Sidewalk Snippet~by Skeletor {07/29/13}

It was a small group one morning, not many antis and not many escorts. A couple of clients had already pulled into the pay lot, though the clinic doors weren’t yet open, when one client came walking up by herself. There were so few antis that she snuck onto the property with no fuss. I was able to let her know the situation pretty easily, without too many people shouting at her from across the property line. She thanked me and then buried her face in her phone and I stepped back to the property line. This is a common defense mechanism of clients who wait at the door before the clinic opens – and a smart one, I would add. Bring headphones too.

D stepped up beside me at the property line and began talking to the client in her “I’m just a sweet old lady” voice that she invokes at the beginning of many confrontations. The client was going to have none of it and, after repeated requests to stop talking to her, the client wheeled on D and started giving her a piece of her mind. The other escort and I weren’t sure whether to step in and try to distract the client to de-escalate, or to let her go. After all, we really wanted to give her a fist bump and a couple of “Hell yeahs!”

As the conversation/debate/verbal brawl continued, D dropped the little old lady act, as she is often want to do, and took on her very comfortable tone of disapproval and reproach. The client was really giving D a piece of her mind, but it was so carefully thought out and calmly worded that D quickly became flustered. D and the other antis are used to being able to bully clients into dumbfoundedness, but this client had just turned the tables.

In the middle of this tete-a-tete, the clinic doors were unlocked. The other escort and I kept trying to find a moment to interrupt to let the client know she could go on in. When we did catch her eye and motioned to her that she could go in, she finished her thought to D and stormed into the clinic. D was left stunned and, now, she was the one who was dumbfounded.

So many times, the bullying tactics of the antis cause such distress that clients retreat inward. It was pure gold to see a client call out an anti – any anti – but this anti, in particular, for their hypocrisy and shameful behavior.

The Strength in Silence ~ by Anonymous

When I tell people about escorting, I sometimes get told, “I don’t think I could do that.”  People often cite a reason that has to do with self-restraint.  They don’t feel that they could stand without engaging, or resist getting angry, or even resist hurting a protester.

Yes, it can take a lot of self-control and inner strength to hold back responses to the protesters.  They are very skilled in finding just the right words, just the right comments, to get escorts to respond.  The things that they say can range from surprising to absurd to infuriating.  It takes strength to not call out their illogical fallacies, to not voice a pro-choice perspective to counter their anti-choice perspective, or to not respond to a personal attack.

In addition to what we hear, we also see a lot of things that make it hard to stay quiet.  We see protesters harassing clients and their companions, we see protesters bringing young children with them to the sidewalk, and we see graphic visual displays mounted on posterboard.  The things we hear and the things we see can tap all the inner resources we have.  Sometimes it feels like an oddly adult version of the game that kids often play called “not touching you, not touching you!”  In this game, one child gets all up in another child’s face and taunts them, with the goal to get the other child to respond.

Silence can be exhausting.

I have also heard people express frustration at silence, and I think it is because they see it as a form of non-response.  Why not sing a peaceful song, to counter the endless “Ave Maria” from the protesters, or to drown out their yelling and preaching?  Why are we just STANDING there, why don’t we do something?  Why are we letting them get away with this?  Why are we doing nothing?

Silence can be frustrating.

But I have also come to realize that there is strength *in* silence.  This seemingly small shift in perspective has changed how I view my role on the sidewalk.  When I realized my silence on the sidewalk was empowering me to stand strong for clients, it suddenly became easier to keep my mouth shut and keep my stare distant.

I realized that as an escort, I am not standing on the sidewalk to represent my pro-choice values or any other values, nor am I there to provide a reality-check to protesters (as much as they may need one).  My job on the sidewalk is to provide space for clients to be empowered as they walk to the clinic doors.  Responding to protesters creates noise.  Singing, regardless of it being from protesters or escorts, creates noise.  By staying silent, the volume is kept down, providing a quieter environment for clients to walk through.

Silence is also strengthening to me when I am just standing on the front lines without any clients around.  The protesters want nothing more than to control the conversation, and they are astonishingly good at finding words that provoke angry and intense feelings.  Their goal is to engage, to start an argument, to raise both emotions and the general sidewalk volume.  But when I stay silent, I control the conversation.

