Skin Deep: What made me start stripping at 19

“Everybody has scars. It’s just that most people wear them on the inside” – M.W. Stromberg

HF

At Fourteen, I didn’t have any big life dreams other than to fit in with the rest of the 80’s misfits in high school. In a sea of Member’s Only jackets, leg warmers, pastel Izod polo shirts and Z Cavaricci jeans, you’d think it would’ve been easy. But hearing my nick-name, Freddy Kruger because of a skin disease on my face, over and over through the halls punctured my sense of self. With every Kruger calling, internal scar tissue seeped through my bones, weaving its way throughout my teenage years, and even in adulthood. As it turns out, my Pee Chee folder force field and Trapper Keeper sun visor I used while walking to class – not helpful.

My only dream at that time was having Brooke Shields, Cosmopolitan Magazine cover, flawless skin. And even though my face wasn’t magically cured, when I walked on the stripping stage for the first time just five years later – it sure as hell felt like it was.

il_fullxfull.81200872I don’t remember what life was like before having scars on my face. Their presence has been tattooed on my soul, far deeper than what my skin allows. The familiar grimace when greeting my reflection, the slight panic when my eyes lock with a child or walk in a crowded elevator, the slick dinner candle maneuvers; placing them as far from under my chin as possible. It was all autopilot defense in what personal history has taught me. The mirror will always be unfair. Children, in their innocent brutality of truth, will question why something looks different. And shadows, tucked inside my skin, will never, ever be my friend.

It’s hard to believe it all started thirty years ago with a pea-sized bump on my cheek. This wasn’t something I could just pop, either. Much like my love for Chachi Arcola and Shaun Cassidy, this was deep, and it was real. And as if looking like I was shot with a BB gun wasn’t awesome enough, this…thing hurt like mad. It felt like a nasty bruise and every time I smiled or spoke, someone pressed it – hard.

Within days the tiny bump wasn’t so tiny. It filled with blood and was now close to the size of golf ball. It was also no longer alone –  almost overnight, it seemed to have multiplied all over my face. I didn’t see any other kids’ faces in school resembling anything close to mine, so I was truly baffled, not to mention irritated. It was putting a major dent in my plan of becoming a Solid Gold dancer after graduation.

Most every teen on the planet (except, maybe Brooke) gets to live through the lovely coming-of-age meat grinder of adolescence by having acne (not to mention braces, body odor, mood swings, menstrual periods, random hard-ons, and sprouting a wild jungle of pubes), but this was something else. It seems I won some kind of puberty jackpot. I learned (during the first of many doctor visits) that my case was an extreme and rare form of acne called Stage IV Acne Vulgaris (also known as Acne Conglobata, a very serious skin disease complete with nodules and blood-filled cysts).

As soon as Doctor Vulgaris broke the news to mom and me, my eyes welled up. And with the voice of a guilty teenager begging for mercy, I sat up on the tissue-paper covered table and vowed on back issues of Hi Life  magazines to never eat chocolate, greasy fries, pizza or Chinese food again. But Dr. V just shot me half a smile with I’m sorry dear in his eyes. He explained to us that this horror had nothing to do with diet. This was a blood disease and was hereditary. I was grateful for his honesty, but he could’ve at least broken the news with a Snicker’s bar or deep-fried won tons.

Hereditary.

After assessing mom’s flawless skin and raven-haired, hazel-eyed beauty, the level of disdain I already had for my scar-faced father percolated.  It’s one thing to fall in love with a Pan Am stewardess, bail on your wife and two babies, move to Canada to avoid paying child support – but to give me THIS – thanks, dad – you’re the best.

“I hate him.” I could barely get the words out between hyperventilating through my tears. I had not seen him in years but envisioned my father at the bottom of the elevator shaft in the hospital. I wanted the cables to snap, causing us to plummet eighteen floors right on his selfish, Vulgaris-riddled face. I knew he didn’t do this to me, but something about knowing my dad’s genes were a variable in the equation of my pain induced a type of heartache that didn’t feel human. “I really, really hate him.”

“I know, honey.” The fluorescent lights above her angelic face reflected against her glasses, but I could still see it in her eyes; I knew all too well, the look of worry when it came to disappointment from him.

It didn’t take long before my face was covered with red and purple cysts that oozed blood with the touch of my finger. And they didn’t just leak where I pressed them. It was a maze of gore, connected deep under my skin; an ant farm of Freddy.

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One night propped up on my bathroom counter in boxer shorts and my favorite Blondie t-shirt, I folded my legs and planted myself in front of the mirror, one ass cheek in the sink. I wanted to get a closer look at a particularly massive cyst on my temple next to my left eye. It was so huge and purple, almost black – that a kid in school announced to the class earlier that day that it looked like I got punched in the face (which I didn’t deny, because beaten was better than ugly). I could barely see out of the corner of my eye so I decided to drain it myself.

