One day, quite out of the blue, Big called me to tell me he was leaving Australia.
“I’m at the airport,” he shouted, with the roar of jet engines in the background. “I’m taking a role in Hong Kong. I can’t stay here, not without you.”
“Good,” I replied smartly, strongly, bravely. “Hong Kong is welcome to you.”
Then I hung up and … And what? Burst into tears? Nope. I didn’t have any tears left. Jumped with joy? No, I wasn’t happy he was gone, either. I didn’t really feel much at all.
I looked back on the past few years without the rose-tinted specs. Was our relationship ever that good? Apart from Lake Como and a few nights here and there, a few stolen weekends, was it ever that real? Had he been just a client that I’d fallen in love with?
Had I missed an opportunity? I know escorts who have clients who put them up in nice apartments with a monthly allowance, just like Big had done with me. No doubt many were still working silently, without their client knowing – and without guilt.
Why couldn’t I have done that? Why did I have to let my feelings and emotions get in the way? Did I really want to be accepted by his friends and family? Did I really, deep down, want to be part of the world of someone who wouldn’t accept me for who I truly was?
I spoke to other women in this industry with husbands and partners, women who go to work and come back to a normal household, with dinner to make and washing to do.
“Don’t you and your husband fight?” I asked one escort who got married years ago and was still working.
“Sure!” she replied. “We fight! We fight like any other couple. But we fight about stupid stuff, not about my job. He gets it. It took him a while to realise it really is just a job, but he gets it.”
I asked another escort which would she choose: a relationship or her job?
“I wouldn’t choose,” she smiled. “You can have both, you know. Imagine that, Samantha. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have both?”
Any time I met with another escort, I would always ask about her love life. It amazed me the ones who were happily coupled, living in bliss.
There were also lots of men who spent the money their girlfriends earned as a way of “dealing with it”. I heard of many women funding their partners’ lifestyles out of guilt for doing the work they do.
But there were men out there who could accept it without draining the woman’s conscience – and bank balance – dry.
I also realised that this line of work is almost impossible to give up – certainly harder than I first thought. I thought that love would rescue me and that leaving this job would be easy once I’d found love. That being in love was the thing that could kill Samantha.
How wrong I was. The force, the pull of fast cash and easy hours, was stronger, harder, more important than love. Although there are plenty of escorts with understanding and patient partners, there are just as many – if not more – who know they can never give up this work, no matter how much their loved ones want them to.
“I keep promising my boyfriend I’ll stop when we get engaged, but I’m already planning how to keep working without him finding out,” admitted one. Another confessed to me that she had stopped working, suddenly and with a huge pang of guilt, when her boyfriend found out about her job. But that lasted two weeks before she started sneaking around again.
“I feel really guilty, but I can’t help it,” she lamented. “The cash is too good. Where else can I make that much money? How can I give it up? I can’t! Not even for Alex …”
That’s why, when young women come to me, their youthful eyes bright at the thought of becoming an escort, I always warn them of the pitfalls of this industry.
“Relationships will be hard and you get addicted,” I say, urging them to get a career, get married, have kids first, before they fall under the intoxicating spell of sex work: fast cash and sweet freedom. There is always a price to pay; there is always a cost. Most escorts, however, are defiant – they will never stop working because of a man.
“I’ll stop when I want to stop!” said one of my girlfriends.
“Really, when will that be?” I asked her, intrigued.
“Oh god, I don’t know! Never!”
And again, more laughter. Because we understood. And just as my very first madam, Nina, had warned me in my first week as a sex worker, sitting in a plush penthouse in North Sydney, to “never give up for a man”, she also warned me never to fall in love with a client.
I did both, almost. But Nina was always right, God bless her. A woman shouldn’t have to give up anything for a man. It will never work. Even Big knew that, deep down.
To give up something, you have to want to give it up, not do it because everyone else wants you to. Just like smoking or drinking, or eating too many cream cakes, you can’t give up because someone doesn’t like it.
And if you don’t want to stop, it doesn’t matter how many times you hear that it’s awful and terrible and it will kill you, or how many times you sit in a therapist’s chair – you won’t stop. But that was okay. And I was okay with being Samantha. I didn’t want a bloody boyfriend anyway. Big had scared me away from love. All that hurt, pain and anger? All that insecurity? Is that love? No thanks. I’ll stick with Samantha until the day I die.
This is an edited extract from Back on Top by Samantha X (Hachette Australia), out now.