Features, Historic Third Ward, People

“I felt like something had been stolen from me”

Charity Harvey unlocks her small studio at 231 E. Buffalo. She opens the door to a surprisingly spacious, pristine space. Walls hung with more-than-a-few full-length mirrors end at the finished wood floor, whose only interruption is a shiny fireman’s pole, skewering one side of the room, otherwise-empty except for a modest bookshelf and a handful of accoutrements.

A copy of The Unteathered Soul sits unassumingly on the shelf. She says the book, which focuses on “the inner journey,” has really helped her come to terms with some of the external challenges she’s had to face. “I used to not be able to talk about my mom without getting those really tight feelings in my chest and feeling like I wanted to cry … You know, even though you wouldn’t cry, [I’d] still feel that when I’d start talking about her.”

Harvey never knew her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer about six months after giving birth to her youngest daughter. “Because she was nursing me, it spread like wildfire and she died about six months later,” says Harvey.

Her mother’s passing, Harvey says, became a large part of who she was and how she processed the world around her. “Developmentally, [growing up] without a mom … those children are—they’re a little bit different, you know?”

Not only was she not there but Harvey didn’t know anything about her, either, which made the pain worse. “I was angry at her because she didn’t leave me a note, she didn’t leave me a video,” she says.

“I guess my mom didn’t think that she was dying. By the time she was, like, in a coma or she was really dying it was just too hard for her to do. But … whenever people … would be like, ‘Oh, where’s your mommy?’ I’d be like, ‘I don’t have one; she died.’ And, they’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ And I’m like, ‘It’s okay, I didn’t know her, so it doesn’t hurt,’ you know?”

“Now that I am a mother, especially to my daughter … I see, now, how significant it was that I didn’t have a mom, what that meant, just bodily — being held, feeling safe, feeling cared for, feeling like I belonged there, like I was wanted.”

*

Harvey didn’t get that necessary physical love from her father, now a widower and single parent.

“He works really hard,” Harvey says of her father. “We grew up with two huge gardens and, you know, he runs his own construction business. So, there’s a never-ending list of weeds to pull or fruit to pick or clean or projects to work on. And, so, if I was spending time with my dad [I] was working in the garden or working on a job or working late at night prepping for the job the next day … by the time he’d get done cooking dinner, we’d eat dinner. If I had a story to tell him about my day, he was, like, falling asleep; you could almost guarantee he would fall asleep as I started telling him about my day, you know?”

They had their moments but, burdened by the responsibilities forced upon him, Harvey says her father often simply didn’t have any more to give. “I mean, he loved me,” she says. “Late at night we’d watch the 10 o’clock news … we’d watch M.A.S.H. together, cause he was a Vietnam Vet, and I’d cuddle on his lap … but I didn’t understand for a long time that … a big component (of love) is making time and giving your attention to somebody and he just didn’t have it to give.”

Harvey has two brothers — 18 and 21 years older than her — and a sister, Celeste. Often, she says, Celeste was so busy being motherly that they had little time to be sisters. “She had to take on a lot of the role of taking care of me so … she’s, very much, strong in her mind.”

And, though, at times, Harvey might have felt overshadowed by her sister, who is pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at Marquette University, she described their current relationship as “wonderful.” Eventually, Harvey realized that her talents simply manifested themselves in a different way but says it was still hard, back then.

“She was just, like, always really smart, loved reading — I had a really hard time reading; I needed a summer teacher to help me read,” says Harvey. “It was always apparent that Celeste was smart and I was, definitely, in her shadow. I don’t think I held that against her or anything … that was just—that was just the way it was. I was very aware of it.”

In addition to her and her sister’s complicated relationship and the other realities Harvey was already well-acquainted with, high school presented an entirely new set of challenges.

“I had grown up in a Christian school … my eighth grade graduating class had five people in it,” she says. “I didn’t have the same experience with, kind of, the ‘murkier’ realities of high school kids.”

