The first time I saw her she was crossing the street right by the only motel left in town that serviced those of her kind. She was standing in the middle of the road waiting for traffic to clear so that she could get the rest of the way across. We looked at each other. Me, well I was curious. She wore converse sneakers, a pair of blue jeans, and a nondescript top and hoodie. She had her hair dyed mostly pink with some blond highlights. Not categorically any discernable style except what might be explained as the vagaries of the young and rebellious. We caught each other’s eyes for a second. Mine surely was just a simple curious glance while hers was a mixture of ambivalence, apathy, and arrogance. She had, at a deeper level, an air of contempt. I thought little of it and went about my way.
The next time we chanced upon each other I was sitting alone in a parking space at one of those high-end-five-dollar-a-cup coffee shops. I had gone through the drive thru, as is my habit for ease and expediency. I usually ask for them to put a couple of sweeteners in the cup before they pour but this time they gave it to me on the side. I had pulled in the parking space in order to rectify their mistake. Dealing with this overpriced and wrongly served cup of much too expensive coffee, I was oblivious to what the rest of the world was engaged in. I hear slight tap on my passenger window and looked up to find the girl with the pink hair and the derision in her demeanor.
I rolled the window down and she met me with a smile and a sly sideways look. She asked if it might be that I was in need of some company. I stared at her for a moment before realizing that, even though it was the middle of the afternoon she was, vocationally speaking, a lady of the night in search of a customer. It had been a number of years since I had been approached, or even tangibly interested, in the wares she was offering. Additionally, having attained the age where life has eradicated all the needed physical requirements for the implementation of such a quick transaction on my part, it seemed an unlikely idea and imaginably improbable state to achieve in the first place. I will say that it did occur to me to accept the invitation. I am of an advanced age, but not yet deceased or demented. I was also not pharmaceutically prepared. The thought was present but the flesh was out to lunch and medicinally deficient.
She shrugged her shoulders and asked for a ride back to her usual place of commerce, the motel where I had first viewed her crossing the street. On the way we talked about things. Not anything personal, just things about, well, nothing of consequence in the whole scheme of things; who my favorite baseball team was, and why, why pink for the hair instead of some other color, would the Cowboys win the Super Bowl this year. All just nonsense, or no sense, or just filler while ignoring the bigger questions about what was going on in this nouveau relationship that neither of us realized was about to occur.
We got back to the motel and she got out of the truck. Before she closed the door, she once more made offer of her services and I, once more, declined. I went about the rest of my day and found my mind drifting back to the young lady engaged in the world’s oldest profession. I thought of what her age might be. I then went through the laundry list of life circumstances that could explain her entry into that less-than-safe occupation. The ideas came and went and the thought of searching her out and seeing to perhaps offering some assistance that might negate the need for her to involve in such a risky enterprise. I brought my thoughts home and lost the idea in the day-to-day duties of life. Making time for the dog who always met me with a wagging tongue and an excitement that told me I was the one it loved beyond measure. Making my way to the home office to do some work that needed completion to meet a deadline. Talking to my girlfriend who wanted to know who the hell was in my truck when she passed me on the way to the coffee shack, and why was I stopped at that “Dopetell 6.” After dismissing all of it I walked into the living room and picked up the book I had been reading. The world within the pages held much more of me than the banal intricacies of the life outside my Sanctum Sanctorum.
I found myself a few days later at a convenience store getting gas for the days sojourn when I once more met my young courtesan. She was kicking the trash bin outside the entrance to the store. As I walked to pay for my purchase I greeted and asked her what seemed to be the problem. She glared at me and, after a moment, recognized me from the other day. She announced that they would not sell her any cigarettes because she did not have any proof that she was old enough. I asked her if she was and she glared at me some more and informed me that she was “twenty three damn years old.”
