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No amount of bleach can cleanse these memories

One day in the early summer of a few years ago, around the time most people have dinner, I was at my high school sweetheart’s house by myself. I stood in the kitchen cleaning the glossy, white-tile countertops with bleach to kill time and bacteria while I waited for him to come home. I rubbed the ragged wet paper towel against the discolored grout, just wasting time. Someone forgot to turn off the little boxy TV in the kitchen and the evening news came on. It was mostly background noise to my cleaning until they announced that my father died in an accident. I was sure that what I heard was incorrect. I just saw my father. He dropped me off at school. Surely there was another man in the Las Vegas Valley with the same name and age. It must be the bleach fumes. Then the weather forecast came on. It would be sunny and bright all week for everyone else except me.

As I was still in high school and had no other relatives in Las Vegas, I ended up moving in with my 17-year-old boyfriend’s family. His mother, luckily, was thrilled to finally have a daughter. My own mother was never really active in raising me, so it was a new and interesting experience to have an involved mother. I could truly understand why people love their mothers. We became inseparable. We would stay up all night watching hours and hours of recorded soap operas on VHS tapes. She taught me everything I know about cooking since we made dinner together every day except on weekends when we would eat at bars in the wee hours and hope they didn’t ask for my ID.

“Mom” is from North Carolina and told me stories about things like picking tobacco in the muggy Southern heat and finding snakes in her rundown house that was shared with a bunch of brothers and a feisty stepmother. She came to Vegas and started cocktail waitressing when she was about the age that I was when I moved in with her. This was roughly 30 years ago. The Vegas service industry lifestyle wore her down like a wet bar of soap. She is not especially healthy for her age.

She got hurt very badly over the weekend by doing something crazy. I’m going to ask her exactly what happened, because the way I heard the story, I imagine it like a slapstick comedy routine. I’m going to visit her in the ICU this week, bringing with me a bunch of flowers. Yes, this is totally unrelated to stripping but my dysfunctional family is completely occupying my mind.

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