I can’t remember his exact words, but my main funny-man Louis CK has this stand-up bit where he talks about aging. With his usual sarcasm, he goes on about how twenty-year-olds think they’re gonna live forever. They revel in the mystical idea of turning thirty.
“What’s it gonna be like when I’m THIRTY!?” (audience laughter fills the room).
I heard this bit in my car the other night (thanks, Louis CK Radio/Pandora) and couldn’t help slip back in time.
The thought of turning thirty was heavy on my mind and actually played a major role in what catapulted my walking away from the stripping life at 28. I talk about my last night in the strip club in Larry Smith’s book, THE MOMENT (Chapter titled Sunset Strip).
CK has it right. There’s a certain fearlessness in our 20s that navigates our choices. Stripper or not, the fuck ups can be epic. I just finished a chapter (trust me, I’m dying to finish my memoir and share it with you) that talks about this very thing. My fingers danced on the keys as my eyes were wide-eyed in amazement that I even survived. So many dangerous – ok, fine – stupid decisions that could have easily landed me in jail or worse, an early grave.
* * *
It was 1988 and I just celebrated my 20th birthday. Robert, a one-night-stand-turned live-in lover (ten years my senior) was one of the biggest coke dealers in town. He chose me!
An ex Chippendales dancer from Los Angeles with the face of a young Al Pacino, Robert made me weak in the vagina. It didn’t matter that he was using me for a place to crash, fucked around tirelessly and threw me across the room when I “gave him grief” – with Robert, I thought I hit the jackpot. Cocaine was the glamor drug and between the free supply and mind-blowing orgasms, I didn’t stand a chance.
A 500 square foot walk-up on the edge of Waikiki was my first apartment. All of my neighbors were in their 20s and loved to party as much as Robert and me. I used to joke that our little rock-and-roll apartment complex was like a college dorm, only instead of tearing through the study books, we snorted and drank our way through the days.
I didn’t care if I had to kill a couple of island roaches every now and then and I only had a thin piece of foam covering the concrete floor. At $400.00 a month, it was mine. And after Robert charmed his way in, refusing to leave – it was his now too. We’re living together!
We fucked like animals and fought just as hard. Having the cops show up at 4:00 am was typical. For us, chaos was foreplay. It was awesome in the most traumatic way.
After a couple of years, we fell into a dysfunctional groove. It was everything I thought I wanted, even though somewhere deep inside, the feeling of desperation and self-loathing for allowing myself to be treated like shit was suffocating. But that was normal. Everything was normal. Until the day it wasn’t.
Robert wasn’t just a coke dealer, he was a “mule.” Every few weeks, he flew from Honolulu to Los Angeles, then back home again with huge amounts of blow taped to his body under his clothes.
The day before Thanksgiving after boarding the plane home with four kilos in tow, Robert disappeared. He never landed in Honolulu, and his boss Rick was out for blood. I was the first person he interrogated.
In what could only be described as a scene from Miami Vice, my apartment was torn apart, my phone was bugged, and every step I took outside was followed by Rick’s shadow; he was convinced I was in on the heist. I wasn’t. After three years of abuse, the bullshit lying, cheating and ripping me off, Robert finally did me a solid. Maybe his guilt drove him to keep me out of his master plan. I’ll never know. But I’m grateful that in a very uncharacteristic way, Robert protected me from Rick and his men by keeping me completely in the dark.
Drug Lords always have men. Rick and his were yoked-up Samoan body-builders who never smiled and wore neon colored Gold’s Gym tank tops and weight lifting belts – even outside the gym.
“I know you know, Christine. Where the fuck is he?” Rick meant business.
“I promise you. I have no idea.” My voice was that of a tough little girl. I suppose in a way, I still was.
“Christine. You’re fucking lying. If you’re lying…” The veins in his forearms stretched with each breath.
“I have no reason to lie to you, Rick. He bailed. I swear, I have no idea where he went. If I had a Bible, I’d lay my hand on it right now. You can keep following me. I have nothing to hide.” My eyes were burning into his with fierce intensity. My hands were steady, as I pretended to hold a Bible. Any terror I should have been feeling eluded me, because for once in my young-adult, drug induced life, I was telling the truth.
I never did hear from Robert – and Rick finally backed off. Rumor has it he was killed in Mexico after Rick tracked his ass down, but who knows. What I do know is that I’m lucky I came out of that world in once piece.
* * *
I’ll be turning 46 in a few days.
I’m worlds away from the frightened girl who walked away from the stripping life. Instead of wondering what’s it gonna be like when I’m thirty, I find myself tapping on the window of fifty, sneaking a peek into a world I never knew I’d belong. Part of me still wonders if I do.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20s, 30s or even in the thick of middle age (when the fuck did that happen?), we all have memories of being fearless.
So what happened?
Call it growing older and (hopefully) wiser, but it seems our proverbial balls somehow shrink with each birthday candle we add to the mix. Our priorities shift. We settle into our choices – stop taking chances. Or maybe we just have more to lose.
Sometimes it takes remembering how far we’ve come to realize the direction we want to go.
Still, it doesn’t mean we need to sleepwalk through the rest of our story. Every once in a while, it’s good to touch the wet paint next to the sign warning us not to.
Having balls doesn’t mean putting them up on the chopping block of recklessness. Being fearless isn’t synonymous with stupidity. If anything, our courage should be even greater as we age, not dissipated for simply knowing better. We don’t need to mirror our 20-something daredevil behavior to feel alive. We just need to give ourselves permission to make better mistakes.