I once called a girl by her real name in the changing room at work, to her face.
I was so embarrassed. I’ve actually probably done it more than once in my time as a stripper, but this was a time I particularly remember, not for any reason other than I felt especially ashamed for my mistake.
Maybe it was because I looked up to her a lot. She was so kind and graceful, and it just made me feel all the more clumsy. We were just starting to hang out more outside of work, too, where even there I’d call her by her stripper name Melanie and she’d still call me Rosemary.
It’s unmindful to make out even a casual whisper of a girl’s “street name” anywhere in the strip club, even if you know her outside of work. Usually, it’d take time and trust to earn the right to know a girl’s real name, and there are different levels of comfort that she’d feel about when it’s said and where. Some may feel indifferent, but other girls might make their eyes go big and dead to clue you in: not here, not now. And most of these girls, you’ll never even learn their real names. You’ll see them in the changing room cowering down naked in the middle of a decision, holding up a pink pair of panties with one hand and a white pair in the other. Rosemary, which do you think would look better?
You’ll get to know the angle in the curve of her bending spine and what posture she chooses when she wants to cover herself down there: does she push her thighs together to conceal what’s between them? Or is she the type that leans her body down over to the floor, her head turned into herself and hair falling around like a yellow field in the wind like she’s her own curtain. How does she perform privacy? Does she turn away completely and face the corner? Or is she one of the types who does not care, ever, the world can close its eyes if it really must.
It depended on the day, how long ago you shaved, if you were on the rag, who else was in the room, and sometimes for no particular reason at all. Today, I just don’t want anyone to see. So, I’d open my locker and change behind it. Although, every club and every changing room does have a uniquely different dynamic and mood. Some are small and cramped and probably a fire hazard, others are spacious with lounging couches and associated coffee tables. The later were luxury. And if the girls didn’t get along well, you felt the tension in the room boiling over like hell. Especially if it was tiny. If it was a comfortable, kind environment, it was probably alright to ask if anyone had a pair of scissors, which translates to “does anyone have anything that will cut off my tampon string?”
The clubs I worked at were topless, so breasts didn’t matter as much, but rarely I saw other girls without bottoms on in the changing room. That was too naked. I worked at a fully nude club one night in Portland, when I was traveling. Once for a night in Berlin too. Oh, that was crazy . . . So, anyways, I didn’t know I had that kind of passion. Having your kitty out when you’re on the stage dancing is a different kind of naked; it’s part of an act, it’s an accessory to your costume. And in the changing room, it becomes yours and only yours again, no longer for anyone else (unless you’re having shameless drunk sex with another girl in there, which, on my witness account, happens, apparently. What a chaotically beautiful world we live in, right? Just look at the ways that we’ve evolved to cope with the existential struggle. To each their own, I suppose).
You’ll get to know the way a girl hides (or how she fucks other girls, if you so choose to watch (I made the conscious decision to watch)) before you know the name that she has written on her cappuccino cups at the mall. And you’ll think later about how bad it would be if you ever ran into her in public, perhaps at a family restaurant with your parents, and how she might brush past your table and say hi, like, hey Rosemary so carelessly, and you’ll have to explain that it’s just a weird nickname with a long, complicated backstory. And then maybe you decide she’s cool and she decides you’re cool and you start hanging out outside of work. Out in the wild, outside the club, where your name is different but also really isn’t. Bri is just Rosemary with less makeup and more clothes, to her. As time goes on, you may start to get to know each other better. You’ll start seeing each other’s bedrooms and share secrets and then you may begin to meet each other’s not-stripper friends, her regular friends, who work as cooks and servers in local breweries. You may meet her boyfriend(s) and she’ll meet your sisters, cousins, enemies. You may go to concerts together and get tequila drunk and get breakfast mimosas in the hungover morning. You’ll hang out so much that eventually her two names will blur out together. Then, one day, you just might slip up at work. It was a forgivable offense, but always it was startling. The best way to put it is that it just feels unnatural to hear your real name come out from any dirty clean sparkly faded corner of the club. Maybe it’s alright when there’s no one else around to hear, maybe, just maybe then. But even then, it’s still not right, and it still feels like you’ve just swallowed the air instead of speak into it.
We were in the changing room and I apologized to her, Melanie, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to . . . and I trailed off to leave room for her to interrupt me without interrupting me. And she laughed because she was one of the good ones. Not a loud laugh with an open mouth, but the sound you make after someone tells a sad joke and you just want to let them know they’re not sad themselves, more like a blunted buzz in the back of your throat, a laugh out of pity for you, the poor one who made the embarrassing, amateur mistake, now relieved, it’s alright. She was one of the good ones. At least we weren’t out on the floor in front of a customer, she said.
Her number was saved in my phone under her stripper name. Melanie, I should have known better. It’s okay Rosemary, it’s been a long night. Get home safe. Thanks, you too. On the drive back home from the club, there’s a dark highway in the rear view mirror. Then headlights. And in their light, I’m seeing my eyes see me in the rear view mirror, as if I was something that both drives the car and follows behind it. 2:10AM. I blink. In the dirt parking lot behind my house, I sit alone in my car, preparing for the transition from driving to walking to washing my face off in front of a mirror hung on the wall above a sink that I stand in front of, watching someone clean the day off of the surface of my skin. 2:39AM.
Brianne Agnizle is an emerging writing from Michigan. She is currently in an MFA program at Western New England University. In 2014, she had two prose pieces published in an anthology of work by Terminal Books. In 2015 and 2016, Brianne had fiction published by The Central Review. Her self-published chapbook of poetry And That Is Love: Agressively Gentle was reviewed by Commonplace Review in 2018, and this chapbook is catalogued by and can be found in the Columbia University Libraries, New York.