A Mile In Our Shoes

A Mile In Our Shoes

    She walked through the front door of her apartment with a sack full of fries in her hand. Her roommate, Steph (Stephanie), met her near the door and dug her hand into the bag. She pulled out a handful before nibbling on them one at a time, like she was eating a fried potato bouquet. Though filling, they were cold and a little bit hard, like they had been sitting for awhile. 'Not fresh enough for customers, good enough for us', she thought as she savored the salty treats that would serve as both her lunch and dinner. “Well?”, Emmy asked as she threw her apron onto the back of the couch. “Didn’t get it”, was Steph’s reply. “Shit…I have to pick up extra shifts this week just to make rent; did you have any luck finding a job?” She could see in Steph’s face that the answer was also “no”.

    Emmy had been in town for a couple of years, and had yet to find work as an extra. Steph was a beauty and had actually played a bit part in a TV series for three episodes last year. She often wore the production T-shirt, which was all she had left of that gig, to sleep in, and hadn’t had any luck getting anything other than a little extra work on movies. “Upset lady in coffee shop”, was the role that got her noticed by an agent, but he wasn’t anybody big. He did agree to represent her though, and she thought it might be a turning point. It wasn't.

    Emmy was like thousands of other young girls who 'got off the bus' expecting to become an actress. Her performance in the high school play earned raves from her “podunk” town’s local newspaper, and it was the catalyst of her desire to become a 'star'. It was all she talked about for the six months before she graduated. Her drama teacher bit her tongue, when the youngster expressed her desire to move to LA and make it big. She knew, from her own experience there, that it was nearly impossible to “break in” to the business.

    She remembered looking at her bank book, while sitting at the bus station back home. A thousand dollars seemed like a lot of money, but it ran out quickly once she got here.

    Emmy happened upon Mary by accident in the fast food joint she now worked for. Mary added a free order of fries with Emmy’s carefully selected meal, that would fill her up, but not cost too much. The two became fast friends after a brief conversation at the counter and a longer one at a party Mary invited her to later that night. She remembered the two of them sitting on a couch talking, while observing other party goers. L.A. was a wonderful place to people watch. There was a guy wearing a skin-tight, shiny red cowboy outfit, and about ten guys wearing black leather jackets trying to be James Dean. Most of the women wore sexy clothes, and heavy makeup, and didn’t seem interested in eating the food provided.

    In this town, you had to be 'on' all the time; just in case somebody who was somebody, or may know somebody, might notice you. Emmy laughed at them at the time, but, as she worked to wash off her own rather extensive makeup she wore while “flipping burgers”, she looked into the mirror and felt exhausted. She thought often about going home and working in her parent’s hardware store. She would laugh when she remembered 'the boy' she left behind, and wondered what he was up to.

    The two girls sat silently on the couch, in front of the small, blank TV screen, because they couldn’t afford cable. Emmy kissed Steph on the lips and let her girlfriend hold her until she fell asleep.

    Mary, who was living with a bit part player in a better part of town, sometimes visited Emmy at the burger joint. Other than that, she didn’t often hear from her. This morning though, she appeared at the counter and smiled when her friend noticed her. “Hey bitch…what’s going on?”, she said as she reached out and touched Emmy’s hand. Emmy was usually extremely jealous of her buddy, who was living in a totally different world; a world that occasionally was “famous adjacent” with the Hollywood crowd. This morning though, she noticed that Mary looked pretty run down. Her usually flawless makeup was done half-assed and her clothes looked like she had been wearing them for a few days. She came by to tell Emmy that she got a last minute, bit part on a one-hour drama; that might turn into a recurring role. Emmy was mostly happy for her, but couldn’t help being a little bit mad. She noticed, though, that Mary was tearing up while giving her the news. “I broke up with my boyfriend, and then met a guy who is friends with a director. It’s my shot at something great”, she added before taking a deep breath, pinching at her nose, and then wiping her eyes.

    Emmy sat with her friend for a half an hour, until the manager gave her a dirty look. Mary wrote down the information on when the show would air, and gave it to her friend. They hugged and said their goodbyes. Emmy thought something more must be wrong from the way her friend was acting. A part in a one-hour show was a significant step in the right direction. She lied to herself and said, under her breath, "probably just a bad breakup". "That's it" she thought, before going back to her current role; Emmy Burgermaker, staring in, “The Lord of the Fries”.