I asked her why she did not have ID and she told me that she had lost it running away from an irate customer. She asked if I would buy her a pack of smokes and I declined the opportunity. For some reason she did not get angry at that and asked me if I was some sort of social worker or cop. I told her I was a writer and that I had, in fact, once been a social worker among other things. I also told her that my former profession had nothing to do with it. I just would not buy her any cigarettes because they were nasty and I do not like them. She accepted that and turned to walk away. I went about by business in the store and upon returning to my truck found her leaning against the hood. She asked me that if I had been a social worker, did I know how she could get a replacement ID. I told her that I did and what she needed to do to do so. Most of it was something she could accomplish but she had a problem with the legal address thing. She had been living in the motel and that it did not seem to be a good address to give anyone of a legal type.
I agreed with her and gave her one of my cards. I told her to figure it out and call me and that I would give her whatever ride she needed to take care of it. I asked if she needed a ride anywhere and she accepted another ride to the motel. Another offer of services came at the motel followed by another dismissal from me. I went about my business which included another trip to the coffee shack. I had brought my laptop and intended to sip an altogether too expensive cup while using the environment as muse for something to write. This was interrupted by my girlfriend who had, once more, seen me discharging the pink haired lady at the motel. This turned into a detailed conversation about our relationship. Well, not so much a conversation as a series of accusations from my paramour accompanied by not many answers from me. I had done nothing wrong and would not submit to unfounded allegations. This elicited an announcement that we would not be going on our mid-week “date” while she considered her options. I told her that was fine and that she should let me get back to work. Something told me that the conversation was not finished, but something also told me that I would not be engaging in further discussion on the subject. Her natter was unfounded and I knew that I would not be participating in it. Perhaps time to find a new sweetheart.
Leaving the coffee shack I went home to escape into the world of daring do that was the historical fiction novel on my reading stand. I received a phone call later that evening that was an inquiry into the garage apartment that I had behind my house. I usually had a renter and the last one had moved on without paying the rent. I had not rented it or tried to rent it again. The caller told me that she was reading an old ad in the paper and was wondering if it was available. I told her to call me the next day while I considered it. When the call the next day came I thought the voice sounded familiar. I gave the caller the address and set an appointment to show the pace. At the appointed scheduled time I answered the door and found the young lady with the light roseate toned hair.
She stood there with her mouth open for several moments in surprise. I believe that I must have had a similar look on my mug. She asked me if I was the one with the apartment and I asked her if she was the prospective renter. We stumbled around finding a conversation for a bit and finally came to rest in my living room. I offered her a drink which she declined and asked if she could see the apartment. I took her outside and up the stairs to the rental piece. She checked everything out and asked a few questions. Finally, she inquired as to the rent and when she might move in.
This presented me with a dilemma. I was used to a level of quiet and did not wish it to be disturbed. I had initially bought the house because it was on a cul-de-sac with only two other houses. Both belonged to retirees and they kept to themselves except for an occasional conversation when we found ourselves outside at the same time. It was tree lined which insulated us from the noise of other streets in our neighborhood. I never saw anyone pull onto my street except the mail man. The idea of this young lady possibly plying her trade out of the apartment made me envision an unwanted amount of traffic and noise.
I shared my feeling with her and she fervidly apprised me that she would only work out of the motel. She needed a good address as well as a soft place to go and rest. My girlfriend came to mind and the possibility of my neighbors having something to say about the situation also occurred to me. To this day I do not know why I agreed to the arrangement, but I did.
She showed up the next day in a taxi with her belongings slung over her shoulder in a pair of backpacks. She had a large box of fried chicken and a six pack of Gatorade and the deposit money I had asked for. The apartment was furnished and I told her that she could use the washer and dryer in the garage that I had installed and hooked up for any renter. She thanked me and disappeared up the stairs. I did not see her until the next afternoon when she came back with a used boom box and a thirteen inch television she said she found at a pawn shop. She told me that she would not play music too loud, and asked if she could splice into my cable. I told her that it was already hooked up and that it was just basic service. If she wanted any movie channels she would have to pay for those on her own. She said she might get a football package in the fall but that the sports channel that came with cable would work in the meantime. She thanked me and I did not see her again for a few days.
She proved to be as quiet as a church mouse and when the first of the month came around she knocked on the back door and paid rent. She asked if she could use my barbecue grill sometimes and surprised me about a week later with a plate of ribs that rivaled any I had ever tasted. I reciprocated by bringing her a plate of smothered pork chops and mashed potatoes. This turned into a once a week thing. She would bring me a plate of something and I would reciprocate. Just like neighbors.
