As I heard the words “Just like he did me” come out of Adorina’s mouth my stomach and chest got this weird feeling. It was the same feeling you felt when you were young and your parents went over a hill really fast and it made you lose your stomach for a brief second. My siblings and I used to love when that happened and begged my parents to go faster and faster over the hills. As an adult I have realized that feeling not only comes from a place of excitement but also panic. I sat there and thought about those words. I thought about what it would feel like to be so confident in myself that I owned every room I walked into. How would I feel if I was my best self? I had always thought I really had it down in the confidence department until I met Adorina. The thing was, I was confident in familiar surroundings, but put me in a new place and I would hide in the corner, praying to go unnoticed.
As she closed the laptop and put it into the bag from the back seat, I caught a glimpse of the tattoo on her wrists and yep it was numbers and letters. It looked like a code of some sort and did not look like a tattoo someone would get for personal reasons. I was looking at it and repeating it 906IKM, 906IKM in my head so I could remember it to google it later on and see if it had any significant meaning. When she saw me looking and without making eye contact she said “You’re wondering about this stamp on my wrist?” I couldn’t tell whether she was making a statement or asking me a question, but nonetheless I said “Yeah does it represent something to you?”
“Yes very significant. It is a receipt for my freedom. My sister and I were teenagers when separated. I go back to my home country from time to time to look for her. This tattoo signifies that I have been fairly released from the sex trade and they cannot take me again as long as I have this marking.”
“Fairly released from the sex trade industry ?! How is that fair?” I said stunned by her reply.
I could not believe what I was hearing. I had heard of sex trafficking but never actually knew someone involved. I am sure the look on my face told how I was feeling.
“Where I am from in Portugal, young girls and boys do not have a choice sometimes. The economy there is nothing like the economy in America. There are fast food places for young people to work at here. Over there if they have sick parents or their parents are not alive they will go into prostitution because it is so lucrative and high paying. Many international travelers come to the coast for vacation, and young people of both sexes will walk the streets in the tourist areas hoping to find someone willing to pay. A lot of times it is a harmless way for them to makes ends meet and feed their family at home. But they can also end up like me, there are people working in the the industry that are there to traffic humans and just looking for someone vulnerable to take. I am very thankful LB was kind enough to bring me to the states and pay for my citizenship. I was able to make a life for myself here. It has also led me to mentor young women.”
“Mentor young woman how? I asked. Because in all honesty, taking LB out of this I wanted to find out how I could get Adorina to mentor me. I mean she obviously had been through so much in her life she had a lot of knowledge to offer, and was clearly doing well for herself.
“Outreach programs, women’s shelters, youth mentorship. I volunteer a lot and I also keep my face fresh in the streets by dropping off donations of condoms, and feminine products, etc in the parts of town where prostitution is heavy. If I can save one girl from being on the streets, then I have done well.”
I was honestly shocked. She did not look like a lady that would have time to do any of that nor would someone like her even want to. But I could tell she was passionate about it and it actually made me feel a sense of security, like I was safe with her.
“After I came to the states with LB, I spent a lot of time with him and over the years we have formed a unique relationship. He knows I am passionate about young women getting and education and knowing their self worth. That is why he asked me to let you tag along. Which isn’t something he asks often so he must think highly of you.”
By this time we were pulling into a shopping center. “Now, we have to get you a dress for Saturday evening” she said. Luckily Adorina had a pair of flip flops that fit me in her backseat. They didn’t look too awful with the jeans I was wearing and I chalked it up as the price I had to pay for the Jessica Simpson heels.
As we walked together I could feel a sense of dread come over me. I hated shopping for clothes. I never thought they fit me right and hated changing rooms with a passion. And the thought of having to find a dress with someone else who was absolutely gorgeous was really unsettling. But what really threw me for a loop was when I followed her into a store I had never set foot in before. A Neiman Marcus.
I gulped down the fear that had risen in my throat as she pulled the golden handled door open and we were immediately met with a team of cheery faces and bright smiles from people whom were very eager to meet and greet us. It was kind of overwhelming so I just stood silent trying to make myself invisible once again. I immediately started glancing around the store to see what they had to offer and nothing looked like it was going to fit me in there. Everything was tiny. It didn’t take long for the little butterflies of salespeople to flock to Adorina. They knew she would be the one making the decisions on any purchases from there. I timidly stood in the shadows, with my outfit still wet from where I had fallen in water just a little while earlier and a loaner pair of flip flops on. Feeling very out out place. Still wondering what I had gotten myself into. Just walking into that store intimidated me. How was I ever going to fake this much confidence? I wondered.
