" Big Red " by Jasmine Shore
When I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1983, I was lucky to find an
efficiency apt. at 1740 Euclid Street, off Columbia Rd., for $150.00 a month.
1740 wasn’t the best building in D.C., nor did it house the world’s
greatest people, but it was walking distance to work and all the
hot spots on Columbia Road. I loved walking and riding my bike
in D.C. Like New York, D.C. has people from all over the world
but it’s much more intimate. You can really get to know strangers,
if you want too.
My apt was on the first floor, so I got to see everyone who lived
there and decide who to befriend. I met Big Red in the lobby one
afternoon, as she returned from the grocery store. That was the
other great thing about the location; Safeway grocery store and
every other kind of store, shop, restaurant, vendor, banks....
everything you wanted was on Columbia Rd, 18th Street or a
short ride to Dupont Circle. The bus service was second to none
and I’ve always said D.C. had the best subways in America.
Red was around 35, about 6’3, she weighed about 400-450 lbs,
was light skin, or red, hence the name and you recognized her,
even off a distance. You couldn’t help but notice her because of
her size, color and long red hair. Her choice of clothing made
her stand out even more. In the winter she wore African style wraps
and hats which added to her height.
In the summer she wore short shorts and skimpy tops that showed
all of her business. In spite of her size, Red was pretty, and she had a
friendly aura that made you want to get to know her.
One day, we got to talking and I invited her in for herbal tea.
People always seem to tell me their most intimate stories when
we sit down to talk. She lived alone, saying her teenage son
was at a juvenile center and would be out next year. Then she
started telling me a horrific story of abuse and madness.
She was the oldest, with a younger sister. Her mother died right
after her sister was born. Red’s father was abusive and may
have been the cause of her mother’s death, if you read between
The father started beating and raping her when she was 6
years old. He moved them to a town where no one knew them
and made her take over as his wife. She was tall for her age
and people assumed she was much older.
He didn’t allow her to go to school, so she studied at home, took
care of her baby sister, cooked, cleaned and was virtually his slave.
Since she was so light skin, her father made sure he beat her on
the behind, back, thighs and places where no one could see the
terrible bruises. He even put out cigarettes on her lower back
when she refused to have sex with him.
When Red turned 10, she finally ran away and told the police
what her father had done to her. By then, he was also molesting
her baby sister, even though she was only 5 years old. The police
busted him and took both girls to foster homes. He got a long
prison sentence and was killed when he tried to rape a younger
male inmate. Justice prevailed in one sense, but the physical
and mental scars he left on Red would never heal.
Red ran away from foster care when she was 12 and started a
life for herself . She looked older and she was pretty so she was
able to get a job in the mail room of a law firm in D.C.
She learned quickly and was promoted to Receptionist. After getting
a GED, she took typing and secretary classes. Once complete, she
got a higher paying job, a nice place and sent for her sister to come
live with her.
They lived in peace for a few years, getting counseling for the abuse
they suffered and planning for the future. After her sister graduated
from high school, she fell in love with a good guy and got married.
A year later, Red also got married and had a son. After a couple
years, her husband started drinking and using drugs. He also
started beating her and making her sleep with other men for
money. Red said she was so crushed that she started using drugs
Her sister had a good marriage and Red didn’t want her to know
what she was going through. Her husband moved them to Maryland
and she didn’t see her sister for a while. The turning point came
one night when her son was 7 years old. Her husband rushed in,
drugged up and scared. He said some guys were going to kill him
for stealing their stash, so he told them they could have her and
Red was horrified. She grabbed her son, pushed her husband down
the steps and ran to the car, speeding off before the men could get
them. She went straight to the police and had her husband
She moved back to D.C. with her son and the small amount of
money she had saved up. She still had a drug habit, so what they
didn’t use for living expenses, she bought drugs with it. She did work,
she did take care of her son, she was in drug counseling, but her
pain was so great she just couldn’t stop using.
In her darkest hour, when she knew she would kill herself, Red
fell asleep and had a dream. In the dream, she was told that she
would be cured of drugs and alcohol. The dream told her that if she ever used drugs again, she would die.