Silence is not doing nothing.

Yelling at the protesters, holding up pro-choice signs, or engaging in our own chants might (on the surface) appear to be doing something, but not when I remember that my primary job on the sidewalk is to provide space for client empowerment. My job is to foster a sidewalk environment that is calm, peaceful, and quiet.

I cannot control what the protesters do.  But I can control my reactions to what they do.  And when I react by standing silent (instead of thinking about it as not reacting), I am doing my job.

Silence is an active choice that I make.

This shift in perspective doesn’t mean it is perfectly easy for me to stay silent.  I sometimes respond to the protesters in my mind.  It helps when I realize that their ranting would continue almost exactly the same if I said my response out loud (in other words, my responses would not change their dialogue!).  If something they say really gets on my nerves, I have found it helpful to lean over and whisper about it to another escort.  I also know that I always have the option to step away for as long as I need.  I do not want to imply that escorting is an easy walk in the park!

I also cannot speak for all escorts, as there are some escorts who are able to successfully talk to the protesters without voices and emotions escalating.  This is only my perspective. But for me, silence does not sap my strength.  Rather, I have found strength in silence.

Odds and Ends

In the aftermath of the Saturday before Mother’s Day, it seems quiet.  Not necessarily on the sidewalk, but the need to gather large numbers of escorts is gone.  The fundraiser ~ which was a great success ~ is winding down as people pay their pledges.

Father’s Day is coming soon, but it just doesn’t have the same impact as Mother’s Day for the protesters.

We’ve moved deep into spring and are headed for summer, which makes my Saturday mornings more pleasant .  I’m not a fan of winter ~ in fact, escorting is the first and only thing I’ve done voluntarily that requires being outside when it’s cold.  But the seasons of escorting come and go…  and there are always stories to tell.

Servalbear and I made a neat discovery on the blog – we mentioned we’ve been getting comments from one of the protesters over and over, right?  Well, guess what!  We can mark them as spam a few times, and they start going to spam automatically.  We don’t even have to read them anymore.  Just delete them, along with the typical other junky spam.  Makes me feel like Batman, Caped Crusader ~ Bif!  Bam!!  Take that, pesky protester!**

And there’s this story ~ the escorts know this one, but I don’t think I’ve told it here.  For a long time, one group of the protesters didn’t know my name.   My vest has a name on it ~ my daughter’s, because it used to be hers back when she was an escort.  I call it my heirloom vest.   So they figured out that wasn’t my name, but they didn’t know what it was.

Then for a long time, they thought my name was Frances.   There once was an escort named Frances, but it’s not me.  One day, I ran into one of this group of protesters outside the clinic, at a public event.  She was with someone I didn’t recognize, and as she walks by, I hear her say to the other woman “there’s one of those deathscorts.”  I just smile.

Later, we come face to face, and she says to her friend, “This is…” ~ like she’s going to introduce me ~ and to me, “What is your name?  I know it’s not Frances.”

And I say, “That’s right ~ it’s Not Frances.”  And that stuck for a long time.  The escorts started calling me “Not Frances,” and it was an amusing game.  Kinda like Rumplestiltskin, right?

Recently, they figured out what my name is, and have begun using it ~ under their breath at first, with more certainty now.  Clearly, they’ve googled me, and they reference things they’ve learned about me, with a hiss, and a touch of venom.  I just smile. Fortunately, I’m NOT actually Rumplestiltskin, and the name thing was just a game.  I don’t care if they know who I am ~ I don’t have to hide being an escort.   Their efforts miss the mark.  It doesn’t matter at all.

But mostly we settle back into the mundane, after Mother’s Day.  Sometimes I get a bit tired of blogging.  You know, it starts to seem so repetitive on the sidewalk.  The protesters scream “dead baby, dead baby” and I blog “mean protesters, mean protesters,” and really, how does that help anything?

Then I hear a story like this:

Two women get to the clinic, and jump out of the car.  The escort approaches and says, “The clinic doors aren’t open yet, and there are a few protesters here, if you like, you can wait in the car and we’ll let you know when the doors open.

