For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be naked.
Not like that-I’m not a whore. I just hate wearing clothes. I hate being covered. I like to think I’m beautiful, at least compared to the girls in my grade. What’s so wrong with allowing other people to enjoy that? To adore it, even? Body positivity is a big thing these days-I’ve looked it up.
Anyway, I’m one of those girls you can probably still remember from high school, for reasons I’m sure you can deduct on your own. Every day, I strut through the halls of East Edgewood High in an outfit that could probably break your fuckin’ husband. Today’s no different, besides the fact that it’s my last day of high school. Ever.
I walk to my last class, English, in a classic black tube top, and my True Religion jeans that hug my ass just right. It’s an outfit I’ve learned gets a little more attention than the others. I’m a senior now, just a few weeks shy of becoming a woman, which means I really don’t get a lot of weird, judgmental looks anymore. Mostly just glances that are a bit too long from boys that are a bit too horny.
Still, I smile sweetly at them and head into class. They usually piss me off but, today is different. I have plans tonight, something big. Nothing can ruin my good mood. I make a b-line for the seat next to my best friend, Janie.
“Wanna go to SatinCat tonight?’ I ask her as I sit down.
She turns her neck towards me slowly, glistening in sweat. Our English class doesn’t have AC, and the poor girl comes directly from gym.
“Does it look like I wanna think about being with a bunch of naked, sweaty bodies right now?”
“That’s a good point. I’ll ask again after class.”
We sit as Mr. Irrelevant gives his rehearsed end of the year speech and sends us off. I can tell Janie is paying as much attention as I am, which is none. We were never really into school like that. It was okay, I guess, but Janie’s always wanted to do hair. She’s already set to go cosmetology school. Me, on the other hand, I don’t really know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I know I don’t like school, and the only thing I know I do like is, well, everything a woman is probably supposed to hate. That’s where the SatinCat comes in.
Janie and I have been going to this club for a few months. It sits on the corner of Montrose and Western Avenue, drowning half the block in this sexy, pink lighting radiating from a neon sign of a woman in cat ears.
We got our fakes from Janie’s older brother awhile back-junior year. It was just for weed at first. We’d finally reached the age where every dealer seemed to ask if we wanted to fuck for a fifteen dollar eighth, so we figured, hey, dispensary prices don’t seem too bad. Janie’s brother ordered our fakes after we pleaded our case, and that was that. But things changed the night we first snuck out to the SatinCat.
It was the same night I’d broken up with my man who, per Janie’s advice, I will not be mentioning by name. He was the love of my life, and that shit hurt. So, after we finally broke it off, I hit up my best friend and asked the question that would change our lives forever.
“Sooo, wanna go to the club?” I ask Janie again as the bell rings. She chuckles, and we head for the door. As we enter the hallway, the scene becomes hectic, both of us dodging a sea of fellow seniors making a break for the exit. You’d think this was prison the way these kids are running.
“SatinCat does seem a little more enticing now that I’m not drenched,” Janie teases, “You seem excited about it though, is someone gonna be there?”
“You’re lying. Who is he? Or she,” Janie interrogates.
“Girl, no one. I’m not lying.”
“Ok then, what is it?”
“I want to dance tonight,” I lean in closer to her, “for the crowd.”
Janie stares at me in silence. The hall has emptied out. Torn books and binders litter the floor, their pages blowing every which way from the fans set up in the hallways. It feels like a ghost town.
“What?” she says after a few moments.
“I wanna dance.”
“Bitch-you can’t do that.”
“Because! We’re young as hell.”
“I’m almost e- “
“Eighteen. Yeah, I know. But that seems intense, Sasha.”
I recoil at the sound of my name coming from her mouth. I don’t need her acting like my mom. I soften after a few seconds, though. Janie never says anything that’s not out of love.
“I know it is, but I wanna do something crazy, before we have to do all that adult shit.”
“Something crazy, or something you’ll regret?”
Janie laughs, “Okay, how would you even get up there?”