    Towards the end of the shift, Steph walked in and sat down in a booth. Emmy had clocked out twenty minutes earlier than her shift ended, at the behest of her manager, to make up the lost time “visiting” earlier. When quitting time came, she dropped what she was doing and went out to join her significant other. “Hey beeotch!”, she said as she approached with a big smile on her face. Steph immediately knew that Mary had come by from how Emmy was acting. Mary was Emmy’s hero, after befriending her, and taking her into her home, when she had no place to go. She overlooked Mary’s drug use and other bad habits, but Steph was happy she no longer had to tolerate such things. Emmy was a good girl, with a good (and beautiful) head on her shoulders.

    Steph had been invited to a party (with free FOOD and BOOZE) in a swankier part of town. Occasionally, one of her friends from the “established” "extra" pool would get hooked up with an invite and would stretch it to the very limits of decorum by inviting several others to tag along. It was generally understood that you took care of your friends, both because they might have their names on a marquee at some point, and because it was the right thing to do. The party was a real event! Emmy recognized several actual Hollywood movers and shakers, so she was doing cartwheels inside while trying to look reserved and sexy on the outside. She could barely contain her excitement as a handsome TV star approached her. Steph was off talking to acquaintances, so Emmy smiled and invited him to sit down.

    “Rick” was a beautiful man, and Emmy would have really gone for him in the past. She never thought she could be like “those” actresses, but she still, instinctively, cozied up to him after he sat down. She went into “actress mode” and laughed at everything she thought might be a joke, and listened intently to his stories about the difficulties of being a 'working' actor. 'Yeah right…this guy is a pip', she thought. She knew he would want to take her home, or 'do' her right there on the couch, at some point, but wasn’t sure how to break it to him that she was gay. She came from a very conservative family, but always had 'gay' feelings as a teen. Her true sexuality, however, was set in stone, after dating, and then falling in love with Steph.

    She had been in L.A., though, for almost two years, and was frustrated beyond frustrated that she couldn’t get any kind of work, despite the endless casting calls for everything, up to and including, modeling for car shows. She had been propositioned so many times, she wasn't sure if, maybe, that was Hollywood-speak for 'are you interested in being cast?" She was tired of being jealous of her mate, and her good friend Mary. Her mind told her to get up and join Steph and her “friends”, but her physical self just sat there as he put his hand on her leg. Emmy felt a little sick as he moved it up and around to rub the small of her bare back. She knew this was wrong, but was allowing it to happen. How far would she go to get work in this town?! When he kissed her, she kissed him back. His hand, inside her top, was about half the distance to “second base”. That’s when she could hear Steph cussing, and then felt the guy being pulled off of her. “What, are you…some kind of dyke?”, the guy ranted. Steph walked away with Emmy, and said, “no”, loud enough for him, and everyone else to hear.

    Steph berated Emmy the entire cab ride home. The cabbie watched them with interest, until Steph gave him a very dirty look. Emmy wasn’t really sure what she did wrong, or what was going on in general. The roofy that had made it into her cocktail was just reaching its maximum effect. After nearly carrying her girlfriend into their small apartment, Steph “plopped” Emmy onto the bed. She had a pretty good idea now that she had been drugged, and looked down at her with tears in her eyes. She cried for nearly an hour over her lover’s near miss, but also because she denied who she was, in front of all those people, to protect her future job prospects. Her face swollen with tears, she lay down next to her mate and pulled her close. Emmy giggled, and then burped into Steph’s face before falling to sleep.

    The next morning, there was a message on Steph’s phone. She listened carefully as the friend who had invited them to the party explained that a guy named Rick was trying to get hold of them. She dialed the number provided and took a deep breath, as Rick answered the phone. “Hey beautiful”, he started before stopping himself. “Sorry”, he said…"sometimes I can’t help being “on”, he added, before apologizing profusely for the night before. I found out from an “ex” friend that something was put into Emmy’s drink… I, I hope she’s alright”, he said. Steph, for whatever reason, thought the guy was sincere, and accepted the apology for the both of them. He told her he would give their names to a production assistant and see if they could get some extra work on his show. Steph wasn’t sure she wanted anything to do with him, after the night before, but the allure of actual “work” took over as she stammered and stuttered her way through accepting his offer. They would both be on the streets, even with Emmy’s job, by the end of the month otherwise. Desperation became her guide. True to the “cad’s” word, Emmy and Steph began to get steady work on a variety of TV shows. They both knew it was a shitty way to get their feet in the door, but after working as long and as hard as they did to just get noticed, they felt like they deserved their 'shot'.

