The lights flickered above her head as she attempted to adjust her eyeliner in preparation for the next client. The cracked mirror only further obscured her view, for a moment she glanced at her iPhone screen and saw she had 30 minutes before her next scheduled appointment began. She without thinking grabbed her dented pack of Pall Malls, flicked her hot pink mini Bic lighter to make sure it still had fluid and headed for the small 4th story window overlooking the street below. Turk Street, she stared at the ever present white street sign hoisted above the constant shuffle of crack heads, drug dealers and working people doing their best to avoid eye contact as they scurry to their jobs. She experienced a sense of satisfaction imagining the horror Chao felt as he waddled down Turk to the SRO from his family’s small apartment in Chinatown. The thought of him wearing his Giants ball cap and cheap aviator sunglasses to avoid being recognized on his visit to a prostitute was for a moment, intoxicating. Her smile soon faded as she dwelled on the fact that a visit with her, or any association with her is something to be ashamed of, and worst of all, she needed him and others like him to give her life any semblance of stability. She took a deeper drag of the cigarette. Her mind continued to wander as she slowly exhaled the smoke from her lungs and watched it immediately vanish as a gust of wind picked up. Her phone notified her of a text message. She inhaled one final drag before she put out her cigarette on the outer edge of the windowsill and glanced at her phone. As suspected, it was Chao informing her that he was almost there. “b there soon destiny xoxoxo” Every time a trick referred to her as Destiny she fought off the urge to cringe. Whenever she heard it uttered, which was often, she’d have a flashback of her first time working in the neighborhood, and that pimp that gave her the nickname, Destiny. She could hear his voice. “A girl like you is destined for great things, I’mma call you destiny.” It didn’t matter that her real name was Suzanne Wahlz, from that day forward everyone who knew her in the Tenderloin called her Destiny.
She opened her dresser to find the red low-cut tank top Chao had bought for her. Not out of the kindness of his heart, but because he always explicitly demanded her to be naked when he got into the room without having to look at her “ugly” C-section scar and any other flaw that reminded him of her humanity. It didn’t bother her as long as he paid for it, which he did, at times begrudgingly. As she slid the tank top on she felt it was looser than usual, but she concluded it was barely noticeable. If Chao complained so be it. Almost on que she received another text from Chao, she didn’t look at it, she knew what it meant, he was there and he wanted to be buzzed in. Patience was not one of Chao’s strong suits, almost instantly after the text was sent he started to tap the buzzer. She pressed the intercom button and in faux sexy voice that poorly masked her annoyance she said “Come on up.” And buzzed him into the building. Once Chao was in the room, he wasted no time. There was no greeting, just “Destiny, get on the bed and bend over.” She acquiesced to his demands, she had to. Chao walked over to Destiny’s dresser and placed his Giants cap and sunglasses in the top drawer. He then got on his knees at the foot of the bed and began to slap Destiny on her butt. “Say you like it.” He said in a demanding tone. “I love it.” She responded. “How much do you love it? How much do you want me to fuck you?” She always had a hard time keeping a straight face when Chao tried to talk dirty to her. She found the idea of dirty talk cliché, and his Chinese accent made it more amusing to her. Chao stood up, undid his belt and pulled his pants down to his knees. After standing there for few seconds Chao asked in an exasperated voice, “Destiny, what you waiting for? Condom!” Destiny did her best version of a sexy crawl to the side of the bed, reached into her purse and pulled out an extra-large condom. Most of the men that visited didn’t need anything larger than the standard size, but the idea that someone thought they were well endowed excited them. It made the clients feel less anxious, made them finish faster and hopefully solidified repeat visits. Over the years Destiny learned that clients didn’t just pay for sex, they paid for an ego boost. Chao grabbed the condom from Destiny and placed it on his erect penis. He paused for a moment, as he always did and waited for Destiny to ask him to be inside of her. The main element to Chao’s sexuality was his need to feel powerful and desired. He had to be treated with complete respect and subservience, or else he would become agitated. While Destiny didn’t know the source of these behavioral fetishes she understood they were there and used these observations to her advantage. Over the years of working as a prostitute