Ladies of the Night
One night I woke up in a whorehouse.
This is a true story.
I was 29 years old. It was 11 PM , I had been up for three days and nights straight, sitting in a surgical waiting room and then by my husbands hospital bed. I was all alone in this huge (and of course evil!) big city that no one from my nice little white-bread-religious home town ever even visited, unless they absolutely had to.
Surely there must be rooms to rent around this huge inner city hospital complex. I HAD to get some real sleep soon so I could keep going: already any surface I was walking on seemed to be on a 90 degree incline, and everything looked surreal to me. I saw a three story brick building that had the huge word " Rooms, $19.95 " painted on the side, stumbled up the steps and rang the bell.
The woman who answered was in her nightgown, and seemed startled to see me. Understandable, I thought, it was very late. Yes, she said, she did have rooms to rent, but.. "I'll take one." I interrupted, and stuck out a twenty, thinking only that if I didn't get to a bed quick, I was going to pass out right there in her hallway.
It was on the third floor, third door on the right. I was only slightly aware of the drunk sleeping and snoring away on the first landing, or of the smell of the place, or anything else. I did notice bugs scurrying off into corners when I finally found the string hanging from the bare bulb in the middle of the room, and the fact that the spread on the saggy bed looked anything but clean, just before I fell across it and went unconscious for the next six hours.
I was rudely awakened by a fierce pounding on my door, and a drunken, angry male voice yelling..." RUBY! GODDAMMIT, RUBY, OPEN THIS FUCKING DOOR!" followed by a crash, as a body hurled itself against it. And again. I'm on my feet, pasted up against the far wall, without a clue as to where I even was or what the hell was going on. Finally, he went away. After shoving the dresser in front of the door, I got back to sleep.
So went my first night in what I was to discover was a whorehouse. I finally caught on in the morning, when I went down the hall to use the communal bathroom, and met some of my neighbors, all of whom looked at me like I'd landed from a different planet, and who themselves looked like they had all traveled some very long, very hard miles. Such language had never passed through these innocent small town ear canals ever before.
But there wasn't time to think about any of this: I had been gone from the hospital for way too long..he was all alone, and so desperately sick after an 18 hour last ditch transplant effort. What if he had died while I was sleeping, oh gawd, I'd never forgive myself.
I ran all the way back to the hospital in a panic. He was still there,and it was another long and terrifying day. and my Mom couldn't get here till tomorrow.
Mid afternoon, I ran back to the rooming house to pay for another night. The woman was still in her nightgown, and tried to tell me I did not want to stay there: that this wasn't a safe place. Her eyes were very kind, and sad, too, as she listened to me say I had to stay there , I had no where else to go, and I needed to stay close to the hospital.
She had no time to reply. I shoved another twenty in her hand and took off back to the hospital: it was looking bad, rejection symptoms present already. You just don't live too long without a functioning pancreas and kidneys.
Late that night when I got back to my room, there were crisp clean sheets and a new bedspread on the bed. Clean towels on the dresser. The floor had been swept. No one bothered me that night.
The next morning,there was a thermos of coffee standing outside my door. Two women in the bathroom called me 'Honey" and asked how my husband was. I could notice these things, but could not react to anything but the driving need to get back to the hospital.
My Mom came that day. She went looking for a better place close by that we could afford, long haul. She couldn't find anything. That night she want back to the brick place with me. It didn't take my Mom long to make the decision we'd stay put: she had a gift for seeing gold where no one else could.
I stayed with those ladies for the duration, until he blessedly died six weeks later. Every night there were sandwiches and cookies in the room, every morning there was coffee and rolls left outside the door.
They would take no more money from me for the room, which slowly was transformed into a really sweet place to be, right up to fresh doilies on the dresser top and new curtains.
Other than kind greetings and inquires about how he was, they did not probe, or burden me with the need to make conversation at all. They just quietly took care of me, and protected me, and somehow, understood. They had let me use their phone number as an emergency contact, so when the hurry-up-get back here-right-away call came, we all knew what it meant. It was a long hard day of saying good by and letting go.
None of the ladies were around when we came back to pick up our stuff and leave for home. Not a one. The hallway was silent.
But in the room was a thermos of coffee, a bag of sandwiches and donuts ready to go, and a silver sugar bowl stuffed with money. Three hundred dollars.
No note, and none left by me. I understood that words and good byes were not wanted or needed.
These ladies, these " Others", have stayed with me ever since.
It has always been The Others who have been there for me in darkest times. Not my own kind.
Always, The Others.