    It had been nearly a year, and both women worked steady for most of it. Steph had several commercials under her belt and Emmy was a recurring character on one of those crime shows. They still lived frugally, but were eating regularly; not throw-away French fries from a grease-soaked bag either. Though their personal relationship was still under wraps, the two fell more in love every day, and enjoyed their lives together. One evening, Emmy was putting on her makeup to go to dinner with her agent. Steph was standing close behind her; kissing her shoulders and the back of her neck. “Cut it out”, Emmy said as she was having trouble holding still enough to put on her eye liner. Steph slapped her bare butt, before walking back to the living room and sitting in front of the TV. Emmy thought about Mary as she brushed color onto her cheeks. Her TV part ended up on the editing room floor after she “pimped” herself out to get the part. She disappeared, and neither Steph nor Emmy had heard anything from her. They both, unconsciously, looked down on her a little for going that far for a part. After a quick peck on her “wife’s” cheek, Emmy walked down to the waiting limo.

    The guy they were having dinner with was really big. He was a 'god' among the many, who made up the backbone of the movie industry. Emmy felt like her time had come, and was proud of her work thus far. As she, and her date, walked from the car to the restaurant, Emmy was blinded a little as camera flashes were going off from every direction. She wasn’t a big star, and her shots would probably end up in the trash, but it was still nice to be noticed. 'The Paparazzi are my friends…the Paparazzi are my friends', she repeated to herself as she walked through the gauntlet. Her date was a guy she and Steph had met a long time ago. He lived with them for a bit, and they brought him along with them on the road to success as best they could. He was Emmy’s date, more than once, to a few premiers, openings, and business meetings with her agent and others. Steph was cool with Emmy’s success, and, except for a few of the normal 'you don't appreciate me', and 'why didn't I get that part' fights, they were as committed as ever to each other.

    The exec was a big guy who looked like he would break out in a sweat from lifting a drink to his face. It was funny that Emmy acted like she did, so long ago, with Rick at the party. She laughed on cue and smiled big, because that’s what it took to get anywhere in this business. The horror stories about this guy preceded him and she was careful not to leave her drink unattended. Her agent just sat there with a monotone look on his face, unless he was being addressed by the “big guy”. He also knew his place in this farce that was masquerading as a negotiation. The studio wanted her as a supporting actress in a big budget film. They wanted someone less-established for the part and Emmy fit the bill perfectly. This was her big chance to leave crappy meetings like this behind. Maybe, at some point, she would even be able to openly love anyone she wanted…anytime or anywhere, without worrying about losing roles. The big wig suggested they all go to his hotel suite and celebrate Emmy getting the part. She couldn’t believe that she had gone from working at a fast food joint to finally getting the chance to act in a major motion picture!

    The suite was magnificent, and it made Emmy fantasize about the day when she and Steph would get to frolic around in such luxury. She pictured herself being with her lover in the huge bed she could see through the crack in the bedroom door. A bartender was there making drinks, and there was a large tray of hors d'oeuvres, with a smaller tray of caviar and fancy crackers. Emmy and her date sat on the couch and waited for the other two to join them. She could hear them talking and assumed they were working out details of Emmy’s deal. She lay back on the comfortable couch and thought, 'I have to pee'. She was disappointed that she couldn’t think of something glamorous, like Lana Turner might have thought or said, as she got up and walked into the restroom. There were fancy soaps and lotions that probably cost more than a month’s rent on the place she had with Steph. She listened to the tinkling noise she was making in the toilet and laughed. She was as happy as she had ever been. The hick chick from the Midwestern town of Dullsville had landed!

    When Emmy walked out of the bathroom, her date was nowhere to be seen. She thought maybe he had gone into the other 'john', until she noticed that her agent and the bar tender had disappeared as well. She felt like she weighed a thousand pounds as she approached the movie mogul, who was sitting on the couch. “Sit down sweetheart”, he said and patted the couch cushion. Emmy reluctantly sat on the edge of the couch and faced the mogul. It gave her the 'creeps' when he looked her up and down and, honestly, sounded like he was 'smacking' his lips. She had hoped this was a legit deal, and the “rumors” about this guy were just “that” …rumors. When he looked disappointed about how she was sitting, she moved into a normal position, without thinking. She was surprisingly torn by what she guessed was about to take place. She was disgusted that he required such a dire payment to be in his film, and held out hope that the asshole wouldn’t be able to get aroused. She was disgusted with herself that she was probably going to let this happen, not just for the part, but for her and Steph's future.

