I don’t want you to talk to me. You’re not required to smile. I don’t even need you to know I’m here. I’m not looking for a hook-up, an individual intimacy. I’m not here to make friends. I don’t desire your conversation. I am standing here, in the middle of this melee, for your energy. To be surrounded, engulfed, by a room full of anonymous vitality. I’m here to siphon. Be in noise. Breathe in the smell of humanity. Be charged with the end of week madness that draws and drives a crowd. In this, I cannot hear my thoughts. I do not hear the voices or my singular heart-beat. In amongst you I am lost. And it is good. Healthy. Perfect. I want to dance, give me space. I want to move to the music, so leave me room. If you stand in my space, I will smile, a hostess grin, big but dull. You won’t notice it is as fake as her tan. If you initiate conversation, I will be kind. I am mannered and noble. My eyes have glazed over at the thought of exchanging pleasantries, well anything, with you. Though especially words. But I know the game. To be afforded a safe-place, I must sacrifice. It is transactional. I pay the kind Barman for a drink; solicit a fleeting friendship. This too, a barter. He obliges the chat with my change.
And then you take my arm and drag me, smiling, outside for a cigarette. And I am tired of making excuses, exceptions. I do not have the fight to deal with your affront, if I say no. So I let you lead me. And you are full of banter and compliments and intense gazes. To accompany your full belly of beer. And I give you some mileage with my helpful narration of the people around us. You take cues, so easily crafted, and try to entertain. But you are boring me and annoying me and I have reached my tolerance. So request my leave, vaguely suggesting the loo, or call to a friend. And I have shrugged off the arm, or conversation, lightly, deftly. So as not to be rude, or hurt your feelings. So that you have no harm done, by way of me tonight.
And I am standing on the dance floor again. Having a sway and being alone in the throng. Having another drink; the music working it’s way into my soul, JDs in my veins. Smiling to myself at the privilege of being alive and enjoying life. And then there is another you, at my elbow. This one more inebriated, combative and forceful. Of course, you have been here for hours. This time, this you, wants to buy me a drink, suggests something foggy in my ear. And I am busted out of my reverie, to find your hand on my arse. A ring, I notice, on your wedding finger. Seriously? I match your certainty with an acerbity of my own. And at once you are angry and offended, and the defense is ugly on you. But you are like so many other yous in this bar, drunk and entitled. I am not ready to cower at your lurid comments or appease you for my own peace, this time. I am going to shut you down. You do not get what you want by bullying or harassment. And I will not let you. If politeness does not gift me a pass, you can have the whip of my honesty. I turn tail, and remove myself.
Please. I am not looking for conversation, am not hoping you will initiate. I am here to immerse myself in the music, in the vibe. Please don’t think that because I am here by myself, I am seeking to change that tonight. If I am smiling, it is not an invitation to seduce. Pay me attention with respect, if you wish to make a connection. If I am interested, I will tell you. If you are interesting, you will know.
[edited 27 November, 2016]
I have only experienced an alcohol induced ‘blackout’ once. In my late 30s. Old enough to know better. A lifetime of knowing how to look after myself. At the time, an assumed alcoholic time-skip. And the repercussions were more traumatising than I’d care to admit.
It happened after a formal work event, an after party party. I’d had a wonderful evening. Hosting cocktails, wearing my stunning, cherished, vintage gown. And ran the event – that was my job – like the professional I was.
As the corporate function drew to a close in the early hours, I had a quiet conversation and last kiss with a colleague I’d spent time with over the previous six months. I told him I had met the man that starred in my dreams; I hoped this guy would be my future. My booty-call buddy was happy for me, shared my misty-eyed romantic imaginings. Wished me the best life could offer. And we said our discrete goodbyes.
Later in public we both joined the larger group, moving on to a bar to dance until close to dawn. I remember every detail of that night, well, most of it. I drank slowly and was cautious. My new and treasured boyfriend was driving down from Leicester for the weekend, and I didn’t want to waste a moment being ill or tired. Wanted to welcome him into my home and arms. I was excited and happy. Buzzing from a good night, with witty company. And as was my role, was also ensuring peers, my friends, were enjoying themselves. Even whilst I was ‘off-duty’.
During much of the night, I know a young man was hovering. Just on the edge of my peripheral. I knew him; an infrequent running partner and work colleague. With a crush on me. A youth, who I’d taken to addressing as ‘Kid’ to reinforce our relationship. Or lack thereof. A boy I was neither attracted to nor would ever sleep with. He was there, skirting the distance. Laughing and dancing and existing as part of our little energetic group.
Towards the end of the night, I left my glass of JDs on the table, so I could bounce my way back to the dance floor. I know the song, etched in my brain. It reminded me of summers long gone and I cannot help but get a wiggle on when it plays. No matter where I am. And then I returned to my stool, grabbed my coat and purse, skolled my glass empty. Made my way through the team saying my toodle-pips, and wishing them a joyous weekend.
Down the two flights of stairs, I escaped into the winter air to wait in line for a taxi. The river of people climbing into cars moved quickly. I didn’t have to stand long in the drizzle. Could imagine the sea only a block away, lapping against the shingle. The birds would be chorusing soon. I was merry, relaxed. Off-guard. And then, at my elbow, The Kid arrived. Smiling and salacious. He lived in my direction, surely we could share a cab?
Waking a few hours later, curtains still flung open from the morning before, I heard the snuffled sounds of a companion. He lay still and exhausted next to me. And I did not understand. I remember getting in to the taxi. I do not remember getting to my front door. Or any detail of my journey home. I don’t recall inviting the young man into my house. Or heading up to my room. I cannot, though I have tried, remember having someone with me in my bed.
I have had two ‘one night stands’ in my life. Both of whom I am still friends with. I do not share myself without care or respect. It is not who I am. But there, in the place my boyfriend had vacated only four mornings previously, was The Kid.
With horror, I believed that I had requested this lightly acquainted youth, to accompany me home. I was wracked by self-loathing and guilt. By harmful blaming and sad acceptance. I must have done this. It is my fault.
He woke, grinning like a Cheshire. Casual and comfortable. Overly confident for one so young or so tenuously acquainted with me. And I asked him to leave. He was aloofly affronted. Exclaimed but why? Why kick him out? Was I embarrassed? He wouldn’t tell anyone. Our secret. We’d had a fun night, what made me so upset? I wanted it. He knew I had.
A mortifying cliche, I scrubbed myself for hours in the shower. Trying to rinse him and my disgust away. Desperately trying to summon up any detail from the dark hours before. And then I went back to my room. To destroy the residue of his presence. Remove the lingering signs of his visit.
I picked up my precious dress from the floor. Sat on the bed. Hugged it close. A small comfort, to ease my growing understanding. As I unbundled the layered silk ready to handwash, I noticed it was ripped. The zip jammed. The floral corsage hanging by threads. And inside. Inside on the peach lining, stains of blood. Bright scars of myself, smeared into its skirts.
This is the story I tell young people in my life. A crappy tale from which I hope they learn. I have never ‘forgotten’ a night. Not prior nor since. I protect my glass, and myself. Always have. Except that one night. And of course, like the worst dull cliche, when I hear that beachside sunny tune, the one that evoked such easy hip-sway, it reminds me.