Virginia had a hard knock life. She never knew her father. Her mother, an alcoholic and a drug addict, abandoned her when she was 15, forcing her to survive on her own. She did so by floating from one menial job to the next. Two years ago, she moved to Los Angeles dreaming of a better life. And yet, at age 23, she was still barely surviving. Sometimes, she felt like a walking stereotype.
Virginia was unaware of her beauty and worse, convinced of her ugliness. She was mixed white and black and raised by her white mother in an all-white Midwestern town. She didn’t fit in and her looks didn’t fit the standard of beauty. She had trouble finding boyfriends and blamed it on her ugliness. Living where she did, with who she did, didn’t give her a chance to develop confidence.
Despite how she viewed herself, she was beautiful. Her skin was the color of caramel. Her face was dominated by large, almond-shaped brown eyes that people couldn’t look away from. And framing her face were soft, spiral curls that she typically kept in a ponytail. She was tall, thin, and all legs. When she walked through a room, she turned heads. She noticed it, but thought they were taken aback by her odd looks, not her beauty.
Her low self-worth left her without close friends. Her friends were little more than acquaintances from whatever job she was working, people she could occasionally hang out with after work. They weren’t people she could call on her day off. They weren’t confidants.
So Virginia replaced friends with boyfriends and attached herself to men who treated her horribly. They could sense her low self-esteem. She was an easy target. Someone easy to take advantage of. And she let them. She didn’t think she deserved any better.
Her current boyfriend was an example of one of her despicable boyfriends. Michael came into her life right after she was fired from her job waiting tables and essentially became her pimp. A white man, he called her his exotic beauty. She found it ridiculous to call a mixed girl exotic and the compliment embarrassed her. Any of his compliments embarrassed her.
Michael could be loving one minute and menacing the next. When he was loving he was great. But he could turn into a maniac in an instant. His menacing moments were particularly scary given the fact that he was a gym rat. She was convinced he took steroids, but she never found any evidence of it and she knew not to ask. Virginia walked on eggshells around Michael, afraid to set him off.
When Michael suggested she start modeling, Virginia dutifully did as she was told. She started with a swimsuit shoot. At first, she was embarrassed and felt horribly self-conscious, but the photographer was really nice and made her feel comfortable. He praised her abilities, telling her that she took direction better than most seasoned models. She left feeling great about herself.
Michael took responsibility for her success. After all, if it hadn’t been for him, she never would’ve tried modeling. She’d still be waiting tables. She owed him.
When she saw the photos from her first shoot, she couldn’t believe how great she looked. She showed them to Michael proudly. Michael reminded her that they were heavily edited and that’s why she looked so good. He laughed at her. “I’m not saying you’re not pretty, but you’re not that pretty.” So she viewed herself as an odd-looking girl who took direction well and looked good edited.
Despite his criticism, he got her more bookings. He didn’t have anything else better to do. He worked odd construction jobs and supplemented his income with his cut of her modeling fees, which he figured should be 40%. This left Virginia with little money and dependent on Michael financially. She moved in with him and he took over the remainder of her life.
If he weren’t bad enough, Michael loved to degrade her in the bedroom. She was always his slave. She was there to please him. He didn’t concern himself with her pleasure or worry about her pain. He slapped her, whipped her, choked her. He got off on his domination over her. Sex became a chore for her.
Virginia felt trapped. She wanted to leave but couldn’t afford to leave. She was too shy to get her own modeling jobs and didn’t realize how easy it was. Michael acted as if it took talent. And she was afraid of Michael. Afraid he might hunt her down and hurt her outside the bedroom if she tried to leave. So she stayed and suffered his abuse.
She survived her loneliness and abuse by fantasizing about a better life, the best life possible. When Michael was out, she’d listen to her favorite music, dance, and get high off fantasy. She’d picture herself as a world-renowned, in demand model. Posing for Sports Illustrated in Costa Rica. Or being sought after for the cover of Vogue.
In her fantasies, she was popular. Beautiful. Outgoing. Funny. She was the person everyone wanted to be around. More than that, they were desperate to be around her. Desperate to be a part of her lifestyle. They wanted to know who she knew, go where she went, live her life, because it was so much better than theirs.
But her favorite fantasies were the romantic fantasies. It didn’t really matter who the guy was. He was merely a template for perfection. Her knight in shining armor. The man who saves her from her useless life. Gives her life purpose, meaning, success. And beats the crap out of Michael.
Her knight loves her and he shows it. He kisses her neck and down her collarbone. He loves her breasts, breasts Michael believed are too small. He runs his fingertips over them lightly. Kisses her nipples tenderly. Continues running his fingers down her sides, over her stomach, her legs. He looks into her eyes and tells her how much he loves her and can’t live without her. He makes love to her, worshipping her body like a religious man kneeling at the foot of a temple.
