This is an illustration — and the working of it served as nothing more than my therapy for the past month or so. We, especially for us Americans, are so entrenched in the cult of presence it takes a lifetime to find our core of essence. Women are objectified, men are expected to enjoy it, and we all ride the see-saw of blame, going up and down, never stepping off to hold each other on the same ground.
I will never waiver in my belief that people are primarily good. But, I also believe we can always be better.
This piece is dedicated to every girl who’s worn the “pink skirt” and every boy who lets the curtain fall…
The following story is a work of complete and total fiction. Any resemblance to any event, person, or any other element depicted is purely and totally coincidental.
BACKSTAGE – By T. “Ray” V.
The show was awesome, of course.
This is the fourth time she’s seen them live in the past ten years and she’s never been disappointed. But, this time she finds herself led by two of her friends going into the opposite direction of the masses — not leaving the building, but down deeper and underneath. Jellyfish scored the passes after he serviced some old, funny guy’s Mercedes the other day at his shop. As it happened, it turned out to be the band’s manager. As a bonus, Mr. Jellyfish was also awarded a job for the night working with the road crew the night of the show, to which Crystal commented, “That’s great. Roadies are scary as hell, but that’s great.”
“Roadies? What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m tellin’ you, those roadie people aren’t right!” She lists, ticking off with her fingers, “Vampires, werewolves, zombies…roadies.”
Jellyfish laughed, “What the hell’s wrong with roadies?”
Incredulous, she answered, “What isn’t wrong with them? Think about it…imagine having to take all the furniture out of your house, pack them into trucks, find another house, set everything back up in the exact same way, on time – then make sure nothing happens to said furniture for a few hours, then having to pack everything back up again. Now, repeat this process over and over and over, day in, day out, for months at a time. In the meantime, you’ve got divas and egos and producers and promoters, and tech problems, not to mention laundry and food becoming luxuries along the way after completely losing your sense of smell. So, you gotta figure that at some point or other, you’re gonna completely lose your mind and wanna shoot all that’s shoot-able, snort all that’s snort-able, fuck all that’s fuck-able, and eat whatever’s shoved in your face.” She concluded, “In their defense, let’s face it: If I had their job, I’d be scary, too.” Then she advised, “Have fun with that… don’t bend over too much.”
Jellyfish looked pityingly at his sister-like friend and pointed out, “Lemmy was a roadie.”
“Lemmy’s special,” she responded with love. On second thought, “Ah, but then I rest my case.”
Tonight, the arena was sold out, so the wait to get a clear path to the “meet-and-greet” was a bit long, to which Samson and Forrest lit up smokes while Crystal watched the exodus. It amused her that the real hardcore fans were wearing the exact same get-ups they did twenty years ago, especially when they no longer fit right. Faded concert tee’s, old pins on beaten up/worn down denim, and assorted mementos and merchandise from the band’s early days parade by on smaller shoulders, bigger bellies, and longer boobs. She commented, “You know it’s bad when you have to lift up your arms for people to be able to read the buttons on your vest.” It’s a noble, fun kind of embarrassment only a true fan here could appreciate. Sure, there’s a good portion of the crowd that seemed to have aged fairly well, (including herself she would add), but she’d be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy the show offstage almost as much as the one that was just on.
Finally, the path to the hall was clear and the three made their way down into the arena’s bowels, careful not to display their passes until they got to the security gate. Samson and Crystal have been on this coveted side of the entertainment industry before, but for Forrest, this was new territory. Crystal watched him in her peripheral view looking here, checking out there, raising his eyebrows at this and that like a curious tourist. “Lots of miniskirts back here, aren’t there?”
“ee-Yup,” Sam replied.
“Lots of drink.”
“ee-Yup,” Crystal said.
He inhaled and squinched his nose. “Lots of interesting smells and smoke, too.”
“ee-Yup,” the other two answered in unison.
Forrest nodded in comprehension, then asked, “And the big deal to be back here is…?”
Sam explained, “To meet the band and make believe you’re famous, too.”
“Aha! Right!” Forrest looked around some more then asked, “Where’s Jellyfish?”
A small gaggle of giggling girls who obviously “earned” their way back here marched clumsily by in awkward heels with various exclamations of “Oh my god’s!” and “Did you see’s?” The real guests – meaning the ones who were invited by staff or band members without having to get on their knees – looked down their noses at them with tolerant disgust. Crystal pointed the girls out to Forrest. “You see them?”
“You know why they’re back here?”
“Roadies.” She nodded and said, “Be afraid.” She checked her surroundings cautiously and touched his elbow. “Be very afraid…”
“Hello, lot!” an older man with crazy hair, jeans, white t-shirt and a black Versace jacket addressed. “Don’t think we’ve met.” He extends a well manicured hand, “I’m Ivan, the glorified nanny for the band.”
“Ah,” Sam recognized, “Mr. Ivan, el manager! How are you sir?” And the four made their cordial introductions. “How’s the Benz?”