What Janie doesn’t know is that I’ve been preparing for this night for months now. Hours spent in my room researching how to start a career as a stage dancer. I studied them any time we went to the club. I borrowed my mom’s Toyota Prius for ‘youth group’ one night, drove it down to the SatinCat and asked politely for an interview. It was easier than people say. The manager of the club, Ron, had noticed me at the club a few times before, said he needed a few more “spring chickens.” The job was mine.
I wasn’t asking Janie to go to the club with me. I was asking her to accompany me to my first shift.
“Don’t worry about it, mama,” I reply to her, “I have a plan.”
“Aren’t we always?”
Janie gives me a feigned serious look. She can’t hold it for long.
“Well,” I ask, “are you coming?”
She pauses for dramatic effect before grabbing my hand and staring me down seductively.
“For you,” she sings, “I’ll be in the front row.”
It’s 8pm, two hours before my first shift. I sit at the edge of my bed and eye the duffel bag in the corner of my room. Janie still hasn’t texted, even though she agreed to pick me up in the car she got for her birthday last year. My foot taps against the wooden floor, faster and faster until I hear a knock at the door. I hope to hear Janie’s voice, but instead I hear my mom’s.
“Sasha, why you still here?” I’d told her Janie was picking me up for a sleepover.
“Janie’s just late,” I call back to her, “tarde, mamá.”
This bitch has five minutes to answer her phone. I check mine religiously, wondering what the fuck happened to my best friend on one of, if not the most important night of my life. I mean, this is basically the same as missing my wedding, or baby shower, or whatever.
My phone dings: It’s her. A smile spreads across my face, only to disappear moments later. I read the message:
“My mom found the bong in my backseat, not getting my phone or car back for a few weeks. I’m so sorry, Sash. :’( ”
:’( is fucking right. What the hell am I supposed to do now?
I grumble to myself and pace across the room. I check my phone: 8:26 pm. Shit. There’s got to be another option. I open my phone and download a ride service app: Cab Call. I throw on a hoodie and some sweats, grab my duffel, and bolt down the stairs.
“Have fun, mija,” my mom calls after me.
I sit in the backseat of a blue Nissan Altima, my clothes a bit damp from the drizzling outside. It’s one of those warm summer rains, though, so I can’t really complain. I smooth my hair down and moisturize my lips. I feel calmer. The driver turns his head to face me at a red light.
“So,” he starts, “it says here you’re going to SatinCat. You a dancer?”
“Sort of. It’s my first night.”
“Wicked. You look young.”
It’s quiet for a few moments, before I realize that I’m still in sweatpants.
“Hey,” I tap the driver’s shoulder, “would you mind not turning around for a second?”
I can see the excitement on his face, even from behind him. I groan.
“I just need to change, dude. This ain’t a porno.”
He chuckles, “Figured it was too good to be true. I won’t look.”
I slip out of my clothes and into the dress and heels I’d chosen weeks before. I know I look stunning. The driver pulls into the lot, and I’m once again drenched in the sultry pink light of the SatinCat. My heart skips a beat. I thank the driver and head inside.
I enter the club, clutch my duffel to my side and slither towards the back. It seems like, for the first time, I don’t really want to be noticed. The confidence I had during my audition apparently wore off in the time I’ve been away. I trip a little as I walk, even though I made sure to wear the suggested 4.5-inch heel. My legs feel like yogurt tubes strapped into some cheap stilettos.
I make it to the dressing room, and I squint as the light bounces from the bright yellow walls into my eyes. I scan the room, filled to the brim with crystal cladded women. It’s shitty of me, but they’re classier than I thought they’d be. Real refined women. I shift in my dress-it was $7.99 from my mom’s closet. I wore it partly for comfort-it reminds me of one of the better moments between my mom and I.
