Raquel's Escape: Running away

Editor's note: Carson City has identified the battle with methamphetamine as its No. 1 priority. Law-enforcement officials say 80 percent of the city's crime is drug-related. Throughout the year, the Nevada Appeal will run a series of stories highlighting addicts' struggles, as well as the struggles of family, friends and the community.

This week's three-part series, today through Saturday, "Raquel's Escape," follows a young girl through three years of her life, beginning with her addiction to heroin and cocaine in Dallas. It follows her through her transition to Carson City and her introduction to methamphetamine.

By Teri Vance

Appeal Staff Writer

Stumbling through the front door, she sees the note her father tacked to the wall.

"Get your stuff and get out," it says.

Raquel knows he's scared. He saw her lying for a week in a hospital bed, nearly dead from a heroin overdose.

And for the two weeks since she's been home, they've been fighting constantly about where she goes and who she sees. Then she didn't come home last night.

She knows he doesn't mean it. But the note says, "Get out," and that's what she's been wanting to do anyway. So she crumples the paper, stuffs it into her crack pipe and walks to the apartment of a guy she met last night.

She's 15. The guy is 22. He says she can stay, even agrees to tell her father that she's pregnant and they're moving in together so her dad won't come looking for her.

She introduces him to crack, and for three weeks they have fun. But then he starts giving her dad updates on what she's doing and his money runs low.

"If you ain't got no money, I'm outta here," she says. She finds herself sitting on a bus to West Dallas.

She's alone ... again.

Becoming Loony

Her life hadn't always been so empty. Growing up with three sisters meant a constant chaos of fighting and laughter and sharing secrets. They were each others' best friends.

That changed with their parents' divorce three years earlier. Her mother and two younger sisters moved to Carson City. Raquel and her older sister stayed in Dallas with their father.

Not long afterward her older sister got married and moved to Carson City, too.

Raquel was left alone with her father.

Her grades, which had always won her accolades, began to fall. She found a new sense of belonging with the wrong kinds of friends. Gangs became her new family.

Maybe it was the loneliness; maybe she would have done it anyway. At 12, she started drinking and smoking marijuana. At 14, she tried heroin in her boyfriend's Cadillac.

"Just this once," she rationalized.

The second time was justified because of the first, and after that she no longer needed any justification.

With her new family, she needed a new name: Loony. It came from her willingness to do anything. When a guy offered to tattoo the name on her wrist for $10, she got high and let him do it. She stiffed him the $10.

She had just turned 15. With her new identity, her sole purpose in life became getting high.

It was what she was thinking while waiting to catch a city bus to school that rainy day in March.

A van pulled up beside her.

"You need a ride?" a man asked through a cracked window.

She needed something, so she got in.

"How would you like to make 50 bucks?"

The man was ugly, with a dark scar that looked almost like a bruise around his left eye. He was about 45, and fat, like he swallowed a beach ball.

But he promised her $50.

It would be just this one time, she told herself, and at least she was getting something in return.

He pulled off the road into a vacant lot.

"OK, this is going to be over in a little bit," she repeated over and over in her mind, while they had sex in the back of the van. "I'm going to have $50."

It was still raining when he dropped her off at school. She walked into class with $50 worth of heroin stuffed in her bra.

15 and homeless

She hasn't gone to school since she left home after her overdose in March. On this busy street she's just another set of hollow eyes looking for the next fix. Education has never seemed less important.

She can't stop crying. She's walking down the streets of West Dallas with nowhere to go.

"What's wrong?" an old man calls out.

He's kind. He doesn't want anything in return, just lets her stay at his apartment. Then food disappears from the community kitchen he shares with his neighbors and they decide it must have been her, and she's kicked out.

It's a scary life. Cops drive up and down the streets, walk in and out of rundown apartments and flop houses. She swears one of them sees her clutching her pipe in her fist, but he doesn't say anything.

At night, it's all about survival. She sleeps on doorsteps, in abandoned buildings, always holding on to some kind of weapon, usually a knife.

It's summer now and warm enough to sleep on the streets, but she seeks shelter from other dangers.

Behind just about every other door is someone dealing some kind of drug.

She meets a guy who built a lean-to out of plywood against a row of apartment buildings and he lets her stay there.

During the day, she joins a line of women walking along the main street advertising what they have to sell - using their bodies to barter for money and drugs.

At 15, she's the youngest, the most popular. She can stand to take about four appointments each day. Three are regulars who pick her up every other day, and the fourth a random john.

Twice, men who were unwilling to pay violently took what they wanted.

Her first customer - the guy from the bus stop - knows where to find her now and comes by almost every day. He's the only one she ever talks to about anything, outside of negotiating price.

She tells him about her family, about living on the street.

He tells her that he's never had any family and no real friends, never had a girlfriend. He works at Domino's Pizza and buys and restores cars to sell for a profit. Occasionally, he steals one.

He tells her he got the scar on his face when he was burned by fireworks as a boy in Mexico.

He's weird. But he buys her food, convinces her to eat, and takes her shopping for clothes at a dollar store. He tells her she can sleep in one of his cars, which is good, because it's almost October now and starting to get cold at night.

Days run together. All she thinks about is getting high, whatever it takes. Everything else is second priority - even eating. She loses about 30 pounds and the heroin makes her scratch her face. She doesn't look like herself.

But her dad still recognizes her, and she recognizes him. He's walking toward her. How did he find her after all these months?

"Please come home with me."

There's no more anger. He doesn't yell. He's pleading, "Just come home."

"Hell, no. I can do this by myself."

She's running again.

But the next day, she can't run from the signs. They're plastered all over: Huge pictures of her face, asking for information on her whereabouts.

But she's safe now, in the back seat of the car the bus stop-guy lets her sleep in. She smokes some crack and stashes the pipe under the seat, then lays back on the seat.

It's Oct. 10. She knows that because in two days, she'll be 16.

Then the lights flash. There's a swell of voices, but she only recognizes one.

"That's her," she hears her father say. "Get her."

• Contact reporter Teri Vance at tvance@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1272.


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