one of my favorite songs, has much meaning for me.
SKID ROW: A look at the brutality, and unmerciful reality of children trying to survive on the street.
So there I was, dark was fast falling, had no idea what time it was, but I knew it was way past time when I should have been back at the institution checking in. I was on a subway bus with Tina, and had no idea what I was doing, or were I was going to go. I have never been on the streets before. Tina comforted me and told me not to worry she would help me. Tina was 14 years old, and I was about 14 and a half. She knew more of the world than I did, probably more than most adults did. Tina took me to her fathers home, who wasn’t there, and I began to relax and trust this girl. She told me things about living on the street as a runaway who was in the juvenile delinquent, system. She said “always say you are 18, never give your real name, and if they offer you a ride home decline.” She was talking about the Police, or the “screws” as they were called by the street people. I was so naive despite all that happened to me, I was about to enter a whole new world, of suffering and despair.
Trigger Warning Drug Descriptions:
Tina was the first to introduce me to needles, shooting up. She was the first to teach me how to mix the drugs, and flick the needle to make sure there was no chunks or air bubbles. She taught me how to tie off and raise a vein. If blood entered (flashback) the needle it was a hit. If you missed the vein it would abscess. This could lead to infections, or blood poisoning, which could led to death. Sometimes Tina and I had troubles and would take turns injecting each other, with the boost. The drug in the needle was called a “boost” because it would boost us for a couple hours so we could chase the high. We used what was most available and that was Talwin and Ritalin, they called it poor man’s heroin. That was a joke it cost 40 dollars for one Talwin and one Ritalin. You could share or just use it up yourself. Get one big hit or share with a friend. When you were taking up to 8 or more hits a day that was a pretty hefty price tag. However, most girls would take a hit every one to two hours, and stay awake three to four days at a time. So you can just imagine the money that was being made not only by the girls but the drug dealers.
In the beginning Tina never took me out with her, she always made me stay at her place and wait for her. I had no idea what she was doing, but she always came home with drugs, and because I was on prescription drugs for so many years, the transition from prescription to street drug was easy. I had not been doing drugs before I went into the Youth correctional Center, I became an addict. I began to look forward to Tina coming home, but she never pushed me to go with her in fact she didn’t want me to. We became friends over this sharing of drugs. We had much in common, as she was sexually abused as well, as a child. I would ask her what she did to get the drugs and she spoke candidly and with out shame about selling her body for money to get drugs.
Eventually she started taking me down to the drag, introducing me to some people, telling me to avoid others. The people she introduced me to, treated me with kindness and respect, something I never had in my life before and I wanted more of that! I also. enjoyed the freedom of being able to stay up as late as I wanted or not sleeping at all and watching the sun rise and hit my face. The night time on the drag was exciting and busy. You had people driving by and cops parked on the corners watching the activity, and people filling the bars and the sidewalks. Tina and I stayed mostly down by the York Hotel as that was were all the Colored people stayed and they afforded more protection to the girls. The cops rarely went down to the York end.Please do not be offended when I call my friends Black that is what they said they were so who was I to argue? I don’t know maybe back then things were different,especially on the Drag. We were all equal, but segregated at the same time, the girls could come and go as they please, regardless of their race. They were the money makers.
You have the Blacks at the York, “The Indians at the International and Royal. and Whites at the Imperial. That was just the way it was. Of course sometimes you seen them move around but very rarely, the whites pretty much stuck to them selves, as they were low man on the totem pole in actuality. It was pretty much the Blacks and Indians that ran the strip in regards to what ever deals they had going on. Typically the whites were there slumming. Not all but most. Just saying it like it was back then.
It was dangerous on the drag, for every one especially the girls. I learned this very quickly after witnessing a murder, and a lot of stabbings. Mostly it was the men fighting men. I only had a couple of run ins with older prostitutes but they got run off dam fast.
Sometimes the older prostitutes would try to corral younger prostitutes and put them in a stable to pimp them out. The men would not tolerate this, and if the older women were caught doing this they were run out, at least they never came around no more. whatever happened to them, I do not know. Two older prostitutes tried to coral me, they held a knife to my throat and basically said you are working for us now.. I said ok let me go to work then. They let me go and I went straight to one of my male friends. Those two women were never seen on the drag again. The one other woman I had a run in was run off and her sister ended up on the lowest corner of the drag sniffing glue. I felt bad for the woman who ended up sniffing glue I tried to help her, and would buy her food and drugs, but she was so hard core, she just tried to take advantage. She probably never had any one show her kindness, just because they had a kind spirit.
