The Prostitute

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.


40 thoughts on “The Prostitute

  1. This just goes to show that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, in the end, we’re all the same. We just have different versions of the same story.

    • Exactly. I can’t help but think, “What happened to her? Something went very wrong.” I think that it is easy for those of us who have not been abused or fallen victim to drug use to look down on people like her. Meanwhile, maybe we had more chances then she did.

  2. Despite this woman’s situation, she still lives her mom. Maybe some if us wouldn’t be so gracious if we were in the situation, maybe we would blame mom. Who knows?

    That’s the thing. We never know what people are thinking or why they make decisions they do. Maybe she’s working her way through college. Maybe she’s not a prostitute. Maybe she’s the victim of drug addiction or abuse. Who knows. Everyone has a heart though and she showed hers by caring enough to go get her mom a card for moms day.

    • Right. There is a line from the movie “French Kiss” that goes, “Everyone loves their mother. Even people who hate their mother, love their mother.” She loved her mom and went into a place that did not greet her warmly. The teenage employees stared at her and whispered about her but had no qualms about talking to me. And I was just as guilty as they were.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story! I understand there is a certain shock value in seeing a prostitute buying a hallmark card, so I understand people wanting to catch a glimpse, but I don’t understand the mocking. It’s not funny that someone can’t spell mommy – it is sad – because someone failed her along the way. And it’s not for someone to ridicule that she is a prostitute – like you said, she probably didn’t pick it as a career because she just loves selling her body, it was probably her only choice, and that too is sad, that her circumstances led her there, and not something you should fault somebody for, but something that should make you want to be compassionate and helpful.

  4. I always think, women who wind up as prostitutes didn’t have the love, support and resources the rest of us had – they became prostitutes out of desperation. I once read a quote by someone who used crack, and she said it didn’t make her feel good – it made her feel “nothing.” Clearly, she was aching inside. So very sad. I hope those 2 teenage cashier have a more empathetic view by now.

  5. I was being eyed as possibly a mental case one evening, myself. It was the first Father’s Day since my own father died. I needed to pick up a card for my son-in-law and one for my hubby. At first it was just a tear or two rolling down my cheeks. But it became a painfully progressive stream, no doubt streaking my mascara and such, as I fought to stifle the sobs trying to escape my chest. I select cards with a thoughtful and relevant sentiment to them for the people I have in mind. Reading through a lot of Father’s Day selections that night was incredibly difficult. It was harder when the gum-chewing clerk walked up and asked if I had a problem or ‘something’ with a look on her face that said “Are you a freak or WHAT, Lady?” Thankfully I’d found the two cards I needed and got the heck out of there. I didn’t try to explain why tears were flooding my face. If I’d tried to I would have surely burst on the spot. I wonder if the clerk ever managed to figure it out on her own. My secret hope was that she tried to make giggly chit-chat about it with a more mature co-worker who in turn found it un-funny and rude, and told her so.

    • I am so sorry for the loss of your father. I don’t care how old we are, we always need our parents. Even though it is a progression of life to say good bye to our parents when they die, it is extremely painful. And I think it is safe to say that card stores should NOT hire teenagers. Perhaps we can lobby congress for a new anti-teenager-working-in-card-store federal law?

  6. Extraordinary writing. Loved it. Is it a fiction or true story? You kept me guessing. Whatever the answer is, I totally agreed with your point of view. I am sure those who ended up doing what they are doing are mostly not by choice but sheer desperation for a better life.

    • Sadly, this was a true story, and you nailed it with the words “sheer desperation” – only that would lead someone to the lifestyle of prostitution. Thank you reading, and taking the time to comment!

  7. No matter which continent, which country we belong to, some things are annoyingly inherent. We judge like nobody’s business. I probably would have done the same if I were in your place and then would’ve felt guilty afterwards… A ruthless cycle… You raised a strong and important point. This world would be a different place if empathy came as easy to us as hunger

  8. Come to think of it, I once went to an area of my city , Lahore (Pakistan), that was famous for its prostitutes. And after having caught a glimpse of a few of them, my friends and I all shrieked with curiosity, horror and awe! Almost like we were looking at some dangerous exotic animal. This memory disgusts me and lowers my head.

    • Don’t be so hard on yourself. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, traveling circuses had “freak shows”, where spectators would pay money to view obese women, or women with beards, or abnormally small men. As humans, we find anything strange or different fascinating. Whether it be a physical attribute or a lifestyle.

    • Thank you so much. It was such a powerful experience I had to write about it. Far too often we view these women with scorn, or think they “chose” that lifestyle. When truly, it must be a final act of desperation.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

  9. I love this post, and it rings true for so many of us. People are people, and we all bleed red. A good lesson for all of us.

  10. Thank you for sharing this, so many forget that prostitutes, homeless people, and others alike are people too and most of the time they do not choose to be in the positions they’re in. We treat them like they’re below us when someday we could find ourselves facing the same challenges. I appreciate your story.

    • Exactly! So often many of us have escaped those hard lifestyles because we had help. Or we were not abused or subjected to trauma. We never know what someone else has been through. A friend of mine once said, “don’t judge what you don’t understand.”

      Thank you for reading and the insightful comment. It is very appreciated!

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