Ever since I can remember, my mother has been the sole provider for our family. She was the one who toiled all night to put a roof over our head, and food on the table. It’s not as though my father wanted it this way. I do have vague memories of him heading off to work while my mother, the ever dutiful housewife, stayed home and took care of their precocious four-year-old, me.
That changed one night, when after going out for drinks with his work buddies, he rolled his car on the way home. Seeing pictures of the car many years later, it was a small miracle that he survived. It was more so that he didn’t hurt or kill anyone else. It was a single-car accident. He was the only occupant. He survived, but his life, and ours, changed in an instant.
The few memories that I have from that time are not happy. I spent a lot of time sleeping at either Nana’s or my Aunt Dodi. I rarely saw home or either of my parents. I was aware that Dad was in the hospital, but they didn’t tell me much, only that he was hurt but he would be okay. He wasn’t. He never would be again.
My mother changed after that. She used to be carefree and happy. After the accident, she grew hardened and distant. We no longer played together. I remember seeing her cry a lot whenever Nana, Papa, or aunt Dodi were around. Looking back, I now know she was worried about losing the house and paying the bills. Eventually, we became homeless and started living above Aunt Dodi’s garage.
This went on for over a year. Mom found a job, but she didn’t have Dad’s skills. He was a manager at a warehouse, moving up, with high ambitions. Now he was stuck in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down, unable to do anything any more. The pain, he confided in me once, was too great for him to concentrate on any task. All he did now was play computer games, or else try writing stories that honestly aren’t very good. He’s not creative. He’s analytical. That’s what Nana says.
Mom worked as a janitor for the school, making minimum wage, unable to provide her family a decent life. She was a high school dropout, leaving school because she got pregnant with me. She wasn’t a very bright student, but she had a dingy but cute angle going on. Mom was very popular, always had at least one date every weekend, and was usually dating one of the popular jocks.
She never had any ambitions other than to land a man who could provide for her. Now with the table turned, unwilling to leave the man she married just because he stupidly got himself handicapped, she entered the workforce for the first time, only to discover he had no appreciable talents.
That changed after I started second grade. She found a job working nights. I remember asking her where she worked, but she said it wasn’t any of my business. I wanted to see where she worked, but Dad said it wasn’t a great idea. I remember Aunt Dodi and Nana being upset about it, but since they didn’t do much to help her out, Mom said it wasn’t any of their business.
I learned not to ask about my mother’s job, but it didn’t take long for her to start bringing home more money. Where once we had been shopping at thrift stores, all of a sudden we were going to the mall a couple of times a week. Where once my mother drove a broken down Gremlin, which for some reason she kept, she started driving a brand new Shelby Mustang.
Pretty soon we moved out of Aunt Dodi’s garage apartment and moved into a new home out in the suburbs. It was quiet, and everyone kept to themselves for the most part. Dad didn’t do much except watch me at night while Mom was at work. No one really knew what she did, except for Dad, and our neighbors, too, learned not to ask too many questions.
When I turned eighteen, right before Christmas of my Senior year, I still didn’t know my mother’s profession. By then, I didn’t care. I had my own life to worry about, my own future to be concerned with. I had inherited my mother’s waifish figure, pale complexion, and general personality. I was a little more of an intellectual, having inherited my father’s brains, and his ambition to do something with my life.
My mother took me out for lunch and then took me to get my nails done, then out shopping. She bought me several new outfits, and then surprised me with a car, “a gift from your father and me,” she said with a faint smile, but I knew better. My father was living in a bottle most to the time by then. I don’t know why she put up with it. I would soon learn that it was he who drank to put up with her.
My mom went to work, leaving me and my girlfriends alone to watch movies. My father, as he did most nights, drank himself into a stupor. Once he was out, I grabbed my keys and me and my friends snuck out of the house to explore the city in my new car. We didn’t go anywhere in particular at first, but then Mandy convinced me to drive to a club she heard about, where you only had to be eighteen to get in.
We went. I was curious since she rarely suggested anything, and something about how she said it made me have to see the place. It was as though she knew something I didn’t, and wanted to see my reaction. Knowing I had till dawn, we drove up to the club, which I discovered was a strip club as soon as I parked. I wanted to leave, but all my friends were egging me on. To save face, I had no choice but to go in.
Mandy paid for me to get in, and they stamped us with a red stamp on our right hand to signify to the bartenders that we were not of age, and we went in, right to the front. A couple of creepy old guys started hitting on us, but a bouncer quickly shooed them away. He was giving me a strange look before shaking his head and walking away. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him talking to some other workers, pointing me out. I decidedly ignored them.
Soon the music started and the dancers came out. First song was fully clothed, and then when the second started, clothes began coming off. Soon they would dance, fully nude, gyrating with their legs open, and guys drooling like pigs. It was disgusting, but it was also a bit arousing. I never considered myself a lesbian, or even bi, but maybe it was just the taboo of it all, of being where I wasn’t supposed to be, of seeing beautiful women parading themselves so freely, that it did turn me on a bit.
