As a young girl I lived on the streets. I woke up in dirt under overpasses. I begged for change. I ate rotting food out of trash cans. I did things I’d rather not remember, to survive.
On the streets people look through you—unless they want something more, which is usually bad.
Like other homeless kids, I came from a background of abuse. My stepdad had been a registered sex offender, and a parade of pedophiles had walked through my life. By the time I left home it may have looked safer, but the damage had been done. On the streets I felt I had a fighting chance—not just to survive, but to define myself.
On the streets, I told myself, at least I could run away.
This was in the early 1980s, when a serial killer called the Green River Killer was murdering homeless girls and women up and down the West Coast. Despite dozens of victims, the police had been sluggish to react. No one seemed to much care because he was killing “prostitutes.” The homeless children he raped and murdered were dismissed as “teenage runaways.”
One night I got into a truck with a man. I did this, sometimes, to survive. There were few programs at the time for homeless children. There still are not. I was hungry. Food, as we all know, costs money. There was only one way to get it.
The man looked like all the men in the cars—he looked ordinary. But ordinary men, I had discovered, could be the most dangerous of all. His eyes were hidden behind dirty glasses. He wore a jacket and plain trousers.
He drove me out of the skid row area, into the industrial area outside downtown, far away from where the men usually stopped. The streets there were empty. As the abandoned buildings passed, my fear grew. I thought of the girls who had gone missing and turned up dead.
“Please stop,” I asked him. His eyes were flat as discs behind his glasses. He kept driving.
I asked again.
Then, smiling, he delicately poked his tongue out at me. One, twice, like a serpent.
Cold terror filled me…
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Rene Denfeld is an internationally bestselling author, journalist, licensed investigator, and therapeutic foster mother. She is the author of the novels The Child Finder, The Enchanted, and most recently, The Butterfly Girl. She has also written for the New York Times Magazine, The Oregonian, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Her website is www.renedenfeld.com.