I met him about a year into my time at 'my bar' of 10 years. I knew him for 7 of those years; danced for him during the 'no touching' days which were out in the open, no booths for privacy, on into the lap dancing phase (he wasn't into the grinding and preferred I just did what I always did), and private booths, and still he did not touch me.
He had a boyish face, and a timid manner about him. He was two years older than me and I felt like we came from the same world. He had a thing for feet. He told me he liked my shoes and my face when he first called me over. I sat across from him and we casually smiled and introduced ourselves. When the music started, I stood up and would start slowly moving and take down my little dress. I noticed that he had gone into some kind of trance almost immediately. He was there with me, making eye contact, but his eyes would roam from my eyes to my hand that was taking my strap down, then to my hands that were easing my dress over my hips. He followed my every move, instead of looking at the body part I was exposing. He began this way every time he came in (which was regularly twice a month) and was consistent for years, until at one point we had grown to know each other so well, he didn't look at my hand movements anymore, he just looked into my eyes with a melancholy gaze. He wasn't strange; he had his moments of arousal but always regained his composure with a smile and a sip of his beer.
He made me feel connected to him, and when I sat down and let my dress slip down my legs and over my shoes, he liked holding my shoe and would wrap his hand around the heel. Then he would look at me, and he communicated without words. It was so interesting that once we had made that connection, it was so easy to talk. Something would be said, then I would keep dancing, and it gave us time to think and decide what to say next. The music allowed for comfortable spans of silence. The simplest question led to sensitive topics. I knew when he didn't want to talk, so I didn't persist, mainly because that time was his (he was paying for it!) and I knew he wanted me to take him away from his problems, not contribute to them! We had fantastic talks about the blues, about religion, and how his wife was a professor at a university and he had so much respect for her for working so hard to get where she was, but they didn't get along very well. They had kids but I never saw pictures. He would leave the bar drunk but I don't remember him as a drunk. He smoked like a fiend, and admitted to me that he was a closet alcoholic after an accident in his Probe one night. He was fine, but his car had been wrecked, in a ditch on a country road, and he wouldn't be coming in as often.
We were honest with each other, and we liked each other. I worried for him because I knew he was troubled and was just accepting his lot, coming in to see me for a friendly face, someone who wouldn't criticize or demand, someone who would just like him for him for the time he was there. He invited me to Chicago after knowing me for about 5 years. For the weekend. He had to work, but we could go out for dinner and go to Buddy Guy's Legend's bar. He had always wanted to go there, but his wife never liked the blues. For me, it was an adventure and I was actually flattered that he would have my company for a whole weekend. Yes, we had one room and yes we had sex. It was an extended form of the dancing I had done all those years. He looked at me the same way, attentive and considerate.
When we got home, he came into the bar (I never knew when he would decide to come in) one night, and gave me a Buddy Guy airbrushed t-shirt. I still have it. I continued to dance for him and I followed his life as he separated from his wife, took up residence with a woman he liked. She was much older than him. He had met her at work. She was going through her own separation. He really liked her feet but he wouldn't tell me details of their relationship. That was private. He looked happier and he told me he was trying to cut down on his drinking. I was so happy for him, but I was jealous in my realization that I would only get so close to him. He had a life on the 'outside' that I would never be a part of. It was like that with a lot of my customers though. I was the one they would unload their problems on, the one they would seek healing or comfort from, the one who confirmed to some of them they still had it, the one who became their partner in crime for the duration of their visit, the one who eased their loneliness.
Then one day, he emailed me. He wondered if we could have lunch. He had never asked me before. I said yes. We met at a restaurant, and I asked him why he travelled way across the city - that I could have met him halfway. He said his cancer group met there, and that's what he wanted to tell me. He was dying. I was shocked, but the accepting look on his face was calming. He looked tired and grey. We said our goodbye's that day, sitting across from each other in the restaurant, holding hands and looking at each other with quiet tears in my eyes. That was as much as I would know of this man who had been in my life for 7 years.
He died 8 months later. He was 40 years old. He had told his sister about me and she emailed me to tell me. He had wanted me to be notified. She told me I had had a special place in his heart and I cried.
The iron and copper clock I bought in Chicago sits on my piano and reminds me of him, and of the time that is so precious to us all.