Whores I Have Loved
Illustrations by Benjamin Marra
eing a Mexican hooker wasn’t the plan I had in mind,” she said from above me, her hair enveloping us both like mosquito netting or a dark silk blanket we had drawn over our heads. Her breath smelled like beer, cocaine, and copper. “But I’ve been working in Mexico for about three years. I was hitchhiking back from Argentina. I guess you could say I was dancing up the coast.” She laughed.
She was from Georgia, and her accent alone made you want to fuck her. A shame, it was lost on her Mexican clientele. We were 50 miles east of Puerto Vallarta in a town that consisted wholly of the whorehouse, three bars, and a nearby maquiladora that made high-end furniture. There were “contemporary Scandinavian” tables and chairs in the bars, and the main dancing hall of the whorehouse, where the women performed their striptease before taking a client, looked like an IKEA but with unmortared white stone walls, dim lighting in red, blue, and green, and five low-hanging disco balls. It was nearly as large as an IKEA, too, and there must have been 300 drunken men in there: a Saturday night. I did not see any other Americans or Europeans. I’d had to tip two bouncers $100 each to acquire this woman before the crowd of clients waving bills in the air and waiting for her after her brief dance onstage. She was one of their best sellers.
“You never say anything,” she said. She liked to talk while having sex, which is unusual in a prostitute. “You just ask questions.”
There are prostitutes who like to joke during sex, which is a bad thing: You haven’t known each another long enough for that.
I came back to see her six nights in a row, and every night I stayed the whole night, which was $300, at the time: cheap by American standards but outrageous in a Mexican brothel that was not for tourists. With beers and blow I left almost $2,500 at that whorehouse. After the second night I didn’t have to tip the bouncers. She asked me to come late, so that she could turn some regular business before I arrived, but I arrived early and I watched her. I had never before—and have never since—observed a woman I am going to sleep with take men—multiple men—to have sex with her before me. It doesn’t have the erotic sparkle you might imagine. Though I am a jealous lover, it did not provoke jealousy. But I did want to kill the sleepy-eyed men as they returned from upstairs and crept or sauntered out the front door or returned to their friends at the table. All but three women in my life have had sex with other men before they had sex with me: Why should it matter that it took place before my eyes, and all in one night? Their friends would laugh, but these men did not join in the laughter like men returning from other women. I understood their tranquillity and satiety; I knew, as their friends did not, that they did not want to be touched by anyone else—not even a happy, drunken slap on the back—for an hour or two. I could not comprehend how the men who left went back to their wives for the night. It wasn’t that you felt soiled. I once listened to a friend scrub himself in a blistering shower for 15 minutes after visiting Peppermint in Bangkok: His red hide as he emerged in his white towel from the steaming bathroom, like Meryl Streep’s back after they scrub her with steel brushes in Silkwood, still makes me rub my eyebrows. The sex was very good, as you would expect, but conventional. It wasn’t the sex, or her body: though her breasts did not quite fit in your hands, and her areolae were more than two inches in diameter, pink as tulips, and her nipples were dimpled. She was widely curved and slender and liked you to hold her ass from beneath with both of your hands. She was not shaven. It surprised me that she didn’t enjoy, and wouldn’t permit, anything rough. She had the curvaceous body of an American peasant.
When I confessed several of my sins to her, lying in bed together, talking and watching the big spiders hunting or hiding in the corners and interstices between the stones, she told me: “The last perfect man I heard of died hangin’ on a cross.”
