Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness - Suzy Favor Hamilton (2015)

Chapter 8. WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS

About a month before our anniversary, on a rare night when Mark came home from his after-work trip to the gym while I was still awake, I sat up eagerly from where I’d been watching TV in bed, or at least looking in the general direction of the TV. I was too excited to really concentrate.

“I’ve been thinking about our anniversary,” I said, leaning toward him.

Mark sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Oh yeah?”

“Let’s go to Vegas,” I said, already fully invested in the plan. We’d only recently discovered Vegas, vacationing there a few times because we both really liked it.

“Works for me,” Mark said, as he’d always loved Vegas.

Mark was always the one to plan everything in our life, and that’s how I liked it. As he started to put together our anniversary trip, I kept thinking of all of the fun things we could do in Vegas. By the time we were five days out from our departure date, I’d come up with all of the ingredients for what I considered a perfect, wild celebration. I just had to find a way to convince him of my plan.

“When we get to Vegas, first, I think we should go skydiving,” I said.

“I thought you said you’d never want to do that. Remember Dan?”

“Well, I want to do it now,” I said, not feeling at all scared at the idea.

He laughed. “Okay, we could do that,” he said, a bit apprehensively.

“And then,” I said, pausing for drama. “I was thinking, maybe, we could hire an escort and have a threesome like we’ve always talked about.”

Mark drew back a little and looked at me closely.

“Talking about it is one thing,” he said. “Are you sure you want to actually do that?”

Although our relationship was strained now, we’d had a long and loving marriage with an adventurous sex life. We’d tried everything over the years, from sex toys to the Mile High Club, and we had talked about the possibility of having a threesome on several different occasions, even though we’d never acted on any of these conversations. Mark knew I’d always had some attraction to women, although I’d never been with anyone but him. Although I’d grown up in a conservative town, I’d traveled the world from a young age and been involved in women’s sports, where it wasn’t at all uncommon to be around gay athletes. But then I’d met Mark and fallen deeply in love with him. From that time on, I’d never wanted to be with anyone but him. But I had wanted to have a threesome since we were in college, and over the years, we’d both wondered if this could be a good, safe way for me to explore my sexuality without putting a strain on our marriage. Now, I had confidence and clarity. I knew I wanted a threesome, and I was ready to make it happen.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I said.

“Yeah . . . okay,” he said, grinning at me, like most men would. “It will be fun.”

Mark had set up the whole trip, booking us a nice suite at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay and a dinner reservation for the night of our anniversary. Now he started planning our skydiving adventure, and finally, finding a website for one of the high-end escort services. The next time we were home together, he pulled up some pictures on his computer and showed them to me.

“What do you think?” he asked, pointing to several girls we might choose from.

“She’s pretty,” I said, pointing to a brunette named Pearl, who looked like a nice, sweet girl who could have easily been a schoolteacher from Wisconsin.

“I thought you might like her,” he said. “Pearl it is.”

I looked at her picture more closely, feeling a sizzle of excitement and arousal inside of me. Were we really going to do this? Yes, we were really going to do this. I couldn’t even imagine, really, what it would be like. But I had a feeling I’d enjoy it. And it seemed so easy. Maybe it was naïve of us, looking back, but we actually thought hiring an escort was completely legal. As far as we were concerned, we’d be paying Pearl for her companionship, and anything else that might happen while she was in our hotel room was just a little fun between friends. In fact, if anything, it seemed like the service was more worried about us than we were about them. When Mark called to set up the appointment with Pearl, they told him that they’d need to run a background check on him, and they asked him to provide his work number, so they could call and verify that he was who he said he was. Obviously, Mark was a little uncomfortable with this, but the woman he spoke with came across as very intelligent and professional and she put him at ease by reassuring him that she could pose as whoever he wanted her to, and she did, pretending to be a representative from Wells Fargo when she made the call. Once we were cleared, the service called back to let us know our plan was a go. She asked us questions about what we wanted for our time with Pearl, including how we preferred her to be dressed. Mark was still nervous about the whole endeavor, especially because she would be coming to our hotel room. He asked that she be dressed normally, in everyday clothes, so she’d blend in. Me, I wasn’t worried about anything. I was just very, very excited.

