The sparkle began to fade after four years of stripping. I was tired of the late nights. The smoky bars, the loud music, the bachelor parties… it was all becoming grating.
But I would graduate soon.
I say that like I had any idea what I was going to do after graduation. I didn’t. I just assumed that a college degree would magically throw doors open – like I’d walk across the stage, receive my degree, and step down to a crowd of eager employers just waiting to offer me high-salary, cushy positions (this is not, in fact, how it works for most of us).
I could still tolerate my home club at that point; I hadn’t completely fried out from it.
But the nude club wasn’t for me. The money was good but the environment was soul-sucking. Drugs, sex — blind eyes turned to both. The place wreaked of corruption and management didn’t care about the girls. There were definitely no bouncers walking us to our cars at night.
On a busy Saturday night, I ducked out for a break and went to a bar across the street. I needed a drink and some fresh air. I went around back to an outdoor patio area with a separate bar where I was greeted by Joe, the bartender.
“Hey Jess! How’s your night going?”
He knew me by name. The only way I could make it through a shift at that place was if I took a martini break after a couple of hours.
“Eh,” I said. “Loud.”
He chuckled as he wiped the bar off in front of me and laid down a napkin. “The usual?”
He knew my drink, too.
“Please,” I said, taking a seat.
There were only a few other people sitting at the bar. A guy was playing acoustic guitar. My ears were ringing.
A few minutes later, Joe returned with a Grey Goose martini, straight up with a twist of lemon. “One of those night, huh?” he asked.
I smiled. “You know how it is, Joe. That place sucks the life out of you.”
“Yeahhh,” he said, “I can imagine it would get old.” I looked down at the tiny ice fragments sitting on the top of my martini and took a sip.
“How is it?” he asked.
“Best martini on the planet,” I said, winking. Joe gave me a thumbs-up and walked to the other side of the bar to make some more drinks. I sat back in my chair, taking in the night air and music.
The guitarist began to play one of my favorite songs, “She talks to angels.” Someone once told me it’s about a woman battling a heroin addiction. Maybe it is. But to me, there’s a hopeful melancholy to it. I think it’s about someone who’s struggling with darkness but knows the light is still out there, somewhere. At the time, the song was beginning to strongly resonate with me.
I didn’t want to keep dancing at that club. I had stumbled into the abyss of stripping. This was not a place of empowerment; it was a place where girls lost themselves. As I sat there listening to the chorus of that Black Crowes song, I decided I was done.
So that was it. I paid my tab, went back to the club, got my things, and left. That was the last time I danced there.
I continued dancing at my home club on the weekends as I finished up my last semester of college. I entered a period of radio silence during this time of my life. I felt myself shutting the world out. I hadn’t dated anyone since Bryan and my one non-stripper girlfriend from college had graduated and left. I kept distance from my family because I felt guilty for lying about stripping… I was convinced my mom would disown me if she ever found out.
A choking anxiety soon began to manifest as panic attacks. It was so bad one night that I called 9-1-1, convinced I was having a heart attack. Paramedics showed up at my door and an irritated woman in an EMS uniform tested my blood sugar and blood pressure. She concluded that I was not experiencing a cardiac event. “You’re just having anxiety,” she said, seemingly disappointed by my prognosis.
Anyone who’s ever had a severe panic attack knows it sure as hell feels like a cardiac event.
The next several months sucked. I graduated from college, quit dancing, and moved in with my parents over the summer while I tried to find a job using my degree. I also confessed to my mom about stripping (she didn’t disown me).
A big part of my anxiety was not knowing what was next. I felt like I was supposed to know what I wanted to do by the time I finished college. I think we put too much pressure on young adults. I’m just now starting to understand what I want to be when I grow up.
I worked in my dad’s office for a couple of months, answering phones and organizing paperwork. The limbo drove my anxiety and I knew I needed to get a job and an apartment, pronto.
I applied for a temporary teaching certification and got hired as an English teacher at a charter high school for at-risk kids in central Florida. I moved into a cheap, shitty apartment and began working at a terrible job making $1001 every two weeks. Talk about an adjustment. I had to work a whole week to make what I previously made in a night. I celebrated my 24th birthday shortly after taking that job.
The school ended up being a total sham. All of the curriculum was online; students worked at computers while the teachers babysat. Most of them had learned how to cheat the program and pass the classes without really learning anything.
I told myself to just stick it out for the year so I could buy myself some time and come up with another game plan. There was always stripping – I figured I could always go back to that. As burnt out as I’d become, it was sure better than this mockery of teaching.
The low I was experiencing in my life was about to get lower. A couple months after I started working at the school, I had an affair.
The school had a handful of cops who rotated work details as resource officers. Whichever cop was on duty would sit at a desk in the hall, just outside of my classroom. The view of the cop desk was unobstructed from my desk.
None of the men who did duties at the school were attractive — except one. One of them was very good looking. Let’s call him Tyler.
Tyler was in his mid-thirties, brown hair, dark eyes. Medium build, fit…and married. The women who worked at the school talked about how sexy he was – the break room was abuzz when the hot cop was working.
I was reading a book at my desk one morning while my class worked, which was pretty much the extent of my job. I heard the chair being pulled out from the desk in the hall and turned to see Tyler taking a seat. He caught me looking at him as he glanced up. He flashed a sly grin – one that said “I see you looking at me.” I felt myself blushing and quickly turned back to my book. He’s married, I told myself.
Over the next couple of weeks, Tyler began to flirt with me. We’d exchange smiles throughout the day… he’d come in my classroom and chat between periods. He’d tell me how nice I looked.
I wasn’t naïve. I knew he was interested, testing the waters to see how receptive I’d be. I kept telling myself to stop, that I didn’t want to get involved with a married man. But I also found myself flirting back.
