During her teenage years, Erica often felt trapped by the confines of family and a small town. After graduating from high school, she headed south for the freedom of city life in Atlanta. With her family only three hours away, she figured she could keep in touch with home when she felt the need.

      To cut down on expenses, Erica lived in an apartment with a roommate. Even so, her job at the pizza parlor barely covered her rent and car expenses. What good was her freedom if she had no money to spend? Resorting to plastic money, she began to go into debt. Bills soon piled up. Life was not at all like what she had intended.

      One day the cook at the pizza parlor said, “Hey, Erica, I’m having a party at my house Saturday night. Want to come?”

      “Yeah. Sure,” Erica said as her spirits perked up. That was what she needed – a party. Life in the city began to look up. She had made the right choice after all.

      When the restaurant closed on Saturday night, Erica went home to change clothes. Along with her slinky black pants, she chose the low-cut lace top she had purchased in hopes of finding such an occasion to wear it. Looking in the mirror, Erica teased her black hair and applied bright red lipstick. Smiling at her reflection, she vowed to forget her money worries and concentrate on having a good time.

      Besides the other workers from the restaurant, several people who came to the party were strangers to Erica. With two glasses of beer in his hands, a man who looked to be in his fifties sauntered up to Erica.              “How about a beer for the belle of the ball?” he asked as he handed the drink to Erica.

      The girl accepted the drink with mixed emotions. It was good to take a drink but she did not welcome the attention of the stranger. When she finished the beer, he said, “Another beer for the belle of the ball?” 

      She liked the phrase, the belle of the ball. “Yes. Thank you,” she said.

 After a few more beers, the man suggested, “Why don’t we go up to my place for some real fun?” 

      Erica knew what he meant. She was not looking for sex - at least not with this man. Lowering her eyes, she vigorously shook her head.

      “I’ll make it worth your while,” he said. 

      The words sobered her for a moment. Could this be a way to assuage her money worries? She looked at him with questions in her eyes.

       “A hundred bucks,” he said. 

     Wow! That would help ease the financial crunch. 

     “I need another beer,” she said. She had another ... and another. And then she left the party with the stranger.

      The following day Erica did not wake up until after noon. The stench of stale beer nauseated her and her head ached, but that was nothing compared to the feeling of self-loathing. She jumped into the shower but water could not wash away the filth. Would she ever be able to live with herself again? she wondered.

      At work on Monday morning the cook taunted her about what had happened.

      “I’m sorry,” she said. “It won’t happen again.”

      “Don’t apologize. You made my friend happy. He wanted to know if you would be available in the future too.”

      Erica merely shrugged her shoulders. She did not want to discuss the matter.

      Just before the restaurant closed, the cook found Erica alone. Pinning her against the wall, he said, “How about a favor for a friend?” His lascivious grin turned her stomach. She tried to push him away, but he waved a hundred-dollar-bill in her face. The temptation to work out of the bondage of debt was greater than her loathing for what she was about to do.

      Plunging quickly into the downward spiral, Erica soon gained the reputation of being “available” if the price was right. When her extra activities interfered with her job, she was fired. No matter, though. She made enough money on what she thought of as her “new job.”

     Drugs, of course, came with her occupation. Heroin and crack allowed her to escape reality. When her roommate threw her out because of clients who visited at all hours of the day and night, Erica found a room she could afford in a rundown building in a bad section of the city. Because drugs had first claim on her money, she often had to move from place to place.

      For a while Erica had tried to maintain contact with her family without revealing the details of her personal life. When her parents pressed her for information, conversations turned ugly. Taking the easy way out, Erica had stopped calling.