in San Francisco, Destiny learned that prostitution was equal parts sex, theatre and psychology. Comprehension of these basic components were key to survival. Upon first thrust Destiny let out a moan that his 5’ penis didn’t quite justify. Chao sped up and the moans became more exaggerated. This lasted for about 3 minutes. As he approached climax his grip tightened on Destiny’s hips to the point of slight discomfort until he let out a restrained moan upon ejaculation. Destiny tilted her head to the side and asked, “Did you cum, baby?” in a breathy voice. Chao simply nodded. In what seemed like an instant Chao had gone to the bathroom, flushed the condom down the toilet, did a light sink wash of his genitals and was fully dressed. He looked almost exactly as he had before their session, ridiculous sunglasses and all, just a bit sweatier. In a business like fashion Chao opened his brown leather wallet and pulled out two tattered fifty dollar bills. As Destiny received the money she instructed Chao to wait for a moment. She walked into the bathroom and held both bills up to the fluorescent light above to be certain they weren’t counterfeit. Chao asked in a passive aggressive tone “Okay, Can I go now? I have to go.” Destiny replied in a calm voice after verifying the bills’ authenticity. “See you later, Hun.” As the door closed behind Chao she felt a sense of relief. She had the money needed to pay her monthly fee at the SRO, and just enough money left over to get what she really desired.
There was always a slight hesitation when she was about to buy. She knew it was poison and would often fantasize about the day she would get clean. The day she would prove herself wrong. This wasn’t that day. She intently stared at her phone, attempting to calculate the risk of buying from one dealer over another. Her first choice was always Zach. Zach was a college student at SF State who would walk up and down Market Street taking photos of buildings and people. He never attracted attention. He looked like any other college student roaming around a new city, harmlessly trying to make memories in an exciting environment before he fully set into his predetermined white collar job and suburban life. He was blond, had green eyes, wore hoodies emblazoned with the SF State logo, khaki shorts and always appeared distinctly unthreatening and non-criminal. Despite his image, the backpack he carried contained a large text book with the bottom half of the pages carved out to create a space to store weed, heroin, Adderall and ecstasy. He didn’t consider himself to really be a drug dealer, but a young entrepreneur. Zach felt his business classes couldn’t compete with the experience gained by hand to hand sales in an unregulated market, such as drug distribution. He was a Libertarian at heart, and it meshed well with his personal philosophy. There was always the money too…
Destiny sent a one word text that simply read: “Henry?”
Henry was a code word Zach had made up for heroin. If you wanted marijuana you’d ask for Martha, Adderall was Andy and ecstasy was Emily. Zach would only respond if you used his code. He shied away from popularized drug slang, as it could be used for evidence if he were to get caught. Now all Destiny had to do was wait for a reply. She hated waiting. She went back to the bathroom to adjust her makeup. Not for any real reason, just as a way to pass the time. She thickened the dark eyeliner around the curvature of her eyes. She felt the darker and thicker the eyeliner the more her sea-blue eyes would stand out. She was prideful of her natural beauty, but as she gazed upon her face she silently acknowledged that this asset wouldn’t last forever, even with concealer she could still see a faint hint of crow’s feet. As she aged into her 30’s she began to notice the odd gray hair or two dispersed at random throughout her naturally golden blonde hair more often. One of her fears was ending up like the old, washed up women she would see around the neighborhood; charging discounted rates and still ending up on the street, shaking from withdrawal. When she began as a prostitute she felt a sense of superiority to those women still working the street in their 40’s. She thought she was different, but after years of stagnancy, she wondered if what she attributed to youthful arrogance was just internalized fear masquerading as confidence.
Nightfall approached, Destiny still hadn’t received a reply from Zach. The early stages of withdrawal began to set in; minor nausea, cold sweats, dull muscle aches. She didn’t want to buy from a random dealer, but she was running out of options. Destiny had roamed the streets of the Tenderloin countless times. She was familiar with all the alleyways, side streets, cracks and crevices that made up the neighborhood. But despite her familiarity, walking the streets after dark still inspired an anxious feeling that manifested in the pit of her stomach.
