The five-block span between my home and work isn’t exactly known for its quaint neighborhood “feel”. The view from my window looks across a noisy street to a tire shop that’s hung virtually every type of hubcap known to man on its building and the surrounding 20-foot tall chain link fence. It’s also an area infamous for its prostitution, the heterosexual kind. On the weekends young tight-skirted girls totter in heels around the block in the cold winds. But during the week it’s the cracked-out ruins on the corners turning and staring at the drivers of repair trucks and SUV’s. These women’s faces are portraits in hard living; deeply lined, smiles of broken teeth, scabbed lips and twitching eyelids. Some of them like Louie; they catch sight of him and their demeanor shifts, they bend and reach a hand out, their voices pitch an octave higher, and he gladly greets them with his wet nose and his stunted, wagging tail. They’re there at 6 a.m. and they’re there when I walk home.
One particular woman intrigued me when I first caught sight of her after work one day. She was different; she looked like someone’s mother; young and shy. As if to subvert her presence on the corner, she’d wear glasses and an overcoat and when she’d see me she’d look away. I wouldn’t see her often. I wondered about her, wanted to follow her home, if she had one, and watch her when she wasn’t here. I reasoned, of course, that it was drugs, some addiction that pushed her out there when the money was gone. I wanted to save her in some nebulous, romantic fashion, but knew I neither would nor could.
This morning I caught sight of a neon yellow flyer tacked to a telephone pole along my morning route; “Please Help Us Find our Sister Vanessa (a.k.a. Holly)”. Underneath was a photo of the woman. It had been awhile seen I’d seen her.
I used to buy speed in little bags the size of my thumbnail; the size of my life. I was a frightened, rageful presence behind the dark pit of a bar where I worked several shifts a week. I drank to cut the speed jitters, to give myself the courage it took to be behind the bar. I drank for the courage to remove my shirt on “Pec Night”. My weight fell as I erased myself. I’d stay in my apartment as long as possible each day; my forays into the world set my heart pounding. I bought the small bags because I was always about to quit, like a chain smoker who never buys cartons. But I couldn’t resist for long. Without speed I couldn’t breathe. Soon I’d be back at the dealer’s, twenties and tens gripped in my fingers, enduring his psychotic ranting; buying back my life.
It’s a good snapshot, though the copier darkens the shadows, presenting her face in high contrast. She’s taken off her glasses. Eyeliner sharpens her gaze, a coat of lipstick darkens her lips. Her halter top is barely visible under the folds of her overcoat. The photographer was taller; Vanessa looks up from where she’s leaning against a wall. Something I hadn’t seen plays on her lips. She smiles, shyly, at her friend.