Tina and I usually hung together but after she got mixed up with a drug dealer she spent most of her time with him. I heard she eventually married that man and had three children with him, and got off the drugs. I say good for her! I am happy for her if this is what happened. I just know that she didn’t come down to the drag no more and I had to make a new circle of friends. It was spring time so I really wasn’t worried about not having a place to stay, I would just get a room when I absolutely had to sleep usually after the fourth or fifth day of being up. Usually when my eyes were encrusted to were I could barley open them and my heart was beating out of my chest. That is when I would say ok time to come down and go to sleep. I would be up for so long that I would have a hard time telling whether it was day time or night time at dusk and dawn, and would have to wait for the street lamps to go on or off to tell. It would usually take 24 to 48 hours to finally get a good sleep and be ready to start again. I always made sure to have a fix(a needle) ready for when I woke up again. I did not like to go out sick. It was a very hard way to survive. Thankfully for me it was spring, so the weather was good.
I made good money and even had a client base that I did business with on a regular bases, and If I wasn’t hooked on drugs I could have had a pretty good life considering the life I had previously was not anything to be striving for. I had freedom, I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, with who I wanted. The men on the street that I was friends with were not sexual partners they were people who looked out for me and for that I would get them high with me. We did not have sexual relationships, our friendships revolved strictly around protection and drugs.
Sometimes some one who I let pick my up was an addict and we would spend a week or two together getting high and having sex. I mean that is what I did to survive… Before I was being sexually abused by men and only received pain and suffering now I was being sexually abused, but had drugs to dull the pain. The drugs made it a lot easier, but it was still very brutal on my mind, body and soul.
There were times I was beaten by the older prostitutes. One woman about 40 wanted my jacket. She ripped clumps of my hair out and blackened an eye. She got my jacket but she too just disappeared when A friend saw what happened to me. He was so angry, he slammed out of his house. I crawled i to his bed and slept for a solid three days. For some reason most of the hard core street people were very protective of me. Maybe because they knew I really did not belong there, but had no were else to go.
It wasn’t just the older prostitutes that would get violent with the youngsters that were trying to survive the street. Men that wanted to buy us would some times beat us rape us, even sodomize us. I will never forget the time my friend and I, she was 13, were invited to a drug dealers home, to party. It turned out that the only ones having a party were he two men. One of the men punched me and I fell to the floor, the pain was excruciating. I remember seeing him draw back to kick me in the head. All I though was don’t pass out, don’t black out, if you do you will die. There was an explosion of light and pain, I held on to consciousness, and laid there on the floor. While, I was being brutalized, the other man and my friend left the house.
The man gathered me up and took me to a couch in the living room, never saying a word to me. Stripped of my clothes, he sodimized me, that was the first, time that ever happened to me. I will never forget the pain or the shame. The mans friend came back, with out my friend, and said I want a turn. The man that just brutalized me looked at me, and I looked at him, waiting to see what was going to happen. The man turned to his friend and said no, shes had enough Im taking her back. I looked for my friend, but I never saw her again.
Sometimes men were looking for a young girl and since I looked like I was about 12 to 14 I would tell them 13, I got more work that way. Seems the men I met in my life always liked them younger. I also could ask for more, and these men typically became my regulars. Some of them would take me to dinner or dairy queen. Treat me like the kid I was. Most of the men were also married, which was good because I didn’t have to fight them to wear a condom. Some men refused, and I would refuse to be committed to a bargain. Just like my Needles, I always bought new ones. they only cost 2$ so I always bought one or two new ones.
When tricks beat me, there was little I could do, but get the hell out of there and pray I didn’t get killed. Sometimes the younger girls would disappear and you would just know in your gut that they were not in a safe place, not on this earth any way. The youngest prostitutes I ever met were a brother and sister, the boy was eight, and deaf. His sister said she was ten. I talked to her for bit, and they confirmed that they were “working”. The boys sister spoke for him. How.. how does this happen? I knew how it happened but it still broke my heart to know there were children even younger than me out there too. I do not know were they went, I think maybe they got run off because they would draw to much police attention. Maybe a pimp picked them up and made money off of them. The last alternative was just as tragic as the first two.
One time I was raped by a man who said he was a police officer off duty. He had a badge and a gun so I wasn’t going to argue. I just let him do what he had to do then got away. of course I let the other girls know about this guy and to steer clear of him. Being raped was just part of the brutality on the street. Once there were two cops behind me walking a beat, and all they said to me was how is it going sweet cheeks. Sometimes they would stop me and ask how old I was, I gave the standard answer Tina told me to give, “18”. if they asked for ID I simply told them I did not carry ID because I didn’t want to get robbed, they usually left me alone after that.
