To the young woman I met across the street from the main public library at the corner of Laura and Monroe who referred to herself as a whore:
First of all, thank you for taking time out of your day to sit down and have a cup of coffee with me, but most of all, thank you for sharing your narrative with me.
Allow me to clear something up, though. When you first approached me, I knew exactly what you were and why you were there. And even with the wig and through the garish make-up, I could tell you were a lot younger than you claimed to be. Also, within minutes of speaking with you, I also realized that you might be wrestling with an addiction of some kind.
But as you told me, looks can sometimes be deceiving. Despite my appearance, despite my deportment, I am not as naïve as you believe me to be. Green was the word you used, wasn’t it? However, if I appeared to recoil just a bit, if I appeared stunned, it was because never have I witnessed someone speak of themselves with such derision, with such contempt. What is it you called yourself? A whore?
But I must ask you a question that has vexed me to no end this evening. Why did you agree to sit with me? Why me? Why did you not just walk away once you realized that I was not in the market for what you were selling? Why, in the middle of the afternoon, did you feel the need to announce what you perceive yourself to be?
Why could we not have continued our conversation, continued to talk, to laugh, to just enjoy the company of another human being without you ever telling me? More than anything, it sounded like a confession. Why?
And certainly, why did you, why would you, tell me those things you told me about yourself, your history, your life. Perfect strangers usually do not reveal so much about themselves so quickly.
But in response to your question, I have no earthly idea why people treat one another the way they do. I do not know how a father could take such liberty with his daughter, and I certainly do not know how a mother could then turn that daughter out into the street.
Additionally, I do not know why people are so keen to take advantage of the most vulnerable, those most in need of help, of comfort. It is all unfathomable to me.
Yet, I could see how this might tear a person apart. I can see how this might make one feel utterly worthless, how it might cause one to abuse themselves, to abase themselves over and over again, until they no longer know or recognize themselves.
I can see how it could make one pour out their heart to a perfect stranger who offers you only a smile and a kind word and a cup of coffee outside at sidewalk café.
But I wish I could get you to see what I saw; I wish I could find the words to say or the magic button to push that might help you realize that you are worth much more than the 20 dollars or the 50 dollars or the 100 dollars or however much you receive for selling your soul and sanity bit by bit in tiny increments.
I wish I knew how to convince you to love yourself and allow yourself to be loved; however, it suddenly dawns on me after contemplating your narrative that perhaps, just perhaps, you have never actually known love or felt love and probably would not recognize love because you have no frame of reference.
But you have my business card, so call me. You have my cell number, my office number, my home number, so call me. If you need someone to talk to or have coffee with, call me. If you are hungry or have no place to stay, call me.
If you are frightened, if you feel so frustrated, so utterly defeated that you would like to beat your fists against the wall until they bleed or pull your hair out by the roots, if you get tired of the life you are leading, call me, call me, please call me. I would like to be your friend.
If you do not call me for your sake, call me for my own; until I know that you are somewhere safe, that you are off the street, that you believe yourself to be something besides a whore, I will be besides myself with worry.
I am thinking of you, and my family is praying for you. And most of all, I wish you heaven.