It wouldn’t take Harvey long to find out. “I’d wanted to go to homecoming with Kyle but Kyle already had a date,” says Harvey of her son Owen’s father. “So Kyle said, ‘Spencer would like to go with you’ … I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go with Spencer.’ And, somehow, that meant that we were dating.”

“So, for seven days we had been ‘dating’ and Spencer asked me to come over to his house to watch a movie along with another couple and my friend.

“And, you know, as kids do, they’re making jokes … like, sexual content that kind of went above my head … they were making jokes about, you know, stuff — condoms he had in a drawer somewhere … so, I should have maybe been aware of what was gonna happen but … then he was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got something in the kitchen that I’d like to show you.’

“I was like, ‘Okay.’ He hadn’t even held my hand or put his arm around me or anything yet,” she says. “So, I go into his kitchen and it’s dark in there … and, then, all of a sudden, his cold tongue is in my mouth. And, I was like … like, ‘What the fuck.’ At the time, I felt stupid for feeling this way but I felt like I had been raped — I felt like something had been stolen from me. We went and sat down and I was just … quiet.”

Struggling with questions and unidentifiable guilt over this interaction, Harvey had to rebuff yet another advance when the young man invited her to the garage to see his car and asked if she wanted to “check out the back seat.” Harvey was 14, at the time.

“I called him a day later and I broke up with him,” she says.

“Kyle waited a long time to kiss me cause he’s like, ‘Well, you broke up with Spencer when he kissed you so I thought you were a prude.’”

“So, then, Kyle tells me, ‘Okay, his friend Chad would like to go to homecoming with me, Chad’s a really nice guy, da da da da da.’” says Harvey. “So, I don’t know if Chad and I were ‘dating’ or if we just went to homecoming together but he was a really big jerk, to me.”

“I mean, when other boyfriends or whatever were holding their date — cause it was really cold outside when we were waiting for our car and we’re all, like, ‘pretty’ so we’re not wearing a whole lot — he was just hanging out talkin’ to some other people and stuff. He wasn’t paying any attention to me, really. And, later I found out it was because, I don’t know, I didn’t kiss him or something.”

“And, so, I mean, I definitely started to get this idea that … all guys really want is sex, you know — that’s all they really care about. And, realistically, at that age, that’s kind of all that young boys care about,” says Harvey, laughing, “… sadly.”

“I would say that … this building up of knowledge led into, you know, why I did go where I went with Kyle.”

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“It was my freshman year that I started dating Kyle and then I got pregnant in December of my Sophomore year,” Harvey says. “I had Owen in September of my Junior year. So, my Junior and Senior year I went to the alternative school … for the kids who have been doing drugs or the girls who got pregnant and the kids who just wouldn’t listen.”

“I kind of always thought I could change Kyle. You know? I was like, ‘Okay, he’s kind of my best pick and he’s not very smart or thoughtful or kind — his nickname is douchebag — but I think I could help him.’” she says, letting out another laugh.

“I didn’t know what douchebag meant the first time I heard it, you know, so. I was pretty naive, pretty sheltered and my mom and dad had grown up and fed me this story that, like, ‘Oh, they pretty much only dated each other and they waited till marriage.’”

Harvey says she thought she was in love at the time. “I guess, my idea — my definition — of love is different, now. Now, my definition is: love is … that you actually accept … the other person,” she says. “I mean, everybody kind of dislikes certain things about their partner — but, like, that you genuinely like this person.”

“Kyle was, actually, a pretty abusive person. He was … very emotionally manipulative and he’d, like, hit things around me and yell until the veins were popping out of his face … and he’d lie a lot.”

“I really, kind of, had this imagination that said, ‘Well, I’ll find one person and, like, a good marriage is made of two great forgivers and, um, maybe I’ll just keep working on it and I’ll keep forgiving.’ says Harvey. “I didn’t ever watch a marriage so … I didn’t know how working out your problems went. I didn’t know how to, you know, take a step back and describe, like, ‘Okay, so, this is what happened and this is what it made me feel or think,’ or, ‘This is what I expected was gonna happen, which is why I was disappointed when we did this instead,’ you know. I didn’t have any of those tools.”