Fear wasn’t new to her, and did little to dissuade her. Fear was just a part of life she learned to accept. She knew that there was always a chance that one of her clients could be psychotic, possibly even a murderer. She had heard horror stories from some of the other girls who work the neighborhood. Stories about men with strange requests, men who would become violent if their demands weren’t met. She knew the risk she was taking every time she stuck a needle into her veins. She felt the fear. She did it anyway.
“I’m an Irishman! Second generation in this nation! I went to the guy’s house, Mark’s house I think, and they’d give me booze and drugs, whatever I wanted for free. And his wife told me to stay. And I said I’m a human being, now suck my fuckin’ dick! I’m here… I EXIST!”
These were the first words Destiny heard as she exited the hotel. The man who said them was leaning against a heavily graffitied security shutter, pointing aggressively at someone, or something that wasn’t there. As Destiny walked by, the man muttered, “Go fuck yourself.” Destiny didn’t respond, she didn’t look at him, she continued to walk. The further away from him the better she felt. He smelled like death. And not in a rhetorical way. The stench that was emitting off of him was capable of conjuring a mental image of someone that had been dead for many years, and for some reason was brought back to life for purposes unknown. Maybe he was reincarnated to let everyone know about his Irish heritage and to demand blowjobs as a right of existence. Whatever the case, the stench was so foul that it couldn’t have naturally occurred as a result of being on the street, it required some sort of paranormal backstory to provide a proper explanation. The smell faded and was replaced with the scent of marijuana and cheap cologne as she approached three men loitering in front of a liquor store near the corner of Taylor and Turk street. One of the men looked at Destiny and asked, “You need somethin’?”
“Yeah, got any H?” She replied.
The dealer paused for a moment and said, “How much you need?”
“A bundle,” she said.
“Alright, one minute. Stay here.” The dealer said as he turned away from Destiny and walked around the corner. Destiny pulled a bent cigarette out of her pocket, before she could even realize she had forgotten her lighter back in the room one of the other men standing in front of the liquor store asked in a playful tone. “Need a light?” Destiny looked over at the man; he had a fresh tattoo of a dollar sign above his left cheek bone, the skin around the ink was still swollen. She knew not to respond. He had the aura of a pimp.
“Come on, girl, I’m just trying to be friendly. You know there’s more to the city than just around here, right? You too beautiful to be hanging out here. I can show you the finer things.” Destiny continued to ignore him as she mumbled to herself, “Yep, definitely a pimp.” She hated pimps. She saw them as nothing more than leeches who promised everything and delivered nothing. During her time as a prostitute Destiny had been pimped by two different men. The first pimp she had convinced her to work in Las Vegas. He said that’s where they’d strike it rich. What really happened was he’d get drunk and gamble away all the money she had made. After nearly 2 years in Vegas, she decided enough was enough and caught the first flight back to Northern California. The second pimp was the only man she had ever fallen in love with, he was the man that introduced her to dope, he was the man that impregnated her, and he was the man that ruined her life. The dealer returned and said, “Aye, I got it.” He casually walked up and handed Destiny a gram of black tar heroin. She pulled out the two crumpled 50 dollar bills she stashed in her bra and handed it to him. Little was done to conceal the exchange, as it was commonplace.
“Oh, now this bitch can miraculously hear? Fuckin’ stuck up ass dope fiend. Too good to have a conversation, but not too good to shoot up dope… Fuck outta here, bitch!” The suspected pimp said angrily. Destiny walked back to the hotel, unphased by the verbal assault.
Along the short walk she passed by the homeless man who had told her to fuck herself. He wasn’t screaming anymore, he was sitting against the same security shutter, clapping his hands and humming a song she didn’t recognize. He seemed content. Despite his deplorable living conditions, foul stench and questionable sanity she found his contentedness in that moment enviable.