    She remembered losing her virginity back home. It also seemed surreal, because it wasn't something she wanted to happen, but she went ahead with it, so she could fit in and feel 'normal'. 'Was this like that?', she asked herself, as every instinct told her to get up and run. She briefly pictured her 'close-minded', 'bible-thumping' parents coming over for Sunday dinner, after she moved back home, and settled in with the woman she loved. She knew THAT was NEVER going to happen! Set your watch back fifty years indeed!

    The mogul put his hand on her leg and pulled her to his side. 'What price is too great for a chance like this', she heard one half of her brain asking the other. As he put his arm around her and pulled her face close for a kiss, she felt a lump in her throat and tears forming in her eyes. His slobbery face made contact with her lips and made her want to throw up. 'This was it!', she told herself as his hand moved towards her chest. When his fingers almost made contact, she grabbed his wrist and twisted it. She got off the couch and listened to the monster howl in pain as she pulled the 'tub of lard' onto the ground, on his back. She got into position to stomp him between the legs. She did it once, twice, and then a third time before he could manage to roll to his side and double up; though it was too late to protect the family jewels. She kicked him in the gut over and over again, for what seemed like forever, before she leaned down and moved his head so he was facing her. “You’re a son of a bitch, and will never do this to anyone…EVER AGAIN!”, she said, and then spit in his face. She heard him moan something and put the side of her face close to his to try and make out what he was saying.

    She woke from her daydream as he grunted in her ear, and finished inside her. She lay there with her top and bra pushed up under her neck and her panties hanging off of one ankle. The one thing she remembered clearly was, when she began to sob loudly, and tried to push him off her, it only made him get more excited.

    He got off the 'would-be' actress and walked towards the bathroom. He slapped at the room door as he went by and her (soon-to-be ex) agent came in. “Get up” he said as he walked toward her. “Get dressed” was the only other thing he said to her that night, other than “here” when he handed her a crude, early version of a “morning after” drug. They walked to the room he had reserved, in advance. She showered, and got dressed, before walking by him, sitting on the couch, and then out of the door. It was a tale as old as the movies. She was another notch on the mogul's 'gun', and she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone…certainly not her mate.

    It was thirty years, one Golden Globe and two Oscars later, before she felt some semblance of relief, and closure, over that night. She sat at a table in front of fifty reporters. Her long-time 'assistant', Steph, who she told years ago, was sitting by her side. She stammered, cleared her throat, and then started talking… ”I’m one of his victims”…

    After the press conference, it was official. The tweets and other rumors on-line were confirmed. She was the fourth actress to reveal this embarrassing blot on her 'history'. She and Steph worked on a response to all the 'people' who were saying “they all 'whored' themselves out for a career," or that "they were responsible for all those who were violated afterwards, because they didn’t come forward back then”. These were people who couldn’t possibly know the pressures put upon young actresses, and even some actors, in Hollywood, since the earliest days of the business. Their only response simply read, “walk a mile in our shoes”.

A  L  T  E  R  N  A  T  E             E  N  D  I  N  G

    When he got off the 'would-be' actress, she saw the scratch she had given him on his cheek. He walked towards the bathroom, and slapped at the room door as he went by. Her (soon-to-be ex) agent came in and gave her a disgusted look. “Get up” he demanded as he walked toward her. "Get dressed and come with me", he added before handing her a package with a crude, early version of a 'morning after' drug. They walked to the room he had reserved, in advance. She felt like a zombie as she showered, and put her clothes back on. When she came out of the bathroom, she began to berate her 'agent' (pimp) about what the mogul did to her. "I'm calling the police", she finally said, and then picked up the phone.

    She tried dialing zero, but it didn't work. Through her tears, she read the 'dial out' directions taped to the coffee table, to learn how to operate the 'damn phone'. The agent never stopped talking while she was trying to place the call. "You just showered off any evidence dear... you'll never get him; he'll get away with it... he's untouchable... you'll never work in this town again." As the operator connected her to the police, Emmy thought about what she was doing to her career, her reputation, and, most importantly, her Steph. She wouldn't be in the movies, but 'this bastard would get what was coming to him'. When the police answered, she said, slowly and calmly as she could, "I've been raped".

    Emmy's agent made several calls of his own before the police finally arrived at the hotel. She sat on the couch and told her story to the detective that responded. She didn't think anything of it when the uniformed police showed up a few minutes later, and were told that everything was taken care of. She gave the drug, her agent had given her, to the 'cop', as she sobbed; while recounting the story in detail. After she showed him the tear in her skirt, where the mogul had ripped it off her, the detective got up and walked out of the door, with her agent close behind.