Adorina was calculated in every thing she did. Before we had even gotten to that store she had sized me up and knew the exact three dresses she would have me try on. And she did exactly that. She walked to two different racks pulling a black dress, and a red one. Then told one of the sales reps she had been in there recently and asked if they still had a piece from a few weeks back. Then looked at me like my mom did when she took me shopping for Easter dresses and forced me to try on stuff I hated, raised her perfectly arched brows and motioned toward the dressing room. Of course the trail of sales ladies following behind were asking all sorts of questions and trying to find anyway to be as accommodating as possible but it still made me feel uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was run out of the door and the other way.
As we approached the changing rooms I noticed a wall of mirrors, where you can get a full 360 view of yourself, oh the joy that came over me then. Adorina handed the dresses to a sales associate who took them and went into a room. The others offered us water or a coke over ice as we waited. I was tempted for the icy coke but quickly declined when I realized where I was and was about to have to slither into dress that most likely wouldn’t fit. So I passed on the coke, stood with Adorina and waited for sales associate to summon me. As she checked her phone for missed calls or emails Adorina turned, looked at me and said “Colette I want you to come out of there with each dress on and walk into these mirrors before we make a decision.” Yep I knew she was going to ask me that as soon as I seen them. I felt just like it was Easter all over again. My mother always tried to make me wear dresses and to this day tells the story of me ripping bows and lace off of a dress she put me when I was four. I liked dressing up but wanted to dress myself. I wasn’t really a dress type of girl, maybe a nice blouse and pants but never a dress. And I most certainly did not like dressing up in things other people had picked out for me. In the entire history of my life no one had ever been able to buy clothes for me. I was just too picky.
About then the sweet sales girl came out of the dressing room and waived me in but she didn’t leave. She stayed at the door and followed me as I walked in. I am sure she could see I was confused as to what she needed to do before letting me change, and I was really hoping for some privacy. So she spoke up and said “I am going to help you get changed and zip you up if that’s ok mam.” “Oh sure.” I replied but really thought “Oh great, not only do I have to try on dresses I don’t want to wear, I have to try them on in front of someone and then parade around in them in front of a wall of mirrors while everyone in here gawks at me.” My inner self doubt was always making itself known.
I will admit all of the dresses Adorina had me try on that day were phenomenal. The black one was conservative and I felt most comfortable in it. I loved the red one but I felt to loud dressed in fire engine red. It wasn’t until the sales associate brought in the third dress did I feel a little something. A leopard print, mid thigh high, flowing Valentino dress. It was made out of real silk and cut with pleats that hid the bad really well and an empire waist that accentuated all of the good. It was low cut and scooped way down my chest with long sleeves that were embossed with gold, pearl sized buttons at the cuff. It was absolutely stunning. But it was a dress I would have never picked out or could see myself wearing, not only was it a DRESS. It was also really flashy being leopard print and it had a price tag that I will leave undisclosed because it was painful to see. Lets just say the buttons must have been real gold for that price. But I believe that dress must have been magical. As I walked out in it, I felt myself light up. For the first time in my life I had put on a piece of designer clothing that wasn’t sent to TJ Maxx because it was damaged or misshapen in some way. The silk was so soft I could barely feel it touching my skin and it fit me like nothing ever had fit me before.
“That’s it.” Adorina said. With a look of certainty on her face like I didn’t have a decision. “Yeah I love it but I don’t have enough money to buy this.” And If I did have the money to buy this I still wouldn’t. Spending this type of money on a dress is just out of my character (and still is, although I own several nicely priced wardrobe items I still rock out that TJ Maxx too)
“You’re not buying it, LB is.” She said.
I turned and looked at myself in the mirror wearing a leopard print, silk Valentino dress. A dress that never, in a million years could I have imagined I would be wearing. I could feel the self confidence just radiating out of me. I smiled and looked at Adorina and shrugged like “if you say so.”
