The view is the same. It’s what I’ve grown accustomed to, bland cinder blocks in all direction, full length plexi-glass windows to ensure safety, heavy metal doors that clink and scrape with the slightest of movements, and cold tile floors the same bland colors as the walls. I’m here so often, I can recite the rules on the walls, very few staff have to ask for my ID, and I can tell you which of my high heels will set off the metal detector.
In the midst of the normalcy, the anxiety remains. How could it not? Another run away, under 15, suspected exploitation… and as a stranger I have to convince her to share her story. I use the 30 seconds of prep to remind myself that she just needs genuineness, authenticity, but there’s still that part of me that finds it impossible that she would want to tell me anything.
She walked in confidently, with just a healthy dose of hesitancy. To say she was striking is an understatement. She had braids down to her waist, perfectly shaped eyes, and dominant cheek bones. She looked and carried herself much older than her 15 years of age.
She sat across from me, tucked her feet underneath her, and then strategically leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table. It was clear she was going to take control of the meeting, and as I smirked at her and she smirked back she immediately knew I was going to let her.
She initially chose her words wisely, feeling me out for any shock or awe. But, she quickly became comfortable and started talking about her times in strip clubs. She was quick to point out “where she drew the lines.” She wasn’t like all the other girls out there. She knew where to draw the boundaries and what was “dirty.”
But, then she paused. Her expression changed and she asked me what is exploitation. This time I paused. The opening was there and I didn’t want to miss it.
By the time I had finished, her hands were placed on both sides of her head and tears were glistening in her eyes. I wasn’t sure how to proceed, so I simply waited. When she finally looked up, a few tears had found their way down her cheek. Having just met, I had no idea how to console her, so again I just waited.
When she finally found her words, she simply said, “I know they were exploiting me, but I think I was exploiting myself too. I guess I didn’t know my own worth.” The words hit me hard. The words hit her hard. We both had ran out of words to respond, so we simply stayed still in the moment.
I can’t tell you how we found ourselves out of that moment or how long the moment lasted. I don’t remember who broke the silence or what we discussed from that point. I just remember thinking how privileged I was to be able to share that moment with her.
We left our cinder block cube with an awkward, hesitant hug and a brief smile. She chose to let me be part of her process, her story, her journey. As we parted that day, I knew our stories were now, and would be, intertwined.