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May 16, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Dominos (Part 2)

Khadija even went by Mary’s house to visit a few times after the incident. As if to show everything was just as it was. Minus Scott.

But of course it wasn’t the same. Not at all. Khadija’s visits to Mary’s house were strained and brief. In essence Mary’s closest, dearest friend, Khadija had suddenly disappeared from her life. Had that friendship also just been for show? I believe it was. I believe Khadija knew how important Mary was to me so she used her. She did it to help play her role as Scott’s "wife."

Khadija engaged in her “Holy Jihad in the kitchen” in October. In November Mary’s grandmother died. And in December  her other grandmother died. I attended the service for her mother’s mother (a sweet good woman) whom I’d met a few times.

At her other grandmother’s funeral, Mary’s father was arrested for attempted murder. The police had been looking for him in connection with a stabbing of his ex-girlfriend at 6th and Mission. She subsequently died (it is said of unrelated causes), but Mary’s father is still in jail. Mary’s father was always nice to me. Mary said he didn’t like white people much, but I never saw this directly. I know he treated Mary as a princess. Her biggest complaint was he didn’t spend enough time with her.

Mary had been getting B’s in school before Khadija abandoned the marriage, before her grandmothers’ died, before her father was arrested. I was proud of her. She even had won a prize as the best speller in a school competition. Then the wind just went out of her sails. She started doing very badly in school. When her sister responded by applying pressure, Mary started missing days of school all together. I kept telling her how important school was, but it was as if she had just given up. She didn’t care about it anymore.

This caused fights with her sister.

One fight became physical. Her sister shouted at Mary (which she does a lot) and slapped her. Mary hit back. Mary packed a duffel bag, came into the bookstore, and asked if she could live with me at my house.

I said no, she had to calm down and get along better with her sister. I explained that her sister was doing a lot for her. Her sister was right, she had to start doing better in school. About ten o’clock Mary reluctantly went back home.

I saw how miserable Mary was. Her brother would beat her up at home. Her sister would yell and yell and lay down rules and dish out punishment. Her sister loved her but had a full-time job and two sons of her own to worry about. She was stretched too thin. Mary’s schoolwork belly-flopped. I know she must be harboring silent wounds. I worried she might take it all in and harm herself. Harold Norse told me about a young boy who went to the top of his apartment building and jumped off. Kids don’t always handle pain as well as they should or talk about what hurts them. I knew Mary was so full of stubbornness and pride that she wouldn’t reach out for help. She wouldn’t even tell someone that she felt bad inside.

What she lost in her life, she tried to replace in unhealthy ways. With a friend from school she discovered chat lines. She could call up and talk to all kinds of men.

She met a guy by the name of Russell. She was 14 at this time and he must have been in his early 20’s. I think he must have promised her all sorts of things on the phone. She skipped school and went to meet him in a park (I had no idea this was happening). Whatever Russell may have promised, he took her right into the women’s restroom, pulled his pants and underpants down, and insisted she go to work on him. She said no, she wanted to go! She wanted him to leave her alone! She tried to get out but he had her trapped. So he pulled her down on the floor and started trying to get her clothes off. If a woman hadn’t come by and pounded on the door to use the women’s room Mary might not have gotten away.

She came to the bookstore and told me everything that had happened. I told her, “Look Mary that was wrong of you to go meet this man but you need to report him! Really, If he’s after teenagers on chat lines he has to be arrested.”

Mary went with her girlfriend to Mission police station. She asked to speak to a woman officer because it was “personal.” The policeman behind the glass said Mary would have to talk to him. Mary didn’t feel comfortable talking to a male officer. She and her friend walked out.

I told her, “You have to report this. If you don’t, then I’ll go down and tell them.”

“You can’t! Then my sister will find out and I’ll be in trouble. I was supposed to be in school! If you tell, I’m going to deny it!”

“Oh, Mary. It’s for you.” I said.

Soon Mary had another big fight with her sister. Her sister laid down the law, “If you don’t want to follow the rules, you can leave!”