My dad left us a few years ago, with no warning besides my parents’ crumbling marriage. When it happened, my mom went through this whole garage sale phase. We were never garage sale people. We wore our shit until it was covered in holes, and after that we’d send them off to mis primos in different cities, states or countries. But she needed a new wardrobe, and without my dad money was apparently too tight for her to afford one. I don’t really think that was the case, though. She’s always been a financially independent woman. I think she was hurting, and acting fucking weird because she was too afraid to talk to someone about it. So, there we were, setting up our first garage sale.
That day, she heaved boxes full of fur and thread from the front steps to the measly strip of concrete we have to call a driveway. It was spring, a hotter one than usual. My mom’s coral tank top stuck to her sweat-coated chest. She paired them with khaki shorts and a pair of ombre shades. A revenge outfit, I called it. My mom is a gorgeous woman, which is why her insecurity pisses me off so much. She has no idea how good she looks.
She began hanging her treasures on metal racks, which were already sizzling in the afternoon sun, which I didn’t know until I gripped one with my bare hand.
“Sasha, cuida tu boca,” my mom hissed.
I grunted in acknowledgment and thumbed through the clothes my mom’s worn for my entire life. Her style was a bit more conservative: Sweaters with no cleavage, cardigans, loose ass slacks and jeans, those flats every Latin mother seems to own. The regular shit. What finally caught my attention was a glimpse of brown, the same shade as my mom’s eyes. It was a dress, one I remembered seeing her in when I was younger, for date nights or family parties. The room, at least in my head, would go silent when she walked in wearing it. It was the only dress, and probably the only piece of clothing my mom owned which truly accentuated her beauty. When she wore it, she was no longer my mother, or my father’s wife, but a star. My dad hated it.
I tore the dress from the rack.
“Mamá!” I yelled out as I stormed up the front steps.
“How could you sell this?” My mom eyed me calmly through the glass door.
“¿Huh, comó?” I repeated.
“It’s time for something new, mija,” she opened the door with another box in her hands, “I’ve worn that so many times.”
My brows furrowed. My mom paused and set the box down.
“It is for sale, though,” she looked at me shyly, as if there was a chance I wouldn’t want that dick magnet of a dress, “if you want it. Full price though, no family discount.”
I looked at the price tag: $7.99.
“Sold,” I kissed my mom on the cheek and hugged the dress to my chest.
I stand a little straighter in the dress now, remembering the way my mom looked in it. Just as it did hers, the dress hugs my curves in all the right ways, pooling down at my knees, covering just enough to be considered both sexy and elegant. I try my best to channel my mom, stunning and completely oblivious of it. I pray it works and make my way to an empty seat in front of the long, rectangular mirrors.
I sit down, and for the first time I realize that the room is silent. The women are all staring at me with what I’m pretty sure is a mix of curiosity and judgment. I think I might’ve already fucked up.
“It’s usually custom to introduce yourself before you sit down, y’know,” someone sneers.
“Oh-I,” I begin to stutter. I can’t get any words out. The audition was nothing compared to this. I am terrified of these women.
One of them creeps a bit closer to me. She’s eccentric-looking. With perfectly curled pink hair and a lavender robe covering a set of matching bra and panties. She’s well put together, but with a refreshing sense of youth that makes me feel a bit safer with her than the others.
“You look young,” she says as she studies my face, “you must be new, huh?”
I swallow hard and croak, “Um, yeah.”
To my surprise, the woman giggles and pats my head sweetly, looking around to the rest of the dancers.
“She’s not a bitch, guys, just a baby.” She turns back to me, “How old are you, doll?”
The women coo simultaneously, seeming to understand my situation all at once.
“This your first gig?” another dancer in metallic blue pasties asks.
“No-I mean, yeah. It is,” I practically whisper. The women holler in response.
“Well, I hope your moves make up for your nerves, sweetie,” the dancer with pink hair teases. I would take that as an insult, but she speaks in a way that makes me feel like the most special girl in the room. In the whole world, maybe. I like her. She twirls my hair before returning to her seat. The rest of the dancers follow. I sigh in relief and start to unpack my duffel.
