I have been in denial about Prince since I first heard earlier this afternoon. So much to process. His music was a part of two major defining moments in my life; the night I began working in the strip club and the night I left. Purple Rain was the song I auditioned to, and it was the song became the catalyst for me to finally walk away from the sex industry.
Below is an exert from Scars and Stilettos that captures the latter:
I slipped on my little plaid red dress and black heels, dabbed the perspiration from my forehead and hit the floor. Gliding across the room to the bar, I looked intently at all the customers as a cheetah would her prey.
Just as I approached a small, sturdy little man from behind, the Prince song ‘Purple Rain’ filled the room, and my heart skipped a beat. I flashed back to the memory of me as an awkward 19-year-old girl who, thinking she had no options, decided to work as an exotic dancer for two months. I pictured myself, stripping off my little cotton dress and clomping around the stage in my street shoes. Dizzy with nervousness, I kept my balance by clutching the brass poles along the stage.
This memory stopped me in my tracks. Three years later, I was still in the same place, doing the same thing, hoping things would change. How could I quit? It was a vicious cycle. The more money I made, the more I gave to Derrick. The more money I gave him, the more he needed me. The more he needed me, the less likely he was to leave me… the less likely I was to have to be alone. Even though I had stopped sleeping with him, I still hadn’t managed to let him go completely. Loneliness would be unbearable, I told myself. Besides, I would only replace Derrick with some other guy who would treat me just as poorly, if not worse. I preferred familiar dysfunction to the unfamiliar. At least I knew what to expect each day.
The man in front of me was transfixed by the woman on the stage and didn’t notice me, standing there behind him. He would never know that I was prepared to lead him into the little red booth, where I would strip down and take off all my clothes in exchange for a few crumpled-up bills. The song enveloped me like a lavender ribbon, wrapping itself around my entire body. I became caught up: by the song; by the moment.
I am in this moment. Here. Now. And in that moment, I became aware: aware of my ivory bones, and the muscles and tendons wrapped around them; of the blood coursing through my veins; of my heart, beating hard in my chest.
Standing on thin, worn carpet, I wobbled slightly on my stilettos. I had paced and strutted across that floor on hundreds of nights before. I began to realize that I had participated in the wearing of the carpet. I had participated in so much more wearing than my mind could comprehend. Slowly, I placed one foot behind the other, until I stood at the back of the club. The room seemed to expand and contract all at once. Prince was still singing about purple rain. He was empathizing with me.
‘Honey, I know, I know, I know times are changing. It’s time we all reach out for something new. That means you too,’ he snarled. There was a slide show in my mind: Derrick – me – Gina – the baby – the money – me – God – me – the money – Derrick – that car! – the bills – me – Derrick – God.
And there is God. And He is here. Suddenly, I saw. I saw Nicole in the table-dance booth, swinging her leg over a customer’s head and propping it up on the rail to give him a better view. Her eyes danced around the room. She is disengaged. She is naked.
The girl on stage was bent over on all fours and glancing over her shoulder sheepishly at a man in a suit. She is naked. We are all naked here.
‘I can’t quit now!’ I pleaded silently with God, and myself, and anyone who would listen.
That is when I heard. A small and still voice whispered to the core of my heart and being.
‘I am here. I am with you. I will never leave you.’
Exhale. He is here. He is with me. He will never leave me. I will never be alone. This is truth. And somehow my ivory bones and my tendons and blood were in harmony, as truth resonated throughout my body. Yes, I am caught up; in truth; in Him.
I began to rise. I was already standing, but I began to rise. I lifted my head and eyes as I walked directly over to my manager, Gabe, with his kind, freckled face.
‘I’m leaving.’ The words formed awkwardly in my mouth. It was almost a question.
‘For the night?’ he asked.
‘For ever,’ I replied.