The Ford Escape coursed through the empty two-lane highway, shattering the utter silence and blackness of the night. We drank beers in the backseat, screamed our names, screamed out lyrics, screamed whatever we wanted as we stood in the sunroof and let the wind assault us, whipping our skin and sending our hair flying like the tornados we were.
Graduation was months away, and the adulthood that we were not ready for shone on us like all too bright headlights. Not knowing what else to do, I made a list. Not one of graduate schools to apply to or prospective job opportunities, but of every last irresponsible thing that I had to accomplish before I walked the stage and left youthful freedom behind me. I skinny-dipped, shotgunned cheap beers, kissed nameless boys, danced on tables, took body shots, stayed up all night to watch the sunrise. I did whatever I knew I shouldn’t.
A red neon sign, a broken-down porch, and crumbling concrete walls with no windows greeted us as we stumbled out of the car. It felt obscene in the blackness of the forest. The gravel parking lot felt rough underneath my flip flops, and I wondered if maybe this wasn’t our brightest decision.
The bouncer stuck his hand out for IDs and told us we could bring alcohol in but couldn’t buy any there. We also had to use their red solo cups if we were drinking. No smoking signs were put up, but every man in there had a lit cigarette in his hand. There were only men in there.
My lungs protested each breath as I looked around. I expected to see blue lighting, thick smoke, and an older man who seemed all too happy to see college girls walk in. The scene was sketchier than I prepared for: a sticky floor, a pathetic cardboard stage with a dingy fireman’s pole, and a sign listing prices for a private room.
“Sit down ladies! Lap dances are free for you two,” the dancer on the pole called.
Every man in the room looked too eager. The guys in our group went to get singles from the ATM while my friend Joni and I sat down. We watched performer after performer spin, shake, and dance on the pole and on us. It was fun that felt less than pure, but all the more exciting. Our friends threw singles; we cheered and hollered. It was entertainment that we could only enjoy buzzed.
It wasn’t until Divine came out that we realized this was an art.
She climbed to the top of the pole and dropped into the splits. Twirling around it, she gracefully flew, her dark hair following behind her like a shadow. She spun through the cloud of smoke around her, looking like an angel of darkness. It was beautiful. It was athletic. It was nothing that we expected to see at Blue Moon.
Suddenly, I felt her pull my hand, and I was laying on the stage. Divine glided over my body, moving and twisting in ways I tried to take note of, but was too shocked to notice.
“Can I take them out?” Divine asked.
It took me a moment to comprehend what she was asking until I realized her hands were cupping my chest. Oh. I looked around the stale room at men who smiled with too much excitement. My friends, most of whom had seen me naked from changing rooms or skinny dipping, sat with wide eyes waiting for my decision. I felt the vast difference between Divine’s empowered form of self-expression and my fear-induced rebellion create a valley of space between us.
I quickly shook my head, my ears turning as red as her G-string, and responded in a too high-pitched voice, “No, thank you.”
Something like disappointment crossed Divine’s face before she dismissed me and floated back to the pole. I walked to my seat next to Joni.
“She’s in one of my classes,” Joni whispered as Divine took her final spin on the pole before collecting her cash, “She told me she doesn’t need the money, she does this for fun.”
My eyes glued to Divine’s elegant movements and the pride in every step she took. Her shoulders back, her head raised, she slipped into a robe and disappeared behind a black curtain. My phone’s screen illuminated my face as I stared into the light and crossed off “go to a strip club” before deleting my list entirely.