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It Came From the '90s: The Memory of Her

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade. This entry is the result of a friendly challenge to take a brief, seemingly inconsequential moment from my life and explore why it made an impact on me.

Sometimes, when something or other triggers the memory of her, I think about that summer night a hundred years ago when a beautiful dancer invited me to join her in the back room of the strip club, to "get to know each other." I wonder what might've happened had I taken her up on that offer. I wonder how she's doing now.

I'm getting ahead of myself. It all happened one June night in the pivotal year of 1995, when my friends took me a strip club to celebrate my newfound freedom. I had just broken off a monumentally bad several-months long relationship (we were just so wrong for each other) and was currently navigating the start of a healthy, new relationship with an old friend, Naomi, one that would impact not only that summer but the rest of my life.

None of the three of us had ever been to a strip club before. Underage and without fake IDs, there we stood, nursing non-alcoholic beers, waiting awkwardly for the next performer to take the stage. Remember, we were still a few months away from seeing Showgirls that fall, so this was uncharted territory. A woman sauntered onstage, the music kicked on, and she went to work on the pole. After a highly effective performance—during which my friends and I blushed while tentatively sticking dollar bills into her g-string—she left the stage and we drifted back to the bar for another watered-down "beer," having finally lost our strip club virginity.

That's when a woman approached me. This sort of thing was mostly unheard of for me up to that point, so I was completely caught off guard. Still, I knew it wasn't personal, that she was just looking for someone to help her earn extra cash, as going to the back room would definitely run you some coin.

This might've been a blip on the radar, but to my wounded ego it was a confidence boost all the same. It was also flattering because she was gorgeous. Stunning, even. A perfectly cut and styled mid-'90s bob framed a slim and attractive face, made all the more lovely by two of the most beautiful eyes I'd ever seen. That she used them to look me in the eyes quickened my pulse. Sounds silly know, but it didn't back then.

She seemed shy. I spent most days battling crippling shyness. She was young, probably only a few years older than me, and radiated a melancholy sweetness. While trying to process her offer, I stood gobsmacked. Thoughts rushed through my head at blazing speeds, and I only caught fragments as they whizzed around, including, "What happens in the back room?" And then, "Am I up for that?"

As it happens, no, I was not up for that. All I wanted was to be with Naomi that summer, to spend every minute with her. It was a rush to consider what might happen with a beautiful stranger, but ultimately I shyly declined the invitation.

She smiled, shrugged, and walked away. One of my friends immediately pointed out that I just "blew a chance to get some head, or even get laid." I scoffed, and still think he was full of it. All that would've occurred in the back was a lap dance. Maybe a really good lap dance, maybe even some physical contact, but nothing more.

I think?

Maybe I was naive. Maybe I still am. After all, it's still my only strip club experience. Much of what I've learned about strip clubs comes courtesy of sensationalized, yet ridiculously entertaining movies like Stripped to Kill or Dance with Death. It doesn't really matter anyway, because the overriding thoughts about that night never really revolved around whether or not I should have accepted her offer. Instead, what I've often wondered is, "Who was she?" Or, sometimes, "Is she happy now?"

That's not because I assume she was unhappy with her job. It's because there was an underlying sadness to her slim, sweet face. The emotions her slightly down-turned smile conveyed were familiar. I felt those same feelings too. She had a depth to her, something that was impossible to miss, even in our extremely brief encounter, or at least impossible for one introvert to miss in another introvert. I'm positive she was one of my tribe, quite possibly even an INFJ also. I saw it in her eyes. Maybe she saw it in mine. Maybe that's why she picked me.

Or, maybe I've spun this entire, fantastical tale out of nothing but some fuzzy memories and a wistful nostalgia for a time when I was too young, too inexperienced, to know any better about any of this, or anything, really. That's more likely the case. I'm positive that today she doesn't remember the shy kid who turned down her invite to the back room. I'm also certain she was just doing her job. I'm the one who's dramatized one minor event into an entire writing exercise.

I can still see her though, shimmering brightly in that dimly lit, slightly seedy club. I never forgot. Sometimes I think it's because I was just taking those first hopeful gulps of fresh air, after climbing out of the deep, dark hole of depression that I'd been living in for the past year or more, and in her face recognized a fellow traveler on the path. For that instant, in the expressive eyes of a total stranger just doing her damn job, I convinced myself there stood another living soul I might've connected with, had we met elsewhere, or, had I followed her to the back room.

Once in a great while, I wonder where she is, what she went on to do, what her name is, who she fell in love with, who she became. If this all sounds crazy, so be it. Life is crazy, after all. Also, I'm a writer, and writers are constantly plundering the murky depths of our memories for material. Most importantly, though, this weird little memory is a brilliant reminder that the tiniest, most seemingly inconsequential moments can actually stick with us. These can be moments of recognition—of ourselves, of another human being—that happen so infrequently that, the way I see it, we're practically obligated to cherish them. Sometimes a shooting star passes through your orbit in a blink, but leaves behind a trail of stardust that never quite dissipates. Why question that? Why downplay it? Why not just remember and appreciate that, for a brief moment, you marveled at a shooting star?

I'm choosing appreciation. I'm choosing to fondly recall this complete stranger with whom I shared what barely qualifies as a conversation in what amounts to an infinitesimally small piece of my life story. Why? Because the memory of her has always made me feel something, something good, something bigger than either her or me or that moment in time.

That's reason enough to remember. To hold on to the memory of her, and what it represents.


Related reading:

It Came From the '90s: Second Chances

It Came From the '90s: Postscript

Depression, the Roommate from Hell, and Fran Drescher


  1. This is a beautifully written, therapeutic piece Michael. It was a relief and a pleasure to come across it.

    1. Thank you, Paul. I stumbled upon it the other day, having written it last summer and fall, but then shelved it due to it being a little too personal. I figured, we're living in strange times, so why not just put it out there. It's therapeutic to get personal sometimes without doing so via the magic of pop culture enthusiasm (although you'll notice I slipped in some pop culture references here anyway). I hope you're well right now.


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