BY THE TIME WE LANDED in Las Vegas, I was extra amped up, even for me. I felt like I was about to leap out of my skin, to the point where I could hardly sit still. In fact, the next day, when we found ourselves running late to catch the limo at another Vegas hotel that was going to take us to the skydiving location, and facing a snarl of impenetrable Vegas Strip traffic, I knew just what to do. As Mark and I stepped out of the air-conditioned oasis of our hotel into the bright dry heat of the Strip, he shook his head.

“Suzy, we’re not going to make it,” he said. “Let’s just skip the skydiving. We can hang out by the pool until it’s time for our appointment.”

But I wanted to go skydiving, so skydiving we would go. I felt the old, familiar uptick of adrenaline, as if my veins were buzzing with electricity.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it,” I said.

“What are you doing?” he asked, laughing.

Just like that, I took off, sprinting, and Mark had no choice but to fall into step alongside me. He was in the habit of working out regularly at the gym and was in good shape, so he was able to almost keep up as I raced several blocks to the hotel where we were supposed to meet our limo, getting us there just in the nick of time. I did stop short, however, when I saw the limo, which was not exactly part of the luxury Vegas experience we’d been expecting. It was an old black beater, and part of the back tail fin looked ready to fall off. But the driver was already getting out of the car and rushing over to open the door for us. Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged. I climbed into the backseat and Mark piled in after me. A young couple, along with the woman’s father, was already seated inside, and we made small talk as we settled in for the drive. They were scheduled to do their jump right after us, and then we would all ride back to the Strip in the limo together.

The airstrip from which we’d make our skydiving ascent was about thirty minutes away. I was beside myself with excitement as we pulled up at the airfield, and there was no time for second thoughts anyhow. We were doing a tandem jump, which meant we’d each have an instructor strapped onto our backs, and as we approached the two men we’d be jumping with, they hurried us into our suits without taking more than a minute to give us the lesson and instructions we’d been expecting. Right away, it was go time. While the people we’d arrived with awaited their turn, we walked toward a gorgeous, brand-new plane, the bright afternoon sunlight glinting off the high sheen of its polish. Now this was more what we’d been expecting. Mark turned and smiled at me, finally looking a little more relaxed.

And then the men walked us right past the shiny new plane to a junky piece of shit with a missing door that looked about as structurally sound as the limo that had delivered us. Mark went back to looking nervous, but I just wanted to laugh even harder. I knew Mark was the kind of methodical planner who had researched every single detail of our skydive, making sure we chose a top-notch company that would keep us safe and give us the best experience possible. And, just like always, his meticulousness allowed me to be the one who didn’t think about the details and just enjoyed the experience. This was true now more than ever.

There was one other man in the plane with us, who had told us on the way up that he was working toward a certain number of jumps. As soon as we were one mile up in the air, he smiled at us, moved toward the open doorway of the plane, and, just like that, disappeared into the sky. Wow, he fell really fast, I thought, looking over at Mark. His face was white. Usually I was the anxious one and he was my rock. Not today.

It took another ten or fifteen minutes for us to reach our jumping elevation. As we climbed higher into the sky, Mark looked more and more unnerved, getting a little pale in the face. After receiving a signal from his jump partner, Mark was suddenly sitting at the opening, silhouetted against the bright blue sky, and then he was gone, too, before I had time to really adjust to what was happening or how I felt about it. My stomach dipped. Wow, maybe I’ve been taking this all a little too casually. I didn’t even say good-bye. I wonder if he’s all right.

In a flash it was my turn, and I was being moved toward the door. The next thing I knew, I was falling down through the air. But inside I was rising up and soaring so high it was like the most powerful rush possible. There was a camera strapped onto us that shot video of me as I fell through the air. I talked to Kylie the entire time. “Oh my god, Kylie, you should do this with me someday. I will do this with you. Oh my god, this is incredible. You have to try this someday, Kylie.”