At this time in my life I was between two wives, out of work, living on the remnants of a business I had driven into bankruptcy, and I visited many houses of prostitution around the world. My favorites were in Latin America, because they are so often in old stone forts built by the Spanish. But the whorehouses in Belize are in tumbledown two-story wooden houses built by the English, like the whorehouses in the Caribbean. I once saw a man in Alligator Pond, Jamaica—a man I knew very, very well, who has since died—get a blowjob in the street from a seven-months-pregnant toothless 20-something crack addict. She charged him five American dollars, and he gave her a 20; I think it was the smallest bill he had. The second-most beautiful woman I’ve ever slept with was a Cuban prostitute who came to my hotel room in NY. She offered to take me for scrambled eggs the next morning, but I was exhausted, hungover, and ashamed, and I said no. I could see I had hurt her feelings. I had made some big promises in the night. Another time, lost in London, near Piccadilly Circus, past four in the morning, I met a short blonde woman, and we walked a ways, and when we turned onto a narrow side street she dropped to her knees and unzipped my pants. After five lonely minutes I took her head away, apologetically: For reasons that relate to my childhood, it’s nearly impossible for me to orgasm in a woman’s mouth. Then she asked me if I could loan her £30. I pretended all I had was a tenner. I am normally a generous person and don’t know why I humiliated us both in this way. I’m certain she was not a professional, but it seemed as though she had been in similar scenarios before.
Don Juan, Giacomo Casanova, Warren Beatty with his unlikely thousands, Fidel Castro enjoying two women a day, every day: What could these renowned lovers understand that is not better known by the average Mexican hooker, now in her 30s, who opened her practice at age 14?
“My daddy’s a doctor,” she told me, as she rose and fell on me, her breasts swaying gently now after she’d moved my hands. “You don’t move at all,” she said. “We’re going to be right here for a long time. He wanted me to be a doctor, too. Would you believe I got my degree in biology at Emory before driving my pickup the whole way down to Buenos Aires? I was supposed to take the—what is that damn test called?” she asked me. Without pausing she reached to the nightstand, took a Pacifico from the tin bucket with her thumb and two fingers, and poured beer into my mouth—it spilled down my face and chest—and then took several long swallows herself, while I watched her slender, brown, gazelle-like neck, stretched back, her chin lifted and that hollow triangle beneath, pumping. She placed the bottle back in the ice. The only light shone through a sun-faded purple lampshade on a faux-Arco floor lamp. We were both sweating. It was summer, and even at night, with the noisy bent-bladed ceiling fan and the open windows on three walls, it was 100 degrees. I liked to see our sweat pooling and mingling on my belly. Was it a fort or a church or a monastery, I wondered. From the entrance you could not tell, and there was a high stone fence around the property. Cars and trucks and taxis parked in the dirt and sand.
“The em-cat,” I said.
“That’s it, the em-cat. I was supposed to take that exam, and then I thought, you know what? Screw this. I want to actually live a real life. Everybody else can do what they’re told and just fake it, if that’s good enough for them. I don’t tell anybody else how to be a fool.” She had been a debutante, and was one of those young southern women whom everyone expected would marry her high school sweetheart—he went to Georgia State, was from a family of lawyers and politicians, they’d started dating in 11th grade, he was a ranked amateur tennis player. She didn’t know what had happened to him since. She hadn’t even sent him a postcard. “That wasn’t very nice, I know, I must have broke that boy’s heart. So me and a girlfriend of mine got in my blue Toyota—it had been my brother’s before me, he’s a doctor now too, an anesthesiologist, if you call that nonsense a doctor, he’s a mess—and we took the I-10 across and headed south when we got to Houston. And after that we didn’t turn around. Not until we hit the end of the continent.” The Che Guevara, but backward. She told me they read Gabriel García Márquez to each other while taking turns driving. Neither one of them spoke a word of Spanish. They were lucky to make it through Central America, I thought. “She caught some nasty bug in Peru—her name’s Ginny, she’s married to a two-timing banker now, she’s got the most beautiful twin girls you ever saw, they’re barely three years old—and so she flew home and I kept on driving. By then I’d met a nice long-lashed Brazilian boy.” Black Byronic locks down to his shoulders, she said. It was then I felt like she should be mine, and not his, and I felt lonely to know the insides of her heart.
