We always thought we’d look back on our tears and laugh, but we never thought we’d look back on our laughter and cry. – Anonymous
Long-time readers may recall my saying that my mother and I, who had never been very close, finally fell out for good in September of 1997 over my becoming a stripper. Oh, it wasn’t instantaneous; she shouted and threatened and fussed and inflicted guilt for two months, but by Thanksgiving she realized I was adamant (since my new job had already paid off almost $10,000 worth of overdue bills, how could I be otherwise?) There were a few terse letters over the next few months, then nothing. I’ve dutifully informed her of every change of address and status (including my remarriage) since then, but have never received a reply. Even when I told her I had quit dancing (as you can imagine I didn’t even try to tell her what I was doing instead) there was no response; the damage, alas, was done. It’s a pity, really; she always wanted me to be a writer and now here I am, writing. But what I’ve never related here is that my mother wasn’t the only casualty of my adopting sex work; there were two others.
As I explained in my column of July 29th, I had a number of close male friends growing up through the cousin I’ve called “Jeff”, and two of them factor into this story. The first (whom I’ll call Alan) seemed to cool toward me when he went off to attend LSU, but the other (whom I’ll call Walter) remained a very good friend and I actually lived with him (platonically, in separate rooms) for a while in 1989 during one of my many breakups with my first husband, Jack. Anyhow, they both eventually got married, and while I soon became great friends with Alan’s wife “Liz” (who provided the epigram for my July 20th column), Walter’s wife “Theresa” was insanely jealous of all his friends, especially his female ones and MOST especially me since she knew we were very close. Liz and I soon became closer than Alan and I had been in years, but it became virtually impossible for me to see Walter except in large groups, and even then only if Theresa were assured that all women present would be safely under control of our husbands or boyfriends. Keep in mind that Theresa well knew that Walter and I had never been attracted to one another; he was like a brother to me and was such a trustworthy, sincere man that Jack once said he would trust Walter to sleep in the same bed with me. None of that mattered; Theresa had decided that all women were a threat to her.
So that was the way things stood through the mid-‘90s; I saw more and more of Liz and less and less of Walter until I started stripping, at which time two things happened. The first was wholly predictable: Theresa heard about my career change via the grapevine and went ballistic. As Walter later told me, the general gist was that I was “sick” and the kicker was, “If that whore lays a hand on you I’ll kill her.” She even went as far as to call Walter’s mom Kay, long a second mother to me, in order to let her know the “kind of women” her son was friendly with. Kay was a very wise and likeable woman and called to let me know that she understood my position and didn’t judge me for my choice, but also gently suggested that it might not be a good idea to try contacting Walter, because we both knew Theresa was far too insecure and would doubtless make his life miserable if I did. It’s not like I was alone in being excluded from his life; by the turn of the century none of his old friends ever saw Walter any more, and if internet sources are correct they’re still together today.
I was much more surprised by the way things turned out with Liz. When I called to let her know about my taking up stripping, her immediate response was “I think that’s brilliant!” She was of the enlightened opinion that there’s nothing wrong with a woman capitalizing on her sexuality, and she even went with me to pick out some of my first costumes. Given that her husband was an old friend of mine and had once dated a stripper, she assumed he would be glad I was making a decisive effort to get myself out of debt; I would’ve thought the same thing. We were both wrong. Neither of us realized (because he had kept it to himself) that the stripper had broken his heart and had filled him with an aversion to her profession, an aversion which even extended to me. He therefore told Liz that he didn’t like her socializing with me anymore. She was of course incredulous and pointed out that Alan had known me for 16 years and should realize I wasn’t one to descend into the excesses he associated with stripperhood, but he replied that I had “changed” and he didn’t trust me anymore. Liz was of typical redhead temperament and was therefore defiant, telling him that he couldn’t pick her friends; this of course resulted in his declaring me a “bad influence”. To keep peace at home Liz only called me when he wasn’t around, and so things went for two years until I became an escort. We planned to hide this from Alan, but he found out from mutual friends and started making Liz’s life so miserable about the subject that she had little choice but to break off communication with me for the sake of her kids. Since I had no desire to be the cause of marital strife I of course told her she was doing the right thing, and though we exchanged emails on the sly for some time they became less and less frequent and stopped within a year.
Life is full of choices, and each choice carries consequences; some of these can be predicted and others cannot. Part of growing is learning to accept those consequences, though they may be bitter indeed. I don’t regret the choices I’ve made; they opened doors which enabled me to become self-sufficient for the first time in my life, and provided passage into a world I would otherwise only have dreamed about. I’m a big girl, and I know that sometimes one’s victories and gains come at a higher cost than anticipated, but to this day I can’t help but feel a pang of regret whenever I think of Liz or Walter…and that happens much more often than my heart would like.