She became so dependent on fantasy that she felt like she was living with one foot in fantasy and one foot in reality at all times. She worried she’d lose the ability to differentiate the two.
As with any high though, there was always the inevitable crash. The crash that occurred when she realized the photographer who praised her abilities and promised she’d do better things didn’t call. The crash when she looked at her bank account and realized she couldn’t afford to pay her phone bill. The crash that occurred when she realized she could never live that best life.
But recently, she saw someone who could fuel her fantasies and give her hope. She had just finished working as a model at a car show, still in full makeup and hair. For once, Michael hadn’t stayed by her side. He had grown bored and gone home, so when it came time to get paid, Virginia got $300, including a $100 bonus Michael knew nothing about. $100 Virginia was going to use to finally buy some new clothes.
She felt an adrenaline rush as she walked into the mall. She felt as if she were a child sneaking to the mall to buy clothes with money stolen from her mother’s wallet. She had just entered the first store when she saw Robert, an old co-worker from the last job she had.
Her first instinct was to hide. She hated making small talk and she hadn’t spoken to anyone from the restaurant since she got fired. But he saw her before she could hide and walked over to where she stood, pretending to be engrossed in shopping.
He smiled warmly. She couldn’t help but return his smile. She had always found Robert attractive. He was tall with sandy blonde hair and blue eyes. He looked like a young Brad Pitt. Actually, everyone found him attractive, but he had a girlfriend and was known to be off-limits.
He greeted her warmly, “Hey, how are you doing?”
“I’m okay, how are you?”
“Good. We miss you down at the restaurant.”
She rolled her eyes, “Oh please.”
“No really we do. Are you working somewhere now?”
“Well, I’ve been modeling.”
“Really? That’s great.”
He seemed genuinely impressed. She beamed.
“Yeah,” she continued, “Mostly swimsuits and lingerie. I just did a trade show.”
“A trade show?”
“Yeah, I had to try to attract people to a booth ran by people who sold coconut water. I did pretty good.”
“That’s great. Modeling must be so much better than waiting tables.”
“Well, I could still use a day job. It’s not like I model eight hours a day.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think of that.”
There was an awkward silence. She was about to say goodbye when he spoke, “Are you hungry? You want to grab something to eat and catch up?”
She was taken aback by the offer. “Sure.”
He suggested a nearby Mexican restaurant within walking distance. They talked as they walked and she loosened up. He was so easy to talk to. She forgot about her anxiety. She forgot about Michael.
During dinner, the conversation came easy. She felt as if she were reconnecting with a close friend over drinks and good food. They talked, they laughed, and she developed a crush. She didn’t mention Michael. He didn’t mention his girlfriend.
When it came to leave, he volunteered to walk her back to her car. She was a little intoxicated, happy, enjoying good company and loving the warm breeze blowing through her hair. She felt like she was living out one of her fantasies. She was on a high.
His fingers tickled her palm. She intertwined her fingers with his and felt a rush. Her heart beat wildly. She was so happy to be with him. To be with someone who didn’t fly off the handle at a moment’s notice. Someone charming and handsome who didn’t act as if she were lucky to be with him.
She was so distracted, absorbed, by him she forgot where she parked. She knew she parked by Nordstrom’s, but couldn’t for the life of her remember where.
She was too happy to worry about. She laughed, “So I totally forgot where I parked.”
He smiled, “We are next to the right store though right?”
“Yes, I do know that much.”
“Just so I know, I’m looking for the same clunker you drove when you worked with me right?”
“That’d be the one.”
“Well, we have a lot of ground to cover, so we better run.”
He grabbed her hand and they ran in and out of cars. He made it a competition over who could find her car first and gave running commentary. “All the cars in this aisle are clearly too nice.” “There’s a clunker. Nope not your clunker.” “Maybe we should look for a trail of oil we can follow.”
By the time they found it, she was laughing hysterically and had to catch her breath. When she looked up, she discovered him silently staring at her. She looked into his eyes and got so lost in their ocean of blue, that she could barely concentrate on what he was saying. He was asking her something about what she would’ve done without him.
“I don’t know,” she replied slowly.
There was a moment of silence while they looked into each other’s eyes. Their loosely intertwined fingers bridged the gap between them.
“I want to see you again,” he said.
Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. “I want to see you again too.”
“What about tomorrow night?”
She completely lost her inhibitions, “Okay.”
He swung her hand. “Well, until then.”
She broke away from him, opened her car door and got in. He shut her door and waved goodbye. She gave him a slight wave and started the car. “Hey Jude” started playing on the radio and she turned it up. She sang along as she watched him walk away.
He turned around and smiled. She returned his smile, feeling true happiness for the first time in a very long time. A high she hoped would last.
And she wasn’t going to let Michael ruin it. She decided not to buy anything with her extra $100. She’d hide it from Michael. She’d squirrel away every dime until she had enough money to leave. Maybe, she’d even try to get her own modeling gigs.