Watching the distant world below us, I could see what seemed like all of Nevada, the desert stretching out in subtle variations of brown and red, all the way to Lake Mead, thirty miles outside of Las Vegas. It was spectacular. I felt spectacular. Everything was spectacular. This was the best day of my life. I whooped with pure joy.

After drifting down for several minutes, we landed in the desert, where Mark and his instructor waited for us. My instructor disconnected himself from my back and I turned around and gave him the biggest hug.

“Oh my god, you’re so amazing,” I said to him, reluctantly letting him go.

Standing close, I leaned in toward him flirtatiously.

“Thank you!” I continued. “Thank you! That was so fucking amazing.”

I loved him. I loved Mark. I loved everyone. I loved the whole world. I was practically jumping up and down.

“Well, you’re fantastic,” my jump partner said with a laugh. “I wish I could jump with you every time.”

“Can we go again?” I asked, ready to do just that.

Mark laughed and shook his head, like I was a little kid getting off of a roller coaster asking for another ride. He was used to my flirting and didn’t take it seriously, especially on this day that was all about celebrating us and how far we’d come.

“We’ve got to get back,” Mark said. “We have to rush as it is.”

I was disappointed, but only for an instant, when I thought about what would come next. I could hardly wait for the others to finish their jump so we could make our return trip. When we were finally en route, the car suddenly came to an abrupt stop on the side of the highway. As we watched in bewilderment, the driver ran by our window to the trunk of the car. Mark opened the door and a blast of hot desert air hit us full on as he climbed out to investigate. Never wanting to miss out on a possible adventure, I was close behind him. As we came around the back of the car, the driver was bent down, tearing off a piece of duct tape, which he was using to secure a piece of the wobbly tail fin to the rest of the car.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mark said, pacing away a few feet.

I laughed. I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

“Oh yeah, hey,” the driver said, looking up at us sheepishly. “I am so sorry about that. Don’t worry, though, everything is taken care of now, and we’ll get you back on the road right away. We’ll be back on the Strip in fifteen minutes. Tops.”

I felt a wild giggle rising inside of me, like the need to sneeze, but I managed to push it back. All the mishaps only made it better. Now this was an adventure.

“Hey, let me make it up to you,” the driver said.

Again, Mark and I looked at each other, this time with curiosity, as the driver reached into the back of the car. When he reappeared, he was holding two cans of Coors Light, and he extended one to each of us. “Here, it’s on me,” he said.

Mark and I both looked down at the cans in our hands and looked back at each other. Again, not exactly the luxe Vegas experience we’d planned for our anniversary. But it was pretty funny. We both started to laugh as we climbed back into the limousine. We each opened our cans and knocked them together with a dull clunk.

“Cheers,” Mark said.

“Cheers,” I replied.

“Classy,” he said.

We both laughed harder and drank our beers.

I was already giddy with endorphins from skydiving when we got back to our hotel room just after six o’clock. The escort was due at seven. I pulled on a special bra-and-panty set I’d brought along for the occasion and then slid into a light blue sundress. It was short enough to show off my legs and looked good against my skin, which was tan from spending the previous day by Mandalay Bay’s huge pool, although I’d barely been able to make myself stretch out on one of the chaise longues, and I’d been far from relaxed. I’d felt giddy and sparkly with anticipation all day—but now my mood was slightly shadowed with nerves. I kept wondering what it would be like when she got there. I suspected the girl in the photo would not be the girl who showed up at the door. I was expecting a stereotypical prostitute, unable to hide how worn out she was, even with her big hair, heavy makeup, and skimpy clothes. I didn’t know if I would even be attracted to her, and if I was, if I’d like how that would feel.

