I didn’t notice her enter the Hallmark store. I was up to my elbows in Mother’s Day cards, attempting to find one that didn’t have “mother” scrawled dramatically across the front in cursive letters. (I don’t know about you, but I have never, ever, called my mom ‘mother’ – but apparently Hallmark seems to think that is quite common.) It was then that I noticed the two teenage employees whispering and pointing to something behind me.
Turning, I saw a prostitute looking at cards. She was clad in thigh-high, high heeled boots, miniskirt, and a shirt that exposed her stomach. Basically, she resembled Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman before she cleans up. The prostitute then moved to where I was standing and, shamefully, I lowered my head and acted as though I was engrossed in what I was reading.
I tried to focus on finding a card for my mom, but I have to admit it was a challenge. The prostitute reeked of powdery perfume that was so strong I could practically taste it. The two employees were also doing a not-so-subtle job of watching her. Each time I reached for a different card I couldn’t help but notice the two teenage employees who were whispering to one another and staring at the prostitute. When I finally found a card I liked, I approached the cash register only to stand behind the prostitute I had been trying so hard to ignore.
She was digging around in her denim purse before she carefully placed the money, a dollar at a time, on the counter. Avoiding eye contact with the prostitute, the one teenage employee who was operating the cash register took the money with her fingertips and quickly dropped it into the cash drawer, as though the money were contaminated.
The prostitute asked the two teenage employees if she could borrow a pen. The other teenage employee mechanically handed a pen over and stared, speechless, as the prostitute bent over her Mother’s Day card and wrote. As the prostitute filled out her card, the two employees nonchalantly looked down at what she was writing before looking at one another and smirking.
“Thank you,” the prostitute said as she handed the pen back.
Without a word, the teenage employee took the pen and continued to stare as the the prostitute left the store.
The other teenage employee exhaled, as though she had been holding her breath. “Did you see that?” she asked me.
“Yes. She was pretty hard not to notice,” I answered as I put my card on the counter.
“Did you see what she wrote?” the teenage employee asked. Without waiting for an answer she said, “She wrote ‘Happy Mother’s Day Mommy’. But get this: she spelled “mommy” m-o-m-e-e. She didn’t know how to spell mommy!”
Both girls burst out laughing.
I paid for my card and left. As I headed towards my car I saw the the prostitute walking down the road, clutching the Hallmark bag that contained the card she had so carefully chosen for her mom.
We rarely see these women in such common places as a Hallmark store or grocery market. And no wonder. Even I admit that I stole a few glances at her. And yet, we forget that they were once little girls who giggled and wore nightgowns and loved ice cream. We forget that these women were once little girls who dreamed of being a princess, or of growing up to be a movie star. But something terrible happened to them.
After her purchase, the prostitute was headed back to the streets; back to pimps, drugs, and abuse. This was not the Hollywood version of prostitution. I am sure she wished Richard Gere was waiting to rescue her from the horrors of her lifestyle.
I think it’s safe to say that it is only out of desperation that a woman (or worse yet: girl) becomes a prostitute. It’s not as if she woke up one morning and said, “Ya know, I think I am going to leave this perfectly good job and have sex with strange men for money despite the risk of disease and my personal safety.” The majority of prostitutes, if not all, fall into it as a desperate way to support a drug addiction or as a result of past sexual abuse. Usually both.
While her lifestyle was vastly different than mine, she still had a love for her “momee.” The prostitute and I were looking at the same cards, each thinking of our own moms. The love she had for her mom was no less than the love I have for mine. Yet, I was not subjected to whispers, mocking and judgement when I purchased my Mother’s Day Card.
Later that day as I filled out the card for my mom, I couldn’t stop thinking of the prostitute. I wish I had made eye contact with her. I wish I had smiled and said hello. That would have made my mom prouder than anything I wrote in her card.
Special thanks to Heather Dellamore, editor extraordinaire, for her thoughts and guidance while writing this.