“Lovely! Much better now, thanks to your saucy buddy there, Boobydish.”
They chortled and Crystal corrected, “Uh, Jellyfish.”
“Aah, righ’!” Ivan flushed. “Sorry ‘bout that. But, yeah, he’s got some talent for sure, then. Crew seems to like him – hasn’t been raped, beaten, or eaten yet, so there’s a good start.”
“Crystal, don’t…” Sam warned under his breath.
Ivan continued, “No, seriously, we’ve got some great minions here. Everyone’s top drawer. Think your friend would want a job? All expenses paid.”
Crystal answered with a shrug, “You’d have to ask him.” She gritted her teeth, “I’m sure he’d be great, though.”
Ivan checked out Crystal’s figure. “Ah, so you the girlfriend?”
She laughed, “Me? No. He’s got a flock of his own chicks back home, I’m just a brother – I mean, he’s just a brother to me.” She flushed and waved the floating smoke away from her face. “Sorry,” she apologized. “I think standing here too long has made me lose a few IQ points,” she choked a little.
Ivan laughed. “No worries. ‘Ere, go on down to the bar, tell them to put your drinks on my tab and head downstairs to see the boys. See ya then!” With a wink and a smile, he slaps Forrest friendly on the shoulder and moves on to the next victims of the schmooze-fest.
“Beer!” Sam grinned as they made their way through the clumps of cliques, entering deeper into the temple of rock and roll where “Amen” is pronounced, “I’m with the band.”
After various mingling and meetings, among which were a photographer, two reporters, an underwear model, three staff members, and a contest winner who described this moment as being more important than his own birth, they manage to get to the bar with dignity and most of their senses intact. After they put in their orders, a tattooed mess of a man who smelled of dirt, sweat, and something special asked Crystal what a hot little thing like her did for a good time. But before she could give him a sarcastic answer, Samson cut in with, “Dude! What the hell’s the matter with you? We just got her out of jail, man – you don’t wanna ask her that!”
“Yeah, your head still being attached to your neck reminds me of the last time I had a good time,” she played. She smiled malevolently, “Real good time!” Then she turned to Samson and asked, “By the way, did you get my axe back from the feds?”
“We got you a chainsaw!” Forrest grinned.
“Ah, fuck it,” dirty boy surrendered and staggered away as the three took their drinks and made a loving toast to Ivan.
“Damn, Crystal, you better watch yourself back here,” Forrest warned.
“Yeah, it’s risky to be a member of the human species with a vagina.” Then she looked around and mused, “You know, Sam? I bet you could get yourself a blowjob by raising your hand and yelling, ‘Bingo!’” She jested, doubting that backstage women were really that easy, but she caught Sam trying the “Bingo” technique, anyway.
She found herself having second thoughts on that, though, once she took a good look around at the vast selection of starved, bleached and bottled, silicone and collagen-filled women in leather, make-up, and stockings. She thought, “Really?” And yet, in spite of her bewilderment at their mutilation exhibition, she still found herself feeling a little self-conscious, wondering if her natural colors, curves, and bumps were out-of-place, out-of-style, or just out-of-whack?
Was it easier to act like a product if one makes themselves manufactured? Or is that truly the definition of beauty? What kind of conversation would Botticelli and Picasso have with Hugh Hefner?
How much vodka did the bartender put in her Peach Kamikaze?
As the three descended further into the hall, Crystal caught a glimpse of a hairy man in black covered in work grease standing in a corner with a girl kneeling in front of him, her hands on his hips as she worked her head up and down steadily over his crotch. She recognized the pink miniskirt from one of the young “gigglers” she’d seen earlier. He had that casually pleasured expression on his face, as if he were just merely relieving himself. That look reminded Crystal of something Marilyn Manson once wrote: “Blowjobs are like handshakes.”
She shook her head in sad disapproval, wondering what that greasy hairball promised that poor thing to persuade her to provide that one-sided service for him? From the looks of her, she’s probably hoping to meet the band or find true love. From the looks of him, he’d be sleazy enough to promise her both so he wouldn’t have to pay for a pro.
A slightly different crowd gathered down here by the dressing rooms. Crews were rushing back and forth to get the gear back on the bus while girlfriends and wives wait patiently (looking incredibly bored and tired) as members of the band shake hands, kiss the girls, and smile as if everyone’s made a new friend of them.
“The show doesn’t really end for them, does it?” Forrest asked sagely, observing the scene.
Crystal responded. “I think that’s why this life’s so coveted.”
Samson shook his head and tsk’d. “Yeah, it would really suck to be worshipped all the time, wouldn’t it?”
While the boys bantered, Crystal heard a gritty male voice behind her say, “Yeah, they’re right this way, baby, promise.” She turned and saw as she suspected – that greasy hairball leading pinky-skirt down the hall…in the opposite direction, towards the doors outside. Crystal wanted to say something so badly, call out, “He’s throwing you out! Run!” but she couldn’t muster the vocal fortitude to get involved. A higher consciousness forbade her to interfere in the matters of someone else’s life lesson.
