It was a windy March night when I first saw the young girl hugging her arms to her sides trying to stay warm. She was dressed to work the streets until dawn and she probably would. Staring at her from my safe seat in the coffee shop, I wondered if anyone had asked her where she was from, or what her favorite color was. Tiny details like that matter when you believe you’re invisible and no one cares. Suddenly, she turned and saw me through the window. Was I the first woman who returned her gaze? Smiling, I motioned for her to come inside. She walked in and I offered her a hot chocolate. She asked for whip cream and cinnamon on top, revealing a glimpse of the little girl she truly was.
As she sipped her hot chocolate, her story emerged. Finally, someone cared enough about her to know her name, share her pain, and offer no judgment. Her name was Allie, not Phoenix, as she first claimed. She was a small girl with a loud voice. She used to like singing in the church choir, she said, but she didn’t have much to sing about anymore. Allie told me she was fourteen and had been on the streets for two years. She worked on her own, though her pimp was never far from her mind. He brought her to Denver, offering her big dreams. What she got instead was a nightmare. She said she still loved him, despite the scars I saw. He was the first person who told her she was valuable.
As we sat and talked, she told me about her home life and the foster home that ended up being worse than what she’d left. I cried with her. When I invited her to come home with me and use my spare bed and get a warm shower, she wanted to know if I was crazy. “Still,” she said, her sweet Southern accent becoming more pronounced, “it’d be nice to be safe somewhere.” Allie came home with me, away from the shadows of the night. I told her about Courage House and that there would be a tangible home where she could leave the ashes of her past and become a girl with a destiny. We sobbed together.
The next morning, I knocked softly on the door, only to find her gone. There was a note for me next to the neatly folded bed linens. She had written, “Lady, thank you for caring about me. I wish I could have a home. But I am scared to believe it is real. Thank you for your kindness. Love, Alexandria.”
Allie, Alexandria, or simply Phoenix, had walked back into the darkness, and part of my heart went with her.