by Carol Ziel
The Gravois Bluffs Great Escape Movie theater promised a night of raunchy male entertainment. I’m nearly sixty-five years old, haven’t dated for five years, and decided that reacquainting myself with the male anatomy was an attractive proposition. The movie was “Magic Mike” and it plunged me back into my adventurous past. Like Alice, I fell into the rabbit hole where I found memories of my wild self.
Suffice it to say that I was a late bloomer. The shackles of Catholic training and a convent past stayed intact until my mid-twenties. I usually looked for myself in all the wrong places–first the Peace Corps, the army, and then the USO. However when I found strip clubs and other party places I knew I had finally come home.
I remember the first time I saw a stripper dance. It was as if the Red Sea had parted and the scales had fallen from my eyes. I looked around and recognized my tribe in the drinkers and dancers, in the crazy colors and mist machines, and mostly in their frenetic freedom. For the first time I was truly alive feeling that I actually belonged somewhere. I stood at the bottom of that stage , gazing at the dancer with the thirst of someone who had been wandering in the desert for a lifetime. The burial clothes I was born in no longer bound me hand and foot . I emerged into my future life.
Like the character, Mike, I entered that lifestyle in innocence. What we both saw was the wild abandon and freedom to be yourself: perfect bodies, perfectly present. No shyness or excuses for being anything but who we were. Embracing our sexuality like the sun embraces the summer sky. Strutting our cosmic stuff. We were butterflies exploding out of cocoons; every dance was Fourth of July.
However, like sunbursts, meteors and other blazing things we extinguished ourselves in the heat of passions. We were both Ithacus flying too close to the sun and melting into deepest darkness. We both found that all that glitters is not gold.
There is a paradox here. What we saw was true–the ownership of raw energy, and manifestation of exuberant sexuality was real, but that is only part of the story. The price one must pay to stoke the furnace of desire, to feed the beast of libido is heavy. Like Alice we went through the looking-glass, but what we found eventually was a shadow life full of empty promises. We both became shadow people.
Thirty five years later I sat in a dark theater contemplating the past, I mourned for the loss of the dream, and what I lost reaching for the dream. I have no regrets now that I am on the other side. I travel with a different tribe now, and the most “blaze” I get is gardening in July. But, I am grateful for that time and place, and what I learned. It’s part of who I am.