“I didn’t realize, also, that our sex was … I mean, it was more like porn,” she says. “It wasn’t rape because I wasn’t saying no but I would like stab my fingers into my palms and just sit there really sad and, at the end … he’d be like, ‘What did you do that for?’ and I was like, ‘Because it hurt so bad.’ He’d be like, ‘Well, stop it.’”

But their relationship continued and one night Kyle didn’t pull out. “I knew right away … cause I was counting my cycle, you know.”

“His mom knew that we were having sex and my dad should have known — he walked in on us once,” says Harvey. “I don’t think he had the tools, the communication tools, to know how to deal with it or the energy to know how to deal with it. So, he’d just, kind of, pretend it wasn’t happening.”

When Kyle’s mom found out they were having sex, she’d offered to help get Harvey on birth control but, worried that her dad would find out, she declined.

“He will find out if you get pregnant,” says Harvey, chuckling at her teenage naivete. “I didn’t quite think that one through.”

They told Kyle’s mom first and, later on, her dad found out. “We were, like, washing dishes one evening and I started asking him about my … younger brother … And, I asked him, you know, what they did when Aaron got a girl pregnant when they were, like, 18. And … I’m sure the tone in my voice, the question I asked, he looked at me and he said, ‘Are you pregnant?’ And … I just started to cry.”

“He said, ‘That’s not how I raised you. You made this bed, I’m not your babysitter,’ and, from that moment on, I really kind of built this, like, ‘That’s fine, I’ve got this — I’ll do it on my own, you don’t need to help me.’

“I mean, I’d always been very independent because you had to be — you just had to be,” says Harvey, about to cry. “But that was … a really bad start because it could have been a lot better … it could have gone a lot differently if I would’ve been open to support and open to help.”

Then, she says, her family had a meeting — without her and her dad — and decided it would be best if she went to live with her cousin who worked with young pregnant girls in Kentucky. She’d only ever met this cousin once.

So, Harvey didn’t go. “I kind of felt like they betrayed me because it was laid out to me like that. Aaron comes up to me and he’s like, ‘Yeah, didn’t you know everybody had a secret meeting without you and dad?’ Great way to introduce the idea … [instead of] ‘We have a wonderful opportunity that can get you out of this abusive relationship and give you a lot of support and help seeing what a family and a marriage is like.’”

“But, for me at that time, that meant leaving Kyle, which I wasn’t yet prepared to do — that was probably the biggest reason.”

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“I thought that love could fix anybody.”

The particular message of monogamy most prominent within her family — that of keeping yourself physically and sexually pure for your wife or husband — made it hard for Harvey to imagine leaving her unhappy and abusive relationship, she recalls.

At 15, she was beginning to become “committed to the idea” that her and Kyle would, one day, get married. She admits that, even in spite of everything else, it was premature. But she was young.

“Yeah, I did feel that Kyle was, like, the only one because I had kissed him. I mean, especially after I had gone further than kissing him — silly, silly me,” she says. “Those little explorations were what made me feel like I didn’t want to have to tell my husband that I had let another guy kiss me or explore me.”

But, though it might seem silly to Harvey now, that was her reality then. “That’s supposed to be something that you save only for your husband and you’re supposed to stay pure for him and that would be shame, that would be hard to have to say, you know, ‘I didn’t stay pure for you.’”

Eventually, though, they did break up. “Effectively, he did rape me,” says Harvey.

“We hadn’t been having sex … since I’d gotten pregnant — except on his birthday, um, and then at the end of my pregnancy because I wanted that baby out and I had heard that it would help,” she says. “But, he was kind of constantly nagging me for sex and … in front of our friends, he’d be like, ‘Yeah, well I don’t get any anymore,’ you know, and telling me that my friends were saying that I was a bitch and his dad thinks I’m just a money-grubbing bitch.”

