The dressing room was full. I was out of breath and when I regarded myself in the mirror, I didn’t see the shrewd hustler who’d been there before… or the dazzling creature, bright with sparkle and shine. I want to say I barely recognized myself. The dramatist in me is tempted toward that kind of panache. I did know that girl, though… whose body suddenly felt so heavy; whose resolve routinely faded into reluctance. It was easy to deny her in my better moments, but any place I’d ever gone… she showed her face. Eventually.
Fuck. I felt the discomforting stare of someone watching me look at myself. My make-up was streaking and I didn’t have a tissue.
“Do you have something I can borrow?”
She didn’t know me and she closed her big box full of bottles and wipes and tubes of things. She was a fresh one… I could see that. She’d come all this way, from wherever she ran. And she wasn’t so sure she’d arrived someplace yet.
She glared at our reflections, only inches apart. So close. And so similar… when it came right down to it. A mid-western doll, discarded… her blonde bangs curled above round, glassy eyes. So blue. She’d been blessed with looks that women envy and men adore, but a practiced look of petulance was the only thing she wore with any pride.
She danced to Metallica… and I don’t think she ever smiled. Certainly not on stage. And certainly not in the dressing room. Pain was her game. Her statement. Her way. She didn’t know about anything else yet.
I could feel her thoughts drifting sideways, toward me. I wasn’t in the mood to confront my own shadowy image… and big surprise, neither was she... so our minds locked horns with each other. We stepped together, into the conflict stirred by the sight of ourselves.
It was an unwelcome omen. A familiar road sign, forcing its message through the glare of lights and glass. She wanted to see a larger difference between us. She didn’t want to feel lumped in with me and I could actually understand that. She was angry. Radiating resentment toward me… and if I allowed myself to feel anything in that moment, I might’ve choked on the fucking irony… not knowing whether to laugh or cry. She didn’t even know why.
there’s no end. only countless beginnings
I watched the other girls. Not conspicuously. Obviously... and when the coast was clear, I checked myself out in the mirror. My reflection looked strangely beautiful and intimidating. To myself.
I actually felt a jolt, which settled into a liquid calm… radiating from my chest spreading thru me into my legs. It was smoothly alarming… at once, familiar and unsettling. Yet, I felt so solid in that spot. As my image relaxed into focus, my cells responded actively… adapting themselves to this new landscape of darkness.
I knew that girl in the mirror. And I wasn’t sure what I thought of her… but I knew I could count on her. That was for fucking sure.
Alex offered me a coke and I thanked him, but didn’t drink it. I felt the signal turn green… and my thighs were getting itchy, anyway… so I shifted into gear. I went back upstairs and answered all the questions.
32 years old. Married. Kids. No. I never danced before.
“So what made you suddenly decide to be a stripper?”
Silly question gets a silly answer.
“I just wanted to, I guess.”
I follow my instincts… and ideals are formed.
The question is so obvious that no one ever asks.
I was twenty-nine years old before I spoke of it. This was after the birth of my son. And after two years of marriage to a man I’d known since high school. Finally, the message I was waiting for had traveled all the through me… and reached that critical corner in my mind. I was safe now. And it no longer served me to hide. From myself.
I didn’t search for the truth. It came upon me, in a very relaxed moment… and it first presented itself, not as a thought… but as a feeling. My entire body went cold and I felt inexplicable fear. My husband asked if I was all right… I wasn’t. My body felt paralyzed, as the horrible thoughts began to creep their way out. Heart pounding, I looked at him… unable to speak. I felt little and afraid.
“Is there something you need to tell me, baby?”
He looked lovingly and deeply into my eyes. He touched my arm very gently… and like little birds, struggling to spread their wings… the words rose up inside my throat, gently forcing me to release them. With a trembling voice, I began to speak. For the first time, aloud… I began to wonder about what had happened to me.