He opened the exit for the girl and gave her a little push outside. “Right around the corner, love. Thanks, baby. I’ll call you!” and shut the door. Crystal watched her look up and down the empty street, with nothing but the normal traffic passing by behind her. Of course no one would be there, as the bus and trucks are parked in the back. The girl looked here and there, couldn’t find who she was looking for, then tried to get back into the building.
It was locked.
She banged and banged, calling “Hey! HEY! They’re not there, lemme in!” Becoming more frustrated, she cried, “What the hell?! HEY!” as she beat on the door with side of her fist. Didn’t take long for the embarrassment of reality to flush into her cheeks and the tears to follow. “You bastard!! You son of a bitch!…”
Crystal, as much as she wanted to save that child from pain, could not bring herself to let her back in, though. Hard and harsh as it seemed, she knew that sometimes the most beautiful gifts come in really ugly packages. And this was the girl’s package to open, not Crystal’s. She knew in her heart she’d be alright though…she hoped.
“Ah! There you are, you lot!” Ivan greeted as if he really was looking for them. Damn, Crystal thought, he’s really good at this. “’Ere are some of the boys I’d like you to meet,” and he introduced them to this evening’s featured gods of the temple. Their presences were unmistakable, though they were a lot shorter than she imagined. They emanated a warmth, as well as power. Consummate professionals; just friendly enough to make you feel genuinely welcome, but not so open as to give the impression they were going to move in with you. But, there was something sweet about them, too – lead vocalist, especially, who seemed to radiate as if the spotlight never left his face.
After cordial greetings, Forrest, the insatiable student had to ask, “How can you stand this?”
The “boys” looked surprised. Lead man asked, “What do you mean, mate?”
“Well,” Forrest explained, “You put on a show onstage, then you put on another show offstage, then you put on another show for reporters and…” they nodded appreciatively, with full understanding, “you know? How can you stand it? I almost wanna say, ‘Hey, nice to meet you — don’t worry about us! Go home to your families! Go! Take a break!’”
Amused, but appreciative, the bass player folded his arms. “I know what you mean, but after so many years , this is home. Our families are with us for the most part, so where are we gonna go?” He shrugged. “Takes a lot of energy to wind down after a show and by the time you wind down, you’re off again, so…”
The singer addressed Forrest. “Ah, it’s not so bad – wait, are you an artist?” and an easy, comfortable dialogue ensued; First an intriguing discussion about art and its selfishness, the monster of business, then to assorted philosophies and anecdotes to blonde jokes. Ivan was getting a little annoyed, as the band was obviously enjoying the company of these cool, intelligent people who were not jumping up and down and screaming in their faces, while there were a few other business guests he’d like them to meet.
Crystal was in the middle of telling a story about when she was a receptionist and was asked to page a guy named, “Ifuk Nhopay” and completely mispronounced it when a new face joined the circle. She recognized him instantly as the other guitarist — those perfect blue topaz eyes were absolutely unmistakable. She didn’t interrupt telling her tale of tremendous humiliation, but she became magnetically drawn to his surreal beauty as he laughed with the others. It took every ounce of self-discipline not to stare. When she finished, Jellyfish snuck up behind her and observed, “Ah! You told the story of poor ‘ee-fook noo-pie’ which you pronounced ‘I-fuck no-pay’.”
“Yes I did!” She gave him a hug and asked how he was doing. “And I noticed you survived and haven’t been violated…?”
“Yup, I survived.” He waved at everyone. “And I was offered a job.” Everyone kind of held their breath, some with anticipation, some – well, one – with horror. He turned to her, “Crystal? You’re right. Roadies are seriously scary.”
“See? I told y –”
“—and they’re brilliant.” Sweaty, filthy, and on his second wind, no doubt, he testified, “I swear, some of these guys make MacGyver look like Marcia Brady.” He turned to the drummer, “It’s amazing where they can pull an extra drum head when they need to.” He nodded, “I think I might do it.”
Crystal gasped and groaned. Samson grinned, “No frickin’ way!”
“You sure you wanna do this?” Forrest asked in that sagely, brotherly manner. “It’s a hard knock life, my friend.”
“Yeah,” Jelly reasoned, “but there’s nothing stating that I’m chained to bus, though. I figure I’ll try it for a little while and see how crazy I get. If I get a disease before my next birthday, I’ll just quit and go home.”
“Shit, you can get a disease from some of this backstage food,” the drummer noted.
“Yeah, the life’s hard, but when a show goes so right, it’s all so so worth it,” Blue Eyes stated. But, he was looking at Crystal when he said it, not at Jellyfish, with a little smile, too.
Crystal was beside herself when she felt herself blushing all over. She was sure he noticed, too, which embarrassed her worse than her turn-on. He winked.