“He’s told me since — you know, I’ve done different healing and been able to talk to him and I’ve apologized for my part and he’s said — ‘Sorry, too. All I really cared about was the sex.’”

“So, we hadn’t been having sex and he came into my room at night while I was sleeping … I woke up and I was like, ‘What the fuck is happening?’ [I thought], ‘If he’s really gonna do this while I’m asleep, I’m gonna let him do it until he can’t deny it and then we’re gonna be done.’”

“At that time, I wouldn’t have called it rape except when he finished and I was like, ‘Get the fuck out,’ and then he was like, ‘No, no, no — please don’t,’ you know, and he was like, ‘I’m gonna run away to Mexico.’ I was like, ‘I’m gonna call your mom, she’s gonna know that you’re coming home and she’s gonna worry about you if you don’t come home so … I’m calling your mom.’ I called his mom and she’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ — you know, cause we’d been in many fights before — and he grabbed the phone and he’s like, ’I raped her, I fucking raped her!’”

“I mean, I guess I wouldn’t have held that high of standard for myself … to call it that but the fact that, like, he called it that,” says Harvey. “He knew that … I had been saying ‘no’, that the answer was ‘no’ — it was ‘no’ earlier, it was ‘no’ now.”

Her and Kyle had been on-and-off before but, this time, Harvey told her dad what had happened the very next morning — she knew that if he knew he wouldn’t let them get back together. “That was a hard enough line that I was like, ‘You don’t forgive this.’”

*

Harvey moved to the considerably-larger Lincoln, Neb., when she was a senior in high school. “I’d told my dad that I was planning to go to college there but I was planning to start working.”

Well-acquainted with hard work, Harvey had, in addition to helping her father with his roofing business, toiled in the fields, as a child, de-tasseling corn.

“Once you’re 12, you’re old enough to work in the fields. I mean, you have to stop at noon or before noon because … kids start getting heat stroke and throwing up,” she says. “It’s the best first job ever to make you appreciate all the other jobs that come after that.”

I got a job at Red Robin bussing tables there but that only lasted for like three months, actually, before a cop found me … I was really depressed,” says Harvey. “I was bussing tables and I was stealing food because I was too proud to be on food stamps.”

Her family saw such behaviors as “leeching off the state,” a disposition that contributed even further to her “That’s fine, I’ll do it myself” attitude. “Which is silly,” she says, quite matter-of-factly. “Even if that means stealing … I’ll do it myself; I won’t accept any help.”

“Yeah, so, that’s funny cause my name is ‘Charity’, right? You’d think that I would have an ability to accept people’s love and accept the things that they wanted to give me.”

Still struggling to make ends meet, provide for her son and clinging to the hope of attending college, Harvey had a thought: “What if I became a stripper?”

“You know, I don’t know the first time that I started thinking about it but I’m sure it had always been … this thing that I’m aware of women can make a lot of money, young girls can make a lot of money,” she says. “I’ve worked all the jobs that are hard as shit and don’t make a lot of money. I mean … I think every young woman experiences, through her dating life, feeling like all that the men around her care about is sex.”

For Harvey, that was an unfortunate reality that, she says, led to an inaccurate assessment of her own self-worth. “It’s cyclical because you start feeling like that’s all they care about so, then, you start feeling like that’s what you need to give them in order for them to care about you.”

While Harvey was working at a pizza place — where she hosted and later became a cook — one of the waitresses, she recalls, had worked as a stripper. “She said that … you know, she would take me to a little joint that she had worked at and she would get me an audition, there.”

The club was a “skeezy little biker bar” called Bottoms Up. “It’s a bikini club so you’d wear a … two-inch piece of fabric thong and you could wear duct tape on your nipples, you could wear pasties, you could wear a bikini bra, you could wear fishnets,” she says.

“I remember walking in there and seeing these beautiful women, you know, on all-fours, face down, ass up and feeling like I would never do that, like I would bring dignity back to these women, like I would set a higher standard for myself.”

