Liam was a regular at the club. He was infatuated with my co-worker, Star. Absolutely besotted. Anyone could see that. Why else would a good-looking young man return night after night, spending his hard-earned cash in a place such as this? He didn’t really take much notice of the pretty waitresses or topless women around him, bothering him for tips. Myself included. He only had eyes for the curvy Latina dancer.
Star wasn’t the prettiest girl in the club, but of course by then I’d worked out that being a stripper isn’t at all just about looks. Everyone has their own taste, and there was no debating the fact that there was something special about her.
After a few weeks, or possibly even months, of Liam’s regular stop-ins, we’d all given up on trying to hustle him, and instead on quiet nights when the money had dried up and I’d still have hours left on my shift, I’d sit and chat with him while Star was busy with her other clients. She didn’t see this as a threat. She knew she had him wrapped around her finger. He loved it. And I could tell she did too.
I’d often wanted to ask her what the deal was between them. It was clear this client/stripper relationship was more than it appeared, and that perhaps this was something which existed outside of work. But I didn’t dare ask Liam during our little catch-ups. Like many, or all, other customers, this club was his little haven. His sanctuary outside of the “real world,” and maybe it had even become his reality. A place where he felt adored and respected, perhaps? Or maybe a place of comfort. Maybe he chose to neglect the fact that everything in this little world was fake – from the false laughter and flirting to the currency to the friendships… Or maybe he was in fact totally naive to the whole concept of the big act. I hoped this wasn’t true, but I didn’t want to disrupt his fantasy, even if it was for his own good. I just hoped that he hadn’t taken this too seriously, or gone too far, as many men tended to.
What I realized from meeting Liam was that everyone has their own reasons for wanting to escape now and then. I wondered what mine was.
Towards the end of one long winter night I said goodbye to my last regular client and came down onto the floor and into the warmth, where I spotted Liam at a table – not his usual seat – alone. I tip-toed over to say hello, but I noticed as his face turned towards the light that he was upset. Really upset. “Hey bro… Are you alright?” Stupid question – he clearly was not alright. I stood by quietly, huddling closer to the heater behind him. Secretly I was relieved to feel a little heat on my legs after standing half-naked on the street for my cigarette earlier. It was a very cold night and I was exhausted.
“She said no,” he murmured.
“Said no to what?” I asked, and I realized. Poor kid… He’d actually proposed.
So it turns out Star’s visa was due to expire, so her options were to stay on illegally – but of course that wouldn’t last long – or to marry, or to leave and return to her home country. She wasn’t ready to leave, and so to her, marriage would have been a very real option.
“I would have given her everything…” Liam continued. “I did give her everything. But it wasn’t enough. She’s just money – hungry. This place has changed her… She’s just like everyone else.” – I tried not to be hurt by this statement, and supposed he was excluding me from “everyone else,” but it did make me stop and question whether I would be the same in her position. I didn’t believe in love, at this point in time, but I did like the idea of money and security. I didn’t want to be the stereotypical money-hungry monster these clubs turned a lot of girls into, but it really was an eye-opener hearing that. I didn’t like what I’d become. I wasn’t happy with my life, really. I hated Miss Whiskey. Who was she? My alter-ego and my true self had started to clash. Something I hadn’t been prepared for. I could no longer distinguish between the two. And there it was; my reason to escape.
“She’s marrying this other dude… Some dickhead she met in the club… And you know why?” Liam laughed half-heartedly, “Because the ring cost more than what I could afford.” He shook his head in disbelief.
I really felt for him. He told me he wouldn’t be returning, and I think he really meant it. He gave me the rest of his fake currency. For him it was probably a form of closure. Closing the door on this little underworld.
We sat a while in silence, and I don’t know what happened, but I remember waking up on the floor by the heater. One of the other girls had woken me because I was meant to be on stage, but when I looked around he was gone.
I did see him again months later outside the gay bar. I asked what he was doing and he said “not much,” which happened to be the same thing that I was doing at the time, so I joined him for a drink. He encouraged me to down half a jug of beer, which I later regretted, and then we hung out with a group of drag queens ’til dark. I didn’t ask once about Star, but I could tell he was still cut up about it.
