I was barely seventeen. Somehow I envisioned the world as pristine outside of the turmoil of my childhood. My trust was implicit. I had met a few undesirables but had maintained this view of the world.
For four years, I had escaped the brutality of my home through drugs. I woke one morning—kidneys screaming—a wisp of myself—ribs dominating my chest–size fours threatening to slide down my hips. I knew I would die if I continued. I did a 180 and whipped into rehab.
I slept in a dingy basement with about twenty others in a storefront in Brighton, MA. I poured my soul into getting well. I became regimented into a Self-Help Reality concept and became a bullhorn for the ideas of Project Turnabout. If I say that those who proposed those ideas were not always honest in their indoctrinations, you may believe me. There were liaisons between staff and those who had become hookers to obtain drugs. There were other discrepancies. But I never allowed such instances to deter me from “getting my ribs out of hawk.” I became healthy enough to leave after mending my mind and body from my drug feud.
Regardless of the organization’s shortcomings, I was grateful. They had provided me with a structure to heal myself. I was drug-free. I made the daily journey from my home in Beverly to Brighton, MA to man the reception desk and phones while they transitioned into a home they had acquired in Hull. MA. It was tight, but I did it. Money for train fare was a problem.
On one trek home from the storefront, I met an interesting young man at North Station. I allowed him to convince me I could afford a cup of coffee because he would help me get a ride home. I dipped into my train fare.
Before the young man would help me with my ride home, he told me he must stop at his apartment. We walked deep into the North End before coming to the place housing his abode. I followed him in and was startled to see a less-than-friendly older gentleman there. I was directed into a room housing two beds and directed to sit on one. I had left my pocketbook on a kitchen table. My internal alarm bells were screaming.
It was the beginning of Whitey Bulger’s reign in the North End.
Through the crack in the hinge side of the door—dingy white wood framing my view—, I watched the older man quietly rifle through my pocketbook. I had had the presence of mind to stash my money into my glasses’ case sometime before. Danger had swallowed me.
Any pretense at helpfulness disappeared as the younger, and an older man entered the bedroom and requested I have sex with them. I declined. Memory fails me as to how I escaped that apartment, but I did. I did not, however, escape the two men. They followed me, picking up participants in the chase along the way.
Fear coursed through me as I took a moment to peer behind me. A gaggle of men—twenty strong or better—rolled down the street in a wave—heads bobbing like whitecaps on the ocean. In the too-near distance, I searched for an escape, settling on a bakery diagonally across the street.
I burst through the door, setting off the tinkling of the bell hanging above, and rushed to a counter bursting with pastries.
“Can I use your phone?” I asked a stern-faced older woman.
“No,” she said.
“Lady, can I use your phone to call a cab?” My voice was laced with urgency, and she followed my eyes to the mob growing outside.
She paused for an instant in her servicing of a customer and motioned me behind the counter. She grabbed my arm and pivoted me to a phone hanging on the post.
I called a Yellow Cab and waited. I started breathing, though the crowd grew outside the store.
The cab pulled up beside the bakery, pushing through the crowd gathering outside the door. I felt brave enough to venture out the door to meet my escape. A young man emerged, golden-haired in a sea of brunettes, with a look of amazement on his face. He came around to the passenger side, and I walked up to meet him.
The apparent leader came up beside us.
“She has no money,” he said.
“I put my money in my glasses’ case. He didn’t look there,” I said.
The grey-haired man scowled over his miss.
I could see the young cab driver realize my dilemma. He nodded to me to get into the car, holding the door open. As we were driving away, I hyperventilated my fear. I did not want to imagine what my fate could have been.
“My name is Lenny,” he said. “What’s yours?”
He worked hard to calm me. I understood the risk he had taken. He drove me to North Station and led me to a little cafeteria, buying me apple pie and coffee while he sat and waited for me to relax. I couldn’t.
Lenny piled me on my train and gave me cash for my fare along with a small piece of paper bearing his name and phone number. I latched on to that paper like a drowning woman—calling him six months later to thank him for my rescue. I wanted him to know:
Lenny Meyers—you are, and always will be, my hero.
Copyright 2018 Joyce Bowen