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street prostitute 33: photographing Ronda | by george mitchell1
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street prostitute 33: photographing Ronda

Through the pay phone outside the Starvin Marvin, I can hear Ronda's voice.




She sounds in terrible shape. She's struggling to tell me what's going on with her, but she's speaking so faintly and slurring so badly, I can make out only an occasional word.


"Do you want me to come up?"


"Yeah," she says quickly—like she really, honestly does.


"Can I bring you anything?"


"Yeah. A carton of Hershey's chocolate milk," she says—or that's what I think she says. "Hershey's," she stresses, finally managing to get out a word loudly and clearly enough that I can be sure what it is. "And a Nutty Buddy ice cream cone. And"—she lowers her voice to a deliberate whisper—"don't knock. Just come on in. He's asleep, and I don't want him to wake up."


I have to settle for some Borden’s chocolate milk and fresh vanilla ice cream. I carry them up to their room, where, following Ronda's instructions, I open the door and just walk on in.


The room is silent and almost dark. I stand there waiting for my eyes to adjust...


I can hear someone breathing. Then, on the bed, I can make out Melvin. He's awake, propped up on one elbow. Then, across the room, near the dresser, tipped back in a chair, I see Ronda.


Neither utters a word.


I set the ice cream and milk on the dresser over by Ronda, observing as I do that her eyes are bloodshot.


"So what's happening?" I finally ask both or either.


"Well, he's mad at me." Ronda glowers at Melvin under eyelids so heavy she can hardly hold them open. She draws in a breath— "But anything he says, he's a... stinking, rotten liar! "


"Okay," says Melvin softly.


"He ain't had nothing nice to say for three fucking days...and he needs a good...swift kick in the ass, is what he needs."


Ronda's so out of it that I'm astonished she can deliver such a tirade—slurred though it was.


"What are you fucked up on, Ronda?" I ask her.


"I'm NOT fucked up!"


It's me she's yelling at now.


"I'm not fucked up," she says again, this time with a little more composure. "I can't even find the dope I had."


"You took it!" Melvin tells her.


Ronda comes close to falling backwards in her chair, but catches herself.


"I'm sick!" She's still addressing me. "I mean, I'm very sick."


An unlit cigarette between her lips, she starts fumbling around in the top drawer of the dresser, looking, I figure, for a light.


"Are you looking for a match?" I ask. "A lighter?"


"I'm trying to find my Valium."


"You took 'em!"


Ronda's response to Melvin is unintelligible. I shove the cup of ice cream and a cellophane-wrapped plastic spoon in front of her: "Here. Go ahead and eat this up. It's ice cream."


"I'm waiting till it gets soft…” She looks at me through her bloodshot, glazed-over eyes. "Those motherfucking doctors at Grady think just because somebody shoots up, they can't have medicine for pain. Uh uh!—no, they can't have medicine for pain. That's beyond the question. Motherfuckers are"—she yells—"FOOLS!"


"What happened at the hospital, Ronda?" I wonder. "What's wrong?"


"I don't know what's wrong! They said strep throat. Gave me some penicillin.”


Bob, their new pet, a paper-trained rabbit, suddenly scoots out from under the bed. He hops about a bit, then sits quietly. He's a small island of calm in the middle of the room.


Ronda picks up her plastic spoon and starts mashing her ice cream, mashing it like potatoes. Half to us, half to herself—still slurring pitifully—she muses:


"I wonder what happened to the good old days... When you got sick, you got to lay in bed and Mama brought you soup and put Vapor Rub on your chest and...took care of you... And Melvin—[hurling a glance at him]—he don't give a damn!"


"You're just getting strung back out, Ronda,” Melvin responds. “You took your Valiums this morning, then you did two Dilaudids, then you did your methadone, then you took some more Valiums when you got back. Within a month's time, Ronda, you'll be strung right back out just the way you were—"


"I don't wanna hear no fucking lessons from the kid."


"—if not worse, Ronda."


A bleak silence falls over the room…


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Taken on September 30, 2010