Her name was Ivy. Perhaps, it was a perfect fit for the slender, young, brunette dancer. But she was one of the few dancers who, while others made fun of me and my awkward friend, took us to the side stage and said, “Let me help you. I’ll teach you some things”.
I was never all that graceful, prior to becoming a stripper. I knew how to be sexy but I was clumsy and nervous. On stage, I spun too fast around the brass poles. Kimmie, the friend I auditioned with, was a bull in a China shop.
“People are laughing at you.” Ivy said on a very slow night. Sphinx, a red haired punk rock kind of girl stood beside her, ready to assist. This was a stripper intervention, I supposed.
“First thing you need to do is buy real stripper shoes. Those shoes aren’t good for this.” Sphinx pointed to my silver high heeled shoes.
“But these are comfortable”.
“For now. You’ll see how much better the real ones are when you get your first pair. Those shoes will fuck up your feet and your back if you keep wearing ’em too long.”
Kimmie looked down at her cheap, white vinyl heels then back at the girls in front of us.
“Slow down when you dance. Guys will pay more attention if you’re slow and sexy” Sphinx explained.
“And try not to swing your hips out so far” Ivy added.
It took me two weeks of trying to master the art of flipping upside down on the pole. I practiced at the side stage during every slow spot each night. I successfully pulled off the trick only to land upside down on my head at the end. I did, however, eventually get it down.
Over the course of my first month or so working as dancer, Ivy and Sphinx became my first of a handful of friends.
Sphinx was an eighteen year old rocker girl with red hair that later became hot pink. She was bold and possessed the fearlessness of youth. Ivy, on the other hand, danced to rap music. Also young, (she must’ve been no more than twenty years old at the time) but she was far more emotional and troubled.
She would run out of the champagne room, crying that someone had tried to force her into sex or tried to violate her. This happened a lot.
One night, our manager told her that she had to stop promising customers sex. It is against the law to deliver on that promise but a huge problem to promise a thing and NOT deliver. “Stop telling guys they can fuck you in the first place. You won’t be allowed to do champagne rooms if you keep doing this.”
“It’s not my fault!” She wailed. “I didn’t promise him anything but he kept trying! It’s not fair that I always get in trouble for it!”
“Ivy, you know what the problem is and you have to take care it. I can send you for a drug test or you can get it together and keep your job.”
Ivy told me in private one night when I was giving her a ride home that she used to be a drug addict. “Just ‘cause I used to do drugs, management always blames drugs and accuses me of shit I didn’t do.”
That night, her phone rang for the entire ride to her apartment. It was the same number on the caller ID and she silenced it at every ring. “Who’s that?” I asked.
“The customer I did a champagne room with. He took my phone and dialed his number with it- on some sneaky shit. I’m not answering him.”
I didn’t know what to think. All I knew was that trouble seemed to follow this girl. Almost every night there was an issue of one kind or another. I had a feeling that there was more to her cell phone story than she was telling me. But I was young and naïve myself and although I saw the signs, I still saw her as the first girl who showed me kindness in the club.
She needed a ride home almost every night. It was only a little out of the way and it was nice having a friend to talk to at the end of a shift. Also, she knew a lot about addiction and my young husband, at the time, was fighting the same battle.
“Suboxone will help if you can get him on it. It helps stop the sickness” she told me.
“I think he’s clean at the moment. He’s been staying away from the stuff for about a week or so.”
“He’s not clean” she said, looking out the window. “Can you stop at this store here? I need cigarettes and something to eat.”
“What do you mean he’s not clean?” I asked, pulling into the lot.
“Trust me. He’s not. He’s an addict. Unless he got into a rehab or on suboxone, he’s still doing drugs. He’s just getting better at hiding it from you.”
After getting what she needed at the little store, she got into the car and asked me to hurry up. As I pulled out she said, “I didn’t pay for that sandwich.” I just looked at her. It wasn’t really my job to steer her moral compass but I wasn’t going to applaud what she’d done. “I put it in my jacket pocket and forgot. Then I figured, fuck it. I wasn’t going back in there.”
“Ok. So what were you saying about addiction?”
“Your man is an addict and I can promise you that he’s still doing drugs. Addicts will always be addicts. You can get help and go through recovery but it’s hard. No one just picks it up and puts it down without help.”
“Are you really clean?” I asked.