The girlfriend was the only casualty of the entire situation. She could not find it in her to believe that nothing was going on “after hours” as they say. I wished her well and rebuffed even slightest attempt to explain, deny, or justify a single thing as it applied to the young lady. Nothing was going on that shouldn’t and if she did not believe that than it was her problem. My young friend heard the final argument and brought me a plate of brownies to “sweeten things” for me after the break up. Again, just like a friendly neighbor.
A few weeks later she knocked on the back door and reminded me of the conversation about her picture ID. She thought it might be better if she got a driver’s license and wondered what it would take to do so. I told her that she needed to prove that she was old enough and that would require a birth certificate and/or Social Security card. She had a Social Security card, sharing that her mother had seen to it when she was young. It was the only thing that she had that was from her mother. I remarked that we had the same last name. We both kind of grunted at that and wrote it off as a coincidence.
I gave her a ride to the county office that replaces Birth Certificates and had to call in some favors from my Social Service days and was able to obtain the requested document. With that it was just a stop at the Driver’s License office for an application and a test for a learner’s permit which she passed after leafing through the booklet. She made an appointment to take a driver’s test and about a week later came home with a freshly printed license. She had borrowed a “client’s” car to take it with and proudly displayed her first official photo ID. We celebrated by grilling hamburgers and some beers (now that I knew she was of legal age).
She came home one afternoon, catching me riding around the yard on the riding lawnmower I had purchased so as to avoid any excess manual labor, by pulling up in a small car. She parked on the street and waited for me to finish mowing the yard before asking me about the parking arrangements available. We looked at the driveway and the garage and decided that she could take the side of the garage I was not using. I always parked outside and kept the garage for my lawnmower and the old Triumph motorcycle I had for the extremely occasional times when I felt it necessary to relive my ill-spent youth. This normally entailed a short ride that served to do nothing but remind me that I was never really a biker and that such an indulgence was simply the yearnings of an old man desiring to relive a youth I had never been entirely comfortable with. She walked around the bike and remarked that at least it wasn’t a Harley that I was neglecting. The impish grin she shot me reminded me of something. Nothing I could put my finger on, really. Perhaps it was just a lonesome old memory that would not fully surface.
We went about life after that and grew a friendship that was a little more than neighbors but not all the way towards intimacy. I never asked her about her work, and she never asked me why I had not replaced the girlfriend. On the whole, it was as near a perfect relationship as I had ever experienced. We had a decent level of familiarity that seemed to be satisfactory while not placing any burdensome requirements that a more intimate relationship might require. Closeness was not sought, and casualness seemed the order of the day. I liked it and felt that she also enjoyed the time we spent together.
The girlfriend who had left me called one evening and admitted that she missed me more than she wanted to and that it might be a good thing for us to reimagine our romance. I warned against any remarks about my tenant and agreed to go to dinner with her. We kept that going and my renter kept a wide berth when the girlfriend’s car was in the driveway. I made sure that there was room for her to get into the garage and all seemed fine. The only casualty came when the girlfriend began spending more time at my house. Our weekly little dinners sort of went by the wayside. I missed that and thought of doing something about it but could not figure out a way to do it without creating some form of chaos. I went for about a month without seeing my young friend and realized I missed our time together.
I got a knock on the back door one afternoon and found my renter standing there with an arm full of papers, booklets, a black eye, and a fat lip. I brought her in and wondered what was going on. She told me that she had finally come upon that one “client” that all girls who plied her trade hoped to avoid. He had put her in the hospital for three days and the police had arrested him for assault. They told her that they would prosecute but that she had to give up selling herself. She was moving slow and grimaced a lot. She admitted that she had a few broken ribs and that he had knocked out one of her molars. She looked at me and dissolved into tears. She sobbed and held her arms around herself trying to keep the pain in her ribs at bay. She looked at me and asked for help.
