In Focus

A colorful path up

A few months ago, Christine Gordon walked into a Salvation Army food pantry in Chelsea, Massachusetts, hoping to receive a hearty bag of canned and boxed provisions. In the process of gathering those items, she came across a copy of a recent SAconnects magazine and was captivated by its cover story.

While reading about the Army’s ongoing effort to combat sexual trafficking, a flood of similar memories from her own life filled her mind; family dysfunction, abuse, street life, drugs, fear, and unrequited love.

After reading the articles, Christine dialed Territorial Headquarters. “I wanted to tell my story,” she said, “and I needed to get help—for my daughter.”

Christine, now 50, left the street life some years ago, but her pain and repeated brushes with death remain indelible. “Back in 2013 was my last suicide attempt,” she recalls. “I had gone through two years of suicidal thoughts. I was depressed from my sister’s death (she had taken her life in 2008 with an alcohol and prescription drug overdose). I also wanted to die anyway. I always wanted to die.”

One night while home alone, Christine ingested all her medications, went to a liquor store, and purchased a bottle of vodka. On her way home, the drugs commenced their devastating effect. “The bottle slipped from my hand and crashed against the street,” she said. “I made it home, went to sleep, and didn’t wake up.”

Fortunately, Amber, her daughter, arrived and found her. “If it wasn’t for my daughter, I don’t think I would be here,” Christine said. She spent the next two weeks in a coma. For the next three years, Christine stayed in a Boston psychiatric hospital. After leaving the hospital, she spent the next year and a half in a group home where a staff member encouraged her to attend church.

A lost soul

Christine grew up in an abusive home where liquor flowed. “I had a family of alcoholics,” she said. “My father was an alcoholic and my mother was a battered woman who also suffered from mental illness. I had five sisters, three were triplets. I was the baby of them all. I was always a lonely, scared child. I was a lost soul. I never knew or cared about God.

“During my first time in a church, I went with my sister to confession. I was forced to go. As I sat there on the pew in the dark, I felt I was a bad girl and God didn’t like me. On my fifth birthday, I remember opening up my gifts while hiding under the table because I felt so ashamed of myself.”

Christine felt deeply ashamed because, that same year, she had been molested by her parents’ best friend. “But I never told them, because I never thought they would believe me,” she said.

Hard times

Such incidents with that family friend occurred repeatedly, Christine recalls. “Eventually, during his visits, I would run to the next door neighbors, who were Christians. I would stay with them until he left. My sister, one of the triplets and considered the oldest of the five of us, would hide me in closets or under the bed when he came over.”

Christine’s dad couldn’t keep a job because of his drinking. Eventually, he lost their home. The family then moved into an apartment in Revere, Mass. There, Christine was again molested, this time by a babysitter. “I’ve been through a lot,” she said, “I never knew right from wrong or simply how to control my life or make my own decisions. I never knew how to trust.”

When Christine became a teen, she took life into her own hands. “I became promiscuous,” she said. I would talk to any man.” In high school, she found someone whom she thought was her first love. Unfortunately, that relationship ended tragically when he and another boy gang raped her—at home.

“My sisters were away, my mother was asleep, and my father was deaf in both ears, so he couldn’t hear me,” she said. That same night, she thought of committing suicide.

“I kept the incident a secret. But when I learned I had become pregnant, and the boy wanted me to end the pregnancy, I finally told my mother the truth about what had happened.”

Christine was in for a devastating surprise when her mom called the police. “The officer asked me, ‘What were you wearing at the time?’” In short order, she was made to believe that the entire episode had been all her doing. “He proved to be another person I couldn’t trust,” she said.

Eventually, the case went to court. “But when they told me that the two boys would get 5 to 7 years in prison if convicted, I couldn’t go through with it because—I thought it was all my fault.” So did Christine’s classmates and even girlfriends.

“When I became 17, I moved again.”

Christine later got involved with a drug dealer. He persuaded her to live with him by promising to keep her safe. “He said, ‘I love you. I care for you,’” Christine remembers. “I trusted him.”

Under the spell of an older, experienced man with a dominating personality, she became hooked on drugs. Her chaotic lifestyle took her in and out of motels. But the worst was yet to come.

Street life

“Eventually, he said, ‘you’re going to have to pay me back.’ I asked, ‘what do you mean?’” Soon, his intentions became frighteningly clear. She was so fearful of what he would do to her, that she did exactly what he wanted her to do. He renamed her “Michelle” and put her to work on the street.

For the next three years, he beat her, abused her, and trafficked her. He forced her to meet quotas, and if she failed, he turned her back into the street until she met them. 

“At times, he would beat me until I bled,” she said. “I was too afraid and didn’t know how to get out of this situation. He told me, ‘your family doesn’t love you. I’m the only person who wants you.’

“I believed it, because of how I had been treated as a child at home,” Christine said.

In 1985, he went to prison for murder. But even though he was incarcerated, Christine continued to support him by working Boston’s mean streets. “He said that if I didn’t continue to work, he would find a way to kill me.”

She believed him. Among her many harrowing stories, she remembers an evening when he forced her into the trunk of a car. After a long and terrifying ride in pitch darkness, she found herself in a cemetery, surrounded by grave stones. “He said he would kill and bury me there,” she said.

Christine used her street life to support herself. “I had lost my family. They didn’t trust me.”

Eventually, she aged out of the life that had wreaked havoc on her body, mind, and spirit. “I was always in and out of hospitals. I had been in battered women’s programs. I also suffered from mental illness and suicidal thoughts,” she remembers.

A new day

“Edward, one of the staff members at a group home, got me to come out of myself. I actually started cooking,” Christine said. Eventually, she attended a Catholic church down the street from the home.

Today, she lives in her own apartment, is employed, and has even written and illustrated two children’s books, My Circle of Friends: Animals with Deficiencies Coming Together and My Book of Little Creatures.

Her attention is focused on helping Amber and her two children find God and move far away from the seductive and dangerous life in the street.

After contacting The Salvation Army, Christine and her family appear to be on a path to healing. “I’m looking forward to attending the corps in Chelsea,” she said.

“This is a brand–new beginning for me, my husband to be, and my daughter,” said Christine. “God has blessed me with The Salvation Army in my life. There is nowhere to go, but up.

“I’m a beautiful person with a beautiful heart. I’ve always had it. I just never knew it.

“I’m glad I’m alive today.”

by Warren L. Maye

Previous post

Más que básquetbol

Next post

Like mother, like daughter