Apparently he wasn’t the only one who noticed. “Excuse me, you two need a room?” the drummer asked. “Cuz, if it gets any hotter in here, I’m fucked cuz I didn’t bring any marshmallows.” He glared at Blue Eyes, “And I bloody fuckin’ love smores, man, bloody love them!”
All the pressure was too much. And whenever that happens, Crystal kicks into survival-humor mode. In this case, she replied, “Yeah, well, I dunno. I’m kinda thinkin’ he’s just one of them gold-diggin’ bitches just trying to use me for my fame and fortune.” Everyone, the band especially, laughed. She turned to the blushing, world-famous musician, gave him a visual body check and said, “Ach, that’s alright though. You’re kinda cute. Tell you what? I throw you a t-shirt when I call you a cab in the morning.”
Blue Eyes had an “Oh my god, you are awesome” expression his grinning face when he answered in a high pitched Monty-Python-does-drag manner, “But, baby I’ll make it worth your while,” and batted his eyelashes. “Oh please oh please tell me you’ll respect me in the morning.” More laughter.
Crystal said, “Bitch, I don’t respect you now.”
The two tried to keep their faces straight, before he replied, “Oh…tee-hee.” Then, Crystal lost it. Game over.
Blue Eyes puts his arm around Crystal’s waist, which caused a minor earthquake under her skin, and whispered his invitation to go back to his room. Sensuality oozed out of every pore of his body and shot lightning through his gentle stare – there was no way in science she could resist, big rock star or not.
Besides, she’s a big girl. Why not?
“Well, you would look good on the back of the bike, wouldn’t you?” She winked. She noticed his very prominent Adam’s apple just then and fought the urge to suck on it in front of her friends.
Forrest broke the spell. “’Scuse me, sir?” addressing the guitarist. “Chief Do-me-now? Could you please tell us where you plan to take our sister-friend so I know where to send the cops if she doesn’t get home before 2:00 tomorrow afternoon?” The band looked a little taken aback, but impressed. Forrest added, “Forgive me, no offense gentlemen, but when it comes to my friends and family, I don’t care if you’re Christ off the cross and the apostles.”
Crystal smiled, grateful for her friend’s protectiveness as Blue Eyes asked Ivan where they were staying (because he can never remember), gave Forrest the info and assured him, “I promise she’ll return in better shape than I got her.”
Crystal shot him a look. “What am I, a lawnmower?”
Her new date raised an eyebrow and asked, “Would you like me to respond with references to ‘riding and standing’ or ‘grass trim –‘”
“Never mind!” She took him by the hand, thanked Ivan and the band, and took her prize.
The bass player, arms still folded, looked on and smirked. “That’s right brother, you take that piece…”
The ride in the back of the town car was cozy.
The two enjoyed each other’s company as if they’d known each other for months – comfortable, but still excited to be together. They enjoyed such an easy, hot chemistry between them that only once did she doubt her amazing fortune to be stroking thighs with this man, but the fancy passed quickly. Here in the backseat, without an instrument or towers of amps behind him, he was just a guy.
A really super sexy, clever, charming, sweet, irresistible, beautiful guy who wanted her. Not some plastic Barbie in a leather skirt with bullet-proof unnaturally blonde straw on top of her head…her. Crystal.
And she felt humbled and lucky and really annoyed when his phone rang in the middle of a kiss.
“Dang,” he exclaimed as he recognized the ring. “I’m sorry, babe. That’s Chuck, my assistant. Gotta take this.” She understood, nodded, and leaned back, looking out the window while she overheard his side of the conversation:
“…I told you not to worry about that…it’s no big deal, that’s what the I.T. guys are for…no I didn’t get a chance to open my email today…whatever you opened…Well, maybe you opened them and didn’t remember. Look, mate – I’ve got a distraction with me that I’d rather be talking to than you. I’ll…no. No!…ugh, okay, fine. But, don’t call unless…right.”
He hung up, pulled her back into his arms and asked, “Now, where were we?”
Back at the hotel, they didn’t waste any time.
She couldn’t imagine how he mustered so much energy after a three-hour show under the burning lights, then another hour or so playing the host backstage, and now ravishing every inch of her body in ways that sent her mind completely out of consciousness and into the blissful abyss of ecstasy. He took her to him, balancing dominance with tenderness with such perfection, she gave in much more than she anticipated. It was unnerving, exciting, dangerous…
His sex was a needle in the vein.
The sun was beginning to peak over the horizon when they finally collapsed with exhaustion, panting and sweaty, sticky-sweet with the sheets twisted and the blankets on the floor. Blue Eyes lay next to her, giggling. “Daaaamn…”
“I think I need a hip replacement.”
Snickering, he looked down at her nakedness sprawled across the bed, legs dangling over the side and remarked, “I don’t think you need to replace anything.” He lightly touched her breast. “You’re perfect just the way you are.”
