This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
I had a rough start at life. I was a “goth” in high school—I had long black hair, only wore black clothes, listened to heavy metal—you get the picture. I was born in South America and, at 6’2”, I was also by far the tallest of any of my classmates. People thought I did drugs or that I was into black magic and stuff. Making friends was hard for me because I was very shy and guarded and there weren’t many people willing to break through my exterior to find that I was just a harmless kid. That still happens: I’ve probably only had three friends my whole life.
My parents thought that I’d grow out of this “phase.” I have three siblings who are very normal, functional people. But I rounded the corner into my early twenties and nothing really changed, except the way that I saw myself. I started internalizing what people had been saying all along—that I was ugly and weird. I lived in a really traditional society and people were not open-minded, so I was bullied constantly. But once I hit puberty, and then my late teens, and then my early twenties, I started becoming obsessed with the fact that girls, specifically, couldn’t get away from me fast enough.
In my mid-twenties, I’d never even been kissed. I had no confidence, and I believed that I’d amount to nothing even though I’d finished school in a competitive field and was set up for a comfortable future, at least financially. I considered suicide but I was too much of a coward to actually do it. I often thought that if I could only find a woman to love me, to accept me, that everything else would fall into place. It was a really dark and painful time in my life.
My parents and I went out to lunch for my birthday that year. I remember taking a taxi to the restaurant to meet them and sitting across from my mom, who almost immediately started ripping into me. She kept saying, “the way that you’re going, you’ll never get married,” and “you scare people because of the way that you look.” I’d been hearing this my whole life. What made it worse was that my dad just sat there and nodded, as if he agreed with everything she was saying. I’d thought of us as kindred spirits and hoped that he would tell her to lay off. But he didn’t, and that really hurt.
I walked home that day, and I passed by a place that I knew to be a brothel. I hadn’t planned on it—at least not consciously—but I went in. The room was dark. It was decorated with red and green lights, and smelled like alcohol and cigarettes. And there were bottles of rum everywhere. It had two floors; the first floor was for dancing and drinking, and where you picked the girls. The second floor was just rooms.
I sat at the bar and this woman approached me almost immediately. She was Colombian, probably in her mid-30s, with dark hair and skin. She was athletic. And she had beautiful brown eyes; I know this seems strange but I was feeling vulnerable, you know, so I remember thinking that her eyes looked kind. And she made me feel at ease. We stayed downstairs for about 20 minutes, and then we went up to the room.
I told her that it was my first time—“so please be gentle,” I said—which even then struck me as a strange thing to say to a prostitute. I was super nervous, but it was overall a positive experience. I felt awkward after it happened. We talked for a few minutes and I told her that I would be back the next week. But I didn’t go back for a while—the timing wasn’t right. When I finally did visit again, probably a month later, they told me she had gone back to Colombia.
I was disappointed, and I never went back again. I had wanted to date her outside of the brothel, but I didn’t have a chance. Looking back, that’s probably for the best. But I’m really grateful to her. She was the first person who didn’t treat me like I was some kind of monster; she was nice to me and accepted me, and because of her, the woman with kind eyes, my life changed. A few months later, I met a girl at a concert, we got married, and then, years later, divorced. But hey, that’s life.
There’s a supermarket now where the brothel used to be. Whenever I celebrate my birthday, I think about her. I wonder what happened to her.
Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at email@example.com. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.