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“The Happy Hooker”

by Charleen Richey about a year ago in body
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How Crocheting Saved My Life!

I was sexually assaulted. At the age of sixteen, one of the school football jocks, in my ceramics class, forced me to satisfy his ‘needs’. I did not know how to manage the traumatic aftermath. Nightmares by moon kept sleep restless and disturbed, while inescapable images slammed through my head like a freight train; leaving me exhausted, paranoid, and completely helpless from sunrise to sunset. What he had done, caused me to die inside that day. He had taken away my dignity, self-respect, and spirit. I had lost faith and trust in humanity, but more importantly, had lost faith and trust in myself. He had scared my voice right out of me and somehow, I believed, this was my fault.

​One of the most frustrating and agonizing results from that day, transpired the following morning at school. It’s interesting how individuals are often more readily willing to accept someone’s lie, rather than consider what could be possibly the truth. He had already shared with the locker-room that morning how “willing” and “able” I was in my “performance”. By the end of the day, rumors had reached my ears that I had been dubbed “the class slut”. There were no words for the heartbreak and devastation that I experienced in that moment. I needed to find another place, a better place. I no longer believed I could turn to anyone at this school, or anywhere for that matter.

Everyone had already heard his side of the concocted ‘story’. No one wanted to even know or consider I might have a much different side to his tale-spinning. The rest of my time at the school was a lot of mindless wandering, hiding, and acting out in quiet cries for help. I was lost.

I had begun stealing from others, hoping I would be expelled and would never have to see him again. My reputation had already been sullied, getting kicked out made no difference and would have been a small relief. It wasn’t long before I had started cutting on my thighs and wrists. Not with suicidal intent mind you, though it often crossed my mind at this point, but because I couldn’t escape the emotional pain. I knew the physical would heal. It somehow gave me a release from the overwhelming emotions I was unable to process in any sort of healthy manner.

​By the end of the day, when ceramics class was the final subject to endure, I had rushed to the back of the classroom and hid at a table in hopes to avoid him. He walked into the classroom, a giant presence overshadowing my now very meek existence, and was carrying a boastful smile across his face.

“Hi Charli! How are you doing today?” He announced with a malicious beaming that could be seen across the room. My face palored and I could feel my stomach acid rising up in my throat from the tightening invisible grip he had on me in that moment.

He knew exactly what he had done. His eyes had momentarily locked with mine. No one else interpreted or understood that smile with the same fear and anxiety I was again experiencing. With that one, single, joker-like stare and comment, he had found a new way to torture and violate me. This time, in front of everyone, and no one was the wiser. I quickly glanced away towards the clay on the shelves and with slumped, inward turning shoulders, shuffled over to grab something that represented me; a gray lump of clay to begin molding. I refused to look up the rest of class hour, but I could feel him staring right through the top of my head and into the abyss that he had left in me the day before. I never was able to make anything out of that one-pound mass of nothingness. I continued to poke and prod at it in hopes of avoiding the threatening tears.

​The bell rang and I whirled out of there as fast as any tornado could spin. Right past the teacher, almost throwing her into circles of her own! I mumbled good-bye and didn’t bother to worry about the door slamming behind me. Rushing to my car at the side lot where juniors could park, I collapsed in the Taurus. The waterfall I had tried to avoid in class followed me and began to flow uncontrollably from my eyes. I found a handkerchief in the middle console that belonged to my dad and wiped my eyes. Somehow, having something of my dad’s unexpectedly, brought me a little bit of comfort. I looked at the swollen reflection in the rear-view mirror staring back at me, and decided to take a detour to a local fast-food place on the way home. It would give the redness and puffiness in my face a chance to settle.

Mom almost always saw me first and I was in no mood for ‘the third degree’ that would transpire if I did not answer her line of questions about why I was crying. She loved me so very much and was always highly invested in my life. Looking back on those days, why was I always so angry with her? She was just looking out for my interests in the best way she knew how. The stubbornness in me refused to listen to anyone.

​Tired of all the mess thrusted upon me from all directions, I needed an escape. At this time, I had also committed myself to dating older guys, with the rationale that they were somehow more mature than the boys I was subjected to at my school. I was very ignorant in my thinking and should have realized danger can lurk behind any experience.

​Trying to shake that day off, I took one of my daily jogs around the lake. I could be found running in the morning before school, or in the evenings not long after supper. With Walkman in hand, I set out towards Olympiad, the street at the corner that would complete the first leg of my three and half mile trek. Instead of turning left and heading towards the East Beach, I hooked right and slowed down to walk through the strip-mall. There was a video store that had recently moved in to one of the storefronts. As a movie buff, I thought that ‘spacing out’ on the various movie cases displayed , just for a few minutes, might ameliorate the direction my mind had wandered earlier.

​I had been in the store before, briefly with Mom. But this was a chance to be out from under her thumb and do something that I wanted to do. It seemed harmless enough. That was, until I saw the new guy. We’ll just call him “Guy” from here. He was taller than me, long, dark, wavy hair, brown eyes, and was a complete hellion. Every instinct and alarm in my gut fired off that I should run away from him as fast as I could. I couldn’t. Something about him scared me, but at the same time, after what had happened to me, I had to find a way to subdue the demon that continued chase. Somehow, Guy was the answer.

