It was inevitable that I’d sell my body for money. Most of the girls I graduated high school with went on to procure dance cards to gyrate under hot lights the day after our matriculation. It was just the environment we’d become products of: most of our mothers were slaves to their vices, leaving us defenseless in homes throughout the county. One way or another, a man would make us victims, by force or voice.

My father was like God in our house. My mother wouldn’t leave a room unless she had his okay. He took care of us, as best he could, and in exchange, he had our unquestioned fealty. He ate first, often the biggest portions, never washed a dish or scrubbed a floor & never wanted for anything. “No” was not in my mother’s vocabulary when it came to my father.

I woke up one night with him between my legs. “Daddy’s little girl,” he cooed into my panties. Startled, I kicked him, sending him rolling off the bed. I’d never called him ‘Daddy’ and I wasn’t about to start. The scream felt as if it would split my throat in two, but unscathed, it held the note long enough for my mother to find us.

He left that morning, before the sun came up. I couldn’t hear their argument, but when my mama started throwing dishes, I knew it was over. I crept out my room and found her crumpled , sobbing into the living room floor. She looked up at me with different eyes, eyes I wouldnt recognize until I became a woman. It was the only time my mother protected me.

I’d spend the next 4 years struggling with the concept of womanhood. I’d search for it in the backseat of Tommy Kline’s Impala, on my knees behind the bleachers after school, on the stale floors of the movie theatre. Being a woman meant saying “Yes” to the men who came into my life, even when everything inside of me screamed “no”. It meant being violated in ways I was completely unprepared for and still smiling, happy and grateful for the attention.

The first time I was paid for sex was when I was 19. I’d been visiting friends at a nearby college campus, getting what little experience as I could from the institution. I wanted to broaden my horizons as much as a poor, country girl could. I would change clothes in Chloe’s dorm, my personal metamorphosis from plain Jane to a worldly woman, the woman I thought I wanted to be. Even with too much eyeliner and overlined lips, the naivety dripped from me like a pheromone. Men would flock to me, use me with a smile and I would accept it. I hadn’t learned anything different.

His name was Turner and he was genuinely nice. We’d met at a party before, but we didn’t spend much time talking. He approached me on the street some days later and it felt like a sign. We went back to his place and fooled around, but it seemed different. He spent the entire time telling me how beautiful I was and complimenting me in ways no one had. When he finished, he handed me a wad of money as I got dressed.

”What’s this?”

“A little token of my appreciation,” he said, planting a kiss on me and going into the bathroom.

The $200 felt as though it would burn a hole in my pocket. I felt invincible, that someone would pay me to do what I had been doing for free for years, and conflicted. For the first time in my life, I had some direction. For the first time, I felt I had some worth.

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