She blushed, but thought, “Great,” to herself. “Go ahead and say things that’ll make me fall in love with you completely. How convenient.”
“As a matter of fact,” he began, then reached down and asked, “Hey, you seen my jeans?” Crystal felt them at her feet. She clinched a belt loop with her toes and flung them over. He caught them, exclaimed, and pulled out his phone. “I wanna get pictures,” he grinned.
As quick as a switch, she covered up, horrified, “NO! No, please! –“
He looked shocked. “Why not? Come on, you’re beautiful! You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of –“
“—I’m not having my girls passed around on the web. No way, I’m sorry!”
“Please,” she begged. “Please? My parents are still alive. I don’t wanna go there.”
“I wanna remember you, though,” he whined a little. “Look at you! You’re a –“
Unrelenting, he leaned down and pleaded softly, “I promise, no one’s gonna see them but me. I’ll password protect them, I promise.”
“Yeah? What about Chuck?!”
He rolled his eyes, “Chuck’s not gonna – “
“I’m sorry,” she finalized, sitting up, looking him straight in the eye with dead seriousness. “No. I’m sorry. I can’t. Please? Please don’t.” She stopped him before he could say another word, “Please? Please, I beg you, don’t. No pictures.”
He conceded with a defeated pout as he put the phone on the night stand. “Okay. I’m sorry.”
She rolled over and stroked his cheek. “You don’t need to be sorry. But, thank you. Seriously, I mean it,” and sealed it with a kiss. She yawned, looked at the clock and the light coming through the window. “Holy god, it’s late…”
He pulled her next to him and covered her, kissed her on the forehead and said, “By the way, I’m not using you for your fame and fortune…I’m using you for your body.”
She smiled. “Well, there’s a step up. And there I was, worried about the shallow dynamic of our relationship. How silly of me!”
He laughed and added, “Um…about that. Look, I don’t –“
“Don’t worry,” she assured him. “I know what this is. I know what you are and it’s all good. I won’t expect any engagement rings, I promise.” He seemed relieved. She joked, “Besides, I can’t have rumors about me in the tabloids with my high profile job and all, you know?”
“Oh of course,” he answered. “You know? In a way, it’s too bad,” he mused. “You would’ve made a really cool stalker.” He kissed her on the top of her head, rolled over onto his side, and crashed.
The last thing she would ever hear from him was the sound of his snoring.
About a week later…
“I know, I still can’t believe how sweet he was to leave me coffee and a note in the morning,” Crystal reminisced to her friend over the phone while she applied her mascara, getting ready for work. “I know!…Oh, I know!…Exactly…now, I just need to find a real guy with a normal job who’d do the same thing…yeah, that lives in the same country, too, of course…Hey, we doin’ lunch again? Yeah, I gotta go. Yeah, see you at noon! Ciao, baby.” She hung up, feeling as vibrant and good about life as she did since the night of the show – best she’s felt in more years than she can remember.
And damn, she looked good, too, she thought.
She smiled at herself in the mirror, grabbed her purse and her keys, shut the lights, told her cat to be a good girl while she’s gone, and made her way to the “salt mine.” Not caring about the free entertainment she was providing the other drivers on the road, she sang out loud and animatedly all the way to the office, not minding the red lights or the truckers honking at her.
Smiling, radiating, and refreshed, she enters the “hall of cubicles,” ready to greet…
…everyone acting strangely.
Crystal’s usually fairly popular here, always been since she started over five years ago – even trained some of the staff, herself. Yet, some of the older ladies are staring at her as if she’d grown another head. Three of the six boys she worked with seemed to blush and hide their faces as she walked in while the other three gave her body checks and tried to conceal their smirks.
She called them on it, “Excuse me? You have something to say?” The tension was so thick, it kicked a pit in her stomach as she glanced around. The authoritative voice of her supervisor suddenly called from behind, “Crystal? May I see you in my office, please?”
Surprised, Crystal whipped her head around. She was addressed again, “Now, please.”
Trying desperately to hide her shuddering, she dutifully backtracked and entered her boss’ lair. She didn’t want to sit down.
“Mary, what’s going –“
“Sit down, Crystal, please,” Mary instructed.
“I think I’d rather stand.”
“I’d rather you sit.” She gestured firmly to the cushioned chair in front of the desk. Mary took her place in the leather throne, folded her hands and leaned over, giving Crystal the full-metal-jacket glare into her eyes. “Crystal, do you remember signing contracts with this company when you were hired?”
Deer in the headlights, panic setting in. What the…? “Mary?…um, yeah – yes. Yes, of course I do. Why, what’s going –“
“Do you remember the agreement containing the ‘morality clause,’ stating that you agreed to conduct your work and personal business consistent and respectful to this company’s culture, which is in a manner of moral self-respect and propriety at all times?”
Now, completely baffled, “Yes…”
“And that you agreed that as an employee of this company, you gave us the right to take precautions and investigate any claims of any behavior that may be in breach of any contract signed by the employee in question, including but not limited to, checking social media accounts and web activities?”
