doing their work, gained my wary trust by trading good hot meals for sweeping up, or doing dishes. A few wanted other favors, and I did that too, after I got sick from eating spoiled food in dumpsters too often. Fresh food was a lure and my abuse had already taught me I was good for nothing but servicing others and obeying them. It was a reflex, quickly over, and then I could eat.
Overpasses got crowded in bad weather, and that made them more dangerous. Most people would steal whatever I had, but some were violent, too; and being seen as weak or different, I was attacked just like I’d always experienced in school. I had my stuff stolen, including my father’s gun, and was assaulted repeatedly. To get some sort of protection, I agreed to work for a man who sold drugs, by holding his supply for him at times. I was already accustomed to many kinds of drugs, as they were given to the children owned by the ring to control us. I thought I was getting sick again, but I was actually going into withdrawals from an addiction to cocaine, and since that was his product, we struck a deal. He made it clear he would beat me if I used more than we agreed I could, or if I lost the supply for any reason. Obeying an authoritative person was second nature, and I almost developed a sense of worship for him when he brought me food.
Then one day, he just never came back. I waited and watched, but the dangers were growing where I was. The few women there were used by the violent people, or were duped into sex by using their mental illness against them. I stepped in to help one woman, but then didn’t use her myself. When they saw that, they called me a faggot and raped me, too.
I was very afraid of knives. My father used a kitchen knife to give me a “Glasgow Smile” when I was four years old. He blinded my left eye with his cigar at sixteen, cutting the eyelid away first so I would have no choice but to watch. Then he made me retrain myself in how to shoot. So I swallowed my fear of my boss returning and traded the man’s drugs for a handgun. I didn’t use it, but showing it to others kept me safer than I had been. I learned how to hide it, but also, that sleeping was dangerous.
When overpasses became too dangerous, I found a place nobody else wanted to hole up in. It was a drain pipe of some sort, just big enough to sit upright in. One end was fouled by garbage and debris, so only a little trickle of water moved through the bottom. At the other end, a dog had died a few feet inside the pipe, and the foul odor made an effective repellent. Not caring what I had to do to be safe, and hygiene being far lower on the scale of survival, I carried my meager belongings over the carcass and lived in that pipe. I would crawl out to find food and supplies, and then return to sit in the dark and damp.
Shelters were no refuge, and very few would take men. The few times I tried to go to one, the cycle of theft, assault, and rape just continued there, the moment the overworked, underpaid, and understaffed workers turned their backs. Once, taking shelter from the threat of a hurricane, I sat up all night to protect a woman and her two small children, so they could sleep. She was wary of trusting me, but finally did before she passed out. Seeing the pinched faces of those children broke my heart; I couldn’t bear to let anything happen to them there. Watching them sleep, I had the first foggy dream begin that maybe I could be a daddy someday, if I could escape the pit I was in. They looked like they hadn’t been homeless long, and the thought of that boy being treated as I had been filled me with despair even as helping them gave me a glimmer of hope. I knew I couldn’t stay—I could barely help myself survive—but I told her many things I had learned and that there were other shelters just for women and families.
My last attempt to stay at a shelter was during my depression cycle. I made a deal with a man to trade oral sex for his protection and sharing food. Instead, I was raped in the men’s restroom by a man who heard about our deal. When I could walk again, I found a derelict building, covered myself with newspaper and trash so anybody entering wouldn’t see me, and collapsed there for days. I was sick and nearly starved to death before I could go back to scavenging. When I was strong enough to move more than a few blocks, I returned to the only sure shelter I had known: the fouled pipe guarded by the rotting dog.
In moments when the work of survival wasn’t taking over my time and thoughts, a horrid loneliness vying with utter boredom would set in. The mind can rot in those moments, and drugs and booze can’t take it all away. That is when the abuse memories tore through me. My blind eye still hurt. I had no medicine for it, or for the rapid cycle bipolar I’d suffered since childhood. I had tried to get over my fear and ask for help, but people didn’t want to help me. Most of them just looked through me until mental illness and drugs made me fear I was truly fading and they actually couldn’t see me. The few who helped at all always wanted something, and the men who traded oral sex for a hot meal just threw me back on the street again no matter how I begged or what I promised to do. Each time I was afraid the person I approached might be one of my abusers, and the fear was choking me. Eventually, I stopped trying.
So many times I sat there in the dark pipe on a soggy blanket with my pistol in my lap, shaking hands trying not to put the barrel in my mouth. I used to wonder if the bullet would ricochet, and the fear that I might not die fast kept my finger off the trigger. Sometimes, I lost my mind and talked to people who weren’t there—screamed at them, or cried for them to help me. Remembering how the men of the ring had abused us with dogs, I had nightmares that the dog corpse would rise as I slept and attack me.
I tried to think of good times, but there weren’t many. In those moments, in that pipe, with the past screaming in my head and the demands of my body pushing me to go out and risk more fear and pain, I’m still surprised I didn’t give up. Through it all, something always drove me. I remembered my old dream; I still wanted to learn about what I considered “the real world.” Schools had libraries, and I had seen the big public library in the city. I began to plan how to get there and back before dark, and began to dream of the things I might be able to learn there.
Fear held me back until the day a work crew came while I was out scavenging. They cleared the blockage, ran water through the pipe, and everything I owned except the handgun I carried and the clothes on my back was washed away. Pushed to finally act, I moved again. I found the library, and the first few kind souls willing to help me for nothing worked there. Then I met some teen boys working as hustlers on a street corner, and a few of them took me in and taught me how they survived. It was awful and more dangerous in many ways than my current life, but the food and money came with companionship of sorts, the first I’d had since high school.
My journey out continued through the depths of ugliness that street life and prostitution became for me. For a survivor of child sex abuse and adult male rape, prostitution seemed to make all those pedophile lies come true: that I was nothing but dirty and broken filth, good for nothing but for others to use as they saw fit. It can fill your soul up with fear, shame, guilt, and self-hatred until you drown in it. Yet I stayed, and used it to get out, because the money meant good food and a roof over my head, as often as I could get them. It meant company to fight off the loneliness too, even if so much of that company amounted to different forms of abuse. I endured it because it was better than the pedophile ring, better than the damp dark pipe, and the assaults under the overpasses. I lived, and worked to get free, get out, because the truth I discovered at a public library had slowly started to drown out the lies. There was another step to climb, another plateau to reach, another way to stop being invisible, disposable. So I did it.
Nothing ends until we die, and the damage of abuse and rape I’ve survived doesn’t just go away one day. It can make survivors like me want to die. “Time heals all wounds” is a base lie. Yet we can heal some wounds, and we can learn coping methods to endure the rest. My way to cope and heal is watching my beautiful, unscarred children play, and knowing I can now work to protect them. My best weapon for defense is that I know what’s out there; I know intimately and horribly what can befall a child, and I wear the scars and damage as proof it’s real, even when others refuse to believe. It will not happen to my children; and that is worth fighting for, and worth living for.