During the course of the night, always while we were making love, I asked her to marry me—six times I asked her to marry me—and every night she laughed.
“I’m never going back,” she said. “I think about all those fat white faces smiling at me, and it’s too much. I know I can’t do this forever. I’d wager I have five, maybe seven more years of real earning, and even with that I’ll have to move around a bit. I’ve been here at the Leopard”—the whorehouse was called El Leopardo, I never found out why, but it has given the whorehouse a luster in my memory, because of the rocks and the hills and the dry, hot wind, of di Lampedusa, Sicily, the faded glory of old families and lost love—“for nine months now and it’s already starting to slow down, you have to be new to bring in the best money. It sure is nice to speak English for a change. But I’ll be glad when you go back to the States. You don’t need to be pining after a whore in the middle of the Mexican desert. You’ve got a six-year-old daughter. You’re not a boy anymore. You’re supposed to be a man now. That’s something they understand here in Mexico. The men down here cheat on their wives even more than the men back in Georgia, I know it. Or near as much. But they take care of their families. Good Catholics. They might chase tail, but they don’t follow it very far.” She laughed again.
“You’re a sweet boy,” she said, and brushed my wet hair back off my forehead with her whole hand. “In another life, maybe.”
She was 27 and I was 33.
“You’ve got a good heart. Don’t forget that.”
Seasoned, happy prostitutes speak with cataleptic authority about love.
On the seventh night we drove halfway there before I told my driver to turn around. He was a chubby, eager 17-year-old with a buzz cut named Raphael and he never did the coke I offered him or smoked a cigar, though sometimes he’d take a swig of tequila if I’d brought a pint with me, and when I found him asleep in his car in the mornings, curled in the backseat outside the stone wall, he would often smoke a joint before we got on the road.
“No Leopard tonight, señor?” he said, pulling off the road and back on again, heading back west. “You want to try a new place? I know a little place. It’s just like someone’s house, but they have pretty girls. Very pretty. I know one of them from school. Everybody is in love with this girl. They do not know that she is, well, you know. Only I know because of my brother and because I drive the car.”
“I don’t think so, Rapahel,” I said. We were speaking in English. I’ve spent months in Central America over the years, but my Spanish is still rotten. “I think it’s time to go home.”
“OK. I understand. You are tired. It’s too much, every night. A man needs a rest,” he said. He was very serious. He watched the gravel road in the headlights carefully. There were no cacti: It was just scrub-brush, dirt, and the sand and stones of the desert. Raphael drove, gripping the steering wheel with determination.
The next day I flew on a little Mexican 40-seater to Houston, and a few days after that I took a bus to Austin, Texas, where I was starting graduate school (my second try) in just over a month.
n Valparaiso, Chile, a university and government town that tumbles down enormous hills into the Pacific, you ride funiculars up into the neighborhoods after a night of drinking cheap Chilean red in pint-size tumblers by the port. At four in the morning the chorrillana restaurants are full of students, and the dance clubs are loud all throughout downtown, but as you rise above the sea on the small, quaint leather-and-polished-wood funiculars the music begins to drift, and if you listen you can hear, you almost feel, the ceaseless waves on the rocks, and you understand why Neruda built his rambling, curious, low-ceilinged house in these hills and never left. I have not counted how long it’s been since I’ve slept with a prostitute.