He came in my classroom after school let out one afternoon. I was walking around the room, turning each computer off. My heart started to race when I saw him.
“Oh hey!” I said, smiling. He made me nervous in a way a married man shouldn’t.
“Hi, Miss Bell.”
“Please, call me Jess,” I said, casually.
He threw me one of his devilish grins and took a seat. “I kind of like ‘Miss Bell,'” he said. “You’ve got the hot teacher thing down.”
“Oh,” I said, not sure how to respond. “Okay, Miss Bell it is.”
I could feel his eyes on me as I moved around the room. “You know what you’re doing to me,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He smiled and shook his head. “Walking past me in the hall, swinging your hips the way you do.” I turned to look at him, his gaze was intense.
“Hips naturally swing in high heels,” I said. “That’s what makes heels sexy.”
“Is that right?” he asked.
I looked him over my shoulder as I turned off the last computer. “It is.”
He shook his head. “You’re driving me nuts.”
I didn’t respond. He took in a deep breath and slowly let it out as I walked over to my desk and grabbed my purse. He stood up and walked toward the door with me.
I paused to shut off the classroom lights and when I turned around, his face inches from mine. I could feel his breath on my skin. He stared into my eyes for a couple of seconds without saying a word and then walked into the hall. I pulled the door shut behind me and hurried toward the exit of the building. I knew I was getting too deep.
About a week later, I was in the empty break room making some coffee in the small kitchen area, which was tucked behind a wall in the back of the room. I heard the door open as was pouring a sugar packet into my coffee. I looked up to see Tyler standing at the entrance to the kitchen and smiled nervously as I reached for the creamer.
Without saying a word, he walked up behind me and placed his hands on the counter top, on either side of my body, locking me in place. He leaned up against me as he whispered in my ear, “You know I can’t take much more of this.” He brushed my hair to the side and kissed my neck.
“We can’t do this,” I whispered.
“I know,” he said, running one of his hands down my side.
“This is wrong, Tyler.”
“Sssshhhhhh.” He reached down and began to run his hand up my leg.
My heart raced, and I felt myself…melting. “We can’t…” I said. He reached up with his other hand and firmly grabbed my hair, pulling my head to the side as he lightly bit my neck.
“We aren’t breaking any rules,” he whispered as he inched his hand up my thigh. “But it’s fun to fantasize, isn’t it?”
I took a deep breath as I desperately searched for the willpower I knew I had, somewhere.
Just then, we heard the break room door open. Tyler quickly stepped away from me and nonchalantly reached for a coffee cup as I put a lid on mine. Another teacher entered the kitchen to get some coffee. I said hello to her as I walked past and hurried back to my classroom.
Tyler became more aggressive in the following weeks and my resistance was growing weak. I never intended for it to go any further.
I was walking Chloe around my apartment complex late one evening when I noticed a car sitting in front of my building. The engine was running and the lights were on. As I got closer, I realized it was a cop car. I lived in a rough area, so this wasn’t completely unusual. I turned to make my way up the stairs to my apartment when I heard a man’s voice.
“Miss Bell.” I looked over my shoulder and saw Tyler standing next to his car, in full uniform. I was startled.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Well that’s not the greeting I expected,” he said, walking toward me.
“You found out where I live?” I had never given him any of my contact information.
“It wasn’t hard,” he said. “I can pull up anyone’s information.” He put his hands on my waist and pulled me close.
I was both unsettled and turned on. He grabbed my face and kissed me, and I knew I was about to make a bad decision.
I don’t need to tell you what happened next.
I felt awful afterward, disgusted with both of us. He took a shower while I got dressed and sat in the dark with my regret.
Things were immediately awkward… as one would expect. He was cold and distant. He tossed his bath towel on the floor after he got dressed. “Do you have a lint roller?” he asked. “There’s dog hair on my uniform.”
I walked into the kitchen and shuffled through a drawer to find my lint roller. I returned to the bedroom and handed it to him. He had to get rid of the evidence and I felt sick.
“How late do you work tonight?” I asked.
“I don’t.” he said, coolly.
I was confused. “So why did you drive over here in your uniform… in your patrol car?” I asked.
“To reduce the likelihood of suspicion,” he replied. I realized he had carefully planned this. His tone had become mechanical, emotionless. He rolled his uniform and picked up his gun and keys from my nightstand. “See you soon,” he said as he walked out the door.
I won’t pretend I was some sort of victim in all of this. I wasn’t. I could have said no. But I’d become intoxicated by the attraction, the attention…the distraction.
There aren’t many things I regret… but I regret participating in that affair. Being the other woman made me feel like shit. My views on morality and marriage aside, sleeping with a married man was degrading. I beat myself up for quite a while after that – the whole thing did a number on my sense of self-worth (which became very evident during my next relationship).
To my relief, Tyler stopped taking details at the school shortly after that night and we never spoke again.
It took some time for me to forgive myself for sleeping with Tyler, but eventually, I did. A couple months later, I decided I wanted to try dating. I’d been single for nearly two years.
So I joined Match one Saturday afternoon and about an hour later, I had a phone call with a guy named Jake. We met at a nearby trail the next day –he brought his bike and I took my inline skates.
If GI Joe were human, he’d look like Jake. Jake had this all-American, handsomeness. Blonde hair, blue eyes, sharp, square jawline and an athletic, muscular body. He was handsome (are you starting to detect my weakness for exceptionally good looking men?), smart, and successful. He was 10 years older than me, never married, no kids, and an officer in the military.
Jake was an adventurer. He loved traveling and had a strong, gregarious personality. He was everything I’d been looking for – on paper, anyways…