Broken Notes

By Emily Faerber

When I was a little girl, I wanted to act and sing in musical plays on Broadway. I didn't know anything about musicals other than how they were portrayed on TV, but there was something about it that fascinated me. I liked the idea of makeup and costumes, standing on a stage as strong angelic notes flowed from my lungs. That was what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But I wasn't a child for very long. I can only vaguely remember my mother, the way she was before she left. Dad told me that the drugs had become too much for her and she couldn't take it anymore, so she had to go away. We were happier without her though. I no longer had listless eyes watching me as I trotted plastic horses across the floor, and I no longer heard sharp words telling me to be quiet. It was just my dad and me, in our own small happy family.

I cried for days or weeks – or maybe not at all – when my dad died in a construction accident. I was fifteen when it happened. The State didn't know what to do with me, until my uncle stepped forward as my closest living relative. Glad to have prevented yet another teenager from ending up in the Foster Care system, I was handed over to him after the State verified that he truly was my mother's brother.

It started right away. Not the first night or the second, but sometime during that first week he crept into my bedroom while I was sleeping, and he . . . I'm so sorry, but it's impossible for me to put it into words. How can I describe the moment that ripped my naive innocence away forever? It is too hard for me to do. After that, he told me that since I now had experience, I could go to work and earn money for him like a good little girl.

I remember how cold it was when I stepped out of his car, rubbing my bare arms and tugging at my embarrassingly short skirt. My uncle told me to ask for five hundred dollars, because I was so young and fresh, and that I had to collect the money first before doing anything else. I was shivering uncontrollably, standing lost under a street lamp, so afraid that I was going to be attacked. Then a car stopped in front of me, the door opened, and I got in.

I don't use drugs. Sometimes I wish I did, but the haunting memory of my mother's sallow face scares me away from them. In the vanity of my heart, I want to stay young and pretty for as long as I can, so that when the girl at the checkout stand smiles at me, I can pretend that I am someone worth smiling at. By abstaining from the addictive chemical release, I can pretend that I am a normal human being with value. I know in my head that I am not, that my abuse and rape mean nothing to the people who think I deserve it.

I didn't quit school right away. After missing two weeks, I was back in my desk. I couldn't concentrate on anything. I was always plagued with the fear that my uncle would take me out again. My teachers thought that my failing grades were because of my father's death, so I was sent to talk to the school counselor. I didn't tell him anything. I was so ashamed of what I had done; I couldn't tell anyone about it. I was embarrassed that a part of me deep down inside actually enjoyed it, that I had experienced the tightening jerking ecstasy of my muscles. I couldn't confess that I was a bad girl who had done such a nasty thing, so I kept it hidden and only talked about how much I missed my father. When the Fall came, I simply failed to register for school, and I became invisible to the system.

After working the streets every night for a while, I became hardened. On the outside I was better at attracting customers and playing to their fantasies, but inside I hated everyone around me more and more. I hated the men who wanted to fuck my body. I hated the women whose eyes screamed "whore!" every time they looked at me. I hated the people who tried to be kind and sympathetic, because they only saw me as a prostitute. But most of all, I hated myself.

My uncle promised that the more money I brought in, the more things we could have. He spoke of buying me a car, new clothes and shoes, hundreds of CDs, anything I wanted. I never saw any of it. I started keeping a portion of the money for myself, and to my surprise my uncle was okay with it. He simply changed the rules. He demanded that I pay him a fixed price every week, and everything I earned over that was mine to keep. When I didn't meet the number, he hit me. I only asked him to avoid bruising my face, and took the beatings quietly.

I became pregnant, once. I didn't tell my uncle about it until I was showing. He immediately drove me to a cheap abortion clinic, telling me that it either was this or killing the baby after it arrived. I cried. I cried because I was scared, because it hurt, because I already loved the baby inside of me. I was dirty, but it was clean, and I longed to have something pure to cling to. They botched the abortion, and I knew as I stared out the car window on the way home that I would never have a child of my own.

Soon after that, I met a little girl. She was ten-years-old and abandoned to the streets. I decided that I wanted to take care of her, and taking her hand I brought her home with me. I called her Little Sister. My uncle stared coldly at her, then announced that I would have to pay him more to keep her. From then on, she and I were a family, and I smiled when I was with her.

Sometimes it was very hard to meet my uncle's demands for money. I was often raped and robbed. Every encounter that I was able to walk away from with money in my pocket was a success. I only threatened to defy my uncle and run away from him once. He said that he would turn me in to the police, and they would lock me away in jail because it is illegal to sell sex. Then nothing would stop him from having his way with my Little Sister and employing her.

I was trapped, with no way to leave and no where to go. I was the sludge of society, and no one would help me. The only way I'll ever be free is when I die. Every now and then I ask Little Sister what she wants to be when she grows up, and I tell her to try as hard as she can to make her dreams come true. I'm determined for her to live a life of value, to have the opportunities and respect that I never did.

Sometimes I still sing. My voice cracks and the notes waver, but when I close my eyes I can picture the costumes and audience. In those times, I feel calm and beautiful. I feel happy.