SHAWNA: WITH A DOLLAR SIGN
By Kristin Angelique
I first met $hawna on the dance floor at The Met.
Located downtown, at SW 3rd and Burnside, The Metropolis is Portland's only all-ages nightclub. When you enter from the front, there is a bar on the right side, you need to be 21 or older to hang out in there, but the left side is open to everyone. Except for the occasional nights that new wave or punk rock bands play, there is usually no cover charge. Parts of the bar were visible from the entrance, and from the back of the dance floor was another point of entry; I had peeked around that corner and I never felt like I was missing out on anything interesting in there.
The real party was on the all-ages side. This is where the kitchen and the counter and booths were at. There was a big stage where all kinds of interesting performances happened. Most of the performers were regulars in the audience – sometimes they would act out comedy skits reminiscent of Saturday Night Live.
My favorite performer at The Met was a drag queen named Wanda Jackson...
The main attraction on just about any night was the dance floor with its flashing lights: it was just like the one on which John Travolta had strutted to stardom in Saturday Night Fever – the 1977 movie which had brought disco to the masses.
I don't remember The Met ever closing; I was there almost every night of the week. I'd drop by sometimes in the afternoon, but there wasn't really anything happening then. When I wasn't at The Met, I was usually just walking around downtown, riding on a bus, or being really bored at the multiplex where my grandmother lived in Rock Creek.
I'd run away from Idaho in January – this had been my third attempt – and if you only count my making it as far as I did – all the way to Seattle Washington – I guess you could say I was successful. That's a whole other story, but suffice to say: my sincere plan to find work as a fashion model, get my own apartment and paint a rainbow on its wall – had been a miserable failure – except perhaps to demonstrate the scope of my wild imagination and that really: I didn't know shit!
Following that epiphany – after two weeks of making stupid mistakes and accruing regrets I probably will have for the rest of my life – I'd called my grandmother in Oregon. I didn't want to go back home – all the reasons why are a very long story; the story of my life. I was freezing, hungry, scared and tired; I didn't know anyone else to turn to for help.
I guess my mom didn't even ask or offer for me to come back, so my grandmother, Granny Lou, took me in.
* * * * *
I was soaking up the spotlight, dancing myself into ecstasy, as my circle of friends clapped for me and cheered me on, when suddenly I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I had been spinning around – I was also intoxicated by the Rush I had just inhaled – so it took me a moment to focus and see who was interrupting my rapture.
A pasty, skinny white girl, with strawberry blonde hair, stood before me. She told me that I was beautiful and asked me if I would like to dance with her. I was a little nervous; she was dressed really slutty, and though she didn't appear to be much older than me, she looked as if she had been "around the block" a few times.
I was worried she was also coming on to me. I didn't like to hurt people's feelings – I figured that as long as we stuck to dancing – there was really no problem and so I accepted her invitation.
After we'd been dancing for a while, I followed $hawna to a table on the other side of the room. I became even more concerned than before when I saw that there were these two sleaze-bags sitting there.
My suspicions were confirmed when $hawna cut right to the chase and asked me if I wanted to turn tricks with her. I immediately and emphatically told her no. I added – unnecessarily I suppose – that I was only fifteen, and that I was also a virgin.
I don't know what went wrong with my survival instincts in that moment; I guess my judgment was clouded by my compassion. As I had given my quick response to $hawna – I somehow felt guilty – as if my refusal to sell my body for sex might suggest that I was looking down on her.
"We can still be friends," I told $hawna.
A regular at The Met – a girl named "Mama Jama" – was also in attendance this night. Yes, that was really the name she was known by. I never got to know her very well, but I doubt I could ever forget her.
It's hard to describe Mama Jama without sounding judgmental, but I don't know how else to describe her except to be truthful. Like my Granny Lou, Mama Jama was very large; she looked like she probably weighed close to 300 pounds. Because she had a physically hard time dressing herself; she wore loose dresses that looked like nightgowns, and slip-on shoes. I felt a sort of shame at my first impression of her – for thinking that she reminded me of a younger but larger "Aunt Jemima" – but she did; so there you go.
The Met was like an orphanage; overflowing with children that nobody wanted. A sort of "Island for Lost Toys" – in some ways it was our refuge, our salvation – but there was this dark side too: it was a place where perverts came to prey on us.
Later on, I would learn Mama Jama's true name, a beautiful name: Janette. As it turns out; $hawna had a real name too: Edie.