The women look to me with what I’m sure now is curiosity as I tie a brown silk robe around my waist. It came with the dress-my mom used to wrap it around her when she was feeling chilly or, as I liked to call it, terrified of being called a tramp by my father. I take it and drape it over my lingerie, which consists of a cream-colored bra studded with pearls, and a matching bedazzled thong. I tower high in a pair of champagne stilettos. I look in the mirror one last time before I’m called on stage. I look refined too, I decide. I look like my mother.
As I’m called to go on, it feels as if the dancers are all holding one, collective breath. One wishes me good luck, though. The dancer with the pink hair. She never gave me her name.
“You look dazzling,” she whispers to me.
The stage is dark, and the only sound I can hear over my rattling brain is the crisp click of my heels. I’ve prepared for this. I was made for this. Still, I’m fucking nervous. I don’t know what to do with my hands. Suddenly, it’s like I’ve never even stood up right before. I feel awkward, like a baby giraffe. My chest feels tight. Shit. I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Before I can back out and creep shamefully off stage, the lights fade into a subtle blue. My stomach flips with both excitement and dread. I close my eyes…
My right foot takes a step forward, then my left. I don’t feel like I’m controlling it, but my hands begin to trace the curves of my body. My hips sway back and forth to the beat of the music, like the pendulum of an old grandfather clock. I look into the crowd for a moment. I can tell the motion hypnotizes them.
Another moment passes, and my neck rolls towards the ceiling. My hands creep up towards my throat. My knees drop to the floor, and the lights fade again into a royal purple. I can hear a few half-concealed moans, and a smile creeps onto my face. This is what I love. To be naked, exposed. To be adored for it.
I bring my chin back down and return my gaze to the crowd. I lock eyes with a man. I can’t really make out his face, but I can tell he’s handsome, which is more than good enough for me. My fingers travel down my torso to the straps of my robe. I slide my tongue across my top row of teeth, and I see the man lean in a bit closer, staring with an intensity that damn near sears my skin.
Still knelt on the ground, I begin to untie my robe, gently pushing the fabric to the side so that my sparkling bra is the slightest bit visible. Another chorus of muffled moans. It’s time.
I raise myself from the ground. I twirl with my open robe, the satin flowing behind me like a cape. I can’t fully explain how I feel, but it’s divine, feminine. I lock eyes with the mystery man again. I drag my index finger down my lip, pausing there a moment as if to ask him, “are you ready?”
He sits stiff, quiet and unmoving. His eyes don’t answer my question. It’s now or never, though, and he seems ready enough.
I take a few more sultry steps while shimmying the robe off my shoulders. As it drops to the ground, the lights change suddenly to a bright, clear white. I’m in full view, and so is the mystery man.
With my eyes still on him, I freeze. My stomach flips a second time, now from pure dread.
The man is my father.
It’s been a few years, but from the looks of it he hasn’t changed. I pray that I have. I pray that he doesn’t even fucking recognize me. But I see his brows furrow, just how mine do, and I know it’s over.
His eyes travel from mine down to my mom’s robe splayed across the stage. I can see the shame in his expression. I can hear his voice in my head. Como tu mamá. Attention seeking whore.
A self-indulgent, cheap, pitiful whore. Honestly, I can’t tell if these are his thoughts or mine.
“Come on, doll, don’t be nervous,” a man hoots, breaking the stare off between father and daughter.
A shiver runs down my spine. For the first time, I think I feel truly naked. Truly exposed. I hate it.
A tear slips down my cheek as more men holler for me to continue. Someone throws a measly wad of cash, beckoning me towards him. Disgusting.
My dad gets up to leave, red and furious, storming to the front of the club and through its doors. Instinctually my arm reaches out to him, my unconscious begging him to stay. That was probably the last time I’ll ever see him.
My body begins to shake, but before I collapse, I feel a set of hands grip my shoulders. I panic, squealing like an injured dog until I lock eyes with the person behind me. It’s her, the dancer from before. I lean into her arms, and she snatches the robe from the floor and ushers me backstage.