After lighting a match to the tip of one of mom’s safety pins from her sewing kit (I don’t know why I thought that would make it more sterile), I went to work. I barely pierced my flesh and in a second, I heard a hissing sound,  like air being let out of a balloon and the cyst exploded, splattering blood all over the mirror and walls. It looked like a crime scene. But there was still more blood in the wound. I held my breath, not knowing what would come next and pressed the edges around the cyst gently. Then something freaky happened. The skin under my chin tracing my jaw ripped open and before I knew what was happening, I felt blood dripping on my thigh. It was from a cyst I wasn’t even touching. Fascinated and mortified, I couldn’t call out to my mom or even cry. I spent the next twenty minutes using every bathroom tissue in the box wiping up the evidence.

A couple of days later, more cysts. This time, in addition to my face, they showed up on my neck, chest and back. My throat would ooze blood if I stretched my neck to one side. This time the tears managed to come. I was wearing a Halloween costume that was impossible to take off.

Somewhere between the bathroom crime scene and waking up with bloodstained towels covering my pillowcase every morning, I did something religious for the first time in my life, without feeling like I had to.

God, if this is you, if you really do exist, I know it’s not Christmas or Easter or anything, and I’m nowhere near a church, but if you can hear me, if you’re not too busy with that whole Kingdom of Heaven gig, I’m begging you – please, please – don’t wake me up.

Of course, I a130204111816-high-school-student-hallway-sad-bully-story-toplways woke up, and to my horror – high school.

No matter where I was – in class, the cafeteria, the gym or walking home, those days were tainted with a chant that still haunts me to this day: “Kruuuuger! Kruuuuger!” Sometimes I still hear it; when I give my fear exclusive sabotaging rights over my willingness to take a risk. It’s the serenade of self-doubt when the beads of sweat from belief and worry exhaust themselves from the tug-of-war within the space of my courage. The bellowing melody of cruelty, which wraps me in pain, suffocating my strength when faced with any challenge in my adult life.

It didn’t take long before cutting class (behind moms back) seemed logical. Why roam the halls dodging bullies when I could hang at home, listen to The Smiths, and get loaded off  Chablis and Fresca?  Besides, compared to Erica Kane, my life somehow didn’t seem as bad.

The next couple of years were a blur of at-home, alcohol induced pity parties nestled between monthly doctor visits (complete with blood tests, cortisone shots, dry ice sticks, Tetracycline and Accutane doses) and even a couple facial surgeries. Accutane was a new pill on the market, still in the testing phase, but Dr. V suggested I give it a try. The side effects were brutal: the skin on my palms, bottom of feet and lips peeled like rice paper, and my scalp was so dry I could “make it snow” like Ally Sheedy’s character Allison in The Breakfast Club, but I didn’t care. My cysts were nearly gone. The only problem was the crater-like scars left it their wake. Over 80 percent of my face looked like melted wax. No longer bloody, but far from Brooke Shields smooth, my skin took me from Freddy Kruger to Moon Face. And still, another year of high school to go.

Before twenty-first century laser beams and magical serums were invented, 1986 for me was spent mostly recovering from the same surgery – twice. This archaic procedure, called Dermabrasion (not to be confused with the micro-Dermabrasions of today) took me under general anesthetic while the skin on my face was sand-blasted with a wire brush. The idea was to smooth out the deep craters as best it could, but I was warned that the results were going to be less than perfect.

Moon Face – Forever?

On the plus side, I discovered Demerol. It’s one thing to shoot back wine all day when I should’ve been conjugating verbs and mastering algebra, but adding pain killers to the mix was a total game-changer.

Then – senior parties, fake IDs and night clubs. Somewhere between the pills and booze, the 80s glam drug cocaine found its way to my wheelhouse. Self-anesthetizing my pain with chemicals became my safety net from suicidal fantasies, which is how I justified walking the graduating line with a half gram of blow tucked inside the cup of my bra.

Many stories behind the velvet rope

Many stories behind the velvet rope

If it wasn’t for my beautiful Barbie Doll friend, Angela convincing me to join her in entering a wet-t shirt contest at nineteen, I never would have stepped foot on the stripper stage. My face was still heavily scarred but I could at least leave the house. Besides, my 1987 Chaka Kahn hair served me well, replacing my Trapper Keeper shield. And with the help of some new drag queen friends from the dance clubs, caked-on theater make-up became my friend.

With my cellulite-free, size four body and natural dance moves, I was a hit on stage. Every dollar bill tip in my garter was validation. For the first time in my life, I felt…pretty. I was finally home.