Crystal, completely and totally confused, just shook her head and asked, “Mary, please. What is this about? I have no idea what I’m doing…”
Mary turned her monitor around so Crystal can see photos of herself, nude, with her legs spread on a luxury king-sized bed. She was posed in a way that looked as if she was anticipating penetration, when in fact, she was sleeping.
A short scream shot out of her throat like a burning bullet. She covered her mouth to try to contain the shock, but the tears betrayed any defenses and her bones trembled under her crawling skin.
He had taken at least six or seven very violating photos of her while she was unconscious, even posing her with…
“Now, how would you like to explain this?” Mary demanded.
“Jelly? Jelly, please! This is the fourth message I’ve left for you, please, I really, really need you to call me back…please…” she sobbed into the phone, sitting on the floor in her living room in her pajamas, petting her cat with her laptop open in front of her. “I need you,” she begged, then hung up. Her face felt as swollen and red as it looked from ugly crying since she hit the highway back home from the last day of her job. She thought her eyes would squeeze themselves out of their sockets. A half a pint of ice cream did nothing to relieve the pain –
The phone rang in her hand.
She didn’t bother to look at the number, she just hoped it was the return call that she’s so anxious for, “Hello?”
It wasn’t Jellyfish, it was her friend that she was supposed to have lunch with who wanted to know why she didn’t call. Crystal recounted her horror story; how everyone stared at her, finding herself naked on the web with her boss explaining that whether or not she consented, the fact that she was naked in a room with another human being before marriage was not consistent with the expected, contractual “moral conduct” clause, therefore was terminated with the severance paycheck already cut which meant that she had no chance of winning it back.
She also told her friend that she told her old boss that the only real reason why she was firing her was because it was obvious that Crystal was getting laid and Mary needed to change the batteries in her vibrator. “So, I guess I can kiss a reference good-bye, too,” she joked between sniffles. “Then, to add insult to injury, I come home, change my clothes, open my email and my inbox is full of emails from my friends and old co-workers with those damned pictures attached with messages like, ‘Oh my god, did you see these?’ and ‘Why would you do something like this?’ and ‘You go girl, you sexy thing!’ and…” she felt her throat tighten. “And I am just…”
With the sensation of being punched in the chest, she broke down again.
Her friend called her name over and over, “Are you there? Are you there? Crystal? Crystal!”but once again, a fresh tsunami of humiliation and betrayal was too overwhelming to overcome. Her friend finally gave up.
A knock at the door shocked her out of breath. For a moment, she looked down at herself, not remembering when or how she picked up the phone and realized that she had been in hysterics long enough for her computer to perform the automatic shut down. “Who is it?” she called with what little air she had. She tried again, taking a bigger breath, “Who is it?!”
“It’s Forrest! You okay?”
Finally, she thought, a real friend. She had some trouble getting up as her legs had fallen asleep in the position she was hunched in, but she was able to stumble to the door before he felt it necessary to break it down.
When she opened it, he looked at her with a sympathetic smile and said, “Hi. You look like shit.”
That made her smile a bit. “You should see how I feel…”
“That made no sense, but I think I know what you mean.” He hugged her tightly, brotherly, and protectively. It was healing and warm to her. Just what I needed, she thought. But, she had to ask, “How did you know –?”
“Jellyfish called me.” Crystal was surprised. “He was in the middle of set up when he got the first cry of panic. He couldn’t talk, but he was worried about you, so he called me to come over and check on you and dutifully report back.” He saw the half-eaten, melted ice cream and the river of used tissues strewn on the floor. “Glad he did.”
Crystal could tell he was a little hurt that she didn’t call him first.
“I lost my job,” she said bluntly. She squeezed his arm and turned to the computer.
“That sucks,” he responded. “Did they give you a reason,” and before he could finish the sentence, she showed him the reason, “ – why you were WHOA VAGINA!!”
She was beyond embarrassed at this point. She figured it was better for him to discover the pics from her than on his own. “Give you three guesses who took these.”
Forrest was now past shocked and turning red in the face with rage.
His composure was iron-clad, his voice became professional, almost mechanic. “Did he violate you physically?”
“Did you consent to have these pictures taken?”
He nodded. “Then how did he take them?”
Exasperated, “With a camera!”
He snorted, “I know that! But, what I’m asking is if you didn’t consent to have these pictures taken, how did he get you to pose?”
“I was asleep.”
He nodded again. “Can you prove that?”
She was slightly taken aback. “Prove it? What do you mean? My eyes are closed.”
“Yes,” he agreed, but then added, “but, can you prove you were asleep and not just closing your eyes?”
She looked at the pictures closely and realized that there was no way to tell that she was positioned against her will or without her knowledge. “I guess not.”
“Then someone would have to wonder if you were willing to have sex, why wouldn’t you be willing to have your pictures taken?”