“Yes.” She spoke her words slowly in between bites of her stolen sandwich. “But… I know that if I ever touch drugs again, I’ll be an addict forever and I’ll never get better.”
Those words stuck in my head. It was such a sad prognosis, almost a surrender to a life no one chooses to live.
I got better at being a stripper. I started making more money and not being so much of a laughing stock. My friend, Kimmie, did not last in the business. She decided that it just wasn’t for her, and took a job at a grocery store. I was able to save our car from being repossessed (my partner had apparently not been paying the monthly payments) and give my three year old a decent Christmas. I didn’t believe his father to be entirely clean at the time but he seemed better.
Ivy was fired from the club shortly after the holidays for doing something shady and pissing off yet another customer.
“Let’s go try another club” she texted me. “Fuck this one”.
So of course I accompanied my friend in her search for a new club. A friend of ours drove us around the area to the big clubs that populated the nearby city and the small ones in the dark corners of suburban towns. He was a gentlemen a little older than ourselves of dark skin and light green eyes. He was closer to Ivy than to me but we all knew one another from the club. The best thing about him was that he was respectful and understanding.
“This a good one” he said, pulling up to a building with sleek glass doors and a massive billboard above it, advertising it’s company name.
We visited a few clubs like this one. I wasn’t sure I was ready to work in a place like this. I felt anxious imagining myself in the spotlight so high above such a sea of seats and attentive spectators. We filled out applications anyway but didn’t audition.
We stopped for food on our way back to the suburban area we called home. Our friend was kind enough to run in for us and bring us our food. I sat in the back seat, texting. The conversation with Ivy had faded to silence. I had been unaware that she’d fallen asleep.
“What’s the matter?” Our friend asked when he got back in the car. “You tired?”
“A little.” She answered.
He raised his eyebrows in suspicion. “You were all bubbly and fine when I left the car. What happened? You take a pill or something?”
“No, I just didn’t sleep last night”.
“I don’t know about that.” Perplexed, our friend turned his eyes to the road and pointed the car toward home.
The club Ivy and I settled on was a small hole-in-the-wall place that I had suggested. I’d been there before and worked a few shifts there. I would work there with Ivy for her first day and on occasion after that.
“I need a new name” she said on the way in.
“What’s wrong with the one you have?”
“Nothing. I just don’t wanna be Ivy anymore”.
We went back and forth suggesting new names.
Naming a stripper is like naming a child. You choose a name you like and then wonder how it will suit the person who will live with it. Exotica…. nice name but too slutty. Candy… cool name but too common in the stripper world. Maryanne? Too innocent. Sin? Too sinful.
I looked at the young woman in the passenger seat. Who was she? And what kind of person did we want her to become?
“Rose”. I’ll be Rose.” She decided.
I liked it. It was more innocent than Ivy but beautiful and sexy. Romantic, even.
After the audition, my friend came into the dressing room. “They wouldn’t let me be Rose because they already have one.”
“That sucks. What’d you pick instead?”
“Sapphire. But that one’s already taken too.”
“Bummer. What name did you go with then?”
“I’m still Ivy. But that’s ok. At least I’m used to it.”
“I’m gonna do different music though. The kind Sphinx dances to. I like that stuff too.”
Sublime blared through the speakers of the tiny club as Ivy danced upon the small, square stage. The red lace lingerie set she wore looked sexy and romantic. It stood out against the neon spandex and hot pink fishnets I’d seen her and other dancers wear before. Her dark hair hung in curls over her shoulders, making her blue eyes stand out. She could have been a Rose. But she wasn’t. She was an Ivy. Maybe naming a stripper is not like naming a child after all.
I only worked with Ivy once or twice at the new club. I preferred the club where we’d started. Still, I checked in on her from time to time. Not long after she started at the new club, I got word that she’d been fired for locking herself in the bathroom and passing out in there. Sphinx, her best friend, told me that Ivy had gone back to drugs. I didn’t want to believe it but it all made sense. I thought about what she’d told me about addiction and hoped it wasn’t true.
As time went on, I didn’t see or hear much about Ivy, other than that our green eyed friend had driven through “the hood” and seen her walking the streets looking strung out and pale.
“How’s Ivy doing?” I asked Sphinx, one evening.
“She’s living in a crack house. She got kicked out of her apartment because her landlord found a drug bag. She’s not doin’ good.”
