Nikki Shriver and I met while working at a Daytona Beach strip club in 2009.
I was dancing my way through my bachelor’s degree and Nikki, like a lot of people, was searching for a more financially comfortable life that didn’t come at the cost of the 9-to-5 grind.
Every weekend we shared the stage, gyrating in the neon haze before captivated men waving dollar bills. Every night, we followed the same routine when we weren’t onstage: walk the floor in our heels, pick a table, take a seat, shake hands, and bat our lashes. Find something in common with the client and build on it. Close the sale.
Sometimes a fight would break out among dancers in the dressing room. Fights tended to be triggered by accusations of someone stealing money or doing “extras” for patrons. Management would lock the dressing room’s door and let us go at it. They believed we needed to “get it out of our system,” like some deranged version of Bad Girls Club meets Cage Wars.
After a scrap, a dancer would straighten up, pat some foundation on her bruised nose, and return to the floor like nothing had happened. The worst thing I ever did was throw a Heineken bottle at a dancer when I found out she’d been fucking clients in the VIP room. We were all wild back then. It could be a pretty rough club. But I never saw Nikki participating in any of the fights or wildness. She seemed to glide above this stuff.
When we’d sit at the same table, dishing out charm to get a lap dance, I’d watch mesmerized as the light hit her face just right, bouncing off her sapphire eyeshadow. She had blue eyes and brown hair, stood just a little over five feet tall, and had a quiet personality to go with her unimposing physical frame — she was different from the rowdy, more boisterous dancers. Most nights at the club, she dressed in blue lingerie and knee socks, her long hair swept to one side of her face, often pinned with a girlish bow.
As Nikki moved through the club, sometimes a look would come onto her face that I could decipher, since I was familiar with the feelings behind it, as were other dancers. It was a look saying, “I might be working at this club now, and there’s a reason for it, but I won’t be here forever.”
That said, some of the dancers had been taking that stage for a while. It was the kind of club where you could get stuck. I was working there to graduate college debt-free, and had plans to move to Dallas and see if I could put my English degree to work. I used to wonder if Nikki would be gone one day, too, on to another city or a different life, or if in a couple of years she’d still be dancing at the club, in her knee socks and bow.
A decade passed. Eventually I did get to Dallas, after time in Jacksonville and Hilton Head, South Carolina. And then one evening last June, while stuck in Texas traffic, a notification popped up on my phone. It was a direct message from a dancer I knew from the Daytona club. A group of us from those days had been close at the time, but over the years we’d drifted apart. However, we stayed connected on Facebook, where we watched each other’s lives play out in photos and timeline updates.
It had been several years since I’d last spoken to Nikki, but I was familiar with the basic arc of her life from her posts. She was a single mother with three adorable young daughters, and still lived in the general Daytona area.
The message on my phone contained a link, which took me to Nikki’s timeline. A Facebook Live video shot in the dead of night on June 5 shook me to my core.
Nikki stood alone in a murky frame, with an orange glow of what looked like flames visible through a narrow doorway behind her. Her once-long hair had been chopped off, replaced by an unkempt bob. She didn’t say anything but she was panting, almost hyperventilating, and the sound of her voice had a desperate quality.