This woman was NOT just some stripper…
Read part one of this saga here.
“I would never do anything to hurt you” she said to me, as she tightened the leather straps around my wrists and ankles. Then she kissed my forehead, thwacked the large wooden paddle she was holding loudly into the palm of her hand, and disappeared from sight.
Something told me she was lying…
Exactly how did I end up in the middle of a restaurant, stripped down to my best pair of Calvins, with my jeans around my ankles, in restraints on Valentine’s Day?
Three days after my visit to the Melody Cinema, I found myself digging through my wallet for the torn piece of cardboard Betty had scribbled her phone number onto. I had serious reservations about dating an “exotic dancer,” but I also had gigantic blind spots for red flags. Against all my better judgement, I called her.
It was noon on a Tuesday and she’d been fast asleep; I had forgotten that strippers don’t keep banker’s hours. I was surprised she remembered who I was, as I wasn’t really sure how regular an occurrence giving out her number at work was; apparently it fell somewhere between a snowball’s chance in hell and never. Given her exotic look her ethnicity was indistinguishable by appearance, but the rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroll of her R’s confirmed she was Latina. Our small talk ended with her agreeing to a dinner date later that week.
I had always wanted an American muscle car. They were built in a time when there was no shame in speed, and excess didn’t mean embarrassment. The twelve miles I got per gallon were well worth the rumble-like thunder of her idle and the roar of power vibrating up my spine every time I hit the gas. Ronnie was 3,000 pounds of pure American steel and arrogance, and the only thing that could make her look better was Betty in the passengers seat. I popped the top and hit the highway; sun in my face, and wind in my hair (I had hair, back then).
Veronica and I picked up Betty in the Soundview section of the Bronx she called home. Maybe it was the way she had poured herself into that red chenille sweater or the fact that this was the first time I was actually seeing her in clothes, but the raw sexuality she unconsciously oozed seemed dialed back, as if what was previously boiling had now been set to simmer. We had dinner reservations at a restaurant on the west side waterfront. The conversation that ensued left me baffled as to why this woman chose to strip for a living.
Betty was an Ivy League graduate with a dual degree. She spoke four languages fluently, and preferred Bach over Mozart. She expressed a fondness for Renaissance art and post-modernist sculpture, and she quoted Descartes and Nietzsche freely. It was clear she had brains—big, round, firm brains—
—but the more she talked, the more it seemed her prodigious intelligence was yet another mask behind a mask.
We finished dinner long before I was ready for the evening to end. We next found ourselves at a pool hall in SoHo, where she proceeded to split a six game set of nine-ball with me. I felt comfortable laying blame on the distracting way her sweater clung to her every curve for my mediocre performance. We then traipsed hand-in-hand through Washington Square Park, where, after conning a con man into letting us use his chess board for a one-on-one match, I barely avoided the ignominy of being defeated in chess and pool in the same night. Facade or not, I was duly impressed.
I drove Betty back up to the Bronx and we climbed into Veronica’s ginormous back seat and made out like teenagers. The succubus who bit and clawed at me was neither the calculating vixen who ground herself into my crotch a week prior or the cerebra who discussed art, philosophy, and science with casual ease. This creature was feral, and bore no resemblance to the urban sophisticate I’d dined with earlier that evening. At that point I wasn’t sure what was real and what was contrivance—and I didn’t care. To me, that was about as good as first dates got. She was beautiful, smart, and wildly sensual. I drove back to Brooklyn elated, euphoric.
On the way home, Ronnie blew a gasket. Literally.
For those of you who have never been in a car when the engine exploded, it is exactly what you think: there’s an earth-shattering ka-boom, complete with the sound of metal wrenching, followed by a prolonged hiss, and the clanging of parts which were once connected, now banging into each other impotently. I must have been doing at least ninety-five miles per hour when she blew, because I cruised for at least two miles before I slowed to a standstill. It was four o’clock in the morning, I was stranded, and my elation had turned to despair just that quickly. Were I clairvoyant—or even mildly aware—I would have seen this as a portent of things to come with Betty, and Veronica.
I had Ronnie towed to the Bronx, so that Frankie, my mechanic, could work on her. Frankie spewed a contiguous stream of curses so rank it could singe your ear hairs, but he was honest, reasonably priced, and trustworthy. What I appreciated most about Frankie was: he could always give you a fair estimate of how much repairs would cost before he started, whether or not something was worth fixing, or if it made more sense to just cut your losses, count your blessings, and get another vehicle. I often thought his talents were wasted on cars; Frankie should have been a relationship counselor. I imagined a scenario where I would bring my woman in, and he’d start swearing at me in his thick Italian accent.
