Twelve-year-old Ben sits on the rickety steps of the back porch. The back door opens, and he hears the familiar click of high heels descending the stairs. The smell of stale perfume wafts in his nostrils, a vivid reminder of the dead-end life his road-worn mother has chosen. Lighting up a cigarette, Ben looks out over the horizon, a barren, God-forsaken place he and his mother call home.
Ben's mother Lillie, once the belle of the county, now looks as tired and worn as the planks on which Ben rests. She joins Ben on the back porch, and he offers her his cigarette as if acting on silent cue, a rehearsal they have practiced many times before. His mother's red, swollen lips take a long, slow drag, and she passes it back.
Lillie married young to a violent alcoholic who let her and her infant son less than a year into the marriage. Working two jobs, Lillie put herself through nursing school and, upon graduation, secured a position at the local hospital.
Despite Lillie's advanced academic studies, she had yet to graduate into a successful relationship. A series of alcoholic, drug-addicted men who beat her and left her yielded a cynical, jaded woman who used narcotics as the prescription to ease her broken heart. After getting hooked on and ultimately caught stealing her parents' drugs, Lillie became unemployed, with a suspended nursing license.
Desperate to survive, Lillie became a prostitute, her place of work a seedy, dilapidated building housing a dozen or so women with a steady stream of male patrons. Ben, only six at the time, became a familiar visitor, because he preferred the company of doting women to the empty, one-room apartment his mother rented down the street.
When Ben visited his mother, he was met by women in cheap polyester robes or dresses that outlined the shapes of their bosoms and exposed the secrets between their thighs. Ben was initiated into the sordid sexual hell to which his mother was condemned.
At the age of thirteen, Ben found his mother dead in their apartment, lying in a pool of her own blood. she had been shot by her drug-crazed boyfriend. Ben quickly left the back roads of Idaho, hitching rides to Los Angeles. Ben, well-trained in the power of sexual favors, did whatever he needed to get whatever he wanted.
Now a man of thirty-five, Ben is a cop in the most dangerous neighborhoods of downtown L.A.
"I crave the attention of the street," Ben says. "I feel safer there than any other place. It's what I know. It's where I feel most comfortable." His calls take him into familiar situations that reenforce the history he has endured.
"I don't feel alive unless I'm around danger."
"Is that true sexually?" I ask.
"Absolutely," he says. "I can't even get turned on unless there is some kind of risk," he explains.
Ben has become familiar with an environment in which life and
death always hung in the balance. His brain's release of chemicals, such
as adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, make him feel alive.
For Ben, a moderate lifestyle is not only intolerable, but also
unimaginable until recovery. His body craves a much higher level of
intensity. So Ben works in the most dangerous part of the city, where
each situation could mean life or death. Ben describes himself as a "pit
bull," and he has won respect among his peers because of the high level
intensity he can tolerate. He is a drinker with a a high tolerance for
Ben enters these dangerous situations feeling
calm and at ease. "I always feel cocksure," Ben says. "It's what I knew,
and I loved it."
To relieve the stress from the chemicals
he infuses into his body, Ben engages in a form of numbing or satiation
that allows him to 'come down' off the high.