She was aghast. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“I mean,” he stressed, “if you were willing to have sex with him, why should anyone believe that you didn’t pose for him, too?”
Trying very hard not to get angry, because she wanted to believe he was trying to “condition” her for a jury – which was his Aquarian way of helping her – she told him, “One thing has nothing to do with the other!”
She readily explained, “Sex with one person in private is one thing. Posing for pictures and having them on the internet is like giving free sex to everyone!” She added, “I have the right to choose who I can share my body with or not. And when he took those pictures and sent them free, he took that choice from me!”
“But, you had sex with a total stranger! What does it matter if you have sex with one stranger or a thousand –“
“—because that was the ‘stranger’ that I chose!” Now she was second guessing, “It is the twenty-first century, I am entitled to choice, aren’t I?” Her heart started to ache. “Forrest, are you trying to help me or judge me?”
He averted his eyes. “Look, all I’m saying is that you made a choice and now you have to live with the consequences of that choice.”
“And if he actually raped me?”
He didn’t answer.
“Forrest, I’m serious! Are you saying I deserved what I got?”
Very quietly, very calmly, he simply reiterated, “You made a choice. And now you have to live with the consequences of that choice.” He saw the tears swell in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Crystal. But, that’s the truth.”
“And what about the consequences of his choice?”
She shook his head. “How are you going to prove that it was, in fact, his choice and not both of yours?” He paused. Then, “And how are you going to pay for the consequences of his choice if you can’t prove otherwise?”
“So,” she choked, “are you saying that he had the right to do whatever he wanted with me because I willingly entered his ‘lair’?” She couldn’t believe this conversation. “In other words, one of my best friends is telling me that I asked for it?”
He bowed his head, feeling a little shame and a little sorry for causing Crystal more pain, but he felt in his heart he was doing her more good by helping her see the reality of the situation. “No one deserves to be violated. No one deserves to be disrespected in any way. But, when you take risks, sometimes it backfires.” He shut the monitor on the computer. “Why didn’t you just leave after you were finished?”
“Because I was tired! It was dawn, for crying out loud –“
“And you believed that you could trust a stranger?”
“For god’s sakes, he wasn’t a total stranger, Forrest.”
“Just because you know of him doesn’t mean you know him!”
She hid her face, feeling the throbbing behind her eyes again. “So, what am I supposed to do?” she asked. “I don’t have a job anymore and now I’m exposed all over the web and I feel disgusting…” She took a tissue to wipe her nose. “And one of the best nights of my life is now one of my worst.”
“Well, fighting fire with fire isn’t going to work,” he threw. “So, if you’re thinking of going public, without you being able to prove –“
“Well, I wasn’t thinking of going public until you said something.” She sniffled. “But, that’s why I needed to get in touch with Jellyfish.” She took a breath as she recounted. “In the back of the car, he was talking on the phone with his assistant and it sounded like his assistant, Chuck, thought someone was hacking into his phone.”
Forrest looked interested. “Go on.”
“But, he didn’t take him seriously, just brushed it off.” She looked at him, “I believe he did not mean to leak those pics. So,” she blew her nose, “I’m hoping that maybe Jelly can let him know what happened. I don’t think he knows.”
Forrest nodded. “So, if I understand you correctly, despite the fact that he took your photo without your permission and somehow – whether he meant to or not – they are now leaked all over the world for anyone to see, you are more interested in protecting him and making sure he’s okay than finding another job and preserving your dignity.”
“That is what you just said –“
“No, that isn’t what I said.”
“Then why does he need to know that the pictures leaked? How do you know he didn’t leak them –“
“Because he said he wouldn’t!”
“The word of a stranger, Crystal!”
“He wasn’t a stranger…” she tried to convince herself.
“ And what does it matter now?” And he was right. It didn’t matter now. The damage has been done. She can’t go back and do over, she can’t fix it. She was given a bad hand, she bet too much, and now she had to fold and it was eating her from the inside-out. “And you know what the worst part is?” as he put a loving hand on her shoulder? “None of this would be an issue if it was my naked dinky instead of your girly parts.” She was glad to hear him say that, but it was still minor comfort for major stupidity she felt.
All of a sudden, she visualized herself banging on the door to get back into the building…
A month or so later…
“Sam, I swear, I’ve been trying like hell to see him,” Jelly explained on the phone. “But, Ivan’s got them booked solid with interviews, guest hosting, promos, and bullshit. It’s a wonder these guys aren’t walking dead.”
“Dude, they are walking dead. That’s what the drugs are for.”
Getting back on the subject, “Have you heard from Crystal? She alright?”
There was a long sigh before Sam just started up again, “Can’t we just kill him and get it over with?”
“Psht, I wish,” Jelly said under his breath. “But, unfortunately, I can’t kill my boss. And for some crazy reason, people seem to like him, so I just wish him arthritis every chance I get.”