She was obviously a hooker. She was an amateur: There’s a traffic circle in Valparaiso, in front of one of the great stone halls of government, where the streetwalkers stand and wait for men to come by in their cars and on motorcycles and mopeds. I’d seen a hooker ride off with a man on the handlebars of his bicycle. It was considered rude to approach them on foot: Perhaps because the police tacitly ignored the traffic, but only if it was impractical to make a bust. If you’re on foot a policeman really has no defensible reason not to arrest you in a strictly Catholic country. This young woman—I guessed she was 19 or 20, she still had her teen pimples—had come from the roundabout, and now it was just the two of us, our knees almost touching—she was wearing sheer black thigh-highs and a yellow miniskirt—rumbling up one side of the tracks as the empty cable car on the other side, our counterweight, rumbled down. I reached forward and kissed her, surprising myself, and she opened her mouth: She was a terrible kisser, her tongue frantically searched around mine like a frightened bat. She stuck her hands between my legs, and despite the kiss, she had me. We kissed getting off the funicular, and the sleepy guard gave me a contemptuous look, so I handed him 1,000 pesos, about two bucks. We had nowhere to go. I was in a tiny hotel on a cliffside owned by a stern woman who was angry when I came in late at night all alone (she did not give you a key to enter the house after dark: You had to knock and wake her). There were honeymooners in the room next to mine, and we shared a balcony, and I knew it would upset them to hear us: They had not been having much sex. I asked her in my bad Spanish if she had a bed, and she explained something about her mother. We were kissing standing up on a corner against a wall, and beyond the wall I could see the whole city spread in its half-moon beneath us, and beyond it the black water. She had one leg up around my waist and unzipped my jeans. “El condon?” I asked her, and she said, “No, no,” and we pushed together. She put her hands up beneath my shirt and her nails hurt and she shrieked—I could not tell how theatrical she was being, she was young—and I looked over my shoulder but there was no one in the street, just two brown dogs staring at us amiably, almost shoulder to shoulder, wagging their tails. I tried to hurry because she was so loud, but we were standing. At last I came and I tried to pull out, but again she said, “No, no,” and tugged at my ass so that I was deep within her, and I remember briefly floating up out of my body and looking down on us, as she bit my jaw—in the morning you could see the teeth marks—and I felt as extended as the sky, for a moment I thought I was dying. I saw the dogs wagging and the two of us inextricably tangled and the sea and the lights of the city and my landlady asleep in her bed beneath a quilt she had sewn herself and the young couple on their backs on either side of the narrow bed and the teenagers still dancing in the clubs below and the policemen smoking marijuana on the docks and the train that takes you north to Vina del Mar, sitting in the station by the sea, and the sailors asleep in their bunks and the bartender mopping his floor with the stools upside down on the bar where I had sat earlier that night listening to the conversations of the old men. She kept thrusting against me, she was not letting me go, and I gasped and she held my face and looked at me seriously. “It was a good one?” she said in English, and I could only nod. Then she walked around the wall, holding me by my hand, and I followed her, though my legs and my shoulders were trembling, and she crouched to pee and wipe herself with a little pink towel she had in her bag, and she quickly changed clothes in front of me, and she was wearing jeans, red canvas Keds, and a faded, long-sleeved Billy Idol black-and-white cotton t-shirt. I gave her five 10,000-peso notes. I was shy.
“No, es mucho,” she said, and gave me back three of them. I handed one back to her and she kept it.
“Mañana?” she asked me, still serious. “Where are you staying?” she asked.
I tried to explain my situation to her, but I couldn’t make myself clear. So I lied and said I was staying with friends.
“But I will see you tomorrow night,” she said, and gave me another long, unfortunate kiss, with the whole length of her body and her small breasts pressed tightly against me.
The next night, lying awake in my bed in the hotel, I felt like a man who goes to sleep every night watching his phone, waiting for the woman who’s left him to call. I didn’t dare go back to find her.
olemn-eyed Rory was a stripper who turned tricks on the side.
“You don’t know the things I’ve done,” she told me. “You wouldn’t even like me if you knew. You sure wouldn’t want me to be your girlfriend.”