​During the first month of our dating, my parents truly attempted to welcome Guy as a part of the family. They even went to the extent of bringing him on a skiing trip with us. While we were up the mountain, he was more interested in smoking his cigarettes and hanging out near the vehicle than he was in skiing. In my teenage angst and stupidity, I clutched on to that behavior as “cool” and hung out with him instead of skiing. My parents’ money used on ski passes had been, for lack of a better word- wasted. Much like Guy was at that moment.

​We continued to hang out and became intimate. I would often meet Guy up at his work. After hours, we met up with his buddies. One evening, walking across to the gas station to meet one of Guy’s multiple cronies, we were instructed inside, and the door was immediately locked behind us. It was a little past ten in the evening. A small, white baggie, filled with an unfamiliar powder, was being dangled in front of us. My now new boyfriend, almost jumping up and down like a little child on Christmas, asked if he could “lay it out”. The bag was tossed to him, and he was given a credit card to proceed on the glass countertop.

​I was curious. They asked me if I had ever done any ‘speed’ before and I had no idea what they were talking about. Shaking my head side to side without word, my eyes opened wide as I watched the gas attendant roll up one of his bills, and through his right nostril, made all that powder disappear. It was the beginning of my downward spiral for many years to come. I had finally found my escape from the pain and sorrow I was experiencing, something that would make me numb.

​That year passed and the drug had taken its hold on me while I watched others around me live their happy lives; including my family. I didn’t feel like I belonged with them. I couldn’t tell Mom or Dad what had happened, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to tell them about what I was doing now. It didn’t matter, they could see it all over me what I was doing to myself. My body had dropped in weight to ninety-eight pounds and I had developed a completely gothic profile. I continuously picked at my face and body leaving various pocked wounds. It was truly a wonder that I ever finished high school, much less survived those years.

​Somehow, throughout all the chaos, there was still a little voice inside of me that simply would not go away. The more it whispered, the more drugs I would indulge. It made it easier to deal with Guy’s abuse. I felt at fault for the previous incident therefore I must somehow deserve this punishment now.

Luckily, I escaped Guy. After a year of more physical, mental and emotional abuse from him, I ran from Mission Viejo and made my way to San Jacinto, California. As a familiar saying goes, “Outta the frying pan and into the fire!” That night when I arrived, a cop in training, while I was drunk, decided it would be fun to rape me. Again, no words.

I was already a hollowed-out shell and had been conditioned to not report anything. This cop in training was one of the room mates, and early the next morning after cleaning me up stated, “Who are they going to believe? An upstanding citizen like me? Or an obvious junky like you.” After that night, needles became my new best friend for a short time. Until Buddy came into the picture.

​Buddy was an awkward associate who I befriended. We checked out of that southern California town and began traveling across the state. We took the I-5 up into the central valley where we worked at an airport for a time before heading up to the outskirts of Yosemite National Park. Performing odd and end jobs for survival, we ended up traveling to Texas and settling in Stephenville. We had initially headed for Granbury, but because we were so strung out, could not remember the name of the town we were initially heading for. I kid you not! We arrived with fireworks and celebration in the town square, on the Fourth of July. It wasn’t long before we had found at that party, a new connection for our addictions.

​I had become bored with the drug routine. It was no longer doing anything for me. I was strung out and as many members in Alcoholics Anonymous would tell you, was, “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. It was definitely time for a change. This time, I wanted one that would be positive for me. Buddy and I remained friends, but did go our separate ways.

​Ironically, after trying to avoid school and ditching the colleges that I had been accepted to, I had landed in a what? You guessed it, a college town. Here was a chance to make personal improvements, on my terms, and get away from the drugs. I had become an artist at running away and avoiding my situations that were self-created. Now it was time to grow up. I quit the methamphetamine and found something to replace it - educationally bettering myself. I called Mom from the payphone near my trailer and informed her of my decision. With doubt, Mom and Dad both decided to support my endeavor.

​I joined an on-campus program called the Non-Traditional Students Association (Non-Trads for short). It was a group comprised of individuals that did not meet the ‘normal’ parameters of a student, i.e., older, disabled, foreigners, live further than 25 miles from the school, you get the picture. It’s where I met my first husband. We quickly became friends, lovers, then married while still trying to finish school. Not long after getting together, I was pregnant with our first of two wonderful boys that further challenged my drive to finish school. My second child was very interesting as he decided he wanted to be delivered right in the middle of my philosophy final. I passed and amazingly, did graduate.

