March 14th of 2008, was a Friday. I worked that night, ten years ago, the strip club was my playground. Most of the time, the club was like a big party. We were fake, all of us: nails, hair, noses, boobs. A bunch of messed-up women desperate to be someone else. We’d smoke cigarettes on the porch off the dressing room, bang a few lines, fix our hair, and try not to trip down the stairs back into the club.
I quit dancing near the end of March 2008. The transition was hard, the attention and the cash were intoxicating. Also, it was easier to hide behind a stripper identity when I was a single mom with daddy issues.
Church, rehab, and higher education sobered me up. I became fully immersed in Jesus culture. For me, rules + discipline = functional adult. In grad school, I began practicing my own beliefs on myself: love and forgiveness.
During a graduate school residency, I traveled to Slovenia. One night at a bar, nestled in a lounge chair under a covered patio, whiskey glasses and beer bottles littering the table, I entered an intense conversation with a friend and fellow student.
I asked them--and myself-- why am I like this? Why am I so mad?
They answered simply, something I never could have seen on my own.
Because you’ve been fighting your whole life, they said.
Back home I am confused, sad, and desperate. The sermons I hear are becoming opinions borne of fear. I wonder what happened to the book of ACTS but am too afraid to lose my place, afraid to lose what feels like the only community I have.
My daughter attempts suicide in May of 2017. She swallows half a bottle of Valium. She says she is my son now. My child can be a penguin if the other option is death. I call three places where I hold obligations: work, theatre, church. The immediate and total support from two of these places is overwhelming but the third, my place of refuge, fails.
There is a reaction, not a response. I am told my child is not welcome to interact within the church.
After, a retraction: prayer-less, perfunctory, no witnesses despite my asking.
The girls at the strip club were better behaved than this. Even with our invented personas, all the manipulation and lies, at least everyone there played by the rules.
I find myself staring at my own Facebook for hours, wondering who I am.
Ten years ago, I forgot who I was. To become what I thought a functional mother and wife should be, I forgot what I stood and knelt for. Ten months ago, the God I love did not align with the God offered to me, and it took me too long to remember that men are not Gods.
I remember when I used to believe I could save the world.
I remember a girl who spoke up when something wasn’t right.
Ten years later, I’m discovering her again.
I’m still processing, evolving, and learning. It’s hard to know how to love myself. I don’t know the answers to too many of my own questions but I do know that God, the real God, is love. And love will always win.
On March 14th, 2018, you can catch me outside, spending seventeen minutes supporting the future leaders America so desperately needs.
Nikki Boss lives in New England. She is currently an adjunct professor at Nichols College and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can find her work in Crack the Spine, Beechwood Review, and 200cc's, among other places online and in print.
Nikki encourages others to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Make-A-Wish exists to fulfill the wish of every child with a critical illness and actually spends their money doing this. For more information, visit: www.wish.org