The girl at the rest stop was no woman, and she will haunt me for the rest of my life
Blustery May weather.
It’s always unpredictable in New England in springtime.
The saying goes, “Don’t like the weather? Wait ten minutes.”
It could be a scorcher of a day, shorts and tanks — sunny and hot, then one wakes up to a drizzle at 45 degrees and sweater weather.
I am driving home from a conference when I stop on the highway in Massachusetts to grab a drink, use facilities.
The sky is the color of lead, spitting rain sporadically.
A chilly gust whips my hair out of its twist, curls everywhere.
Leaves left over from the autumn explosion whirl in spirals uplifted by the wind, their veins cracked and colors dull.
Inside the truck stop, a blast of heat drives the chill away as the auto door opens.
I walk through the winding aisles, noting where my favorite snacks are as I make my way to the restroom.
In the ladies room, I am brought short at the sight of a young girl, couldn’t have been more than fifteen.
She is wearing a gold lamé half shirt. Denim mini. Full makeup, false eyelashes. Spike heels.
I struggle not to do a double take.
It is… difficult.
I am overwhelmed at this sight at 11:30 am on a Sunday morning at a Massachusetts truck stop on I-91.
I am spent after a three-day conference that had ended with power breakfast that morning.
I look around.
A middle-aged woman, tucked into the corner of the room, eyes me for a minute, then seemingly dismisses me as she turns her attention back to the girl.
“A little more spray,” she says.
The girl had a can of hairspray on the counter in front of her. I slowly walk to an empty stall, trying not to be openly watching what she is doing.
She sprays her hair. Streaked blond locks. Long.
It is teased out on top, straightened and looks “done”.
I go into an empty stall, shut the door and strain to listen. I am too curious.
I hear low mumbling from the older woman. An anxious, “are you sure?” from the young girl.
I nervously realize they will wonder if I take too long, so I flush, arrange my face into bored disinterest and come out.
I walk up to wash my hands.
My eyes meet the young girl’s in the mirror.
She looks uncertain and frightened, masked with defiance. My heart cracks. Warmth runs into my chest. It’s a familiar look somewhat.
I have seen it on my eldest’s face.
I leave as she continues primping.
Outside the bathroom, I do an on the spot reality check.
Don’t get carried away here. You don’t know what is happening. She could be getting ready for a cheer competition or something. I roll my eyes at myself.
I decide to sit at a bench in the eating area and… well, I don’t know.
Wait and see, I guess.
See what happens.
Why I did this, I still have no idea.
I just did.
Ten minutes pass. They haven’t come out. I have convinced myself I am officially off my rocker. Imagination ran away with me as it is wont to do at times.
Fifteen minutes. Definitely certifiable.
Then, she appears. I almost gasp.
She has on twice the makeup she had on when I saw her at first glance. She has inserted enormous silver hoop earrings into her ears.
The girl decides to lounge right beside the men’s restroom entry. Hip thrust out, leg cocked up in jaunty angle, her ankles look pretty in those heels, I cannot help but note.
I feel my insides turn to ice. My heart thunders in my chest.
Her… well, I guess, “handler” … is off to the side, barely visible, in a shadowy part of the corridor by the men’s restroom.
Oh, God, no! Please, no!
I feel tears in the back of my eyes.
Who is this girl’s mother? Please God, do not let it be that evil, wretched woman.
I shred a napkin.
I begin to pray silently in my mind, begging God to tell me what to DO.
This truck stop is busy.
Teeming with activity.
Every man that approaches the restroom makes my insides seize with tension.
However, it’s almost as though this girl is invisible.
Not one of them acknowledge her!
It’s deeply bizarre to me.
I am not so naive to believe that every single man was above reproach and knew better, so this is puzzling.
And to her handler, because she becomes irate.
She comes over a couple of times and adjusts the girl’s skirt and top, gives the room a look over without noticing me sitting a few yards away.
The third time she comes over to “fix” her, she spies me at long last.
Laser eyes. She stares me down, glowering. She is squat and solid, has a good 50 pounds on me, easily. She looks like she has had a life that spoils for fights. A scar runs from her elbow to her wrist, jagged and old, the puckered skin marring her forearm. Grooves deeply bisect her eyebrows, run alongside her mouth, and not from laughing.
Her hair is lank and dull brown, hanging around her shoulders. It looks as though it hasn’t been brushed in a while. It is thin, clumped in frizzy parts, and her part is crooked. She has no bangs.
I am terrified, a deer in the headlights.
It dawns on me that I have no idea if there are other people involved, maybe a pimp is also here somewhere, lurking.
She gives me a deeper menacing look, and whispers something to the girl, who looks over at me and shrugs.
She grabs the girl and hustles her out the door, glancing at me one more time with a warning.
I stand and walk out after them, waiting a beat, hoping to see what vehicle they were in.
They scramble into white Honda Accord, and screech out of the lot.
I wasn’t able to see their license plate.
I dig my cell phone out and call the non-emergency line of the highway patrol, reading it off the green sign outside.
Tell the dispatcher I thought a young girl was being pimped out at the truck stop, give her directions, and she sighs.
“There isn’t much we can do. Do you have any information on her?” she says in a defeated tone.
“No,” I say helplessly.
“Then there isn’t anything we can do, either,” she says testily. “Do you know how many white Honda Accords there are out there today?”
I sigh, tearful.
“Ma’am, you shouldn’t get involved in these things. Do you know that you could have gotten hurt? You were very foolish,” she says sternly.
I thank her and hang up. I feel like a fool and a failure.
Why didn’t I call when I was sitting there, watching? Why did I wait?
I think of my daughters. My fists clench on the wheel.
I torment myself the long way home with If only’s.
This happened 7 years ago and I think about it too often…
How I could have, should have done things differently.
How I should have saved that girl.
Who was she?
Was that her mother or was she trafficked?
Where is she now?
My imagination does me no favors in that arena.
I am so sorry, little one.
I failed you.
I never had encountered anything like that in my sheltered life before.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
I failed you.
I will carry my failure forever.