When you dabble into the dark arts of exotic dance, you tend to find money in unexpected places—figuratively, but also in the most literal sense. Sometimes it’s a crumpled dollar on the carpet after your bra has come off for the night. Others, it’s a twenty at the bottom of your purse from that floor dance you couldn’t upsell to the member of the squad roped in with promises of cheap beer. And, even after you’ve closed your circle for good, it might be the final $500 that you shoved in the back of a desk drawer along with your feelings.
My last shift before my club got raided was a weird one. I had set off the water works at the bus stop in anticipation of tapping into a well of emotional labor run dry, leaving my hour-long eye look of procrastination senselessly smudged. I had felt some sort of obligation to keep dancing even though I had just snagged a new day job and writing was doing well. The foreignness I had been feeling towards myself was overpowered by the guilt of coming out of a weekend without pulling a few racks. Lingering in the background was a truth I couldn’t recognize—if you don’t use the fruits of your labor to put your mind on ice, you’ll just end up pouring yourself another glass.
After a couple of hours wasted by a cheap lawyer and a Saints loss, Austin’s marijuana kingpin was celebrating a successful Mexican leg with a rager on Bourbon. He accepted only half of a dance, choosing to just slip me big bills for my company. But, contrary to popular belief, having to play mouthpiece can be your worst enemy when taking your clothes off has served as a stand-in for courage to speak. I only made it until midnight before cheated sobriety left me lacking the patience for fake laughs and batted eyes. That was my golden rule—when you start to sink silent, it’s time to pack it in. But, somewhere in between El Chapo trying to convince me to invest my cash in Bitcoin and expressing his pain of missing the Eyehategod show going on back home, I guess my heart had become anchored in Texas.
Weeks later when I was in search of a few loose dollar bills for laundry, I found the funds that had rendered me all kinds of fucked up. I sorted out. Counted up. Laid it down. Raked it up. Grouped, re-grouped. Finally, I had exchanged a make into a break. Smart investors in the hustle would use a surplus to turn an A into a D. I did. From Austin to Dallas, I was flipping an eye on a tour date into a reality. Hellbent on making the stacked emo nostalgia trip-hop lineup capped off with nothing,nowhere, the hindrance of an intimidating drive had just been erased by the option of an easy hour flight. I could feel the life breathing into my poor posture as death crumbled the damp walls that had me surrounded.
Landing and laboring when I should have been laying out, I had begun executing my pre-show plan of flawlessly transcribing every word of my interview with Wicca Phase. I was Googling the correct spellings for his favorite comic book authors when my screen began to darken. Tearing up my fingers from loose pages and heavy Vans shoved into my backpack, I discovered my charger was back below sea level—an accident as serendipitous as the seeds sewn back in Guadalajara. Whether I liked it or not, I was meant to be present.
The hypervigilance of my unoccupied mind yielded synesthetic sensations upon finally entering the crowd. I could see the light in the familiar sounds of all that surrounded. Peep’s giant grin spilled across House of Blues NOLA as I eavesdropped on the recounted regrets of the boys behind me. Having become fast friends in the same n,n. shirt, one confided in the other about how he had stopped skipping shows after failing to make Peep’s date in Austin on that ill-fated tour. A two-hour drive or a class at 8:00 AM didn’t make a difference—he wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.
“If anything happened to one of these guys…” I could see him gesturing towards the stage in my peripheral vision as the kid next to me pivoted backwards with his phone’s flashlight pointed at the ground.
“Did you drop something, bro?”
A concerted search effort instantly ensued and then ended the moment we saw what he was intending to illuminate; Sharpie carved into the tips of his white Converse.
The overhead lights dimmed, further brightening the reflection of our collective memory.
Vivid pictures from the past year continued to form with the manifestation of the Reaper, draped in a black hoodie, meditation beads, and a long undercut swept to the side. Scythe tore through each scene like a director’s cut. I had “Hopes Up” on repeat that sunny Saturday on the bus, smoothing over bumps of anxiety with the comfort of familiarity. I was hunched over on my bed as the self-hatred for holding a bloody knife over the things that I love echoed through my head. I was opening my phone in rehab to find “Skully” on Spotify right when I was feel like a fuckup, motherfucker, at the most. Then I was wandering up by the railroad tracks, not sure about anything anymore—the fear of no longer being able to hear that atmosphere serving as the single incentive against laying it all to rest.
I still remember it all; the only sense of comfort I’ve ever known. Every time I felt like I was losing a piece of myself that I could never get back—whether it be from banging my head against a cubicle or bruising my knees on the way down from the pole—I would look down at the n,n. on my wrist and feel regrowth.
There it was, the voice behind it all pouring forth in front of me. And there I was, still standing.
Hard work from both ends pays off when you get to cherish your own selfish sweet spot of your favorite band’s success; still underground enough to be up close and personal, but just popular enough to be met with a support system of equal enthusiasm. Less than a year ago, I was the only overt fan of the very first opener. I couldn’t have screamed every word without it becoming a shouting match. Now, I was drowned out by all of those who had known the same discomfort until eventually, it was washed away. I held fingers under each eye as I prepared my wings for another crash, but these were much more valiant cries than those of my prelude to the last dance. I was finally able to unleash “all I’ll ever be is a letdown” after holding it at the top of my lungs for what had felt like centuries.
I was as lucky to catch him in this state as I was to catch Peep, yet this luck sat at the other end of the spectrum of positivity; stages growing exponentially farther instead of suddenly silent. But I’ll never file that as a complaint—just a difference from what was. In a world where those who are awarded the most success deserve it the least, I will always cheer on the exception. Growing pains may be lessened by the mitigation of struggle, but the stress is still there, just shapeshifting into different forms. Nevertheless, sometimes your primitive fears stay with you even when you’ve evolved into the next era.
During post-set talks, I was met with inquiries into the time and space between Dallas and New Orleans. I made a lame joke that got left at the gas station. Fifteen hours by Huffy. Pedal fast. I was too scared to refute the assumption that I had driven, still suspect about giving any indication of getting money out of fear of unspoken speculations into the means. Those are walls of stigma that I only feel brazen enough to break from behind the safety of a computer screen. There’s still a web of white lies and dark shame from which I look forward to breaking free. Everyone must sell themselves to an extent—it’s just a matter of not selling yourself short.
After throwing out a plausible estimate of eight hours behind the wheel, I had a crisp two hours of sleep before I had to fast forward through 500 miles in 60 minutes. My mind threw me one last throwback; another month in the same wee hour, tucking anxiety behind the infectious voice of my third Cardi B Snapchat compilation.
“Sometimes I wake up to catch these flights and I’m like ‘I’m so tiiired. I don’t wanna catch any type of flight.’”
Her eyes shot open.
“But then I’m like BITCH, you know what really leaves you feeling tired? Shaking your ass in heels for eight hours.”
I sucked it the fuck up. I was at the level of exhaustion that feels like swimming, and for the first time in months, I wasn’t sinking below.
You can find Jenna on instagram.
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