In a burst of tears Mary packed a duffel bag and headed out the door. This time she didn’t come to me. She vanished. After I got the call from her sister, I went out to look for her. In the Mission District after about eleven at night, it seems all the normal people leave and the streets become dangerous and edgy. I went around Dolores Park. I walked along Mission and up and down, 17th, 18th, 19th streets. I checked the community garden across from her house. As I walked, I got more and more alarmed. Where could she be? Had something horrible happened? I began to feel that it had. Worry can get so heavy that it can make you sick. I went into the park at 19th and Valencia, where several ragged homeless people were. A man came toward me with a crazed look in his eye. I literally jumped and ran away. It made me feel terrible to think Mary was somewhere amid this. She needed to be safe at home where she belonged.

She did return home the next day, but from that point her sister decided she had to get tough. If Mary wasn’t going to obey, then she was going to call the police, tell them she just couldn’t manage her sister, and have the police take her away.

Mary found another man. We didn’t discover this until later, but that was where she had been on the night she was missing. He was a smooth talker from a rough neighborhood. He promised Mary he was going to set her up. It was going to be the two of them, two lovebirds, together. He was going to get a place for the two of them in Oakland. She’d have a car. Gold jewelry. Clothes. All of it. Just like the music stars.

But in the meantime, he was living with his parents in the projects, despite being 24 years old (and looking 30). He sold drugs and promised her that she didn’t have to get involved with that unless she agreed to. But he had a plan for them to get lots of money if she could do little things for men for money. He would be her manager. He’d set up customers and they both would make money. He assured her that this would only be for a brief time. As his woman, she wouldn’t work like that long. He planned to have lots of women working for him and she could help manage them. It would be like an empire. She would be the queen. She’d have her mobile phone, car, house, and pool. She’d have all of it and she could just tell her sister and those teachers at school where to go.

I guess you have to be 15 years old to fall for this. Mary fell. I know her well enough to see how she was so dazzled by the things she would get that she ignored how ridiculous the plan was. Many rap songs seemed to confirm how simple, how easy it was. Just walk on out there and get all of it. Have attitude and go out and grab it.

I didn’t learn about this guy until much later. All I heard at the bookstore was Mary going on and on about this new boyfriend of hers and how things were going to go great. Then she’d get on the phone and take it over to where I couldn’t eavesdrop.

She was awfully foolish to think a man was going to swoop down and solve all her problems, but that’s what she thought. She was living her own Harlequin Romance novel. She was going to fill the vacuum left by all the people she loved who had dropped out of her life.

Her sister forbade her to see this guy. Mary said she would anyway. Her sister said she could move out. Mary ran away and went over to stay with “Mr. Promises.” His parents told him she could not stay and if she came back they would call the police. If he didn’t get rid of her, they’d kick him out too. He started giving Mary a line about the big money coming any day and how he was hard to reach because he was over in Oakland arranging for their house.

Mary’s sister called the police and reported her missing. When Mary came to the bookstore, I walked her home. The moment she sat on the living room couch, her sister’s shouting began. “Who do you think you are?! Do you think you’re all grown up! Do you know how worried we were!? DON’T give me that look when I’m talking to you!!! I don’t see you paying the bills!!”

Only a couple days passed and Mary ran away again in search of Mr. Promises. He was getting harder and harder to find.

Eventually the police picked Mary up and took her home. Her sister said she was bad, hadn’t behaved, and wasn’t welcome. So the police took her over to a “showcase” house for runaways, Huckleberry House.

I wanted to learn everything I could about Huckleberry House so I read articles and reports on the Internet. It appeared to be the perfect one-stop center for children at high risk, serving them and their families with counseling, medical care, and a full arsenal of methods to reunite troubled youths with fractured families.

But one thing I couldn’t understand. The average stay for kids was three to five days. Huckleberry House had less then seven beds and according to my math, after a careful review of their annual report, the per-bed per-night cost was more expensive then a room at the Four Seasons, a room at the Mark Hopkins and a room at the Fairmont combined. They seemed to be a front for sponging donations, claiming huge amounts of money from government grants and private donations while serving micro solutions to a few kids on a temporary basis while the vast number of runaways got dumped into a very brutal environment called Youth Authority. The total shelter nights for Huckleberry House during the particular year I studied was 962. Less than three kids per night.