“Colette you really are a beautiful girl, you just need to stop trying to hide behind things and step out into world. Meeting LB will be the best thing that has ever happened to you. He is going to embed confidence so deep in you that you’ll never question yourself ever again. I bet if he could see the way this dress lights you up right now he would pay ten times the cost, not to be egregious but because what it will do for your self esteem when you wear it.”
I would have never gotten that dress that day if it hadn’t been for Adorina. She pushed me to get it even though she knew the other women at that party would not have the confidence either to wear a dress that bold to this particular event. Looking back now I know the only reason I wanted to get the black dress was because it was so easy to hide in. I could just blend right into the background and go unnoticed. That Valentino dress ended up changing my life. Giving me the confidence that led me into so many great directions. I wore it countless times and every time it made me stand out just like she wanted it to do. And it was never about the price.
As we approached the counter I tried to hand Adorina the AMEX so she could at least pay for some of the dress with it but she refused to take it. I didn’t say a word but once again it made me nervous. That was a big purchase and I just didn’t know how to take it. I just stood there quietly and watched them pack that jaw dropping thing up in a nice protected hanging bag, dreaming about what shoes I would wear with it. Definitely not Jessica Simpson’s.
We spent the rest of the day running errands, her mostly making phone calls confirming caterers and picking up specialties and other venue needs. She asked me if I had made my appointments for hair and nails and reminded me about the importance for the red nails. “Yes I was planning on getting everything done at the salon on Friday, if I still have a job there.” I said with a worried tone and cringed a little thinking about what Daniella was going to say to me.
By the the time she dropped me back off at my car that evening I had learned a little about her from just little snippets of her life she had mentioned. She had also lost her scowl and had seemingly brought me under her wing. When she spoke to me, it was in a way to guide me but I could tell that I wasn’t getting all of the details. I wanted someone, her or LB to sit down and say “This is what we’re wanting from you.” Because I came from a place where nothing was free and knew something would be expected of me. This dress was going to come at a cost. But what?
As I drove home that evening with my Valentino dress hanging in the back seat, I kept glancing back at it. I don’t know why but every time I looked at it I felt like I was so alive and I couldn’t wait to get home to put it on again and show my mom. “Wait.. oh shit.. my mom….I can’t show her this. How on earth would I explain it.” How was I going to explain this to anyone? I couldn’t keep this from my girlfriends, I had five best friends that knew every aspect of my life since I was 15 years old and I was already busting at the seems to tell them but my mind always stopped because I was afraid of what they would think of me. When I got home I hid it in the trunk, laying it as neatly as I could to keep it from harms way and out of eyesight of my nosy family.
Every Thursday and Friday Jessica, one of my best girls picked me up on the way to school. We ended up having the same schedule that semester so it worked out perfectly, I could just get her to keep the dress for me until the following day . Which would allow me to escape telling my mother but that meant I would have to tell her. There was no way I was ever going to get out of telling her how I got my hands on that dress. And I was literally dying already to tell her about the flowers. So that morning when she picked me up and I sat down in the seat beside her I had it wrapped over my lap still inside its fancy protective casing with a big smile on my face and immediately “Colette!!!Let me see what you’ve got!” She shrilled. Pure excitement came over me as I unzipped to reveal the beauty that laid inside and began to tell her about this interesting man that stopped by the salon for directions and ended up being invited to his event. “He’s pretty well off I believe, he’s got an assistant helping me and the Governor is going to be there. I don’t really know what to think but I am way to involved now to back out.” The whole time she just looked at me with this look on her face like she couldn’t believe what I was telling her. Hell I couldn’t even believe what I was telling her.
“I wanna go!!!” She squealed. Oh my gosh how bad I wish I could have taken a friend along. The entire ride to class we did nothing but talk about all the possible situations that could come up that weekend. We had lunch together that day and continued the gossiping and on the way home we carried on. I had to lay it all out to her so she could tell me if I was being totally crazy or not. Which she did think I was being totally crazy but I can remember her telling me, she wished she had nerve like I did and if she was presented with the situation, she didn’t know if she could turn down the invite as well. And I would consider her to be pretty orthodox in morale.
So there it was.. another affirmation that I was ok. That I was doing what anyone else would do.