Jennifer Rhodes is an amateur pole dancer, occasional high school teacher and all-the-time writer pursuing her MFA in creative
nonfiction at Antioch University in Los Angeles. When not spilling her soul onto the page, breaking up fights in school hallways or
dangling upside down on her pole, Jenn can be found spoiling her dog, Jimmy Choo. She resides with her husband in Cincinnati, Ohio,
and is working on her first manuscript, a collection of comedic essays.
She has the best rack I've ever seen.
As I sit ogling it, I ponder whether they are real. If they are, I am jealous and curse God for giving her the kind of chest
that makes even girls stare and giving me nothing more than two overgrown mosquito bites.
If they are not real, I contemplate asking her if I could feel them.
I'm dying to know what implants feel like. What her implants feel like. Are they like water balloons gently sloshing beneath
the skin? Do they harden like rocks or warp like an unfinished wood floor, contorting, rippling?
I'm sitting next to her in class, supposed to be listening, but I can't. I cannot take my eyes off of her. I study her. I
When I walked into the room I noticed she was there, almost immediately. My heart stopped.
"Is anyone sitting here?" I asked.
"You are", she said, moving her bag.
The cocoon in my stomach tore open; the butterflies violently flapped their wings.
I get to sit next to her, I thought. And the longer I sat, the more I thought. This will make me important by association.
Everyone knows her, admires her. The other students in the room will see me sitting next to her, assume we are friends
and hold me in the same esteem. The awe and admiration I will attract for being perceived of as her friend, for being
perceived of as being like her will make me content.
Will make me enough.
Will make it okay to be me.
I've watched her from afar for awhile now. Her long hair swishes when she walks, flowing gently down her back like a
terra-cotta waterfall. She has these deep eyes and when she looks at you she sees you--she really sees you--making you
feel like you are the only other person in the room. When she is not concentrating on school she is smiling, talking,
everyone seems to know her. Everything about her is authentic--her leather motorcycle jacket is not a fashion statement;
she really rides a bike. She does not teach pole dancing classes because it's the newest fad; she actually is a dancer. She
walks confidently, gallantly, balancing strength with beauty; a level head with a free spirit.
The professor lectures, but my focus remains unchanged. She is oblivious to me, engaged in the lecture, her fingers
clicking away at the keys of her laptop as she takes notes. I strain to read them, to get into her head and see how she
thinks. Does she write down what the professor says verbatim or does she paraphrase? I can't really see.
I look around the classroom to see if anyone notices who I'm sitting next to.
If anyone is trying to read my notes.
If anyone is transfixed on me, fascinated, silently thinking I wonder if she had a breast reduction, and if so, I'd like to feel
No one is looking.
I look at her again, studying her features, taking in her unconventional perfection.
I want to be like that.
I want to be her.
I see her chest rise and fall as she breathes and wish that when she exhales, her confidence will waft out so I could inhale
it. Then, I think, I'd know what it feels like to be happy. Then, I think, I could be more like her.
If I was more like her, it would be okay to be me.
She can feel the weight of my stare and turns toward me. I smile, embarrassed.
I am such a fuck up, I think to myself. Who does that? Who stares at people with crazy, mad intensity like that? What
are you doing? That's what psychos do! Psychos and stalkers and pedophiles!
I go back to scanning the room.
Still, no one is looking at me.
I look out the window, just over her shoulder, wishing to be sucked up into the ominous clouds that loom overhead.
We've only really ever spoken twice. The first time was last June during a lecture at school. She caught me staring at her
and I explained, red faced, that I was just studying her tattoos, the two full sleeves that decorate her toned arms. She
smiled and nodded as if this had happened many times before. One arm, she explained, was her "candy arm". Upon closer
inspection I saw that it was whimsically covered, shoulder to wrist, with pastel-colored candies reminiscent of childhood. A
Peep chick, Starlight mints, a scattering of Candy Corn, a spoonful of sugar. She smiled, a kind, genuine smile, and went
back to her work. I racked my brain to think of something to say, some way of extending the conversation, but the
moment had passed.
I would refer to this conversation repeatedly over the next six months. Every time I talked to someone with a tattoo, I
felt compelled to bring her up. I go to school with a girl and she has a candy arm, I'd say.
Once when my husband and I were out to dinner, our server had a large tattoo draping across her cleavage. I remember
her chest was definitely real, the kind of breasts that probably hit the floor when she takes off her bra. I would not touch
them with a ten-foot pole. I don't remember what her tattoo said.
"I like your tattoo," I told her.
This was not true.
My husband had heard this many times over the past few months. He rolled his eyes. He knew what was coming next.