The two young women look at each other and smile.  One of them says, “Oh, we aren’t worried about them.”  The other one adds, “We’ve been reading your blog and practicing what we’re going to say to them!  They won’t bother us at all.”  Still smiling, they walk to the door, unfazed by the chasers around them.

THAT is why I keep doing this.   Helping people find ways to push back against the stigma and shame on the sidewalk ~ that’s what this is about.

**  NOTE:  No protesters were harmed in the writing of this blog, and I do not endorse violence in any form, on or off the sidewalk.

New Escort Story ~ by Anonymous

I am a new escort. I cannot speak for all new escorts, but I hope that my post will give both potential future escorts and more experienced escorts some insight into what it is like to be a new clinic escort.

I first heard about the escort group when calls were put out for extra assistance on the day before Easter. My husband and I are very pro-choice, and decided to put our values into action by volunteering as escorts. The email said that you were expected to not engage/argue with the protesters and I figured I could handle it. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of the number of protesters (or their volume) but figured there might be people holding signs and yelling. My husband and I were given clinic escort vests and a brief rundown – ask people if they want to be escorted, walk at their speed, don’t engage with the protesters, don’t touch the protesters (or they’ll cry “assault!”), keep talking even if it’s just about the weather, to just keep the client’s attention away from the screaming.

In the chaos, I somehow found myself escorting from the $3 lot. (Please know that this is unusual! New escorts typically undergo a lot of shadowing before actually escorting). It was a quick frenzy of jaywalking (at the client’s request), shouting protesters, and emotion. My mind didn’t even have time to process everything that was happening. One protester ran up to me and bumped into me, trying desperately to reach the client. Everything in my mind cried out, “You will not hurt her!” and in a moment of intense (and selfish) need to feel like I could protect the client, I put my arm around her. The client, her face set with determination, yelled back at the protesters. Just as she reached the door, a protester wailed out, “Don’t DO it, darlin’!” and as suddenly as it had began, it was over. The client was inside the clinic.

It was then that I met one of the senior escorts, as she pulled me aside and helped me to realize that I had just broken one of the fundamental Points of Unity – asking the client’s consent (not just to be escorted, but also to be touched). My heart sank. With the panic of the crowd subsiding, I knew she was right. Logically I had known that, but in the chaos of the moment, there is no logic. As my husband and I walked back across the street to the parking lot, I started to get choked up. I hadn’t realized it was going to be so intense. The raw emotion felt too overwhelming.

We stayed a bit longer. I turned in my vest, thanked the other volunteers, got to my car, and started to cry as I tried to process my first escort experience.

I found myself at the escort training two weeks later. I think I oscillated between “I really want to do this” and “I don’t think I can handle this!” about ten times during the two-hour training.

The same experienced escort from my first experience encouraged me to try again, this time during a weekday morning when the sidewalk tends to be quieter.

My second time escorting was on a weekday morning. Now armed with non-sidewalk training and a deeper insight into the Points of Unity, I felt more confident. Being assigned the sole job of observing for that morning was incredibly helpful. I breathed more, forced myself to mentally slow down the events, allowed myself to process everything at a calmer rate.

In processing my somewhat unique start to escorting, I have realized that I (perhaps like many new escorts) was misdirecting energy during my first experience. In the chaos, I allowed myself to think that clients needed protection. This is not an unusual thought, I suppose, when you actually get a glimpse of some of the more vocal and hysterical protesters. The whole experience felt dramatic, frenzied, and full of helplessness. After the training, I saw clearly that the experience was about empowerment. We provide the space for clients to be empowered by always asking consent, by remaining calm and quiet, and by not engaging with the protesters.

Psychologists often speak of learning as a process of using what you know to navigate the world. People use mental scripts to guide expectations of what to do in new situations. For example, a mental script for ordering food in a restaurant can help you learn how to order food at a drive through.

There is no script for escorting on the sidewalk. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the chaos from the protesters. All of the implicit, unspoken rules we use for engaging with people in our daily life (turn-taking, respecting personal space, not yelling at strangers) seem to be forgotten by the protesters. For new escorts, facing this bizarre situation with no mental framework for guidance is a disorienting and chaotic experience! The escort training (both formal and on-the-sidewalk training) has been helpful in providing guidance. Even so, as a new escort, it feels very unsettling to not have a mental script to help me process events on the sidewalk. There is nothing in my daily life that helps me relate to this bizarre occurrence of people showing up daily to harass other people who are just trying to make the walk from their car to their doctor’s office.

