Back at the apartment complex in Rancho Peñasquitos, Kelly and I sit in the family room on the dark-green couches, the place where we were regulars in high school.
“Let’s catch up,” I say. “We have so much to talk about!” I don’t know where to start the conversation. “So…what happened? Why? How?”
“This guy hit me up on Myspace, and he was so good to me. He was my boyfriend.”
Oh, my God! I remember him. On our way to that Silver Strand party, way back when, Kelly had said she’d gotten a message from some random guy telling her how beautiful she was. I told her he was a total creep and then I forgot about it. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell she would actually meet him.
“My mom kicked me out of her house, ’cause I was partying too much,” Kelly says. “So I was on the streets.”
I feel guilty. If I’d stuck around one more week, possibly I could have helped her.
“He said ’cause I was pretty, I should do this job and make a lot of money. All I had to do was go on dates with rich guys, and dress up, and I’d get paid.”
She explains that Mr. Myspace took her to some apartments in Mission Valley. An entire section of the complex was rented out by an escort agency. A woman ran the operation. Several girls lived in each of the rooms and were driven to Hotel Circle every time they had a client. Escort agencies are mostly controlled by women. The streets are the playground for the pimps.
Kelly looks intense as she describes how she got into the business.
“This chick threw this skanky outfit at me. I didn’t want to wear it, but I kinda had to.” Kelly was forced to have a threesome with a young illegal girl from Mexico and a strange man. “I realized what was goin’ on. I was backing out. The lady showed me a gun. I didn’t have the $500 to cover my job, so it was her way or the highway.”
I tell Kelly that we should get some sleep. I don’t want to make her relive any more of those horrific moments.
The next day, Kelly and I go to a matinee at Edwards Cinemas in Mira Mesa. Kelly starts texting and continues for the entire movie.
“Kel, who are you texting?!”
“My boyfriend Parker.” She says it proudly. I’m thinking, boyfriend? Uh-oh. I saw that episode of Law and Order SVU. That’s what all the prostitutes call their pimps: boyfriends.
I am hungry after last night. “Want to grab some lunch? We should go to Panera, or Pat & Oscar’s.”
“Yeah, but, um, I need to go home, ’cause Parker’s picking me up.”
She’s ditching me for the pimp? Whatever. In my mind, Parker (not his real name) is a guy decked out in ghetto clothes and diamonds and drives a blacked-out Escalade.
I drop Kelly off at her mom’s and go back to my family. I am suspicious, but I say to myself, She wanted to come back to San Diego. Why would she go back to whoring?
My phone rings the next day.
“Jessie, it’s Karen. Is Sis with you?”
“Um, no, I dropped her off at your house yesterday.”
“Shit, Jess. She’s on the run.”
I am pulled back into this dark, disgusting lifestyle. Kelly breaks my naiveté. It is like a terrible car accident that I can’t stop watching. I am a codependent in this drama.
We are planning an intervention — just like the damn TV show — Karen and I and Kelly’s biological father, Greg (not his real name).
We find out that Kelly is posting on backpage.com, in a section of the website reserved for adult entertainment. We find Kelly in the “escorts” section.
My first time looking for her on the site is traumatizing. I shouldn’t be reading prostitute advertisements. It’s gross, dirty, and the nudity is obscene. The entire experience is nauseating. It is a last-resort option, a way to know that she is still alive.
Kelly sticks with K names in her advertisements. She embodies a different character every time, wearing wigs, coloring her hair, using fake contact lenses to change the color of her eyes. In one picture, she’ll be a dark, mysterious European brunette, Kiera. In another picture, she will be Kayla, the all-American girl with blond hair, blue eyes.
My meeting with Kelly’s parents is over. I drop Karen off at her apartment complex. We sit in the car and chat for a few minutes. Karen is desperate.
“Jessie, do you know any guys we can call [and ask them] to set up an appointment with her? We need a number she doesn’t recognize, and she won’t accept blocked calls.”
“I’m not sure,” I say. “It’s kind of awkward to ask a guy friend to call and pretend like they need a prostitute for the night.” This entire situation is too strange. I am not calling anyone I know.
I look behind us. “Is that Kelly?” I ask, in utter disbelief. It is. She’s the bimbo Barbie in the car behind us. She is with her pimp.
“Oh, shit, Jessie, that’s Sis, and that bastard. Oh, just wait until he hears what I have to say.” Karen opens the passenger door of my car and gets out and struts over to Kelly. My heart is pounding. I enter the license plate of the car into my phone. Then I call Kelly’s dad.
“Greg! Oh, my God, get over to Karen’s right now, literally right now. Kelly and her pimp are here. Hurry.” I feel comfort knowing a man is on his way.
Kelly gets out of the car. Her boobs are practically pouring out of her slutty red top. Her tight shorts are blinged out, and she’s holding a bag of leftover food from the Cheesecake Factory.
“Mom, what the fuck?” Kelly shrieks, predictably protecting her boyfriend/pimp. “Leave him alone!”