I had no plans that evening other than to get wasted. I was going through one of my regular phases of couch surfing and generally taking bad care of myself. I had a lot of personal issues I had been pushing into the back of my mind, and at the time drugs, I thought, were a good solution.
Back then “legal highs” were a big thing. It was around the time that they were becoming illegal as there had been many ugly side effects arising with regular use. I’d experienced this first-hand one time when I was hanging out at a flat and my friends were dropping like flies around me into seizures and ugly rages. Didn’t scare me like it should have, though. Liam was addicted to them and he actually supplied them around the city to shops, so his apartment was well stocked.
I myself was going through a phase of MDMA obsession. I too had copious amounts of the stuff. So that evening we stayed up late with his flat mate, smoking, drinking, and snorting line after line of whatever we could get our hands on – including his ADHD prescribed medication. We had the idea to go ice skating, or to run through a mirror maze. Anything to escape reality. Anything to keep our minds and bodies occupied. Anything but the stripclubs. I ended up crashing out in his room listening to music instead, before heading out again at some ridiculous hour on another solo mission to wreck myself.
I became hooked on the ADHD meds and figured out they weren’t actually that hard to come by. On the streets they sold for quite a bit. Kids were realizing it wasn’t hard to fake what you needed to in order to be prescribed them, and I never paid for drugs at the time, so most things I could get through work or people I’d met.
On one occasion a mate from my hometown and I decided to drink cough syrup, another addiction on my list, and when we were in search of something more I decided to give Liam a call. Those days I’d do just about anything to stay high in the ignorant oblivion of ecstasy. The great escape.
I don’t really know the deal with my mate, I think it was his sexuality he was trying to come to terms with, I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure, but there was something in his eyes which reflected my exact emotions, and I knew that he too was looking for his escape. Something I could relate to, and so we were drawn to one another.
It had been a while since I’d last seen Liam, but he met us at my favorite stoner location – a carpark up on the hill overlooking the city lights and the water. He brought a few of the pills I was after and we sat in the car listening to rap and smoking. I remember being pissed off and asking him if that was all he brought.
Liam realized his phone had gone missing, so we went on a mission to retrieve it. We got pulled up, all three of us high as kites, and somehow got away from the cops, even though we were dressed ridiculously and had no business being down by a wharf in the middle of the night. Thankfully we hadn’t been drinking. Yet.
We hung out at the hotel room my mate and I had booked, all three of us zoning out of our brains on the bed. I was in an odd, in between asleep and awake – mode, and I’m not quite sure what the other two were thinking. But I knew we had reached our goal for the night – losing ourselves. Escaping. All three of us for different, unknown reasons. But all with the same aim.
I remember hearing my mate yelling, “Don’t touch her, bro. She doesn’t want that.” Then waking the next morning with a fuzzy head. I told the hotel receptionist that I’d woken with bedbug bites; marks I’d encouraged by myself on my skin, so that we didn’t have to pay. Then we took our free coffees and left.
I don’t think I’ve seen Liam since, and my other mate I’ve only seen once while I was pregnant. I’ve never had the chance to speak to either of them about that day. I don’t think I ever will, to be honest. But there was something there in that experience, or that segment of my life, which has made writing this post really difficult emotionally. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but it’s something I’m slowly bringing to the surface. Either way, I don’t know what made me think of those guys. But wherever they are now, I hope life is treating them well. I hope they found what they needed to end that constant search for escape, because God knows I know what that feels like.
Me personally? I’m glad I’ve found what my heart was really looking for. It wasn’t drugs, or the kind of lifestyle I was caught up in. I didn’t need an escape after all. None of us did. And I’m no longer afraid to live in the “real world.” At long last I feel like I belong somewhere that doesn’t involve self – harm or an easy escape. I have my family, my true friends and my faith to thank for that.
Thank God I made it out alive. As for Miss Whiskey? She taught me a lot, and she was good to me at times, but she’s dead and long gone. She won’t be coming back.