The withdrawal symptoms were becoming more intense. Her muscles ached, she felt as if the inside of her stomach was disintegrating. Her hand shook as she entered the 4 digit code to gain access to the building. The hotel elevator was out of service, which wasn’t uncommon. The elevator served more of an aesthetic purpose than anything else. Elevators were something SRO landlords often listed as an amenity at their hotels. They never specify whether or not the elevators work. The common rationale among landlords was if the listing of an amenity equated to functionality in the minds of tenants, that was their fuckin’ problem. The unique housing situation in San Francisco empowered slumlords. If you were staying at an SRO it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that you weren’t in the position to complain about elevators. If a tenant didn’t like it, there was always the streets; that was the mentality. The faulty elevator never bothered her, until now. Her legs felt weak. What would be a casual walk upstairs had transformed into an obstacle course. She clenched the railing, taking one step at a time until she made it back to the 4th floor. The hallway was empty, the fluorescent lighting was oppressively bright. Destiny’s hands shook more violently as she gripped the roomkey. The sound of a door creaking open made her anxious. Her fists tightened, she had been a victim before. No matter how sick she felt she would try to defend herself.
“Everything okay, sweetie?” Asked a soft voice with an audible southern drawl.
Destiny’s fists loosened. She recognized the man’s voice.
“Yeah, everything is okay. I’m just kinda… sick right now. I’m uhh… need to open the door, but a bit dizzy, ya know?” Destiny replied in an exhausted tone.
“Do you have your key?”
“Well good, at least I won’t have to kick the damn door down.” He said warmly as he approached.
He opened the door to her room and asked, “Do you need some help in? You look a little wobbly on your feet, hun.”
“Yes, thanks, Terrence.”
He put his arm around Destiny and helped her into the room. As he set her down on the bed he asked, “Anything else I can do for ya?”
“Actually, there is…”
“You need somethin’ from the corner store?”
“No, I… need you to help me with… something else. And if it makes you feel uncomfortable you don’t have to do it, but it would mean the world to me.”
“Listen, sweetie, you’re an attractive girl and all, but I like boys; ya know, with penises… ”
“What? No, I know, I… I need help getting high.”
“We’re on the 4th story… How much higher do you really need to be? Wait, do you mean like drugs?”
“I don’t think that’s the moral thing to d-”
“Listen, I need this.” Destiny interjected aggressively.
“Just because I live in Satan’s asshole doesn’t mean I should start breathing in his farts.”
“I’ll pay you.”
“Well, how much?”
“Whatever you want!”
“My life leaves a lot to be desired, so how bout you say a number.”
“One hundred dollars?”
“Aaaaand sold to the pretty dopehead desperately pleading on the bed! I’ll only do it this once though, okay?”
Destiny pointed to the dresser by the window and said, “In the bottom drawer you’ll find my kit. There’s a belt in one of the drawers, and there should be a few lighters too. I just need you to prep for me. That’s it.”
As Terrence walked over to retrieve the necessary items. Destiny couldn’t help but stare at the numerous deep scars that marked both of his arms. She had always known they were there, but never bothered to wonder how they got there. Some of them were skin-colored, others had a reddish hue to them; as if they were infected long after the natural healing process ended.
“Okay, so what now?”
“I have some dixie cups under my sink, grab one and put some water in it.”
“Why? Does heroin make you thirsty?”
“I’ll explain after you do it.”
“Okay, but it just sounds weird.”
“It’s how you do it… Just, please,” Destiny replied in a soft, desperate voice.
Terrence fiddled with the bathroom faucet for a few moments before water started to flow out of it. “Sweetie, I think your sink is bro… Oh, false alarm. It works.” He filled the dixie cup to the brim, and placed it on the nightstand beside Destiny’s bed. With all the strength she could muster, Destiny forced herself to sit up. She wrapped the belt around her left bicep, her right arm shook more intensely as she pulled to make the belt as tight as possible.
“Terrence, I need you. Sit next to me, okay?”
Without reply, Terrence sat beside her on the bed.
Destiny laid her left arm across Terrence’s lap.
“Okay, just follow my instructions. Let’s not make this weirder than it has to be.”