And there it was. All pretenses as to my ability to stay aloof where it came to this girl evaporated. Suddenly there came this tremendous need in me to do something positive for this girl. An obsession began growing and it scared me because with that came compulsion. Impulse would replace reason and logic would be left by the wayside. It scared me because I had spent the last twenty something years compelling myself to be remote in my emotions and reserved in my actions where it came to those of the female gender. Ever since Angelika left.
Angelika! I had not even thought her name in many years. She had been my first love, or perhaps my only love. We met at a concert when we were both twenty. We took a bunch of acid and when we came too looked at each other and never even tried to look at another. We fit in every place of our minds, hearts, bodies, and very souls. We stayed together for over twenty years. We loved everything about each other. We never spent a single night separate and we never even thought of anything but each other. Kids never happened and that was fine because we had each other and that was sufficient. Until the night I came home and found the letter.
She had been to the doctor and was told that she had a brain tumor and would die. She wrote that it would be bad and that she could not stand to see the look in my eyes as our love faded. She went away and I never saw her again. I got drunk for about a year and when I sobered up never even tried to feel again. I had done a lot of things and had all kinds of emotions in me which needed to get out. I became a writer and that was where I put all my feelings, dreams, nightmares, and everything else that had always been given to Angelika. It worked and I was able to make a good living at it and keep my sanity at the same time. I had girlfriends but I realized that, looking at my young friend struggle to move, that was simply for physical reasons. The physical thing had never been much either. Just something that filled some time and gave nothing but release from time to time. It never meant anything but a good feeling every now and then. That was probably why the Girl with the Pink Hair had always been safe from me. There were no desires in me for anything but the next book or story and the occasional dalliance.
Until, that is, now.
She pushed the papers at me and told me she wanted to go back to school. She did not know how to do anything but what she had been doing. I told her that she would have to get a GED first and that it might be a good thing in the long run. Many people made a good living and never had to take their clothes off. She stared at me and stated that I wasn’t funny.
I bought her a GED prep book and told her where to go to take classes. She handed me three month’s rent from her savings and told me that she would get a “real” job that did not entail taking off her clothes. This did not turn out to be accurate. After she healed up from the beating and the bruises and black-n-blue spots disappeared, she went to work as a stripper. It was not the ideal situation, but she did promise me that she never tricked with the guys in the club. She only worked three nights a week so that she had plenty of time for her studies.
Things went back to normal after that. We reinstituted the weekly dinner gig and the only real help she asked for was in deciding what to study at college. She came to the back door about three weeks after going back to work to show me something she had received in the mail. It was her GED. It had her proper name on it and when I read it the official look of it made me realize something. We had always called each other “dude,” and “chick.” Looking at the diploma I realized that her name was Seraphima Reilly. This translated into something that felt like a knife in the heart. Seraphima was a weird way of saying “angel” and Angelika was a weird way of saying the same thing. I smiled at her and congratulated her profusely. She reached up and gave me a hug. Just as we were about to clasp each other she stopped and told me to switch sides. That way we would touch hearts when we hugged.
That was exactly the way that Angelika insisted we hug.
I held the embrace for what was a longer time than I thought was appropriate and stepped back both confused and concerned. She looked at me and asked what was wrong. I stammered out that I was suddenly feeling dizzy. She offered to help me into the house and I told her that it would be fine. Old men did that some time. She told me that she was going to cook some ribs and that I should go relax or take a nap and that dinner would be ready in a few hours. I smiled and congratulated her once more before retreating into my house.
The girlfriend called and I told her to stay home that night because I did not feel good. I went to my computer and began searching online records of births and deaths. It took me a while and I had to call a friend for assistance before I got to see the original birth certificate. I had only seen the Social Security card and never made any connection. I remember thinking that “Seraphima” was an odd first name. Now I knew what its origin was.
I stared at the birth certificate on my screen for a long time. I was focused on the parent’s name. Angelika was there as mother and in the space for father was my full name. I remembered that Angelika would call me by my full name all the time. It was a joke going back to the idea that when you were a kid you knew you were in trouble if your parents used you complete name. She would call me that whenever she thought I was not listening to her. It was the fondest of memories and seeing it there made my heart beat and ache. Then my arm went stiff. I stared at the computer screen until it got blurry, hazy, indistinct, and finally just went away when everything went black.