“Are you okay?” Mark asked, looking over at me as he buttoned his dress shirt, which he was wearing with blue jeans. He looked handsome and casual. Nervous or not, this was exactly the kind of adventure I’d been craving. I looked in the mirror and shook out my light brown hair, which hung down loose over my shoulders.

“Yeah, I feel great,” I said, partly as a pep talk. “I’m really excited.”

“Do you want a little vodka to relax?” Mark asked, crossing to the bar.

“Sure,” I said.

We sat and sipped our vodkas together, unable to keep our eyes from drifting from our view of the Strip, where the sun was setting and the lights were pulsing even brighter against the darkening sky, to the clock by the bed. At exactly 7 P.M., not a minute later, there was a knock on our door. My nerves pinched and fluttered as I jumped up to let Pearl in, excited to see what she looked like and to experience whatever would happen next. I opened the door slowly, and there she was.

Pearl strolled in looking happy and relaxed, like she’d known us forever. I was immediately impressed and already a little turned on. She was a beautiful girl, and she had a golden glow about her, as if she had just climbed out of the swimming pool at our hotel, sliding into her cute jean shorts to come up and see us. Her shoulder-length caramel-colored hair was streaked with blond, and although she was wearing makeup, it wasn’t too heavy. She looked fresh-faced and cute, just like she had in her photo on the Internet.

“Feel free to take a seat,” Mark said, gesturing her toward one of the seats in the lounge area of our suite.

She looked at me and smiled, waiting to see where I would sit. When I slid onto the sleek cream-colored couch with its view of the Vegas Strip, she slowly and very deliberately sat down close to me, leaning her body slightly in toward mine.

“Is this your first time in Vegas?” she asked, her tone flirtatiously letting us know there was more to that question.

This is going to be fun, I thought, my high ratcheting up even higher.

“We love Vegas,” I said. “We don’t get out here as much as we’d like to because we live in Wisconsin, but we’ve been here a few times now.”

“And what’s the occasion for this trip?” she asked.

“It’s our twentieth wedding anniversary,” Mark said, approaching us with a drink for Pearl and a fresh drink for me.

“No,” she teased. “It can’t possibly be. You don’t look old enough.”

Mark and I both laughed, but he looked a little nervous beneath his cool demeanor.

“We met in college,” he said.

My nerves evaporated. I felt totally comfortable with what was happening, and after a few more pleasantries, I really liked this woman. She was bright and smart and could carry on a great conversation. If we’d met in our regular lives, we could have been friends.

“Do you love living in Vegas?” I asked.

“It’s the best,” she said. “My other job is as a hostess at one of the big casinos. I get to meet all sorts of people from around the world. It’s pretty amazing. I mean, I get to make people’s fantasies come true. What could be better? I really enjoy it.”

“That does sound amazing,” I said, thinking it sounded like a great life, for sure a lot better than the boring and suffocating existence that I was beginning to see as grinding me down back in Madison.

She looked at me with real warmth and gave me a knowing grin. And then, still holding my gaze with hers, she finished her drink and, slow and sexy, stood up.

“Shall we?” she asked, already walking toward the bedroom.

Mark and I looked at each other and smiled with a look that said, this is it. My nervousness had left me as soon as I saw how nice and normal she was, but I still wondered what was going to happen and if I would like it. Mark still seemed a little nervous, which I wasn’t used to, but I could tell by his forced smile that he wanted me to be happy and enjoy myself and he’d do everything he could to help make that happen.

We both followed her into the bedroom. Without any hesitation, she stripped down to her bra and panties and climbed up onto the bed. Her smooth skin looked very tan against the crisp white bedspread and the oversized quilted headboard, and my gaze was drawn to the sparkly earring in her belly button, just like she’d worn in her photo. She gestured me over to the bed and, kneeling to be at my height, helped me to slide my dress over my head, so in an instant, I was wearing only my bra and panties. We stood close together for a long moment, and then she kissed me, like really kissed me.