“Jackie, you mamaluke, what the hell have you been DOING to this woman? This is essere fottuto; I TOLD you, you can’t ride her so hard. Ok you pompinaio, let’s put her up on the lift and see what’s going on under there; I’ll see if there’s anything I can do.”
Frankie rebuilt Ronnie’s engine from scratch, and she and I were back out on the street in short but expensive order. This was far from the end of our troubles. It became clear that I was dealing with the repercussions of a long history of abuse. In the weeks and months that followed our first resplendent date, the ghosts in both the machine and the woman behind the masks, began to emerge.
Beneath the boobs and behind the brains, Betty hid a fractured soul. She had been a victim of sexual abuse from an early age, and every male she’d ever known before me had treated her like a thing. As much as she wanted to believe in my goodness and accept my kindness, no word or action on my part could convince her she was deserving of love. I began to understand why she erected barricades:
She wasn’t protecting herself, she was protecting me. Betty was hellbent on self-destruction, and when she blew, you didn’t want to be anywhere near the blast radius.
That’s not to say we weren’t having fun; for a while we were having the time of our lives. But to say Betty was unstable was an understatement. She was conversely jovial and volatile, and there was never any way of telling who you were going to get, and when she was going to change.
Imagine yourself for a moment, in a country meadow on a perfect spring day. A cloudless bright blue sky bathes you in beams of golden sunlight. Snow-capped purple mountains frame the panoramic background, and you can see tiny woodland creatures frolicking in the forest. A fresh mountain brook babbles nearby, and you’ve taken off your shoes and socks to feel the cool dew on the grass between your toes. Picture yourself, loving life and basking in the glow of the moment, when suddenly you hear a click beneath your feet. Instinctively, you know you have just stepped on a land mine, and in the time it takes to form that realization, there is no force in heaven or on earth that can keep you from being blown to kingdom come.
This is what loving Betty was like.
I would stop by her “office,” and after a quick hello, I would watch her work, with a mix of revulsion and admiration, and a level of emotional detachment I didn’t believe myself capable of. With surgical precision she’d separate men from their earnings, in the most sordid way possible. She’d pay out, and leave with a wad of cash thicker than her forearm. Then we’d hop in Ronnie, pop the top, and begin the purification process by which she dealt with the emotional ramifications of her livelihood: utter lunacy. Too much was never enough, and crazy just didn’t cut it. We drove too fast, ate too rich, and fucked like wild banshees—sometimes simultaneously; anything to avoid consciously acknowledging what she did for a living and how it impacted her already scarred psyche.
And we drank, to excess. There was one time we went to a local biker bar after club hours on tequila night. Between the two of us we kicked back forty-four shots of tequila before I realized I’d run out of money. Ronnie got us home safely that night. The next day Ronnie blew her transmission. The cascade of curses my mechanic Frankie spit in my direction could have peeled the paint off of Veronica’s chassis.
Every good time we had seemed to be accompanied by a proportionately bad time, followed by a trip to the mechanic. There was the romantic dinner for her thirtieth birthday at the amazing Brooklyn waterfront café, followed by the huge argument, trailed by the failed brakes. Then there was the incredible photo shoot, followed by the fight which ended with us not speaking for weeks, culminating in my asking the universe how my life could get any worse. I came home that night to find a truck had backed into Ronnie, crushing her driver’s side front quarter panel.
I was starting to detect a pattern.
Which brings us back to Valentine’s Day. La Maison was an S&M themed restaurant, featuring French cuisine and optional mild discipline. The couple sitting next to us ordered the Coq Au Vin, served in a doggie bowl. I was enjoying Steak Frites and potatoes au gratin when Betty decided to order “dessert.” And so there I stood, in the middle of a crowded restaurant, disrobed down to my skivvies, tied to posts and standing spread eagle, with Mistress Hillary and her wooden paddle behind me, and Betty in front of me, grinning wickedly and twisting my nipples.
I asked Ronnie for forgiveness in advance for the consequent damage I now knew to expect. Frankie and his harangue stood ready, on speed dial.
© Jackie Summers 2012