"I don't know. I want to, but I don't think it's a good idea," I told him.
"Come on, please, please!" he begged.
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When we met the following week at a park in Beverly Hills, he was sitting on the grass stoned out of his mind, unable to string a sentence together. It disgusted me that my savior was completely incoherent. "What the hell is wrong with you?! You can't even get up off the ground!" I stormed off to sit on a near by park bench. My rational side told me to walk away from Ryan that day and never look back. But the abandoned little girl, whose dad died when she was seven, was having a meltdown. She needed to stay more than I wanted to leave.
A few minutes later, Ryan dragged himself over to me, lay his head on my lap and said, "Why are you freaking out on me?"
"I'm not," I answered. All of a sudden he perked up and announced he wanted to go for a drive. It was like someone had given him a shot of adrenaline.
"Can you even drive?" I asked.
He drove his black Mercedes down a Beverly Hills alley and pulled over. In the front seat of his car, in broad daylight, we engaged in our first make-out session.
For the remainder of my eight years as an exotic dancer, Ryan and I would meet up every few months. We would go for a spin in his Benz, park and fool around, but we never slept together. I wanted to. He'd promise to take me to some posh hotel for the weekend, where we would consummate our affair. He never did. But his promises gave me hope that our car dates would evolve into something deeper. I was convinced once I bedded Ryan, I would cast a magic spell over him, and he would leave his girlfriend for me. According to all the psychics I consulted, not only would he make me his main girl, he would marry me. Instead, I was celibate the whole time I was involved with him.
At the same time, I wanted out of my life as an exotic dancer. Because it was how I paid my bills and my family was no support, I felt stuck. After eight years in the adult entertainment industry, I had been so degraded; I didn't believe I was capable of doing anything else. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make it at a regular job. I was making $1500 a week for my performance as Kiersten, the exotic dancer. Without a college degree, it would be hard to match that salary. All I wanted to do was numb out. As a result I began popping prescription pills to dull the pain. Then I added daily drinking to the mix. One night I stared at the empty Merlot bottles lined in a row on the shelf in my kitchen. It hit me, between the pills, the booze, the stripping and Ryan, I was slowly killing myself. I knew I needed to get out of Los Angeles.
Two days later I boarded a plane for the Midwest. In Michigan, I went to a treatment facility for drug and alcohol abuse. It was tough leaving Kiersten behind, but the only way I knew to get rid of her was to abruptly cut her off.
When I was a dancer, Ryan's unavailability was perfect for me. He would string me along on vague promises, but the burden was taken off me entirely. I was saving myself for someone who would never come through. On some level I didn't really want him to. This arrangement was the safest one I could manage to counterbalance the self destructive, intrusive world of showing my body to men for money. The last time I spoke to Ryan on the phone, he'd been in a horrible car accident. He was in coma for almost a month. When we spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper from his emergency tracheotomy. The man I wanted to take care of me for so many years was no longer capable of looking after himself.
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After a decade of celibacy, I finally slept with a man whom I met via the internet and was 23 years sober in AA. As I lay with him in the dark, I felt vulnerable. His approval was much more important to me than any of the guys I used to dance for. Being sober, it was a lot scarier to take off my clothes for one man than hundreds.