When she woke up, she said the desire for drugs was completely
gone! She had been free of all drugs for 8 years! At that point, she
stopped talking, put her head down and cried like a baby.
That woman had suffered so much! I gave her a big hug and told
her I was proud of her. We continued to speak in passing, but we
never got a chance to talk like that again.
Months went by and her son came home from the juvenile center. She
asked me if I knew where he could get a job. I told him to apply at the
American Cafe, in Georgetown. They needed dishwashers, and employees
could eat for free. The bus to Georgetown was less than a block from our
building. Having a job would keep him out of trouble and he’d have money
for school clothes in Sept. This was his senior high school year
and he was determined to graduate. He got the job. Everything was going well.
By Dec. I noticed something strange happening in the lobby of
our building. Red and a tall guy were in the lobby a lot. No one
hung out in the lobby, there were no chairs to sit in, so naturally
it looked odd for them to be standing around so much.
I’d come in, speak and go to my apt. Sure that something was
going on, I’d leave my door open just enough to find out what was
happening. A draft told me that the lobby door was being opened
a lot, but I couldn’t hear what was being said.
Every morning the smell and trash was pungent. Me and the
neighbor across the hall cleaned it up before going to work.
When we saw the plastic bags that marijuana, heroine or coke
was sold in, we knew for sure they were selling drugs. It turned
out to be the new drug, CRACK.
Crack and Aids hit D.C. at the same time in 1983. Before Crack
and Aids, the destructive drug was PCP. It was liquid embalming
fluid that people strayed on cigarettes or weed, and smoked it.
The embalming fluid, which is for dead people, made a live
person’s skin burn. All over D.C. people were running around
naked. Hence the nick name for PCP was ‘butt naked’.
One afternoon, I was driving down 14th Street, which was
notorious for drugs at that time. There were 2 people at a bus stop,
butt naked, having sex! I mean they were going at it like wild beasts!
Several people were standing near by, waiting for the bus, trying to
act like nothing was going on. I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I turned
around and came back by. Yep, PCP had struck again.
The killings didn’t start though until Crack arrived. In a year, so
many people had gotten killed over Crack that D.C. became the
crime capitol. By 1988, almost 400 people were killed in one year
and I knew it was time to leave the city I loved so much.
Back to Red and what was happening in our lobby. Now that we
knew it was Crack, I couldn’t understand why Red was involved.
She was told to stay away from drugs or she would die.
My neighbor found out that the guy was Red’s new boyfriend.
He was young, tall as she was, handsome and had talked Red
into letting him move in and sell Crack in the lobby. It got really
bad, very fast. People started fighting, gun shots, and it was not
safe to come in the building after dark.
I made the mistake of partying to long one night and came home
after midnight. The lobby door was glass so you could see straight in.
Most of the lights were out, the lobby was littered with skanky
looking people, a cloud of cigarette smoke and trash everywhere.
I was scared to go in. You didn’t need a key to get in anymore cause
the drug dealer kept the lobby door unlocked for his customers. I stood
by the bushes, not knowing what to do.
To my relief, Red got off the elevator, looked outside and saw me.
She must have known I was scared. She motioned for me to come in and
walked me to my apt. I thanked her for helping me and asked her
what was going on. She said nothing was going on, just some
friends visiting, but she didn’t look at me when she said it.
10 days later, I moved out. A couple months later I was going to
Safeway, when I saw the neighbor that use to live across the hall
from me. She told me the latest news. Red, her son and boyfriend got
kicked out of the building and ended up homeless. They were living in
Malcolm X Park on 16th Street.
My first thought was, if they were making so much money selling
Crack, why didn't they get a home to live in. The ex-neighbor
answered that thought by saying the boyfriend was addicted to Crack.
He got Red and her son hooked on the stuff too, so they were using
more than selling.
One night, while Red and her son sat on a bench in the park, the
boyfriend walked off to make a drug deal. When he came back to
the bench to get the drugs, Red and her son had smoked it.
The boyfriend got mad, pulled out his gun and shot Red right in the
head. Her son tried to run, but the boyfriend shot him in the back.
The guy was in jail, her son lived, but was partially paralyzed and
Big Red died instantly.