Huguette Pretty – friends call her “Pretty”– is an aesthetician and special effects makeup artist from San Diego. Her Italian dad and Mexican mom instilled in her a sense of spirituality and appreciation of life. Also, her parents’ epic love story turned her into a hopeless romantic. But where their mutual adoration sustained a loving relationship spanning decades, Pretty’s first encounter with love was a roller coaster ride – at times a beautiful high, but towards the end a near fatal attraction and an addiction that took eight years to kick. I listened to Pretty’s brutally honest account of her life from age fourteen until twenty-two over coffee at Krakatoa Cafe just south of San Diego’s Balboa Park.
Pretty: “My dad and his brother came to the U.S. for Woodstock in 1969 and never left. They settled in Hollywood, started their own business as dental distributors and eventually opened a store in San Diego. One of their customers was a dentist based in Mexico City. His assistant placed monthly orders. That assistant was my mom. She and dad flirted over the phone for a year after which she dared him to stop by for coffee – and he did. They got married in San Diego on New Year’s Eve, 1988.
My parents are still very much in love. Theirs is truly an epic love story. My own love story started in a similar way, when I was fourteen. I got in touch with a guy, Alex, sixteen, who at the time was living in Las Vegas. We met online through Myspace. We talked all the time and wrote each other love letters. In a time when romantic gestures are starting to die, we developed a deep emotional connection without actually seeing each other. Not long after I turned fifteen, Alex took three Greyhound buses to San Diego all the way from his mom’s house in Butte, Montana.
He was so nervous to meet me he anxiously got off one bus station too early. I picked him up in Escondido, California where we saw each other for the first time. My heart was beating walking up to this guy who had gotten to know me so well and who I felt was the only person in the world who understood me at such a confusing time in my life. Alex was sitting on his skateboard when I turned the corner and saw him. He stood up, we laughed nervously and then he leaned in and kissed me for the first time. I will never forget our first kiss for we had waited a full year to finally have it.
“Romantic gestures are starting to die”
Alex lived in my bedroom for a month without my parents knowing, hiding in the closet every time I left for school in the morning. I would always come back soon, though, skipping classes to be with him. I made sure to erase all voicemail messages from school before my parents got a chance to hear them. One day mom stayed home sick and my dad drove me to school. For some reason, he waited in the car until I actually went inside. In class I got a message from Alex: “Your mom found me!”
I stormed out of the classroom and was chased by security. I freaked out and started screaming that they should call the cops because my parents were going to kill me. The cops did come and so did my parents. I was sent to my aunt’s house and forbidden from seeing Alex. I pleaded with my dad – “Dad, I love him” – and was able to convince him to let him stay for the summer. Alex came and went throughout all high school years. Whenever he had to go back to Las Vegas I would tell my parents I was going to Disneyland with friends and their families while in fact I was taking the overnight bus to Las Vegas to be with Alex for the weekend. After I finished high school I moved to Las Vegas to live with Alex. That’s when things got crazy.
Although I didn’t stay in Vegas all the time – I regularly went back to San Diego – I did go to school there and had part-time jobs. My parents hated it. They helped and stayed in touch, not wanting to push me away, but it was hard on them. I especially fought a lot with my mom, hoping she and dad would get divorced so I could live with my father. Thinking back on my actions and my relationship with my parents I am appalled that I acted in such ways. I love my parents so much and I can’t believe the emotional roller coaster of a mess it probably was having me as a daughter at that time. I appreciate all the unconditional love and support they gave me during this chapter of my life. They knew I needed to learn from my mistakes on my own in order to grow as a person, to begin learning the hard lessons in life, including heartbreak.
Looking back, I realize that in the beginning Alex saw I was weak and innocent. He was manipulative and always insisting I push the limits. I stayed because it was comfortable – and because I was madly in love with someone who got me out of my comfort zone and made me feel rebelliously alive. When the physical abuse started I knew I had to say goodbye, but I stayed. I think regret is pointless, because every experience teaches us a valuable lesson, but I do regret one night in particular. We were at home with a bunch of friends drinking and doing drugs and Alex invited them to watch him and I have sex.