After I stopped hanging out with Tina so much, my favorite person to hang with was Brandy. She was a transgender prostitute who had not gone through the transition. Probably because she couldn’t afford it. she however, was addicted to drugs like me, she was still very beautiful but was pushing 40. the typical life expectancy of some one who lives on the street is 40. That is old for living on the streets. It is a harsh, brutal, unforgiving life. The younger you were the more likely you were to die young, if they didn’t make it past the first couple of years. Contrary to what most people thought, you really did not see a whole lot of young people, I mean any one under the age of 16. Most were in there late twenty’s or early thirty’s. the younger people could have been going else were I don’t know, but I was happy with my friends down on the drag.
Sometimes a client would want me to move in with them so they could look after me. I tried it a couple of times, but I felt trapped, like I was part of their property. I didn’t like it and would end the relationship, and go back to my friends and the street. The summer was a lot of fun for being on the streets any way, I hung with a lot of different people, got into trouble sometimes but survived. Hooked up with a man named Judge, which was a mistake, I wanted to leave him and he held me over a third story balcony, and threatened to drop me head first.. I told him I would stay so he didn’t throw me over. of course I moved down to the other end of the drag, until he cooled off and got another girl to mess around with. He really did not want to get caught in a middle of a war with the men on the drag, because I was friendly to every one, so he just left me alone.
That summer passed by so quickly, however on sunny day really sticks out in my mind. I made the mistake of thinking about my family. Tears streamed down my face while I was completely silent. I didn’t know were my family were, and I was completely and profoundly alone, I knew that it was just me against the world. If I died I would not cross these peoples hearts or minds very often, and not with any genuine sorrow. It was the most empty and vast feeling of loneliness that I have experienced in my short life. That day, was the last time I ever cried for many many years. in fact I forgot how to cry!
The people that I was surrounded by were dangerous. I met a man that I became friends with, but who would get crazy when he was over tired or to high. One time he slammed my head on the table in the restaurant we were at. I guess I should not have suggested he get a few winks, as he had been up for about four days. I found out from a friend that he was just released from prison for murder. It didn’t even cross my mind to be scared.He would take me to his girl friends house to give me a few days rest, and we would all get high on pills so I would not go into withdrawals. It was actually kind of fun to be babied for a few days. Even if he was a murderer. However, even he wanted something on return and crawled into bed with me to collect.
I was dying and I didn’t care. I weighed a whopping 102 pounds. Had sever pains in my ribs, and a cough that would not go away. I was dying, and the people in my circle were having none of that. It was the coldest part of winter when Suzette said come on little girl it is time, you’re dying and you are too young to die, I am taking you to a safe place. I balked, oh hell no, no more institutions. She said no I am taking you to a friends place in Wainwright. Me and Suzette hitchhiked in the bitter cold from Edmonton to Wainwright in our skimpy clothes, and By the Grace of God we made it there alive, barley. Suzette knew getting me off the drugs was going to be an issue, so she gave me two hits over a period of three days, I slept a lot. When I finally got up I was feeling a lot better. Still very weak but better. The first thing she did was hand me a beer. I do not even think I cross addicted, I think I was already predisposed to alcoholism, same stuff, different pile. As soon as I took that first swallow of Beer, I was hooked, and the drugs went away, I found my ambrosia. I wanted to go back but Suzette said stay here and heal come back when it is warm. you are still very sick, she said. It was my body shutting down from the drugs and the weight loss. Like an anorexic, my body was saying I am giving up do something! I was saved by an old prostitute that would probably be dead with in the year.
When I was in Wainwright there was a young man who would not leave my side even when I was sleeping. Suzette stayed for five days to watch over me and get me past the danger zone I guess. This young man that hovered over me really had no idea what he was in for. Being a small town young man, he really did not know anything about what it was to deal with a traumatized mentally ill teen who was hooked on hard drugs. However, Suzette left him in charge of me.Because hard drugs were not as prevalent in Wainwright I adapted and my drug of choice became alcohol. He was a pot head , but I didn’t like pot. Pot made me paranoid so I just drank and only smoked up with him on very rare occasions.He held down a steady job at the wainwright hotel, and did his best to care for me.