“Well, I’m helping you shoot up street heroin, and your arm is less than an inch from my penis, and I’m gay, you’re a professional prostitute of the opposite sex, AND you’ve agreed to pay me for somethin’. I’m pretty sure we’ve reached the peak of weird mountain, sweetheart.” Terrence replied in a playful tone.
Destiny seemed unamused by Terrence’s attempt at levity as she handed him a small baggie of black tar heroin.
“I need you to take this serious. Don’t fuck this up, okay? I’m really sick.”
Terrence muttered, “Okay.”
“Take everything out of the baggie and put it on the spoon.”
“Now, open up my kit, and take out a fresh syringe.”
“How do you get fresh syringes when you run out?” Terrence asked in a moment of sincere curiosity.
“There’s a bunch of places around the city that give them out. How have you not heard of them? They’re kinda all over the place.”
“I guess syringes just haven’t been on my agenda.”
“You know the place where they give free AIDS tests on Market?”
“They give them out there. Anyways, put the needle in the dixie cup and pull the plunger back until it’s full of water. Then push the water out slowly into the spoon until the spoon is about halfway filled with water,” Destiny explained.
“After that you put the fire at the bottom of the spoon, right?”
“Yeah, but don’t just hold it in one spot. You have to move it around the bottom.”
“How long do I hold the fire?” Terrence said, as he flicked the lighter under the spoon.
“30 second, then stir it to make sure there’s no solid bits floatin’ around. After that heat it up for another 15 seconds or so”
“Wait, stir it with what? Is there some sort of miniature spoon I use?”
“No, just the plunger.”
Terrence followed the instructions diligently.
“Make sure there’s no air bubbles!”
“I’m not an idiot, I know that! I take an insulin shot before bed,” Terrence snapped.
“Yeah, I don’t like to tell anyone, though. But I feel like you can keep a secret.”
“If you take insulin then why did you ask me all those questions about how to shoot up?”
“ Because insulin isn’t heroin.”
“It’s not that scandalous,” Destiny said passively.
“Heroin or insulin?”
Terrence paused for a moment, seemingly calculating the social stigmas associated with diabetes compared with those related to heroin use. After this strange deliberation, he shook his head, seemingly in agreement. Destiny wasn’t sure if he did so relative to her point, or if he stumbled upon a long sought after conclusion about the meaning of life. To her, it didn’t matter. She needed to get a fix. Badly.
“It’s ready,” Terrence said with audible hesitation in his voice.
Destiny began to repeatedly clench her fist, and slowly, a dark green vein appeared.
She felt the pins and needles envelop her arm as the blood rushed through, partially obstructed by the tight belt. Her vein swelled, increasing in visibility.
“Now I’m ready,” Destiny vocalized with the kind of exhausted enthusiasm one would expect from a soldier on their first day home from combat.
Terrence firmly placed his hand on Destiny’s wrist.
“I need you to try your best not to shake. I already feel bad enough doin’ this for you. I don’t want to have to poke you more than once.”
He slowly inserted the needle into her vein.
“Nice and steady,” he whispered to himself as he pushed the plunger down.
Destiny’s breaths become audible as the poison rushed through her veins; contaminating everything in its path until the eventual expulsion by the liver. The sickness was being replaced with a familiar, drowsy euphoria.
Destiny ran her hand over the patches of disfigured skin that covered Terrence’s arms, He pulled back with enough aggression to signify to Destiny, even in her altered state, he didn’t appreciate her treating his scars as if they were some sort of braille passage. He hated even when his lovers became too infatuated with the scars. They were painful memories manifest in physical form. They were not something you could run your hands over and interpret as a means to satisfy a fleeting curiosity.
Terrence unbuckled the belt strangling Destiny’s bicep. He placed her kit in the top shelf of her dresser and began to walk towards the door.
“Hey, Terrence,” Destiny said in a soft voice.
“Yes, hun,” Terrence replied.
“Thanks… Can I ask you a question?”
“How did you get your scars?”
Terrence was devastated by the question. His heart began to race. He had faced the question before, but he was never able to get used to it. As he opened the door to the hallway, Terrence looked back at Destiny, with a feigned smirk, he replied, “Maybe another time… “
CH. 1 END