Back in the dressing room, she holds me. I don’t know her, and she doesn’t know me-but she holds me.
I hear angry footsteps approach, then a husky voice cussing me out. It’s the club manager. I don’t blame him for yelling. But still, I can’t process his words. They’re melted together, foreign. I can only hear my father’s venomous voice in my head. That is until she speaks.
“She’s a fucking kid, Ron,” the dancer spits.
Silence. My body grows cold, and I bury myself as far as I can into her chest. I hear more footsteps, fading away this time. He’s left the room. I muster the courage to speak to her.
“How did you know?”
“I swiped your ID from your bag,” she cooed, “I’m sorry, baby, I just thought you looked young. Too young to be here, anyway.”
I sniffle and raise my head to look at her. She smiles and runs her hand across my cheek, wiping a few tears.
“It’s obviously fake,” she continues, “I don’t know how you got past auditions.”
I manage to get a laugh out. Her voice soothes me, but it doesn’t erase my father’s from my mind. I cry out once more.
“Shhh, it’s okay, kid,” she whispers, “you go do somethin’ with your life. You go get older, and if by then you still wanna dance on that stage, there’ll be a place for you here.”
She wraps my robe around my shivering, half-naked body.
“I started like you, too young. There was no one to hold me, though.”
I wonder if she’d ever seen her father here. Danced for him. As I listen to her heartbeat, I get the feeling that, whatever it is I’ve been through, she’d probably understand. She whispers to me again.
“My name’s Sasha. It’s Candy here, though.”
“That’s my name,” I whisper back, “Sasha.”
She chuckles, “Small world.”
My breathing slows as I allow myself to melt into her. My mind wanders from Janie to my father, to my mother, to me. My body doesn’t exactly feel like mine anymore, not like it did before. I don’t feel like a woman anymore, and maybe I never was. Maybe I am a kid, one who just watched her dad walk out the door for a second time. If there was any hope that he’d ever come back to us, my mom and I, it’s gone now. I can’t decide if that’s good or bad. My mom probably misses him more than she’s let on, but maybe she never even needed him. The image of her in the brown dress floods my memory.
Suddenly I’m 5 years old again, wrapped around her leg as she admires herself in the mirror. The expression on her face is priceless. She sees beauty, grace, a mother. A woman. Before my father enters the room, and her stature falls, she is radiant. This is the image I want to keep of her for the rest of my life.
I worry I’ll never amount to that. To the woman my mother made herself to be. But for the first time, I don’t even want to be one. I want to be small, fragile. I want to be naked in the way an infant is, confused and bloody and screaming. I want to be covered and held and nourished. I want to be someone’s baby girl once more. I curl my body further into Sasha’s.
She seems to sense what I need, squeezing me even tighter and rocking me back and forth to the slow beat echoing from the stage. Nothing seems to make sense, so I focus on her. The feel of her heartbeat. Her textured skin beneath that lavender robe and the bright pink hair that lays effortlessly above it.
To me, she seems perfect. But by the way she holds me, I can tell that she’s not. She’s been scarred, well enough to recognize the pain coursing through me. She sees herself in me, and God knows I’m a fucking wreck. I wonder what shaped her into the woman she is. What horrors she had to face and what wonders she was blessed with. She isn’t the type of woman my mother would want me to be, but I like her. I admire her. As much as my mom would hate to admit it, they’re similar-broken. I’m beginning to think that’s what I love most in a woman. The broken.
For a final time, I discover what it’s like to be truly naked. Wrapped in my silk robe and the arms of another woman, I am bare. I am broken. She holds me together. I feel dirty, ashamed, but she holds me. My pieces are scattered, sharper than shards of shattered glass, but she holds me and, together, we bleed.
Sasha holds me, and I’d like to think I’m holding her, too.
Aleah Vega is a sophomore RTVF and Creative Writing Major.