I hate to say it, but I put that young man through hell, however, he tried his best to save me, but I wasn’t sure I could be saved at that point. I was in deep with drugs and alcohol, and never had a loving intervention in my entire life. To say that I was insane when drinking is to put it mildly. I was blacking out when I drank, more often than not and would have no recollections what so ever what I had done. All I felt was a foreboding shame that what ever I did was not good. This new life style was so alien to me, I did not know were I fit, and even if I fit any were. I could not come and go as I pleased, but I did, and suffered his wrath. Most people slept at night and worked during the day. I roamed at night and slept during the day. This was not working out at all!
I did however, have one true friend, who seemed to understand me better than any one and did not judge me. That was Russel.D. People called him Rusty, I never did, but will for the sake of simplicity. It seemed I always tended to call people by their given name not shortened versions or nicknames, I never understood why I did that. Rusty became a trusted friend and I was able to be myself around him, perhaps this made K.B. mad I don’t know. the relationship between Rusty and I was platonic. He even eventually got a really awesome Girl friend. I will call her D. Rusty loved D you could really tell, and I loved them both. I was happy for both of them. Then the tragic happened! Rusty was accused of sexual molestation of a minor. I could not believe it! Now I was torn! Really! How? When?! I was mortified. The day that tragedy struck is forever emblazoned on my heart. Rusty, came to the house Kim I were living at, he really wanted to talk to me, he was so upset. I didn’t know at the time what he was upset about, but I wanted to be there for my friend so I would have heard him out. I am not sure what I would have done if he confessed to me, but he never got the chance to do anything, as K.B yelled for me to come to the bedroom Now! I told Rusty I would be right back! K.B never really yelled at me like that ever before even when I was at my worst, so I really took notice. You know I really do not even remember what K.B said to me that was so important. When I went back out Rusty was gone, and my heart sank. Somehow I knew that my friend was leaving me…I told K.B I was going to go look for rusty, but K.B said no!
A few hours, we heard the news. Rusty had taken his own life, by blowing his head off with a shot gun in his girl friends bathroom. She was the one that found him, I am so sorry D! Rusty why there? I found out later he did it there because he left everything to his little girl, and did not want the mark of suicide on the house he left her. He really had no one else but D. and me. There certainly was no way he could do it at my house with K.B and his friend there. All his so called friends went to the funeral as well as me and D. All they talked about was the suicide and the accusation, saying that prob meant he was guilty. He deserved a fair trial just like any one else, despite what happened to me in my past, he still deserved his day in court. Rusty used to always wear a ball cap and K.B put the cap that Rusty took off before he took his own life. I though that was so callus and morbid, everyone laughed, except me. I was heartbroken that a man was so broken he would resort to such a violent death. I think that is the day I started pulling away from K.B and his group, and began withdrawing into myself. Not too long after Rustys suicide, it came out that the allegations were false. This was also the day that an job opportunity came up.
A man approached K.B and asked if he wanted to manage a restaurant in Smokey Lake, for him. He said yes, and I agreed to be on the wait staff. It is Ironic that I was following in my family’s wake, like I was being guided by some unseen force. I do not know if they were already gone, but I assumed they were. I didn’t remember how to get to were they lived any way, and any inquiries I made of the locals turned up nothing. K.B only managed the restaurant a couple of months before he was replaced. We stayed in Smokey lake though. I supported him and his two friends on my tips, and wages. for the first time in my life, I was trying to live a decent life, and save up money and build a home with out drinking. Although I still drank on days off to excess it was a lot less than when I was in Wainwright. However, I was still an ugly mean drunk, so I do not blame him for throwing in the towel. What I do blame him for is taking all my possessions that I slowly had collected, all my tip money, and taking money from me that he had no intention of using for what he said it was for, and leaving me with a bill at a gas station for cigarettes and snacks that I knew nothing about.He also took all the jewelry I had slowly been collecting, I loved jewelry of all kinds, and paid for it all my self. He wiped me out and just left me with a few clothes.
I did track him down in Wainwright a few days later, I hitchhiked from Smokey Lake to Wainwright, boy was he surprised to see me! He had told me we both were moving back to Wainwright, that was why he took all my stuff. He lied, he just stole everything I owned in the world with out any remorse or regret. What kind of person does that?! When I confronted him, he told me it was over, and he had some one else. I said give my things back. He refused, I didn’t think of going to the police, as authority and I did not mix well. I left and went to Edmonton to stay with a girl friend that was K.B.s friend and then became mine.
I stayed with my friend for one month, but I ended up going back to the streets. I am sad I left, but I left because I did not have the heart to try again, even though I did get a job and was trying. I was giving up, what would be would be, and I would just accept what ever came my way. The Next segment, I will talk about what happened when I went back to the Drag for the second time, as a young adult. I was 18 years old now.