"She knows someone who has a candy arm," he said dryly. "A sleeve with candy on it." He said this as if he was no longer
amused, or maybe was never amused by it in the first place.
The server smiled, a phony waitress-smiling-for-tips smile, pretending to be interested.
The second time we spoke was six months later. A classmate formally introduced us because of our shared passion for
"Look! I have both your pole dancing pictures on my computer!" The classmate opened her laptop, excitedly pointing and
clicking to retrieve the saved images.
"No. No. Really, don't pull those up... " I stammered. I didn't want her to see me. See what a loser I am, see us
contrasted like that.
On one side of the screen: a professional, pinup-esque shot of her on the pole. Her penetrating gaze staring out of the
photo, a coy smirk crossing her sultry red lips. Her deep red hair, set in curls cascades elegantly over her shoulder.
On the other side: me in my run-down apartment's living room the day my pole arrived. I am grinning like an overzealous
five-year-old on Christmas morning as I dangle like an amateur from the newly set up pole, playing up to the camera in
ratty gym shorts and a tank top.
"That's very good." She nodded at me in approval.
I couldn't understand how she could be so genuinely nice about a picture that was so genuinely awful. While her picture
was reminiscent of Bettie Page, mine looked like the white-trash stripper they stick in the corner at the local dive; the
scrawny, ugly one who has to resort to blow jobs to earn her rent because she's got no tits. The one who attracts
comments like "Is them there titties all ya got? Take this here twenty and go getcha some fake ones. When ya getcha
some titties you can come dance for me 'cuz I'd sure like ta feel 'em"
My whole life I played by the rules.
I did my homework in high school and got into a good university, where I joined a sorority like I was expected to. I wore
my hair the way everyone else did. I wore the clothes that Glamour said I should. I gave head the way Cosmo said I was
supposed to. I was careful not to raise any eyebrows or take any risks. There were chances I wanted to take, lives I
wanted to try out, but I squelched the thoughts as soon as they entered my head. Because nice Jewish girls do not get
tattoos. Nice Jewish girls do not become strippers. Nice Jewish girls do not go down on other girls. Nice Jewish girls do
not sleep with black football players. Nice Jewish girls do not learn to play the drums and join rock bands.
In college I learned my place and played it well; nice Jewish girls snort lines of coke up their cosmetically altered noses.
They forcibly throw up after eating and have one night stands with frat boys. Then they get married and refrain from
attracting attention. So I honed my edges, grinding them down, smoothing the corners, trying to be that puzzle piece
that fits perfectly into the center of the picture.
But at 29, playing by the rules has gotten me nowhere.
I do not have a career--I barely even have a job. I do not own a house. I do not own my car. My bank accounts are
empty. I sit home on Friday nights because I have no friends. My voicemail box is perpetually empty. My only emails are
from Amazon.com reminding me that my books are on the way. I ground myself down to the point where I am not sharp
enough to fit into my fantasy world, yet no matter how hard I try to jam myself into the real world, I do not fit into that
puzzle either. I don't fit in anywhere.
And for everything I am, she is the opposite. She dared to take the risks I did not and lived the life I wanted to live. The
desires I pushed out of my mind, she embraced. The chances I was too afraid to take, she grabbed for. The experiences I
will never have are tucked safely away in her memory. She refused to compromise her many angles and complexities, but
seamlessly fits in anywhere. She got the tattoos. Became the exotic dancer. She rubs elbows with rock stars and artists
and iconoclastic writers. She wears her hair the way she wants to, wears the clothes she likes, gives head to whomever
she wants, without a magazine dictating which way her tongue should move. She didn't play by the rules but shattered
them into a million tiny pieces.
A million tiny pieces. Like my dreams. Like the life I wanted. Like the life I could have had.
The life she's lived is recorded on her arm: whimsical, colorful, sweet.
My arm is ashen. Pasty. Dull.
I see her in the hallway of school just before I leave to fly back to Ohio.
"I'm writing a story about you." I blurt this out before I even realize what I'm doing. Immediately I wish I'd said nothing. I
want to disappear. I look down at the floor, willing it to open up and swallow me. It doesn't.
She smiles graciously and tells me she is flattered.
"I'll let you see it as soon as it's finished," I say. Then I sheepishly hurry out the double doors into the courtyard.
And I wonder what happens next.
I wonder if she will know that she matters to me, that she inspires me. I wonder if someone with such ample confidence
and abundant beauty could ever notice someone as flat and empty as me.
And I wonder if I will ever have my own candy arm; a candy arm as stunning and brilliant as hers.