​While a student at Tarleton State University, my husband and I moved into an apartment on campus. It wasn’t always clean, but it remained functional. Almost all mothers go through a nesting phase when getting ready to give birth. I was no exception to that rule. With almost a month remaining in the pregnancy, I began cleaning every corner of my apartment from top to bottom. Someone watching would have been convinced that I was still using, but I had been clean. In 2002, I had a slip, but quickly corrected the error, luckily before becoming pregnant with the second kiddo. I needed to find something that would keep my hands and mind preoccupied so I wouldn’t return to the terrible choices I had previously made. Little did I know that crocheting was going to be that life-changing event.

The nesting phase drove my interest in learning to crochet. Crocheting and quilting are common practices among the women of the south; almost unheard of that a gal wouldn’t know a least some simple pattern. The female friends that I had acquired in that little town were all too happy to attempt to teach me the art of looping yarn. It wasn’t easy though. Years ago, my grandmother had taught me how to complete a chain-stitch, but I was never able to figure out how to flip the yarn and go back the other direction. At ten, the concept remained elusive.

An older, wiser, dear friend, sat down with me one evening. She patiently worked with me while my expecting child kicked and pushed around for comfort in my belly. This woman had taught me what I thought to be the unteachable. I had finally learned how to add a second row to the initial chain! Feeling accomplished, I plowed forward with every stitch in some sort of insatiable hunger. The repetitious nature of the project had completely taken me over and I was obsessed. After she left, I worked on adding rows until I saw dawn peeking through the windows. A big mistake as I still had classes to attend that morning.

​Evening had again, finally arrived, and I returned home from my final course. Sitting down, I pulled the project back out from the bag that I had carefully placed it in before leaving to class. Holding it up in front of me, I could not help but giggle. Though I had learned to add a row, I somehow had also learned to add an extra stitch to each row! The blanket started at approximately twenty-four inches at the base and growing, had spread in size approximately another foot wide at the top! Looking at it for a moment, I tried to initially convince myself that it would work for the baby because it was my first attempt. But the perfectionist in me was not going to settle for that idea. I started unraveling the blanket. I reduced the attempt back to the initial two chains and started again.

After several more failing attempts, I finally began to develop an eye for my errors and figured out how to fix the ever-growing problem. Now that I could keep my blanket straight on the edges, the rush to finish before birthing was in full force. With every stitch, I began thinking about my love and excitement for this precious breath of fresh air that was soon to enter my life. I would love him the way no one had ever loved me and finish the blanket before his arrival. After two days, I had come to the end. I slowly picked up my scissors, and apprehensively cut the yarn from the remaining, dwindling ball. It was my first time completing something that I had started without parental prodding. That blanket taught me I could do, and finish, anything I set my mind to. Pride growing in me, just like my baby, I joyfully let the scissors cut several hundred, eight-inch-sections of yarn, and the blanket developed fringe.

​The second blanket that I made, I attempted to go around in circles instead of making rows, and thought I could give it corners. The pathetic thing ended up looking like an oval, but my youngest adores his “bang”. At seventeen, it still doesn’t go very far from his bed. It makes me proud and humbled that he loves something so much, in all its imperfection. That sweet child taught me I could do the same.

​Eventually, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico bringing my crochet bag in tow. Somewhere along the way, I lost the little pouch of hooks where my scissors were also supposedly, safely nestled. Slightly frustrated, I headed down to the local fabric and crafts store. The only pair of scissors I had at home were now gone! Looking at the various selections down one of the back isles, a clear box of brightly colored scissors stood out. Grabbing the enticing pack, they were Fiskars scissors of various cutting patterns, including the straight-edge pair that I needed. Back in Texas, I had also been introduced to scrapbooking and when I saw that set, I knew it would take care of any projects I put before me! After fifteen years, I still use my Fiskars and love them!

I have made several more blankets throughout the years. Each blanket and every stitch held a thought, feeling, dream, hope, or idea that kept me moving towards the next stitch, and the next, until I completed another goal. Every loop that I flipped and hooked, I could feel a little bit more of me accepting my past and finding a different way of looking forward. I began joking with friends that I was the “happy hooker”! This once awkward hobby had now become one of my greatest passions that I could share with other individuals. Pretty much every family member or close friend received a blanket or scarf.

Scarf-making became my service, helping me get out of self. Today, I make scarves for the homeless throughout the year and have them ready to give out in winter. A small thank you to the women of my past. Paying it forward, for the gift that helped me to gain my life back, is the least I can do. My sons are also happy when they see me working away at a scarf for a good cause. It in turn teaches them to willingly give in their own lives.

​Crocheting, though simple in nature as it is a repetitious project, results in variously beautiful and intrinsically unique designs. With this craft, no two accomplishments ever turn out the same, much like humans. We too, are all unique. Every loop, pull, flip, hook, and cut of the yarn, I began to feel a renewed spirit with dignity and self-respect. I had started on a journey that tried to unravel me through different types of abuse. Crocheting saved my life. I learned how to make wonderful pieces and in process, how to stitch my life back together.

Charli Richey

May 12, 2021

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About the author

Charleen Richey

Freelance/ghostwriter. Began writing in the single digits and was blessed with a mom who obtained a degree and career in English. My family is my motivation and inspiration to follow my passion! I look forward to sharing my work with you!

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