To the more seasoned escorts: I am trying, I am listening, and I will do my best. I will probably still beat myself up for mistakes, no matter how many times you tell me not to. I still feel anxious at times, even though you teach me the “thousand-yard stare” that gives me a serene face to present toward the protesters. I am still trying to manage my emotions in a way that will allow me to provide a calm presence for the clients and their companions. And despite all of this, I will still show up to escort, even though there is still a part of me that doubts that my money wouldn’t be more helpful than my physical presence. As one experienced escort put into words, “I don’t think I can do this, but I know I have to do this”. How very true.

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REMINDER: Our annual  fund drive Pledge-A-Picketer is NOW!

The Saturday before Mother’s Day is the biggest protester day of the year.  It also is the date  where we count protesters for donations to support the pro-choice effort and the escorts.  You can pledge a certain amount for each protester showing up that morning. If you prefer, you can also make a straight monetary donation.

Use this form to make your pledge:

 

 

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Sidewalk Snippet ~ {4/29/13}

It was raining again and it was an easy morning for escorts. There were just a few antis out.

We had several very empowered clients and companions. It is always a privilege to witness them navigate around the antis with ease. Several companions thanked the escorts for what we do, including physical pats on the back from a couple of them. Clients were upbeat and seemingly unphased by the words the antis said, sailing peacefully into the clinic.

As the morning’s activity was winding down, the antis were getting more aggressive with their words and walking two antis to every client. Still, the clients ignored them.

One of the last clients coming in had two companions. I was able to explain the difference between protesters and escorts before we were joined by two antis. In my explanation, I added the phrase, “You can ignore the protesters. This is one place you can be rude.” The client pointed to one companion and said, “That’s why we brought him.” The two antis zeroed in on the two companions because the one brought to be rude was talking to them. The client and I were able to walk in front without interference, sharing our amusement over the comments being exchanged.

Before the morning was over, the pedestrians on the sidewalk joined in. One runner stopped in front of the two prayers across from the clinic entrance. He asked them, “What is going on here?” One answered, “We are praying for the babies. This is an abortion clinic.” The runner answered, “You have been deceived by Satan. This is not Christianity. You are wrong to be here.” Then they continued running down the sidewalk. The “We will pray for you,” shouted after them was met with a curse tossed over a shoulder.

If I had one wish, I would wish for no antis in front of the clinic. If this wish cannot be granted, this day was the next best thing.

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REMINDER: Our annual  fund drive Pledge-A-Picketer is NOW!

The Saturday before Mother’s Day is the biggest protester day of the year.  It also is the date  where we count protesters for donations to support the pro-choice effort and the escorts.  You can pledge a certain amount for each protester showing up that morning. If you prefer, you can also make a straight monetary donation.

Use this form to make your pledge:

 

 

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Shelter from the Rain

Stormy and cold weather when you are escorting has good and bad points to it. The good points: there are fewer antis out; the antis that are out usually huddle near the clinic entrance instead of along the sidewalk; clients and companions arriving move quickly around any of the antis grouped together. The bad points: umbrellas in the hands of antis can be hazardous; escorts get wet and cold, depending on the weather; once in awhile  there are delays in opening the clinic doors. In my opinion for the most part, the good points actually outweigh the bad points. There are always exceptions, but the morning I am writing about had more good in the balance.

The morning was stormy with waves of rain coming at us in downpours. There were only a few antis out and they were standing under the overhang at the clinic entrance. Only a few were walking up and down the sidewalk with umbrellas. A little after 730a clients started lining up near the doors to wait for them to open. We all kept waiting. Because of the bad weather, the staff at the clinic were delayed getting to work. By the time the doors did open, all of the clients and their companions were under the overhang waiting.

This was an empowered group of clients and companions. They were talking among themselves and for the most part ignoring the antis. When we made announcements on why there was a delay in opening the doors, they understood and passed the information along to new clients and companions as they arrived. One escort said, “ It was really heart warming. New people would come, and they would welcome them into the fold.” The clients and companions were supporting each other and blocking the words of the antis, or speaking up to the antis to tell them to leave them all alone.