“If I ever start again I’ll be a drug addict forever and I’ll never get better”. Her words ran through my mind again.
I was pretty sure that my (then) husband was using again, if he hadn’t been doing so all along. I just couldn’t prove it at the moment. “Your man is an addict. I can promise you that he’s not clean” more of Ivy’s words…
The final straw with him was when he forced me to go buy him drugs. Before I went to work, one Sunday, he’d begged me to see if I could get him some Percocet or something. I didn’t want to spend my work time searching for drug hookups. I especially didn’t want him to keep doing drugs. I came home empty handed.
“What? You got nothing? I’m dying here!” he cried.
“I don’t have drug hookups” I argued.
“Yes you do! You could have gotten me something but you didn’t!”
“It’s not my job to bring you drugs!” I yelled.
He jumped up from the bed and got in my face. “My skin is crawling! You have no idea what this feels like! How can you leave me like this?!”
I became enraged at hearing this. “What do mean leave you like this?!” I yelled. “This was not my doing! You did this to yourself!”
“I know you know people” he said.
I knew what he was talking about. He was referring to a guy that we knew from the club. He had painkillers prescribed to him and he sold his leftovers. We’d met up with him and purchased drugs before. “I’m not asking him.”
“Please!” he begged. Ask him! I know he’ll have something. Please.”
The truth is, I’d already asked him. He did have the kind of pills that my (then) husband needed. But he had made it clear that he was not willing to stay up late and wait for me unless I was coming alone. I told my husband this.
“Please do it for me! Everything will be fine!”
“I don’t really know him all that well.”
“I met him before. He seemed like a pretty nice guy. I think you’ll be fine.”
“You think?! This is a guy I hardly know!”
“I’ll go with you and hide right outside the house. I’ll be watching you the whole time through the window” he promised.
When I got there, the man led me toward the kitchen of his home. A child’s toys lined the perimeter of the living room. It looked like any other good parent’s home. But could I really trust this guy? Unsure, I wondered.
“I’m doing this for you because I like you” he said.
I didn’t see any drugs in plain sight. I wondered when he would reveal them to me. Like I said, I didn’t know the man very well. I had very limited social skills and I was naïve beyond belief.
As the man came closer to me, I looked toward the sliding glass door across the room. I imagined that my (then) husband was out there, crouching in the shrubbery, watching, but all I saw was darkness. “Your man is probably outside hiding in the bushes.”
“No he’s not” I lied, giving him a flirtatious smile. As scared as I was, my gut feeling was that I was not in any real danger. Yes, it was a bad situation and I’d put myself in a vulnerable position. However, I somehow knew everything would be alright.
I left with two orange bottles full of pills. One of them contained three of the opiate based pills that my partner was desperately hooked on. The other contained a decent amount of benzodiazepines, which would calm him during fits of withdrawal. I paid next to nothing for them. I did not have to do sexual favors for the drugs but the man had “hooked me up” as a courtesy of his adoration of me.
“I told you he wasn’t going to hurt you” my (then) husband said when I returned to him with the drugs in tow.
“Well, I was scared as shit anyway. So thank you for that.”
“Don’t worry. I was right there ready to jump out if he tried anything. But I told you he wouldn’t. He’s just a nice guy who likes to talk to a pretty girl once in a while.”
The drugs I’d gotten for him lasted him only two or three days. At the time I was working two jobs. One of them was a day job that provided health insurance for my family. My job at the club provided the money we needed to pay bills and feed ourselves and our toddler son. My mother helped me a lot by babysitting my child while I worked. There were, however, times during the day when my work hours overlapped hers and my partner had to take care of our son until my mother got home.
Addiction became a major problem here. Three days after I got him the drugs, he said to me, “Please help me. I need more so I can watch the baby while you work tomorrow. I can’t do this. Please.”
I flipped out over the fact that he wanted me to go get drugs again just so he could watch our son. “This is not my problem! You have to stop doing this!”
“I just need a little bit just so I can function.”
“No. I’m not doing it.”
“Please. I promise, if you help me one more time, I’ll go get help. I promise.” He looked at me with helplessness in his eyes.
I met the guy again and bought drugs. Meanwhile, I called everywhere looking for some kind of drug rehabilitation program or a clinic. No one would take my (then) husband for less than hundreds of dollars per week. Even with insurance, it was still just as costly. I made it clear to him that he had to get clean somehow or get out.
