BY MIKI MARKOVICH
Shortly after my mother tried to kill me, I headed to Clearwater, Florida, to spend time with my grandmother. She was living in a rent-by-the-week type place called the Orange and I loved it there. Most days, I went to work with her, making cold calls from small sweatshop of a call center selling carpet cleaning services for a company I’d never heard of and am not sure actually existed. Each morning, I dressed for work, I donned a bathing suit under my business attire, not only because it helped me feel closer to my authentic self, but also because it made jumping straight into the motel/apartment pool after work beautifully efficient.
In between racing across nine lanes of traffic to get a daily Big Gulp to quench my thirst brought on by the southern sun, I started bonding with some of the longer-term residents. Some are still friends, some I never want to see again and one I’m afraid I never will.
I met a young girl named Brandy I endearingly dubbed Blondie. Looking older than her 11 years with long tan legs and hair the color of sunlight, I took her under my wing. It seemed I spent my evenings at the pool constantly shooing away muscle-bound men in their 20s, 30s or even older. I couldn’t imagine what they were thinking as they approached her, overtly flirtatious to downright crude. I would place myself in front of her, reminding these meatheads that she was just child, not to mention jailbait for their perverted asses.
Although she and I spent a tremendous amount of time together, I didn’t see much of her father. He spent his days in their efficiency, I assumed drinking. I never wondered how he earned their rent money. Plenty of people who lived at the Orange had no visible means of support. Even though it was what it was, the days continued to spill into each other.
Upon occasion, Blondie and her father would get locked out of their place by management and move into their car for a bit, parking right there in the lot. A relatively regular occurrence, I’d convince my grandmother to allow Blondie to bunk with us anytime the situation got dire, which was often.
It’s amazing what can happen on “just another typical day.” We were in the studio apartment watching a Love and Rockets video on MTV. The air conditioner was hissing, blowing cool air into the small space when there was a knock at the door. I turned down the TV and opened the door, squinting into the sunlight while trying to shield myself from the oppressive heat. I don’t remember exactly who was there, the police, children’s services? They were dressed in stifling looking clothes as they informed us that Brandy’s father had died in his car sometime during the night. When they announced they were there to take her into protective custody, she ran to the back, locking herself in our bathroom. These official-looking folks tried to calm her through the door, but her response was guttural and heart wrenching.
She wouldn’t budge from the locked room, so I asked them if they would step out while I talked to her. I don’t remember what I said exactly, something about it all going to be OK and I believed it. I told her I would do everything I could to help, yet I left for the Midwest not too long after to complete my senior year of high school in a state that didn’t require as many credits as Florida. A short time into my freshman year at the private Christian college, I received a phone call from an old friend telling me that Blondie was officially missing, sold into some underground slavery ring.
Being one who finds solace in action, I grabbed a sack of change, went to my resident hall’s payphone and dialed the Clearwater police department. Eventually, I was put in touch with Detective Pulio who asked about my relationship and interest in this young girl and her well-being. I explained that as odd as it sounded, Brandy was like a daughter to me and I wanted to help. He responded by telling me there wasn’t a lot I could do since I wasn’t blood related, but it just so happened that he knew someone at the Missing Children’s Help Center and perhaps I could work with them. I slide another handful of quarters into the payphone and was quickly connected with to his friend. She was amazing and was more concerned about helping exploited children than getting tangled in a bunch of red tape. She warned me it might be difficult, but if we worked together, maybe we could get something done.
I soon learned that Brandy’s addict mother wasn’t concerned about her safe return, as she refused to work with the police or center. Her apathy just lent me strength as I forged forward doing every single thing Detective Pulio and his contact advised. It wasn’t long before missing child posters of my Brandy were plastered across the entire country. However, the true game changer came in a 30-second segment on “America’s Most Wanted” as missing child of the week. The night it aired, it seemed everyone on campus was watching. When the show cut to commercial break, my residence hall was flooded with friends and supporters. Although I felt fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life, the stress, sorrow, hope and attention became too much so I headed to the shower where I was sure people would be hesitant to follow.
The next morning, I attended my early morning Mass Communications class. During lecture, someone slipped in and whispered to the professor. She asked me to join her in the hall and told me that Detective Pulio had called the college. They had found Brandy, actually within minutes of the segment airing the night before, and were going to let me talk to her that morning. She told me I was excused from class and to go take care of whatever was needed. I was so excited I literally tripped down the stairs in the big auditorium as I grab my books and ran from the building.
I soon learned that during our time in Florida, her dad had been tricking her for money. Sometime after his death, although technically abducted as she was underage, Brandy had gone willingly with a former john. I learned she was now addicted to drugs, a seemingly lost soul. It broke my fucking heart.
I tried to stay in touch, but her number constantly changed and my letters would go unanswered. I’ve not heard from her since and still miss her terribly, trying to find her online from time to time. I miss those seemingly carefree days together, embracing moments on the beach, by the pool or deep in conversation under the sun with the boom box that never got a break. I didn’t know she was having sex with men to support her father and she didn’t know that someone was actively trying to find me to kill me.
According to the Covering House, approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the United States. I regret not doing more. Although I don’t know what I could have done differently as a teen struggling to stay alive and find a way in this world, I still feel an emptiness, a sadness. I believe everyone has a story from the past or perhaps a current struggle. It may be that they don’t want to share, don’t want to burden anyone or can’t imagine a better life for themselves. However, I think it’s important we reach out to ask for help when we need it and give it when we can no matter how seemingly big or small the issue. It’s our future and our children’s future let’s work together and make it beautiful.
Miki Markovich is a seeker of beauty and truth, traveler of interesting roads, saver of furry souls, typer of words, iPhone lover and mac head. You can find her on Twitter at @mikimarkovich and @fiveminutezen. If you’re looking to go from pissed to blissed in five minutes flat, find balance or improve the quality of your life through self care, check out her website at fiveminutezen.com.