But the feeling of having no other choice can be strong motivator. “I remember laying in my bed in Lincoln … feeling like [dancing] was, really, all that was possible.”

“Actually, I remember talking to my sister cause she was going through college at that time and I kept on telling her that I was gonna go to college,” says Harvey. “We were crying and she was like, ‘Charity, you can’t go to college! How are you gonna go to college and have a job and take care of your son?”

Harvey, however, was staunch in her ambition. She just didn’t tell her sister how she planned on being able to make it work.

“So, the first night I felt like I could do the job and not do it the same way that everybody else did but, I mean, ultimately, it’s like boiling a frog,” says Harvey.

“Once you’re in there … you start searching for, ‘Well, I see her with money — I see what she does,’ you know, ‘How does this work?’ Nobody tells you. Nobody tells you how to dance, nobody tells you, really, anything substantial about what the job is. I mean, they do and they don’t, you know?”

It didn’t take long for the water to boil. “I danced there for six months before I started dancing at the fully nude, hands-on club down the way.”

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“The more clothes you have on, the less money you make,” says Harvey. “That (first) club there was something of an hourly wage — if there’s something of an hourly wage, you’re not really making money.”

The demands of life — like a newly-acquired medical bill — continued to weigh on Harvey as she sunk deeper into this new line of work. What’s the difference, she thought, between two inches of fabric and no fabric?

“Surprisingly, there is a difference,” she says. “Surprisingly, it does feel more vulnerable, cause it is. But … the money was worth it.”

This second club was different — there were seven stages and, as suspected, it was more lucrative. But, as before, Harvey struggled with her own sense of where to draw that imaginary line — how far was too far?

“I said, ‘I won’t do the fully nude, hands-on dances — that’ll be my new line.’ But I don’t know if it was the first or second night or something … this old guy just says, ‘Come on, I want a dance,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay.’ He starts takin’ me back [toward the private rooms] and I’m like, ‘Oh, okay.’

“That was a new level, for sure, because none of the other places were you alone with the person or fully nude with the person.” she says.

“The guy was, like, old — older than my dad — and he had Old Spice on, which is a cologne that my dad used to wear,” says Harvey. “I remember there was a new separation — a new, deeper kind of numbing — that happened during that dance and I remember looking up at the cameras for help but I knew that, you know, I had taken his money, that they weren’t gonna come help me.”

“Actually, the bouncer who was watching the cameras came out to ask me if I was okay and I was just like, ‘I’m fine.’ You know, I mean, what are you gonna say? ‘Yeah, that really was horrible — it sucked’?”

“I was really miserable,” she admits freely. “I had [the men] ask me a lot, ‘Are you happy?’ They’d say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and, ‘Are you happy?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, I get to party every night.’”

Other times, she’d be honest. “But it depended on … I guess, if I thought that I could make any money off this guy then I might, you know, put on a show and pretend, put on a smile.”

So, the ‘party’ became a necessary evil, says Harvey, something to take your mind away from everything else. It did its job, but not without other consequences, as well. “It stopped me from being at home at night, feeling alone, utterly alone, and like I had no future,” she says. “Being a mom under those conditions really sucks.”

*

Even within the walls of the club, though, there was a push-and-pull between bad and not-so-bad. “You could have the guy who, he’s probably like 46, you know, he probably understands why you’re here and he is wise enough and old enough to know how to be respectful and know how to pay you and he has the money to pay you. So, while he’s not necessarily a ’good guy,’ he’s the good guy in this setting.”

“Then, you’ve got the 20-something-year-old who thinks that he should be able to buy you a martini and fuck you,” she says. “He can get this for free and, you know, very well may cop a feel or slap your ass just because it’s his and there to slap and that’s what you’re there for.”

“So, you go back and forth between being like, ’Man, I just got paid really well and respected,’ or, ’These guys are total assholes.’”

The really difficult part, she says, is when you start to see past the walls people put up. “You do build relationships with these people,” says Harvey. “And there is an amount of, like, ‘I actually care about you,’ but there’s also, ‘This guy is an idiot.’