There was this bright light shining in my eyes and I remember thinking that all the bull about when you go is right. That whole bright light at the end of the tunnel thing was turning out to be true. Except that, as it turned out, it wasn’t a tunnel but just a fluorescent light above a hospital bed. I looked around and discovered Seraphima sitting with a blanket over her and her legs curled beneath her in one of those hospital recliners n every patient’s room. I was hooked up to IV’s and all kinds of other things that were monitoring everything about me. I lay there quiet for a while before calling her name.
She sat up and reached over to press the call button for the nurse. After that it all became a blur with doctors and nurses coming and going and telling me about the heart attack and that they did not think there was a stroke and that I was going to be okay, and on and on and on. I did not listen to most of it while I looked at Seraphima and she looked at me.
When they all left she stood and handed me her copy of the birth certificate. She told me that it was on the computer screen when she found me. She did not seem mad, but she was not smiling. I told her that I had never known. I told her about Angelika’s letter and what my life was like after that. I never knew. I began sniffling, and then a tear formed in my eye, and I finally broke down and openly wept. The first time since the night I read Angelika’s letter.
She pulled up a chair, grasped my hand, and wept with me. She told me that her mother had gotten sick when she was about six and died. She had never really been well. She always had headaches and would have to lay down a lot. She had a friend at the place she worked at who would come and help out when things got real bad. She would let the old woman who lived in the apartment building take care of her daughter when she was at work. When she died, the state took her and put her in foster care. She never knew why they never looked for a father and just imagined that she had no father.
It was just like you imagine…bad places and good places. Some kids were cool and some were not. When she was old enough, the boys started messing with her and she learned how to use them to get things. She finally ran away when she was fifteen and never looked back. A couple of backpacks of clothes and her looks got her through just about anything. Until her and I met.
I told her I was sorry and she looked at me and told me I had done nothing wrong. Then we sat and wept together…for a long, long time.
Coming home from the hospital held many uncertain circumstances. The last time either of us had been here, we were just a “chick” and a “dude.” Now we were father and daughter with no clue on how to be either a parent or the child of a dad, daddy, pop, or any other name we might imagine I should be called. She had an equal difficulty with what I might call her. Baby, Precious, or Princess seemed altogether too cliché. Platitudes definitely would not work as the possibilities made both of us want to throw up a little in our mouths. I expressed that to her and we both were instantly reduced into tear producing laughter. Recovering from that laugh-fest brought all the uncertainty to an end. We were still exactly who we were before she showed me the GED. We were both the same people who liked ribs that she made and laughed at the same silly jokes. We were both the same two people who had a slightly cynical look on life. We were both the same two people who enjoyed each other’s company…in small, occasional doses.
What we were not was a pair of people prepared to make the monumental changes the revelation of relation had inflicted on us. We had no desire for change yet change was inevitable as it applied to each other. We could not go back in time and un-become parent and offspring. We also could not deny or refuse to accept the situation. What we could do is, well, grow the hell up and deal with it.
The first thing we positively could do is finish celebrating her GED. I sent her out to get the fixings and cook the rib dinner that we had talked about. While it cooked, we poured over the catalogue from the local junior college for something she might like to study. We talked about college and I was able to give her some real information. We talked about the fact that she would probably end up going to class with guys from the strip club. She frowned and told me to mind my own business. I harrumphed and reminded her she was the child and I was the parent and we both laughed until our ribs hurt.
The girlfriend came by and informed us that she was not signing on to the “family” thing and wished us well. We looked at each other and realized that I had missed the chance at harrumphing at her while declaring myself a father with responsibilities. Once more we laughed until our sides were about to split. We both turned our phones off and enjoyed the celebration. Especially…the rib dinner that the cardiologist would have scoffed at.
We talked into the night, “Of sealing wax and sailing ships…” as the saying goes. We did not know what would happen, but promised to try as best we could. I took the first initiative. I asked if she would allow me to pay for college. She replied by asking if I would walk her down the aisle if she were ever dumb enough to get married. We both smiled and agreed.
Come time to go to bed she walked to the back door to go to her apartment. She reached for a hug and I made her switch sides…so that our hearts would touch.