All of the antis were on the other side of the property line under the rest of the overhang. They had a captive audience who were ignoring them as a group.

 

The pillars mark the property line.

The pillars mark the property line.

The anti we call “Camera J” was holding his camcorder up trying to intimidate the clients and companions. One companion threatened to “..slap your camera out of your hand. You better not film me.” He backed away a little, but still kept holding his camcorder up. If he was recording, he got a lot of shots of the backs of people. D and AR were standing toe-to-toe with the escorts between the two pillars, saying the usual things they say to shame and harass clients.

The last client and companion to arrive were close to the property line. The companion had their arm around the client and they were both responding to AR’s words. They kept telling her to leave them alone and that she didn’t understand. Not phased a bit, AR kept on saying “Just come to A Women’s Choice and talk to us about your options. You don’t have to kill this baby.” Finally the client said, “My baby doesn’t have a heart and neither do you. Leave us alone.” At that point I said to AR, “She has asked you three times to leave her alone. Now it is harassment. You are harassing her and that is illegal.” The expected response was received. “I am not harassing her. She knows I just want to help.” The client said, “You are harassing me. Leave me alone.” Compassionate as always, AR responded, “Then you are truly alone,” but she did remain silent after that.

What was really great to watch was after this exchange the other clients and companions immediately moved to the client, who was now crying. They talked to her and brought the client and companion into the center of the waiting people to buffer them from any further encounters with “sidewalk counselors.”

The other amazing thing was the actions of the group also spread a blanket of silence over the other antis for the remainder of the time waited. Some of the antis, including Camera J, wandered to the overhang of the CPC to shelter from the  rain. AR stood alone where she was, but silently. The doors opened and everyone went in without further exchanges.

I agree with the other escort. The clients and companions made what could have been a difficult time standing in front of the doors one of mutual support and compassion.

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REMINDER: Our annual  fund drive Pledge-A-Picketer is NOW!

The Saturday before Mother’s Day is the biggest protester day of the year.  It also is the date  where we count protesters for donations to support the pro-choice effort and the escorts.  You can pledge a certain amount for each protester showing up that morning. If you prefer, you can also make a straight monetary donation.

Use this form to make your pledge:

 

 

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Sidewalk Snippet ~ {3/18/13}

There are times a client and/or companion is so empowered they instantly gain my admiration.

The companion got out of the car first. E was hovering right behind me ready to start shaming. I was able to explain the vests and offer to escort them before he began his spiel. E handed the companion some literature. When I explained he was a protester, they handed it right back to him.

The companion and I escorted the client down the sidewalk. We were in a line: E, companion, client and me. E started with “Women regret their abortions. Don’t lead her into this place.” The companion waved dismissively at him and said, “Oh, I know all about abortion. I have had 10 already.” There was a pause then E leaned over towards the client and said “You don’t have to go into that place.” The client turned to me and said, “I am not listening to him.” I replied that was best.

We walked to the clinic entrance with E talking the whole time, but nobody was paying any attention to him.

It was great to witness these two completely ignoring the words meant to hurt and shame them. They are just words. The antis don’t know anything about the clients and why they made the decision for abortion. I felt privileged to witness this calm confidence.

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REMINDER:  Kentucky Support Network’s 2013 Bowl-a-Thon is April 19

There are many ways to get involved:

    • Captain a team, set a fundraising goal, and recruit 4-6 other bowlers to work together to meet that goal
    • Join or donate to an existing team
    • Show your support by attending the event
    • Share this information with your friends, family, coworkers, and networks via email, Facebook, Twitter, other social media, or good old-fashioned word of mouth!

However you choose to get involved, know that your support is invaluable in helping people from all walks of life realize their reproductive rights!

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REMINDER: Our annual  fund drive Pledge-A-Picketer is NOW!
The Saturday before Mother’s Day is the biggest protester day of the year.  It also is the date  where we count protesters for donations to support the pro-choice effort and the escorts.  You can pledge a certain amount for each protester showing up that morning. If you prefer, you can also make a straight monetary donation.
Use this form to make your pledge:

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Sidewalk Snippet ~ {3/4/13}

Another escort and I arrived early, but a client had already parked behind the anti-abortion clinic. The client and companion were inside AWC when we arrived. They exited in about 5 minutes and moved their car.