“It builds this really fucked up relationship where ultimately … both of them are resenting each other and they, kind of walk out of this space both feeling like, ‘All that men care about me for is sex,’ and, ‘All women are money-grubbing whores.’”

Those ideas have already been put out there, she says, and, for those whose lives they truly manifest in, the club begins to, in a way, seem safer, less fake than the outside. “It’s like, ‘Really, what’s the difference between getting screwed over without him caring about me and not giving him as much, not putting on a fake act like he cares about me or a fake act like I care about him and at least I get paid?’ … cause I’m getting screwed already.”

“Where’s the line between dating somebody and having a sugar daddy? There are so many lines between, like, love and symbiotic relationships that are hard to really identify.”

“It is interesting, the service that women in that profession provide, because it’s a therapy for a lot of those men. We … give them a type of counseling — a horribly ineffective one. But I would have a lot of conversations with men about their wives and their relationships with their wives and how they could, you know, care about them and respond to them better — how they could open up to their wife better.”

But, in the club, there’s no such thing as doctor-patient confidentiality. “If men knew what strippers said about them in their dressing room they would never come back because women think that they are the dumbest men ever. Right? Because all that those men have to do is be good to a women and they could get this for free, you know?”

“It’s really sad because both the women who go there and the men who go there, ultimately, what they’re really needing is love and to be cared for, for who they are.”

“When somebody feels like they have no other options they can do a lot of really tough shit because they feel like … they just need to buck up and do it.”

Eventually, Harvey says, the women shut down their ability to feel. “You don’t need love, you don’t need anyone to care about you, you don’t need anybody’s help, you don’t need community, you don’t need anyone else. And that is a really isolating and vulnerable place to be.”

So, the pole became an escape, a way to assert herself, a way to connect with herself again. “To dance is to be connecting with your emotions, which becomes pretty important when you have shut so many of them off,” she says.

“You don’t have to learn how to climb the pole — you can stay on the floor and that’s where you make the money,” she says. “Especially when I was mad or I wanted to show ‘em how strong I was or I just wanted to get away … I’d actually hang upside down and flip them off.”

“I started feeling trapped by the life that I’d built even though I was only making … maybe $4,000 a month, at my best time. That’s not that much. I mean, it is — even now, I’m like, ’Yeah, it’s like four times as much as I make now,’ you know? But it’s not enough for what happens within yourself as you shut down your emotions.”

Then, one Christmas, Harvey’s nephew Caleb asked why she was doing what she was. When she answered that she had no choice, that she had to, he said, “No, you don’t — you have family that would help you. My dad would take you in.”

“And that really sparked, like, this realization that this wasn’t my only choice,” she says. “So, that started to really breed this even deeper discontent with where I was at, as I started kind of plotting my way out, which had, for a while … felt like it wasn’t possible.”

Even then, Harvey began to view the pole not only as a momentary escape but, potentially, as the ultimate one, her way out. “I liked to dance on the pole in a different way. I remember thinking … ‘This is gonna get me out of here.’ Like, ‘I’ll be really talented and then people will pay me just for my talent,’” she says, tears filling her eyes.

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“I had learned exactly what feminism was and I’d started to learn what human rights were and I started realizing that I could stand up for myself.”

Eventually, Harvey left Nebraska, ending up in Milwaukee. Her and Owen moved in with Celeste and two of her roommates, a married couple — Daniel and Nicole — who were also in school at Marquette. “It was a life altering experience,” she said. “I had never seen communication between a couple, let alone the healthy, thoughtful, patient, mature, and understanding communication that they have.”

While she did continue to dance for a period at Silk, Harvey began to push back, strengthening her personal boundaries and even attempting to unionize the dancers at one point. “I had written this letter to the girls that said ‘You’re worth more,’ that’s what it was titled.”