“Nice.” Sam approved. “And throw in a nice dose of erectile dysfunction for good measure.”
“So mote it be, that mother –“ he saw a glimpse of his victim in his peripheral vision talking to his techies. “Sam! Gotta go!” He shut the phone and ran to him.
The guitarist was speaking casually to his crew when Jellyfish called out, “Hey! Hey man, hold up!” which promptly got his attention. He could see the urgency and asked his guys to wait up and would speak to them later. The musician folded his arms and looked curious. “Hey, what’s up?”
Jelly caught his breath. “Dude, I’ve been trying to get to see you for weeks,” he began, but didn’t mince words. “Either someone’s hacking into your phone or you’re a real fuckstain.”
The man looked shocked. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Jelly took out his phone, tapped his screen a few times and showed him his handiwork. “You remember this woman?”
Blue Eyes examined her, but his expression showed he was drawing a blank. He shook his head. “She’s hot, but…no, I don’t remember.”
“Well,” Jelly said, “This is my friend Crystal. You met the night I started working with you, that show at –“
“Oh yeah!” he said, “Okay, yeah, now I remember –“
Jelly shook his head. He knew better. He was getting the same, “I remember ” act everyone in the industry gives to a fan that asks if they remember them – they never do, but they say they do because they don’t wanna hurt anyone’s feelings. “No you don’t,” Jelly halted, “Please, just stop. But, lemme refresh your memory…” and he proceeded to describe the event, the dialogue, the venue…
And that really did jog his memory and he didn’t seem so casual anymore. Looking a little concerned, “Wait, can I see that again?”
Jelly raised an eyebrow.
“Seriously, please. I wanna see something.” He looked at the picture again, then pulled out his own phone and his face flushed. “Fuck…”
“Dude, she lost her job because of that.”
“I didn’t leak it, I swear!”
“She told you no –”
“I took it, but I didn’t –”
He didn’t let up “And her parents aren’t talking to her and she’s still having a bitch of a time –”
The bass player cut in, “What’s going on?” His buddy looked embarrassed as Jellyfish stood accusatory, staring him down. Both of them went quiet. The alpha addressed again, “Come on, what’s the problem?” He checked Jellyfish up and asked, “You supposed to be here?”
“I had to talk to –”
“You’re part of the crew, right?”
“So, is there a problem?”
Jelly glanced over at the pale guitarist and realized he made his message clear – or at least he probably got as much accomplished as he could. “I think we’ve got everything squared,” he answered.
“Yeah…” the guitarist said under his breath.
Alpha nodded, appeased. Jelly, not wanting to make any more waves – well, actually he wanted to make a ton of waves and throw some lightning bolts in for good measure, but he didn’t want to lose his job doing it – just said, “Thanks,” and turned back to the trucks.
The bass player looked at his friend, “So, what’s going on?”
Blue Eyes just shook his head. “Nothing.” He looked down at his feet. “I just fucked up, is all.”
The alpha snorted, “Yeah, what else is new?”
The guitarist shook his head, turned toward the bus and climbed on, with the bass player following behind. “No, man, seriously, I messed up.” And he recounted what had just transpired.
The bass player shrugged, “So, you took some pictures, so what? It’s not gonna send you to jail, is it?”
His friend, taking a seat, looked up at him, “So what? She told me no, I did it anyway,” he turned away, “and then my phone gets hacked!”
It didn’t phase his friend. “She asked for it. What the fuck does it matter?” He leaned over, on the top of the seat, and looked down at him. “That’s what happens, right? You spread your legs, you open yourself to whatever comes, you know what I mean?”
“No, seriously. She made a fucking choice.” Then pointed a finger at him, “And you made a fucking choice, knowing Chuck warned you about the IT shit –“
“And you chose to be stupid.” He summarized, “So now we’ve got two stupid gits who’ve both fucked up. Now you get to feel all weepy ‘boo-hoo oh I’m such a terrible person’ and she’s got to clean up her mess. There. Case solved. What are you supposed to do about it? She suing you? She gonna burn your house down? Break your legs? What’s she gonna do about it?” He continued, “And what are you gonna do if she does? Take her to fucking court over a couple a nasty pictures? Pay her off? Fuck her again?”
His friend listened, just stunned at what he was hearing. “I can’t believe you’re frickin’ saying this!”
“Why not? What should I be saying?” He shook his head with annoyance, “Everyone’s pussyfootin’ around about being nice, politically correct, and being respectful and all that other free-love-hippie-shit when they can’t even be nice and respect their fucking selves?” He added, “Why should we care if they don’t? Who am I, John Lennon? Mister fucking Rogers?” He stood up, “All I’m sayin’ is if you’re gonna rub two sticks together, fine. But, don’t bitch if you get fire.”
The guitarist looked up at his band mate, practically knocked senseless. It took him a few seconds to register before he could respond. “Jeez, man…what the hell happened to you?”
Expressionless, he answered, “We got a show to do.”