Freddy and Moon were far from dead, but they were definitely muted with my new-found life of velvet ropes and VIP rooms. Two years flew by and with my 21st birthday on the horizon, I had no idea where my rock-star life would take me, but I was more than ready to find out.

Thoughts?

Christine Macdonald

Emotional Roulette

The warm light piercing my eyes through the window above my bed is a familiar reminder. If I were anyone else, and it was any other day, my dog would already be outside on her wooden porch bench wrapped in her sheepskin blanket, waiting. The sound of my wheels on loose gravel just outside the gate, her cue to greet me; her little tail dancing under cotton candy clouds flirting with the southern California sky. But this is me. Its day six. I’ve yet to get out of bed, let alone make it to the office.

Pulling from the core of my lungs, I struggle to level the guilt within the walls of panic. The audacity of wanting to sleep forever when you could very well drop dead from a brain aneurysm – then realizing you don’t want to cash out this way – is nothing if not funny. Funny, ironic not funny ha-ha. Well, it’ll be hilarious – one day. Tragedy plus time. Isn’t that the comedy rule?

I wonder if normal people – people who don’t fantasize about not waking up – feel about us freaks. Fucking mental illness. Such bullshit.

Instead of hanging with the elements of the January day and kicking back on her bench, my baby Stella (a new three-legged Chihuahua mix I rescued from the pound) lies with me in love. Snuggled together next to the television remote, we’re sheltered from the late morning nuisance above by flannel sheets I quickly pull across our faces.

“How did I get so lucky? I promise I’ll take you for a walk tomorrow.” I whisper, fighting back tears of guilt.

Stella and I shift under the covers as I channel surf and mentally prepare for going back to my normal life soon. Then a buzz from under my pillow. A disturbing text.

A dear friend’s father is thousands of miles away in the Intensive Care Unit and doesn’t have much time left. My mind breaks from its prison of solitude. All I can think about is being there for my friend.

“Come over. I’m begging you.” I text in haste.

No reply.

“Where are you?”

Silence.

My heart was racing. I started to sweat. Where did he go? What can I do for him? What’s happening?

After finally hearing from him, his company wasn’t meant to be and I leveled back into myself.

Time passes and I’m left to marinate in the microscopic residue of familiar emotional patterns. A make-shift quilt of codependency.

Not that I would ever shun helping a loved one – especially someone who lives so close to my heart. But where was that strong woman – the would-be hero of his day, when I needed her the most? Why does she coil under the weight of self-doubt when it comes to her own safety?

For some of us, the hardest thing to do is to walk away from the emotional roulette table. We continually sabotage our safety – treating our own hearts with such carelessness. There’s nothing more intoxicating than a spinning wheel of chaos. So we keep playing. And what we think is shitty luck is really the odds of defeat laughing in our shadow. Of course we always lose. We’re too busy trying to make everyone else happy – never gambling on the one person who should matter most.

When it comes to taking care of ourselves, instead of wishing ‘the odds’ would throw us a bone, maybe it’s time to do what so many of many of us need to: find the strength – put us first – change the game.

 

Christine Macdonald

Fat. Chance.

Most women at some point in their lives have struggled with their weight. And if you’re over 30 and have and access to social media, magazines, television, movie theaters and/or advertising (plugging anything from sports cars to carrot juice) you’re probably not down with  fat.

It’s an ugly word. It says so much in the space of three letters. If you’ve ever been called the F word, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Lazy, slob, gross, ugly, unfuck-able; these are all judgmental derivatives of the word fat.

Even if we’ve never been considered remotely fat by our friends and family, chances are we’ve obsessed over the numbers on our scale at some point between learning to shave our legs and perfecting liquid eye-liner.

I was a stripper addicted to cocaine for the better part of a decade . THIS PHOTO of me (my own words in bold) was taped to my refrigerator for YEARS.

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I want to wrap my arms around her and do everything I can to make her see what I refused to believe because of my inner-bully telling me I wasn’t enough.

Enough for what? More tips on stage? More validation I was attractive? The beautiful, curvy size-12 woman I am today looks at this photo and wants to simultaneously laugh and cry.

I’m not posting this to brag about being a stripper, or show off the bikini bod I wish I still had (and never appreciated). I’m posting this photo as a reminder for us all – including the media – to help young women see the beauty in their bodies, no matter what size.

Think about it. What chance do young women have if our standards are navigated by the skewed perception that skinny equals enough?

To be fair, I was a chubby high-schooler and my stripper period took place during the waif era.  Still, I can’t help but wonder – what was I thinking (more on this later)?

Thoughts?

Christine Macdonald