The Jerry Maguire moment wasn’t very popular with the club’s owner but Harvey didn’t care. “I guess I had already come to a point where I was pretty fearless,” she says. “I was really depressed and I was like … ‘I’m not gonna back down; these women deserve a lot more.’”

Equipped with this new knowledge and sense of purpose, Harvey’s eyes began to open to what was possible for her, as well. “I realized that I wanted to try,” she says. “What if I actually tried? What if I actually went for my dreams? … What if I actually tried to build something that I had dreamed of or I wanted — not just to get by or just to survive but, like, what if I actually dreamed? There’s nothing left to be afraid of; I think that was really powerful — that there is nothing left to fear. So why not dream?”

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So, she began to create Essential Dance Studio, an aerial yoga studio that focused on “peace, strength and self-expression.” At first, Harvey says she was afraid — she worried about creating something “bad,” something that would lead people into dancing. But, despite her fears, she was inspired to action by a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “The best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

“I always thought that the pole has such potential to be such a powerful tool and that it doesn’t have to be used just … sexually or just for the pleasure for other people, that it could be used for ourselves, for our own expression, for our own wellness.”

“I think that was a pretty hard concept for a lot of my family or anybody to grasp onto, or even myself to really understand how that could be but I felt it — I felt strong and I felt free.”

Through one of her first experiences with yoga, Harvey was able to feel that human connection she had been missing for so long. “I remember feeling unified, connected,” she says. “I wasn’t separated from everybody else.”

Harvey had found the missing piece — she began to combine the practice of yoga with her skill on the pole. But ask Harvey and she’ll tell you she teaches “grace,” instead.

“There’s a slowness to grace that is necessary to accept whatever is coming at you or whatever is in you, whether it’s something that you like or that you don’t like. You have to be slow with it and let yourself accept it.

“So, even if it’s a mistake, physically, on the pole, if you can slow your motion down … that’s okay; you just, like, keep moving with it and don’t stop it — don’t be like, ‘Shoot, that was a mistake and I hate it.’ No, you love it — it just brought something new and unexpected to your dance.”

“A lot of times, we hurt inside and we look for somebody else or some thing else to fix it, heal it, but … I am the one who needs to care for my own brokenness.”

“Accepting ourselves and caring, nourishing ourselves, that’s really what our practice is here — it’s not to be perfect, it’s not to perform for anyone else, it’s to, like, really listen to ourselves and learn what it is that we need and be the one who fills that need. I am the only one who can see my broken heart; I am the only one who can hold it and put it back together.”

Harvey says she’s looking forward to “sharing the practice of grace with other women” in a culture that, often, does not influence us positively.

And, despite everything, Harvey says she is glad for her experience because it is part of who she is, today. “I’ve healed so very much, I feel so happy and I’m so grateful, now, finally, for all the pain that I went through because … now I can help other people deal with those parts of themselves that they’re not, maybe, ready to embrace and ready to look at or love. I wasn’t always there but I’m looking forward to becoming a better teacher, as I learn myself.”

“I learned how to let go of what I didn’t have or this idea that I didn’t have a mom … cause I did have a mom. And … the most accurate, closest connection to my mother that I have is who I am.”

Now, she tries to be mindful of the, sometimes hidden, ways love manifests itself in her life. Being open to that love is the key, she says.

“Actually, this last mother’s day, which is just a few weeks away from the day that she died, was really beautiful because … I picked some magnolia flowers for her and put [them] in this big conch shell that she [got when she] went to Mexico for cancer treatment.”

“I filled it with water and I put put the magnolia in there and I sat with it,” she says. “I talked about things that I had been told about her — what she was like — and at sunset I took that magnolia flower and I just felt like I took a walk with her, just a very mindful walk, feeling the sun set and I … didn’t know quite where I was walking but there’s a park near where I live and there’s a row of trees and one of them had been cut off [so] there was just a stump, there. I went and I sat and I meditated there … being open to feeling the presence of her still there, in the sunset. And I walked home, imagining that she was walking with me, and it was like walking with a handful of joy instead of a handful of sorrow.”

 

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