It wasn’t until the third girl came out that I understood. I have no doubt you figured it out by now, probably when I was still talking about myself in second grade, but it shocked me. I could never have guessed it. My mother came out, wearing nothing more than a teddy with white stocking and red stilettos. She didn’t notice me at first, and I kind of hung back. My friends, however, headed right up to the stage, waved a bundle of cash and grabbed her attention.
She didn’t notice who it was at first, so she started gyrating, legs open, showing what she told me was too precious to flaunt about like a piece of garbage. Soon Mom realized what was going on, knew who was paying her to dance, and I could see the humiliation etched on her face. She didn’t stop, however. She had a job to do, and she did it. When her song was over, I saw her give me a significant look, pointing me with a glance towards the same bouncer that pushed the pervs off of me.
He took me aside, back to where private lap dances were given. My mom came in, looking afraid of how I would react. I didn’t know what to say. She remained quiet, sitting down on the sofa and looked down at her hands which she rested on her knees. Finally, after several tense minutes, I broke the silence. “So, you’re a stripper?”
“Yes,” she answered in an unnaturally calm voice, unlike her usual tone. “I guess the secret’s out of the bag.”
“It is,” I agreed.
“Was it Mandy who told you?”
“No, but she did suggest it. Why do you ask?”
“Because,” she said, not quite looking me in the eye, “her parent’s have been coming here for years. They knew about it, and kept quiet, for a price.”
“What do you mean, for a price?”
“Can’t you guess what kind of place this is?” She asked patiently, sounding a lot like Mrs. Roberts, one of my favorite teachers from middle school.
“It’s a strip club,” I answered, looking at her as though she were stupid.
“Yes, but things happen here. Things that aren’t supposed to, but they do. The club looks the other way provided no trouble comes of it.”
“Sex, favors, games. Whatever fetish the client wants to engage in, and if we’re up to the task, then why not.”
“You’ve been sleeping with Mandy’s parents?”
“No, just her mother,” she replied, a cheeks flush with embarrassment. Her father likes to watch.”
“Does Dad know?”
“Of course he does,” Mom cried, burying her face in her hands with shame. “He knows, and he knows there’s not a damned thing he can do about it. It’s his fault that it’s come to this. That’s why he drinks so much. It’s the only way he knows how to cope with it.”
“Then why are you doing it?”
“How else am I going to provide for you?”
“I don’t know,” I shrieked hysterically, the absurdity of what I was seeing finally dawning on me. “You could have gotten a real job?”
“This is a real job,” she replied heatedly. “You think this is easy? Do you really think I like doing this?”
“You tell me,” I yelled. “How long have you been doing this?”
“Keep your voice down,” my mother pleaded nervously. “Don’t give them a cause to throw us out?”
“You mean me?”
“No, I mean us,” Mom snapped. “If I can’t keep my clients in check, then I’m out of here, too. And don’t think you being in here isn’t costing me money. I have to give the house a cut in what I bring in, and being in here without making anything, well I’m paying for it out of pocket.”
“Then leave. You’re capable of so much more.”
“You don’t think I tried?” Mom said, her voice wavering for the first time. “Don’t you think that wasn’t my plan? I enrolled at the community college, but I’m too stupid even to pass a remedial class there. I was never the smart one. That was your father. I was just the pretty one, the little trophy bitch at home. You know he had other girlfriends. That’s who he was with the night he broke his back.”
“And you stayed?” I yelled before lowering my voice. “You stayed?”
“I was only ever the cute side chick. We only got married because of you. He promised to provide for me so long as he was free to do what he wanted. I agreed because what choice did I have?”
“Mom,” I cried, grabbing her hands. “You have choices. You don’t have to do this. I mean, you’re almost forty. How much longer do you think you can do this?”
“If I can get you through college, that’ll be enough for me.”
“Mom, I don’t need you to do that. My grades are good enough to get me scholarships at the state school.”
“I thought you wanted to go to one of those fancy Ivy League schools.”
“I did,” I replied. “I do, but not like this. I’d rather be poor than see you degrading yourself for me.”
There was a knock on the door. “Time,” came the bouncer’s voice.
“We’ll talk about it later,” my mother said, standing up and fixing her bra strap. In my emotional state, I had failed to notice that my mother was only wearing revealing lingerie.
I nodded and walked out the door, my mother following me out. “Careful with your friend, Mandy,” my mother implored me. “She’s propositioned me a couple of times, too. I politely refused. I think that’s why she decided to out me.”
I nodded. My friends were right where I left them. Mandy turned towards me with a smirk as i walked up. “How’s mummy?” she asked.
Without thinking about it, I cocked my fist back and punched her squarely on the nose. Blood gushed out everywhere and I turned on my heel and walked out. The bouncer hurried towards Mandy, giving me a little wink as I left. I hopped into my car, leaving my friends behind. Screw them, thinking it would be funny to do this to me on my birthday. I didn’t need it. As I drove off, the first flakes of snow beginning to fall, I imagined them having to find a way home. Smirking to myself, I began to call their parents, just to let them know where they were at.