on-line, and it certainly does express the depth of my faith. In any event, it stopped the "customer" conversation.
"Really? Which denomination?"
"Non denominational." Again, true.
"I'm Lutheran." Wow, she talked so fast it was like she already had a script and had it memorized.
"Really? I know a lot of Lutherans and Lutheran pastors, they are really good people." She seemed to like that.
"Um, would you like me to take you to the next exit? Where are you headed?"
"Buy me a snow cone."
"A snow cone?"
"Yeah, they sell snow cones at the next exit. Buy me a snow cone. Give me ten dollars for some groceries and a snow cone."
I thought for a moment. "Yeah, I can do that." We pulled out and headed for the next exit.
Now, at this point I should explain my state of mind right then. Long ago (and detailed in this blog's earlier entries) I was a predator. I preyed on young women, enticing and seducing them for my own pleasure. Even though I no longer do that, I can recognize a predator when I meet one.
And this girl was a predator. You could just feel it.
Perhaps you have to be, in her profession. Yeah, I imagine you would. What she didn't know was that I had been one too. Here we were, two jackals, and one was hungry for a sheep.
It was good to be moving. Moving was safe. I was glad I had not seen the film "Monster" yet.
She was talking about how hot it was, about how she was homeless and lived in hotel after hotel, turning tricks to pay for the room for herself and her dog, a stray she had picked up beside the highway a month ago. She figured it had been someone's pet because it had a collar, and she had tried to find the owner but no one claimed it. It was hers now, and stayed in her hotel room in the air conditioning all day while she went out and worked in the heat and humidity.
She was talking a mile a minute, at times it was hard to understand her.
"My name's Michele.." she said, and said her last name too but I couldn't understand it she was talking so fast.
"You know, God loves ho's, you know that? Ho's are special to God."
"Ho's know they are sinners, they know they sin, and that's special to God. God likes that because we are honest about what we do. This is the exit. Turn left on the road." I took it, and turned. Oddly, she seemed to be proud of what she did.
"There are no sins greater than any other, I think," I said. "There's no one, two, three ordering, no hit list. They are all the same, and we all have them." I wanted her to know that I wasn't looking down on her at all. And I wasn't.
"Yes!" she said. "Exactly." I think she even smiled. "Even bein' a ho. When you leave all you have to do to get out is to go to the first light and turn and it will take you back to the interstate. Its real easy. I got to get my dog some dog food, he's been eating people food all week and it ain't good for him, so I need to get him some dog food." She could switch topics faster than an electric dictionary, and syllables burst from her one after another with the staccato cadence of machine gun bullets.
We seemed to be heading into the middle of nowhere. I ignored the sense of unease I was feeling.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"I'm from Texas."
"Texas. I thought so, I could tell by your accent."
"Really? Most people tell me I talk so fast they can barely understand me." I could see how that would happen.
"I have an illness that causes some people to talk like that."
"Bipolar disorder. But I am being treated now and it's under control."
"Everyone says I'm crazy, real crazy, crazy as hell. Even for a ho. I think I must be double bipolar. My moods swing all over the place. Just a few minutes ago I was way down, now I'm way up. Turn right here."
We turned into a small town area, which made me feel a bit more at ease. "You know, Michele, they have meds for that, meds that work really good. Lithium, for example."
"Lithium! Hell no!" She explained that she had taken it once, and then from what I gathered had either taken a recreational drug or gotten drunk, whatever it was made her really sick. But if she had ever been prescribed lithium, she most likely had bipolar.
Meanwhile, I am driving really slow trying not to miss the snow cone sign.
The conversation wandered a bit with her going a mile a minute, and she began telling me some of what she did as a "ho" and what her life was like. She could see I was a bit uncomfortable.
"You just want me to shut up and get out, don't you?"
"Oh, no, not at all. I just don't want to miss the sign. Besides, I used to be an entertainer, and there's not much you could tell me that would shock me."
"Really, what kind of entertainer?"
"I played guitar in honky tonks in Myrtle Beach."
"Really? There it is."
I looked and didn't see a snow cone sign. "Where?"
"Right there." Oh, it wasn't a sign, it was a snow cone. The building was shaped like a big blue snow cone.
"Blue? Seems like they would have used red or orange or something."
"Blue is rasberry, green is lime, orange is orange, red is cherry, pear is my favorite."
"Pear? They have pear?"
"Pear's yellow." She had the entire menu memorized.
I pulled in, and she was all business.
"Give me twenty dollars so I can get a snow cone, some groceries, and some dog food. That way I don't have to do a second shift." She said that second shifts could get nasty. I'll bet they could, in heat like this.
I looked into my wallet and I had twenty one dollars.
"I need to save a little bit for dinner, so here's fifteen."
She said thanks, gave me a darting smack on the cheek that was both unexpected and odd, and headed for the snow cone stand without a backwards glance.
I'll bet that she has done that smack/exit thing hundreds of times. Maybe that's why it felt odd, it was designed for the end of a far more intimate story than mine.
But inside, a part of me felt relief because the predator was gone. Only a part though.
Back on the highway, I thought about this experience. I had a growing sense that I had failed in some key way. And I think I did.
We are supposed to be salt and light, and I am not sure I was. I mean, I honestly tried to be. But it wasn't enough.
That young lady has a nightmare of a life. And there was nothing I could do to stop it. Nothing. That breaks my heart.
She has no future.
She is probably mentally ill.
She has no home.
She doesn't even have a friend, except her dog.
How foul it is that life demands such atrocities from people, that they end up in a situation where they have to do such things to survive and live without hope that things will or even can change.
How much worse is it that we, who have the resources to help, allow it.
I'll never have a chance to help Michele. And she deserved that chance. I wish I knew how. If I could have taken her in and helped her, I would have, but I couldn't. If I had the resources to fix her life, I would have. But I didn't.
If I had thought about it, I would have at least given her my phone number in case she ended up suicidal or starving, but I didn't.
But I'll never forget her, walking backwards down the interstate, trying to sell the only thing she has left to get her next meal.
At least tonight, dinner's on me, Michele.
In charity there is no excess.
Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626), Of Goodness, and Goodness of Nature (1625)