I was her temporary boyfriend until her true love was released from prison. He was a heroin addict, but I never learned why he’d been sent for nine years, at the student’s age of 24, to a federal maximum-security facility in Beaumont, Texas. I had uncanny associations with Beaumont because I once dated a woman—she was one of my saleswomen, when I was in the jewelry business—who had been born and raised in that grim, flame-lit oil town. This saleswoman was shot to flatline after an auction near my jewelry store. Violating company policy, she wore our jewelry back to a man’s apartment, and a busboy who was staying temporarily at this fellow’s place—he was the manager of a Chili’s, and he’d taken a liking to the busboy, who was down on his luck—saw her diamond tennis bracelet, her emerald necklace, and her Rolex President and went back to his borrowed bedroom, fetched his .32, and shot them both. He was caught a few miles away. Meanwhile, my saleswoman’s mother was called as her brainwaves slowed to a standstill and the doctor tired to argue her mother into cutting her up for her organs. Her mom, an old-fashioned Baptist, was refusing, and seconds and then minutes of flatlining whined urgently by, while the discussion escalated, when suddenly my saleswoman sat up and said—wires trailing from her skull—“What happened?” She later went on to become a modestly famous star in a series of gangbang movies, though she never completely recovered all of her speech or coordination. When we were lovers, before the shooting, she insisted on sex in dangerous places: over the edge of the top of a parking garage, on the railing of the balcony of a hotel, on train tracks, on a small plastic kayak in the Gulf of Mexico at night, in moving cars on the highway, in a taxi in downtown Dallas traffic. I wondered, later, if her sexual predilections were due to some supernatural preknowledge of her quasi-tragic gunned-down-for-porn future. Another bad thing about Beaumont for me was that an investor I had accidentally cheated owned a pit-bull business there, and I suspected in those worried days I might wake and find a man-eating bull-necked dog unleashed and patrolling my front porch, or perhaps even leaping into my convertible. I usually kept the convertible closed at that time. But not when I was having sex with this saleswoman, who demanded, “Screw me, screw me with the top down,” in just about any place you can drive a car. Like many beautiful women I have known, she had an exhibitionist streak.
“I want some shoes. Will you buy me some shoes?”
We were in Las Vegas, and I was regretting Rory because the prostitutes walking the street were much prettier than the one I’d brought with me, and if the streetwalkers look like that, I thought, imagine what you get when you call a respectable service, or take a limo out to the Chicken Ranch (which, fair warning to the reader, is not what it once was). I took her to Manolo Blahnik, to Louboutin, to Gucci, to Marc Jacobs—although I don’t like his women’s footwear myself, and felt certain that she would settle on something garish from him—to Prada, to Barney’s. She played Julia Roberts—she was only 23—but I was not in the mood to shop. I left her with my card in this store and that store and went to find a drink, which are never more than a dozen yards away in Vegas, unless you are in a shopping mall with your hooker girlfriend. I knew if I left her alone too long she would disappear with a man. She had done it to me often before, in pool halls and bars, once even in a pizza restaurant in downtown Austin. Another time, in Chicago, we were staying at the Four Seasons in a romantic room with a glorious view and her cell phone rang and it turned out she had a date. She wanted to know if I would meet him: He was at a bar about three miles away waiting for her. A regular, whom she’d known for years, a South African chef, who happened also to have a PhD in philosophy. I did not know if he was white or black. How did he know she was in Chicago? “He’s pudgy,” she said. “He’s cute. You’ll like him. He makes his own music. It’s a jazz bar. It will be fun.” I took a bath and then took a taxi to the airport, after telling the front desk that Mrs. Martin would be checking out in the morning, and that they shouldn’t approve incidentals over $500.
In the end, she found a pair of Miu Miu snakeskin flats. The only charming shoe I ever saw on her foot. In a daily way she wore those oversize plastic heavy wedges they sell backstage to strippers, or tennis shoes, which I preferred. She wore a size nine: That’s the kind of girl Rory was. Large appetites. Big ass. Shoulder-blade-long dirty-blond hair that she liked you to pull on with both fists. Preferred it from behind. She asked me to speak German to her while I fucked her: This was because she had spent a year in a brothel in Frankfurt, which she described as the best year of her life.
