Kelly sprints out of the hotel, carrying her luggage. I don’t even recognize her.
Kelly (not her real name) was always a beach babe, brown hair with sun-kissed highlights, skinny with curves. This girl running out of the Ontario Holiday Inn at midnight is a bleached blonde with extensions that are noticeably fake. Plus, she’s wearing pajamas. Pink flannel with elephants on them. Wow. Is she serious?
We jet out of the hotel parking lot. “I need a cigarette,” Kelly rasps. She already reeks of smoke. Her makeup looks like she slept with it on. The fake lashes are hanging off her eyelids.
The entire drive back home to San Diego is dominated by Kelly’s blabbering. She’s on drugs. Textbook speedy.
Image by Howie Rosen
Author Jessica Swenke
“I hope they don’t find me,” she says, “’cause they’ll hurt me.”
“Tomorrow, we’re gonna figure it out,” says her mother, who is also in the car. “You gotta stay away from these people. We’ll get you checked into a hospital. We’ll delete your Facebook, clear your contacts in your phone. You gotta get away.”
Am I going to be here for all of this? Scary people, detox, and psych wards. I feel like I am taping an episode of Intervention.
Kelly’s mom says to me, “Jessie, I need you to stay at our apartment tonight. She could slip out the front with my bedroom door closed.” I feel obligated; we didn’t go through all this effort so Kelly could run on her first night back in Rancho Peñasquitos.
Kelly and I met in high school. She was spontaneous and fun. Our sophomore year, while at a kickback, a guy one year older slipped something in her drink. She was raped that night. Though she seemed relatively unaffected by the incident, she tried to prosecute the boy that raped her. The harassment she experienced at school led her to dismiss the case. Nobody believed her. She moved on, but it changed who she was. Guys in high school looked at her as easy. Kelly thrived on the attention.
Author Jessica Swenke talks about her friend Kelly
In September 2009, we went to Silver Strand State Beach to party. Kelly and I teamed up and played beer pong, substituting shots of vodka. Random guys and inebriated girls wasn’t a great equation, but nothing happened. The next morning, we woke up with blaring headaches. The RV smelled like marijuana. I asked myself, What the hell am I doing with these people?
We stopped talking after Silver Strand. It upset me to end the friendship. But I was a full-time dental assistant, and Kelly was working minimum-wage, partying her life away.
In June 2010, I got a message on Facebook:
“Hey Jess, hope all is well… Please keep Kelly in your prayers, I don’t know why she is doing all of this, who would have ever imagined. She needs as many prayers as she can get, I know this is really random. Mary” (not her real name).
I called Kelly’s mom.
“Hi, Karen! It’s me, Jessie Swenke.” This was really awkward.
“Oh, Jess! Oh, God, Jess. Our lives have been a living hell.”
That evening, I met Karen (not her real name) at Starbucks in Carmel Mountain. We greeted each other with a tight embrace. I had a lump in my throat. It was going to be bad.
“Jessie, she’s been whorin’ herself out on the streets with these low-life pimps.” Karen had watery eyes. “It’s been months now.”
The information wasn’t registering in my brain. Kelly, a prostitute? Nope. No way. This stuff happens on El Cajon Boulevard. Not to us, not in suburbia. Getting crazy to us had once meant high-school parties where the parents weren’t home.
I suggested to Karen that we call Kelly. We walked to my car, because the locals in Starbucks probably didn’t want to overhear that conversation.
We dialed tons of combinations. Prostitutes change their numbers weekly, or even more often. They don’t want police, family, or ex-pimps to track them. Finally, we got through. It rang and rang, until the call was forwarded to a voicemail that wasn’t set up. We kept trying. When Kelly finally answered, Karen immediately put the phone on speaker.
“Sis, it’s Mom. Before you hang up, I love you so much, and your brothers and father and I want the best for you and will help you get out of this. Where are you?” Karen’s voice was firm, but she was desperate.
“Mom, I’m so depressed. I need to get out of here. I’m kinda far away, though.”
This was not the Kelly I knew. She sounded broken — I could hear it through the phone. I couldn’t back away. I felt compelled to help this desperate girl and her frantic mom.
It was 9:00 p.m. By this time on a weeknight, I was usually saying goodnight to my younger brothers and parents and tucking myself into bed, wearing silk sleepwear from Victoria’s Secret. Sometimes, I stayed up to catch the news. But instead of my cushy life at home, I was on my way to pick up my prostitute BFF from a hotel in Ontario.
Karen’s boyfriend drove.
“Jess, I’m going to warn you,” Tom said, and I immediately went into oh-shit mode. I was thinking that we were too far up the 15 for me to bail on this thing, hoping that the 20 percent left on my iPhone battery would last long enough for a save-me call to Mom and Dad.
“Kelly will not be the same,” said Tom (not his real name). “She’s probably going to be on drugs. She’s platinum-blonde. She’s also kind of ghetto.”
Oh, ghetto fabulous? I’d seen those girls at Plaza Bonita. So, Kelly would be straight out of a Lil’ Wayne video? It was too strange. How did she go from beach-preppy to ghetto fab?
The roughed-up blonde that runs out of the hotel in Ontario is not a video vixen from MTV. She is drug-skinny.
I’d imagined she’d be like the prostitutes in movies, like Pretty Woman. I thought I was prepared to see her. But nothing can get you ready to see someone in this condition.