Alex had cheated on me a few times. Las Vegas is an overly-sexualized city where sex is put on a podium 24/7 and it definitely affects what is considered ‘normal’ sexual activity among youth that has become desensitized to sex. I was afraid not giving in to his requests would set me up for another break in his loyalty towards me so I gave in to an action that still haunts me. I was in no way ready to handle such an experience at such a young age. I think this traumatic experience was a turning point for me. I realized I had to learn how to detach myself from him if I was to save myself.
Alex’ past is difficult. His mom had him at the age of fourteen and he is the first of nine siblings. The family struggled through family separation, homelessness, mental and physical abuse, living in homeless shelters, living in a car, charity Christmas gifts etcetera. He always felt abandoned and neglected by his mother, father and stepfather. Music, art and skateboarding were the only things he cared about. He began using crystal meth around the same time he dropped out of high school after losing his best friend to a drug-related incident. He began living with friends and that is when life decided our paths should cross.
He would tell me I was the only person in his life who made him feel cared about. That our handwritten letters and talking on the phone until the sun came up were the only things that made him feel like he wasn’t alone. Alex was a broken person and made many mistakes. He hurt me in many ways, but I know he loved me the best and only way he ever knew how to. I became obsessed with wanting to help him quit his meth addiction and help him become a better person. I wanted to save him, but I ended up needing to save myself.
After realizing you can never help a person that doesn’t want help, I finally left him at age twenty-two after eight years of on and off and ups and downs. I came clean about the dark days in Vegas. About the drugs, the violent situations and abuse, even about the miscarriage I’d had. My relationship with my mom in particular improved immensely. Now that I don’t shut her out of my life she is my best friend. After I moved back to San Diego I buried myself in school, work and hobbies. The first tattoo I got read “This too shall pass.” It helped to remind me that the pain and loneliness would eventually pass and I should keep moving forward. I studied aesthetics, focusing on facials and the science of skin. My dad continued to teach me more about special effects makeup and I got back into dancing after quitting once I moved to Las Vegas.
I’ve been an aesthetician for a few years now, waxing full-time and doing makeup on the side. I think having lived in Las Vegas, where I’ve waxed exotic dancers and women in the sex industry, oversexualized things don’t faze me anymore. I’m very comfortable with the human anatomy and very little shocks me. I’ve always been a very nurturing person and I love helping people feel better about themselves. I appreciate that ‘my ladies’ open up to me when they’re at their most vulnerable. One of them, a military wife, recently told me her husband is cheating on her, living a double life with another wife in Japan. Another soldier’s spouse said her husband had left her over the phone after being gone for months on deployment. I know what it’s like to feel alone and in a difficult situation. Because I can relate I can offer genuine advice and a non-judgmental ear to listen. That has brought me a lot of success in my career and amazing bonds with women.
“I’m very comfortable with the human anatomy”
Soon after I had moved back to San Diego Alex’s mom called me: “Alex is dying.” The combination of drugs and alcohol had taken a toll on his body. His liver was shutting down and his heart was failing. And he had been calling out my name while under morphine. I rushed to the hospital in Las Vegas. He looked like a stranger with familiar eyes. When he came to we hugged. I stayed at the hospital for two weeks, sleeping in a cot in his room.
Alex came close to dying but he recovered. He had to get open heart surgery to have a defibrillator machine attached to his heart. A heart transplant is still needed, however, but as a former drug addict he’s at the bottom of the waiting list.
We still keep in touch sometimes. We grew up together and I still love him. But I would never get back with him. There is only room for friendship in our future. You could say he’s the best friend but the worst boyfriend I’ve ever had. He came back into my life, but I had become a new person. His mind games didn’t work anymore. I’ve become a stronger person. I went the other way, taking zero shit from anyone. I will always have love for him but I’ve learned how to love myself first, something I never knew how to do. It wasn’t easy to find the mental and emotional strength to cope and move forward. Once I did, I began to truly live. I like who I am now. I love myself now.”
Pretty is into a lot of different genres of music. After the interview, she recommended I listen to the album “Freetown Sound” by “Blood Orange”, one of her favorite artists. A few lines in the opening monologue of this track, “Better Than Me”, reminded me of Pretty’s story. The voice that you hear is Ashlee Haze, a writer from Atlanta, who delivers an impassioned reading from her piece “For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliot Poem).”
“Dear Missy, I did not grow up to be you, but I did grow to be me and be in love with who this woman is. To be a woman playing a man’s game and not being apologetic about any of it…” (Blood Orange – Better Than Me from “Freetown Sound”, 2016)