I was surprised to see my name online about a man named KJ, who as a boy, had fallen in love with me.
The story began with a nostalgic description of the town where I went to high school, full of the promise of a romantic teenage crush that would hopefully lead to a happily-ever-after ending. But instead it repeated a story we all know too well. Boy likes girl, girl doesn’t know he exists—in other words, Charlie Brown and the elusive Little Red Haired Girl. But unlike Charlie Brown, the man in the story never musters the courage to speak to his crush as a boy, and even when given a second chance as a young man, fails to speak his truth. He won’t gain the courage to tell her how he feels about her until he anonymously shares his story with two writers for an online magazine twenty years later.
Since I’m the featured object of his affection, I assumed it was only fair that I respond. Here’s my take on their story. Feel free to criticize on Twitter.
We all want to believe in love. We want the poor love-sick boy to win over the popular girl in high school, marry her, have children, and grow old with her. We want to hear the story of a boy who had a crush and who was reunited with her 20 years later to find that she too was in love with him. That they would find themselves in a place in their lives when their worlds magically collide and fate takes its course.
But then there’s the side of us—and this is the attitude that hangs over the piece—which wants to hear that his muse, his “beautiful Asian woman,” never felt loved, didn’t know her worth, and became a stripper. And when she sees him in the club during her half-naked rounds in search of lap dances that she is reminded of the girl she once was, realizes she is “broken” and runs off never to be seen again.
If he had spoken to her that day on the street, he may have been surprised to find out that she didn’t have a lot of friends, even though she was a cheerleader. That she wasn’t out of his reach for conversation and friendship, and maybe even love. She may have accepted an offer of a date, and gone out with him. They may not have been compatible, she would have most likely still moved away from the small town where she went to school, but then he would never have to wonder, for decades, what if.
I can’t recall who KJ is, but I do vaguely remember saying something to a boy working on his car while walking home from school. There were also a few guys who came into the strip club where I worked years later that I had gone to school with, so that part of his story could also be true. But the suggestion that women choose to strip because they are broken, don’t know their worth, or lack self-esteem isn’t entirely correct. I used to be enraged when men would tell me I was “too pretty” or “too smart” to be a stripper. I remember debating with customers about my choice to be in a job where I took my clothes off for money. What these men didn’t know about me was that I had already worked three jobs at a time to pay the bills, one of which included daily sexual harassment that the management would never address. I had passed the real estate exam at 18, taken on my first business and been married at 19, and by the age of 21, was relieved to finally have a job, that I loved, that paid me something close to the true value of my time. This job actually enabled me to put myself through college, though I would only complete one semester. I didn’t end up as a stripper, I chose to be one.
If I did run out the back door of the club that night, it may have been because I didn’t want to be at work. Some nights going into the club, and going on-stage were necessary for me. I needed the attention and thrived on the generous, albeit false, adoration. While I had a few admirers in school, I wasn’t one of the “pretty” girls. Guys wanted to date me, but nobody really told me I was beautiful. Most of my clothes came from Kmart, and we couldn’t afford designer shoes. I was grateful on the days I got to wear my cheer uniform so that I could finally be like everybody else—except I knew I wasn’t like everybody else. What I didn’t realize was that the very thing that made me different was also what made me beautiful. It took three months of working in a full nude bar to grow into the woman that I would become. A woman who was driven, who wanted everything this life had to offer, who no longer cared to fit in with everyone else, but instead had a longing to be who she was. It was there, on that dark smoke-filled stage, that she gained the courage to be herself, night after night.
I enjoyed the performance aspect of my work, and I liked being able to be sexy, to feel desired, but on my terms. I had the chance to explore my femininity, my sexuality, and my persona without consequence. I found myself in the pair of thigh high patent leather boots that climbed their way onto the poles and into my soul. I let go of the straight A, self-conscious, over-achiever that I was, and let the angry, passionate, dangerous side of my personality explore. My self-confidence soared every night I became my alter-ego. But there were also nights that I was vulnerable. I just needed to be home, to be in solitude, to be quiet and gentle with myself.
I’m guessing that might have been the case the night KJ came into the club. We may have exchanged words about him being from Hesperia. I may have not wanted to make small talk that night. I may have felt exhausted at the prospect of having to pull words out of this shy man’s mouth in order to eventually get a lap dance out of the encounter. I may have just decided to leave work that night, or I may have been getting off from an earlier shift. Had KJ told me that he used to have a crush on me, I may have stayed and talked to him. It wasn’t all about the money. I got just as much out of being in the club as many of the men who visited. I got to be the object of someone’s affection, just as much as they were the object of mine. It didn’t matter if there was a monetary exchange for the transaction. Both parties were adult human beings, with the need to feel seen, feel desired, maybe even feel loved. Had KJ understood this part of strip club culture, he might have finally had the courage to spend more than just a fleeting moment with Miyoko Fujimori.
Being present, speaking our truth, sharing our needs and desires with those around us isn’t always encouraged. We constantly play games, pretend to be people that we aren’t, worry about what other people think of us, and ultimately live our lives as a slight representation of who we really are.
So, to KJ and every other person who has a similar story about the one who got away…Why not instead decide to take risks, be uncomfortable for a moment, try something new, do something that scares you? Talk to the little red-haired girl. The only thing you have to lose is a lifetime of wondering what if.