I would pick her up at her apartment and drive her in the little orange Porsche I had at that time (it belonged to a former customer who owed me, and still owes me, $55,000, though I sold the Porsche shortly before I stopped seeing Rory) to the strip club where she worked, while she sung and danced in the seat to loud heavy metal or the Notorious B.I.G. on my CD player. “I have to gear myself up for work,” she said. “Or it’s too depressing.” Charles Bukowski was her favorite writer, and I told her how he admired Céline, so that summer she lay in bed reading or claiming to read Journey to the End of the Night. She preferred prostitution to stripping, but moved around too much to build a safe regular clientele. I’d pick her up again after her shift—or sometimes I’d sit and drink at the bar for her whole shift, I was in love with both Rory and another woman who worked with her at the Yellow Rose, a tall black-haired graduate student in anthropology, but the problem was they were good friends—and then we would go eat Reubens and french fries at an all-night deli I liked, or drive through Taco Bueno.
At 16 she had been Miss Vermont. A rapist climbed into her room at night and told her that unless she came with him he would murder her whole family, including her younger brother and sister. He showed her the enormous hunting knife he had brought to do the job. They walked right out the front door of her home together, and he kept her in his basement for two weeks before she escaped. It was a major news story, but her father, an Anglican minister, kept it from going national. It was not surprising that many of her sexual fantasies were rapes. She liked to be cut with a knife on her ass, her legs, and her back—this was a tricky thing to learn to do properly, and I did not enjoy it—and she insisted on savage spankings, and she liked to be smothered with one hand. One time she bit three of my fingers nearly to the bone: They had to be stitched.
When I told her it was over—I had started to see a 21-year-old philosophy major, who would later become my second wife—she had the most violent reaction. First, she attacked me. A night of unusually savage sex calmed her. But she pursued us for weeks. I’d look up in a restaurant and she’d be there at the bar, staring at us balefully and drinking her scotch. I knew to get my date out of the restaurant before she’d had time for more than three. The new girl I was dating thought I was simply in a hurry to get her home and into bed. Rory with more than three scotches was scary. I’d seen her stick a pool cue up a man’s nose. She loved to play pool, and we did that many nights and afternoons the summer we were together. She liked to place large bets on our games, and if she lost she’d wink at me with the tacky false eyelashes she affected and say, “You can take it out in trade.”
had fallen asleep on the small iron bed and she woke me by stroking my neck. It was black as the bottom of the sea in the room, but outside the open window—there was no glass, not even a curtain—I could see the unfamiliar southern constellations in the moonless sky, and I could hear the waves far below us, and I thought I could still be dreaming, if it weren’t that the air was so cold in the room and her body was so warm as she slipped beneath the sheet and coiled around me. I wanted to ask her name, and I wanted to apologize for my unshaven face, which would hurt her when she kissed me, but I did not speak Mandarin and she did not speak English.
We made love for three, four hours, without saying a word. Because we were not talking we were shy, and even our breathing and our whimpers were quiet, as though our parents were listening downstairs. I would come, and she would come, and we would hold each other, and she would wait, without ever being completely still, and kiss me, and touch places in my body with her fingers that were forbidden to other women. But in this way she kept me from drowsing or dreaming, and she aroused me over and again. I had not been excited like this since I was a teenager. And I had not been satiated like this, I thought, when at last she allowed me to sleep, since a night with three Thai women many years before at the Mona Lisa. It was a night I let the madam choose the women for me, which is just what you should do, if you have the opportunity and it is a very good house of prostitution.
When I woke the next morning she was still in bed next to me. That is the kindest present a prostitute can give you, and they understand that. This was a truly gentle woman. She was close to my own age. When I turned her sleeping face to kiss her in the newly risen slanting morning sunlight she very slowly opened her eyes and blinked, sleepily, smiling, reaching for me, perhaps half-dreaming, and I saw she was blind.
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