Whatever it was that they offered, they didn’t reach Mary, After a few nights she ran away again to go in search of her boyfriend. She ended up one evening at the bookstore, tired and discouraged. She used the phone over and over again, trying to reach him. She tried his pager. That didn’t work either.

I called her sister. Her sister called the police. There was another showdown. The police arrived a couple minutes before her sister. Donna told the police to take her away, that she wasn’t welcome at their house. Mary came and stood near me and cried as the police told her, “Now we can do this the easy way and you can come along with us voluntarily or we can do it the hard way. Which way is it going to be, Mary?” Then they took her away.

A couple of days later she called from a foster home near the Cow Palace. She was miserable. She said she was going to leave and find her boyfriend and move with him to Oakland. They loved each other. They were meant to be together. She was going to go find him.

Meanwhile the police had been out to visit him and advised him that if he was seen with Mary he would be arrested. She was under age and he had no business with her.

This didn’t matter to Mary. Police, sisters, school principals, it didn’t matter. It was the two of them against the world.

So she ran away again. She couldn’t reach him. She ended up on Mission Street past midnight, using the payphone to try to call him. An older man approached her at the payphone and asked what she was doing. He said he could give her a place to stay for the night; it wasn’t safe for a girl like her to be out on Mission Street so late. He reminded Mary of her sister’s boyfriend, so she guessed it might be OK to go with him. He acted polite. She needed a place to stay. She planned to call “Mr. Promises” later and maybe he could come get her. She was very tired. She got into an old dark blue Ford van with this man. This stranger. As they drove, he told about himself. He had been in prison a long time and recently had gotten out. He was on parole. He had been living in his van. He drove to a secluded spot along Bayshore Boulevard. Just moments after Mary lay down on the carpet and closed her eyes, he told her he wanted sex with her. She said, “No. Leave me alone. I have a boyfriend.” He said he planned to have sex and he was going to have it. He locked his arm across her shoulders. He climbed on her. She twisted and pushed him off. He threw her down. They struggled. He punched her several times, including a hard punch to the face. She hit back, climbed to the front and got out the front door. She ran as fast as she could across Bayshore, toward lights and traffic.

Hours later she rang my apartment doorbell. She had been sitting at McDonalds but had no money. She was crying and her eyes and the right side of her face were swollen. Her lip was bleeding a little bit. I asked her what had happened. She didn’t want to tell me. I said, “Let’s go to breakfast and talk about it.” We walked down to Jim’s on Mission. She ordered pancakes with whipped cream, eggs, and sausage. She poked at her food but didn’t eat much. She held a napkin up to her face or used her coat sleeve to cover her cheek. She didn’t want the waitress to stare. She told me what had happened.

I told Mary we were going to go straight to the police. Mary said she wouldn’t. We argued. I said we had to go quickly and get a picture of the blue van. We drove where it had been parked but it was gone. I called Children’s Protective Services and described in detail what had happened. Mary stayed in Daly City with my friend Maria, the only place she wanted to go and was happy to be at.

After a few weeks she did return home. The social workers talked with her. The court reviewed her living circumstances. She enrolled in a continuation high school and seemed to get her balance again.

Another few weeks passed. She started making dangerous phone calls again, so I had to forbid it. She got really angry with me one day and yelled at me, “I’m going to call the police like Khadija did! You’ll be arrested! They won’t believe you. Then, guess what? You’ll have to close the bookstore because you’ll be in jail!! So let me use the phone!!!”

I still didn’t let her use the phone.

The guys at my men’s group were outraged at this girl making these threats. One said, “Get her out of your bookstore NOW, Scott!” Another said, “Don’t have anything to do with her!!” One said, “What a shit!”

I told them, “I care about her. I’m not going to give up on her.”

She’s looking for something she has lost.