I’d fantasized about women for the last twenty years, but I’d never kissed a woman except a peck on the cheek, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. She was gentle and smooth, and she smelled good, and all of her motions were slow and deliberate. I was very aware of the feeling of her tongue in my mouth, and how soft and silky her skin was as it grazed against mine where our limbs were touching as I stood in front of her. And then she pulled me down onto the bed next to her. I’m kissing a woman. But now, I wasn’t daydreaming in a casual, curious way. I was really doing it, really having the adventure I’d been craving. My head spun with the feeling and my body heated up.

I was very turned on and very happy. I’d long wondered what it would be like to be with a woman, and here I was having this incredible experience, and sharing it with Mark, my husband and my best friend. He stood nearby, still fully dressed, watching us. As Pearl took off my bra and started to kiss down my neck, he slowly undressed. Eventually, we had Mark join us on the bed. He clearly wanted this to be a great experience for us, and especially for me, and he was very gentle and positive. This was to be all about me.

I couldn’t believe how relaxed I felt, like this was the most normal thing in the world. Why didn’t we try this sooner? Why don’t people do this all the time? As Pearl moved things along, she seemed so sweet and classy, and I genuinely felt myself connecting with her. At the same time, I felt closer to Mark than I had in a long time. As far as I was concerned, this was the perfect anniversary celebration. It felt really good.

And then, at exactly eight o’clock, Pearl got up and went into the bathroom. I could hear the shower go on and smell the soap drifting out toward us on a puff of hot steam. It seemed strange to me that she’d so abruptly finished what for me had been a life-changing experience, and jumped right up to clean herself off. But I figured that must be how it’s done. I lay on the bed, floating inside my own skin, filled up with the pleasure of what had just happened and with all of the sensations and feelings it had released inside of me.

“Mark, you need to give her a huge tip,” I whispered, rolling over toward him.

He raised an eyebrow at me, knowing we were already paying a thousand dollars for the hour.

“Of course,” he said. “I will.”

As Pearl came out of the bathroom, she was clearly in a hurry to dress and leave, but was professional and polite.

“You guys are such a wonderful couple,” she said. “I hope I’ll see you again.”

Of course you will, I thought as I closed the door behind her.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder is a very tricky thing. There’s no biological or genetic test, and the average time between when a patient shows her first symptom and receives an accurate diagnosis is ten to twelve years, according to recent studies. Misdiagnosis happens all the time. In my case, there was the added complication of my competitive running, which I now believe helped to keep my own symptoms at bay for years. When I stopped running competitively to have my daughter, the combination of this change to my system and my postpartum depression kicked my bipolar disorder into high gear. Not that anyone in my life—including my doctors—knew it at the time.

Because I thought I suffered from depression, which had been successfully treated with Prozac, it made sense when I was later prescribed Zoloft for my recurring depression. Little did we know at the time that giving a bipolar person Zoloft is worse than leaving them untreated. The drug not only made my symptoms worse, but it gave Mark and me the illusion that it had knocked out my illness and everything was great now. So when my behavior became more and more extreme, it never occurred to us that there was anything wrong. At the time, I didn’t just feel not depressed. I felt on top of the world. Of course I wasn’t going to go see a doctor when I felt this energetic and alive. It’s only now that I’ve been successfully diagnosed as bipolar and medicated appropriately for my condition, as well as having so many triggers removed from my life, that I can see how dangerous the combination of bipolar disorder and Zoloft were.

I think the hardest part of my recovery has been looking back at my behavior that was so destructive to my marriage, my family, and myself, and finding a way to make sense of it as the illness working through me, not something I consciously chose myself. While Mark has helped me to reach a place where I have no shame about anything I did—because that would in essence mean being ashamed of being bipolar, which I absolutely am not—it’s still difficult to forgive myself for the pain I caused, because of my illness, to people I love so much. Mostly, these days, I just try to focus on gratitude. I am so incredibly grateful that I was eventually diagnosed and treated, and that my loving husband and family stuck by me through all of this, because I know how easily I could have ended up like my brother Dan or so many other casualties of the disease.