I don't know how this arrangement was made – I wish I could forget the whole experience completely – but I guess it is a part of me as much as any other... Somehow Mama Jama became included in $hawna's proposed situation with these two white-trash males, who appeared to be somewhere in their twenties...
I don't even remember how I was talked into tagging along with them all. $hawna was determined to keep me by her side; as if I represented some sort of promise for her future happiness.
I didn't know that Mama Jama even turned tricks. Maybe this was her very first time or maybe it was her thousandth. I didn't ask.
$hawna appeared to have no shame – whether she had become numb inside or it really didn't faze her – is hard to tell.
I felt an overwhelming sadness for both of my friends. I hated these men.
We drove over the Burnside Bridge: the four of them squished into the cab of the truck, which one of the men was now driving. I rode in the back; I had insisted on it. I felt anything but trusting of the situation; I didn't even know where we were headed...
When we arrived about 10 minutes later – I realized we must be at Mama Jama's – she unlocked an apartment door with her keys.
It was a kitchenette; her double bed took up most of the floor space. I asked her if she had a bathroom, she pointed to it. I went in there and shut myself inside, locking the door behind me.
I heard one of the men ask: "What's the deal?" I couldn't hear everything they were saying but I gathered that $hawna was only now explaining that I wasn't part of the deal. I tensed up, worried that they wouldn't go along with that, but a few minutes later it grew quieter and I could hear the filthy sounds of sex coming through the door. I covered my ears and waited for what felt like so long, but it was only in reality about half an hour, judging from my watch.
It was almost 3am...
I heard the front door shut, and then $hawna spoke to me, through the bathroom door. She wanted me to let her in; I didn't want to have to look at her, but I unlocked the door. I was crying; $hawna could see that and she asked me what was wrong. I didn't want to anger or offend her by telling her exactly how I was feeling – I wanted to get the hell away from there – but I didn't want to lie to her either…
"This is making me very sad," I sobbed.
Something about my baby face and my baby voice misleads people into believing that I am the epitome of innocence. I had suffered through way too much and carried around too many feelings of guilt to ever feel this way; but it didn't seem to show. I was incredibly naïve and somehow this did show: like a tattoo on my forehead.
It was a rare occurrence, but sometimes this inspired people to treat me with a fantastic kindness – as if I brought out their parental instincts – but unfortunately, it most often marked me as their perfect victim.
$hawna looked at me in disbelief. "You really are just a sweet little girl," she said to me, without a hint of sarcasm. In fact: she spoke those words as if experiencing some sort of a revelation.
"I'm sorry I made you come along; I just didn't want to leave you."
There wasn't much room for the both of us in there, but I felt frozen to the toilet seat cover. $hawna began to remove the contents of her purse and began preparing herself for a drug fix. Suddenly I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I couldn't bear to watch her shoot up, so I hurried into the main room.
Mama Jama was changing her clothes and I diverted my eyes from her. We stood there in the darkness; both of us silent.
The first to speak, she asked me, "You OK?"
"Not really… I shouldn't have come... Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'm OK," she answered, somewhat cowardly.
* * * * *
$hawna and I sat at a booth at The Original Hotcake House on Powell Blvd. This was the first time I could remember going inside there, but I remembered it from my past; I had lived in Southeast Portland as a child of six and seven... Its neon sign had always caught my attention.
$hawna invited me to order whatever I wanted. I was starving and I didn't have any money of my own, but I didn't feel right about $hawna purchasing my meal – knowing what she did to make money – I felt that if I accepted her offer – I would be almost as guilty as the men who had paid her.
"Hey," she said to me, "Don't feel bad; please..."
It was like she could read my mind; I didn't want to hurt her feelings.
“I do what I do by choice; I work for myself. I know it's different for you – I understand – really. Can you try to understand, that it's different for me... I can see that you care about me; that's beautiful. As soon as I saw you: I thought, ‘What a Goddess!’ Now I can see you are even sweeter than I'd imagined; you really are an angel, Kristine.”
“Kristin,” I reminded her.
“Kristin: I'd like to take care of you, if you'll let me.”
$hawna seemed almost desperate.
“You're just what I've needed.”
$hawna’s words reminded me of the lyrics by this rock band I very recently used to love: The Cars…
I thought about the day I had taken their record over to my friend Lynn's house, and how her older brother Jim, had tried to rape me.
I kept these thoughts to myself; I squeezed them down and tried to stop thinking them.
“I guess I will have some blueberry pancakes.”
kristin at age 15, oregon coast trip with granny lou, photo by aunt janice