Do ya’ll remember Johnny Pullam?
If you’d like to refresh your memory, here’s the link to his tale.
Since I wrote that entry back in August, Johnny’s saga has continued. He became a regular client right away, and the sad stories kept coming.
You may remember that he fell 30 feet in a rappelling accident in the military and broke his back. It’s unclear if the fall also resulted in a brain injury or if the mental challenges that left him in a permanent childlike state were present before the accident. In addition to his physical and mental challenges, he also suffers from a great deal of PTSD.
I don’t know what flashbacks are, exactly, but they seem terrifying. Johnny has them at the club sometimes, during which he squeezes his eyes shut and holds desperately onto my hands while his body shakes violently. He told me that he was first on the scene when some sort of missile landed in a tank. He found all of his buddies missing their heads.
Johnny’s life as a school bus driver – of which he is extremely proud – seems small and sad, punctuated by long stints of caring for his mother, who is confined to a wheelchair, and karaoke with friends who seem to mostly take advantage of him. He scrimps and saves and spends all of his disposal income at the club. Mostly on me.
I both love it and hate it when Johnny comes. I love it because he pays well, and I’m guaranteed to make money that night. I hate it because he’s incredibly needy and implicitly demands I spend most of my time with him, which also guarantees I won’t make much more than what he pays me. Every now and then I’ll leave him to take care of other clients, and he becomes a wild baby animal who lost its mom too young to survive on its own. He’ll look at me with mild panic on his face no matter where I am in the club and beam with pure joy when he sees me heading back.
I always feel terribly guilty for leaving him, but return with great reluctance. He’s exhausting. His complete lack of social awareness ensures that he does nothing but talk endlessly about himself, and his tiny world ensures that the stories are the same, over and over and over.
I have a friend, a veteran stripper, who says the hardest move a stripper makes is the one where she nods and smiles and feigns interest. Clearly, my friend used to have clients like Johnny.
I feel perpetually guilty for feeling this way. Nevertheless, I want Johnny’s story to be one of redemption, the way all good stories should be.
Johnny’s story is a sad one, but this is not a sad story.
Johnny has become my band’s biggest fan. Anytime I mention that we have a gig, Johnny is there, beaming brighter than the sun and endlessly talking about himself to anyone with the patience to listen. Inadvertently, Johnny stumbled upon an insane party life.
He was there the night the band came to party with me at the club on a night I was working. He was happier than a sultan in a harem surrounded by a bevy of strippers and deejays licking vodka off their nipples. He was there at our last gig, when the entire band and all our friends hit up The Landing Strip (again) afterwards, his smile shining like a spotlight in the middle of all the chaos of the usual players, deejays, managers, dancers and one porn star.
This sort of partying has become somewhat mundane for me, considering I do it for a living, but Johnny clearly feels like a rockstar. The band and all of our friends are super cool, fantastically patient and go out of their way to make him feel like he belongs, for which I am eternally grateful. And while partying with strippers and porn stars is probably the least healthy and authentic way to party, Johnny follows up with an inevitable text every time he gets home: “Thanks for an awesome night!”
For a kid who was likely endlessly tormented in grade school, and a man who deals with countless challenges in his life every day, Johnny feels like his life is pretty frickin’ awesome now. And that makes me feel really, really good.