When they came back to park in about 30 minutes, they parked on the curb. We escorted them to the clinic doors.

As we approached the entrance two of the antis rushed towards the client and companion saying, “Come back next door. We can give you a free ultrasound. We can help you.” The client turned and shouted at them, “You don’t know me and and don’t know anything about me. Leave me alone.” The companion calmed the client and they entered the clinic doors.

When they were signed in, the companion came out to move their car to the $3 parking lot. As we were walking down the sidewalk, D asked the companion why they left AWC. “Because you lied to us. We have made our decision.”

The companion expressed outrage to me that AWC would trick clients into entering their clinic. We agreed it was unfortunate, but we were glad they found out where they were in a short period of time.

A little later another companion exited the clinic and I walked them to their car. They asked, “Did I hear a fight at the door when I went in?” I replied, “No, a client was upset with the protesters and was yelling at them. It happens sometimes.”

Why the antis think tricking, lying and harassing clients will sway them to trust what they say is still a mystery.

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {2/18/13}

The morning was cold, snowy and the roads and sidewalk were slick. There were fewer antis than we normally see, but there were so many empowered clients I don’t think it would have made any difference.

Fully half of the clients arriving declined our offers to walk with them. With smiles and kind words, they told us “We’ve got this” and “They won’t bother me.” We had several clients thank us for being there, but they just walked past the antis like they were not there; ignoring all the things they were saying.

I thought about Kescort this morning. He recently requested we post stories about the number of clients who are confident and move past the antis with ease. This morning was custom made for his request.

My First Day Escorting ~ by Anonymous

The morning was cold and dark and I was nervous. My partner had been escorting for a few weeks by this time so I had heard some stories, learned some names and I hoped that would help calm me. Then we parked and I saw the number of protesters lining the sidewalk and I knew calm was too much to hope for.

I don’t do well in confrontation, my heart races and I feel shaky and I shut down a bit, so I was very relieved to learn that all I had to do was stand and open the door for clients. I thought I could handle that easily; then a street preacher mounted his box. He was speaking at the top of his voice about god and judgment and the blood of the innocent.

It seemed to agitate people. The protesters started moving around and whispering to each other, the prayer line started chanting ‘Hail Mary’s’ and my heart started racing. In a way the cold helped me because I could hide behind my hat and gloves and scarf, but goodness he was loud and I honestly wasn’t sure this was something I could do.

Then I recognized the preacher’s voice and I stole a glance at him to confirm (I was working really hard not to look at anybody before that). This was the same man who preached and protested at the Zombie Walk for at least the past two years because, I guess next to homosexuals and abortion god hates zombies most. . . or maybe he loves them and hates our mockery of them, I really don’t know the logic. I found his presence at the Zombie Walk ridiculous and that gave me the space to think of his presence on the sidewalk in the same light. I laughed a bit, and with that the anxiety seemed to wash away.

I reluctantly admit I had fun that day. Once I opened my eyes to the absurdity of the preacher I saw it everywhere. The preaching, the dubious “facts”, the pleas that sounded a lot like insults. How could anyone say these things and expect to be taken seriously? Expect to change someone’s mind? Expect to be called on for counsel? It was like the protesters were performing a farce just for me.

When we left to meet everyone for breakfast I was practically giddy, until I heard how horrible the day was for others. Since I was only manning the door I was sheltered from the physical and emotional bullying tactics faced when you walk with a client. I had dealt with this for one single morning, while these wonderful people had been slogging through the muck for months and years. I left breakfast feeling selfish and shallow. How could I find humor when people were hurting?

It took me some days and a few more mornings escorting to realize my reaction was alright. I know my stressful, horrible days are coming. I think that’s inevitable when you do something like this. I’m only human.

Each escort has to find their way to cope on the sidewalk and I’m very lucky that I found out early that my love of the absurd and my sarcastic inner voice are going to help me. They are what I will fall back on when the morning seems especially dark.