One night, I was getting dressed and ready for work when he started begging me to get him more drugs. I told him I couldn’t. He told me that if I left the house without getting him drugs first, he would flatten my tires.
“I’ll call the cops if you do”, I said.
“The car’s in my name too. I can’t get in trouble for flattening MY OWN tires”. He asked, “How can you DO THIS to me? How can you LEAVE me like THIS?”
I didn’t do this to him. I learned what drugs were about very early on and decided that it was not the kind of life I wanted to live. I tried to stop my partner from doing it as well, but I was unable to do so. The choice to keep doing it was his own. Yet I was suffering because of it.
Another dancer introduced us to suboxone. She was kind enough to sell us some for very cheap and they worked very effectively for my partner. As long as he took one of the orange pills, he felt some relief from the horrors of addiction and was able to function at somewhat of a normal level.
Then we ran out of it. The girl didn’t have any more she could spare. I couldn’t find it anywhere. As a last resort, I texted Ivy. Surprisingly she got back to me right away. “Yes, I can get you suboxone.”
My (then) husband and I took a train into “the hood” to meet her the next morning. When I saw her walking toward me, I saw the same dark haired, bright eyed girl as before, but something was different. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. She wore a tight orange top with a pair of jeans that halfway covered the little turtle tattoo on her hip. Her style hadn’t changed. Then I realized what it was. Her clothes weren’t clean.
As long as I’d known her, she had always had a clean appearance. She smoked cigarettes, but her clothes always had the underlying scent of laundry detergent. She even brought her own special soap to work with her. Seeing this girl like this was disheartening.
We did our deal in a bus station and then parted ways. In another few days, we would need more.
“I can only get them if you buy a lot of them this time” she told me over the phone. My partner was barely getting through the days at this point. He tried to make what he had last but it wasn’t enough. I suspected he was back on drugs and I was desperate.
We agreed to meet at an apartment building where she would hand off the antidote for my partner’s affliction and I’d hand her the cash.
When I pulled up to the run down looking building, I didn’t see her at first. I waited. A few minutes later, I saw her unkempt curly head of dark hair emerge from behind the building. I rolled down my window and she reached in. I surveyed our surroundings and saw that no one was watching us. But instead of handing me something, she just took the cash in her hand. “I have to go get them now” she said.
“You don’t have them already?” I objected.
“No, I didn’t have the money but I’m getting them right now. I’ll be right back.”
Before I could say anything else, she ran off. I wanted to go grab my hard earned money back but I was not about to get out and chase her down the alley.
For me, it was a lesson learned. I had no business going and buying stuff like that off the street. I was playing a dangerous game and risking my own safety. I vowed never to do it again.
Hours later, Ivy responded to my many calls and text messages. She told me a story about having been chased and robbed by some scary, bad people while she was on her way to get me the suboxone. She was crying on the phone about how horrible it was being run down by these people.
I knew it was bullshit but I sympathized with her for the fact that, the girl was, indeed, being run down. Only not by evil thieves. She was being run down by herself and her addiction.
Poison Ivy in one’s yard is not done away with easily. It grows and grows in vines that branch off of each other. It grows upwards and downwards, sideways, underneath and around other plant life. It takes persistent action and dedication to keep it at bay or finally stomp it out.
I did manage to find a doctor for my (then) husband to treat his problem without having to buy substances illegally. It was a very long road to recovery for him and over the years he has struggled with it. We are no longer married but we are still friends.
We didn’t know it back then, but addiction is something so big that it nearly consumes the person. It grows and grows until it is a torturous monster of epic proportions. Every day I am grateful that I did not fall into the claws of addiction myself and I deeply feel for those who have.
I’m not angry at Ivy. Sure, I was pretty pissed that day. But not now. Over the years, I hoped that she would resurface and that I would see or hear news that she was at least fighting the good fight, at least trying to get better. But I never heard from her again. I looked her up on social media and although I didn’t see many posts, I did see some photos that she’d posted over the years. Many of them are of her standing in a mirror by herself. Other pictures show her with a great big, fluffy looking dog in which her face glows with joy. This tells me that she is living some sort of life and I suppose that’s all I can hope for for the girl who taught me so many lessons that I needed to learn.