    A half an hour later, they came out of the Mogul's suite to find Emmy standing in the hallway, a few doors down. A fiftyish looking woman, who looked like she had been dragged out of bed, gave Emmy a dirty look, as she walked by them and got on the elevator. "Please turn around", the detective said as he produced handcuffs. As he 'cuffed' the young woman, and read her Miranda rights to her, Emmy was gob smacked. How could they arrest her for being raped by that animal?!? When was she going to wake up from this nightmare?!? Emmy protested, loudly, as the 'cop' walked her out of the hotel and put her in his car. Emmy was fingerprinted and photographed like any 'real' criminal. She was charged with attempted prostitution, assault, and resisting arrest. The mogul's secretary, who was 'in the room the whole time', recounted the story to the cop. "They argued, and then Emmy attacked him for no reason". Her 'agent' confirmed that Emmy told him that "she would do anything for the part", so the agent should be "ready to 'disappear', so she could have some 'alone time' with the mogul".

    It was three in the morning before Emmy got out of lockup, and appeared before a judge in 'night court'. Besides the prosecutor and an 'uninterested', court-appointed defense attorney, there were only a few drunks and prostitutes in the courtroom. The prosecutor dropped all charges except prostitution, at the Mogul and detective's request. The judge lectured Emmy for five minutes about the "severe consequences of 'prostituting' herself", and how "a young woman like her still had time to turn her life around." He knew that the girl had been raped by the powerful movie producer, who was a large campaign donor to him and several of his colleagues. It wasn't the first time he saw an innocent young woman rammed quietly and quickly through his courtroom. It was playing out like a bad, late night movie, so, a defeated Emmy simply answered, "yes sir".

    Steph got her first taste of Emmy's 'ever righteous' father, while begging him to send money to pay his daughter's fine. After three days of the poor girl languishing in the county lockup, she was finally free, after a 'good word' from an anonymous 'someone' in the industry. Steph stood on the steps, outside of the women's detention center. She didn't say anything as she wrapped her arms around her 'wife' and squeezed tightly. They walked home, because, even with the little bit of money Emmy's mom had snuck out to them, they couldn't afford the luxury of a cab.

    After the long walk, they were surprised to see an older man, in a suit, waiting for them when they got home. He was not nice, as he explained why he was there. The five-thousand dollars in cash, that he dumped out of an envelope, onto their kitchen table, looked like ransom money on a TV show. The random and weathered-looking pile of 100 and 50 dollar bills was a pay-off neither of them expected from the animal who violated Emmy. The girls, both, reluctantly, put their signature on an agreement; saying they would never discuss anything about the mogul or his company...EVER. They were both officially 'whipped'.

    Nearly thirty-five years, a move to the mid west, and an unexpected bundle of joy later, Emmy poured a selection of nuts and bolts into a plastic container; to be sold as part of the hardware store's going out of business sale. The 'big box' stores had driven many small places, like her and Steph's, to the brink of closure, so it made sense to get out now. She looked around and pictured the frozen yogurt shop that was 'coming soon'!

    When Emmy's dad passed away almost twenty years before, her mother embraced both of her 'daughters' and their teenage son. She invited them to live with her, and take over the business. Mom, who loved all three of them dearly, was gone now, so it was just two beautiful ladies; who thought they might be great actresses at one point in their lives. 'Ben' looked a lot like his father, so it was both painful and wonderful to see him, when he, and his wife, brought the grand kids to visit.

    As Thanksgiving approached, more of the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal was on display, on the TV, in the background of the family gathering. Emmy and Steph's granddaughter looked at the screen and said, as she twirled around, "someday, I'm going to be a movie star!". Both grandma's turned bright red, and rushed to turn the 'idiot box' off, after hearing that. It made Emmy wonder, though, 'what their lives might be like, if she would have just 'played' the Hollywood game'. She remembered shuddering and breaking down a little, a few days before, when one of the actresses, on the news, defended her actions (or inaction) by saying, “walk a mile in my shoes”.

    This story could have ended a hundred different ways.  Anyway you look at it though, Emmy was put in situation that was unacceptable.  She could shut up and have a career, or make waves, that would be met with everything a 'thug' like the Mogul had in his inventory to fight it with.  She could have run out of the room when he patted his hand on the couch.  It's easy to say that I would have chosen to fight or run, but I would be lying through my teeth.  Nobody 'knows' what they would do in such a life-altering situation.  Not until they're faced with it.  After all, we are just humans.