It’s the evening of what was the likely the shittiest day on record. Snow that had fallen the night before gave way to rain the next day. What was once a dusty white winter wonderland had melted into a slurry of melting snow and deathly slicks of ice. Rain came down in shards, sharp and gray, sleet moving in gales of wind. “I’ll go to the market,” someone tells me, “When God stops throwing Slurpies at me.”
The clouds have become sparse and disorganized, leaving a less dense layer of frozen white puffs over the city. I walk down Manhattan Avenue, water dripping off of awnings and into my eyes as I stare up at an airplane cutting through fog – a quick-moving series of lights and noise. I think about being on a plane a week from today, taking another midnight trip to Paris to walk around a city filled with gray.
Brooklyn feels pink and hazy and I walk alongside an empty park with empty trees until I arrive to the front a church. Taped to the outside is a piece of white computer paper, the number five and a dollar sign highlighted with enthusiastic lines. “While the Class is Free,” it reads, “Our Equipment is Not. Please Help Us Pay Our Billz.” I hear music through the typically churchy double doors, which when pulled open, lead into complete darkness, apparently the hazard of arriving late to an event titled “No Lights/ No Lycra.”
I make my way down a set of stairs I have so fortuitously not fallen down, opening another set of doors, washing myself in music playing loudly over struggling speakers. The room is dark save for a light in the corner projecting twitching spheres of green across the floor and the ceiling. Another universe.
There are about ten bodies moving in the darkened room, a cleared and cavernous space with pillars supporting the roof. Later, when the lights come on, the room is better exposed: a wall filled with the framed pictures of saints, stained glass windows covered in clear plastic to keep the draft out, a cross, a flag.
I place my jacket on something I’m pretty sure is a couch and take off my snow boots – bulky rubber things that can best be described as tires you can wear. I can’t find my friend who invited me but I don’t think it’s that type of event anyway. The people are still darkened shapes highlighted by green, twisting and throwing their arms up in the air to their heart’s content.
As my eyes adjust, the shapes become people, all dancing on their own and however they want. The group consists of people who are all too comfortable with their fancy footwork and those who are more reserved, shuffling back and forth on their feet like fourth graders at a dance filled peers they have crushes on. I dance in a corner next to stacks of metal folding chairs, feeling the dirt on the floor grind into my wool socks.
We dance to “Material Girl” and “Return of the Mack” and a Paula Abdul song from one of the first CDs I ever owned. There are awkward pauses in between songs as the dancer-slash-DJ ques up the next song. The people that were once moving now stand in silence; the room dead quiet save for the purr of a moving fan at the front of the room. It is not an exact science. This is where its charm lies.
The room begins to fill up with latecomers: bodies to distract from everyone’s own body. People become more energetic and lively in between songs, clapping after ones that everyone collectively busted good moves to. They play music that kids in Brooklyn wouldn’t be caught dead with on their iPod anymore but are all of the age that we hold some weird secret attachments to. Mariah Carey, Blink 182. High school. Youth. Simpler times.
I swing my arms and bend my legs and dance with the green dots on the floor and I am reminded of sleep away camp when I was a little girl. We rode horses and kissed boys and drank sweetened juice out of clear yellow cups. We had dances and I always wanted the boy named Sterling to be there. Even now, nearly twenty years later, sometimes I will smell a person who reminds me of him – this boy with a freckle above his lip and a baseball cap on, dancing closely to Inner Circle’s “Sweat” with the innocence of not understanding any of the lyrics.
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My brother picks me up from the airport in the car that I should just sell but I haven’t yet. A year has passed since I moved and it continues to live there even though I do not, along with cumbersome pieces of furniture that aren’t worth shipping but I can’t bring myself to get rid of. There are boxes filled with chipped dishware and expensive Calphalon pots. Closets hold countless articles of clothing I would never be caught dead in. My mom’s house has become a storage unit for my past lives…
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They came and went. They went and came. It was a relentless revolving door of getting to know people and losing people and forgetting people and starting the bullshit all over again. Telling stories about the scars on your knees, or finding out what type of shampoo someone used just by smelling their hair but never actually taking a shower in their bathroom — no one ever let you get that close…
Sammy was alone and she was dancing half-naked in front of a full-length mirror they had purchased together. It was technically his because he bought it with his money. She bought the television. He bought the grey couch and the kitchen table. The mattress was the one he had at his old apartment, the apartment with the rusty sink and the refrigerator that never seemed to get cold enough to keep the vegetables fresh for more than two days.
It was six in the evening in the center of winter and it was miserably dark outside, the sky just this impossibly depressing, inky thing and not the source of joy it was during the summers full of evening heat and possibility.
Department of Eagles played loudly from some corner of the living room, filling her hallway with “No One Does It Like You.”
But I tried so hard.
I tried so hard.
I tried so hard.
It was and had been on loop for the better part of thirty-seven minutes. She danced what she intended to be an attempt at ballet even though she had never been properly trained. When Sammy was a child she took classes but quit after being scolded for dancing to “Under the Sea” with her fist closed tightly around a pink rhinestone. It had fallen off of her ballet slipper and she had placed it on the floor next to her until she saw the girl with the brown hair eyeing it suspiciously. When it was Sammy’s turn to spin around the room to the voice of a singing lobster, she did it while protecting that stupid plastic thing and she cried when the teacher told her she couldn’t do that and she might break her hand if she fell. She wasn’t in trouble but she felt like she was and she sobbed deeply and her chest heaved within her leotard and she was thankful when she got chickenpox the next week. She never went to ballet class again.
Sammy was alone in the apartment for the first time in months. Carl was away on some work trip, probably flirting with foreign girls and feeling the invigorating power of lust. People needed that, Sammy knew. It made you feel worthwhile. It affirmed things that you should have already known without the validation of a person who wanted to kiss you, have sex with you, date you. None of that mattered. At the end of the day, all you were left with was you. They had been together for years and still all Sammy had was herself.
No one does it like you.
No one does it like you.
The song had started again and Sammy watched her arms move with an unknowing grace. She looked at a face that was older now but oddly more beautiful. She leaned and stretched and her toes bent in limited, unqualified ways. She was alone and she breathed and she danced alone.
It had been too long and she had been consumed by this – by them, by this house, by the expectations people placed on the chronological order of monogamy. She wanted disorder. She wanted chaos and groping, grasping, desperate love all over again. The frantic hands filled with newness. It had died living in this house because of the control. The rent that was due every thirty days and the bills that they split in half.
She was tired of him and she was tired of the her that she had become as a result. She was tired of not wearing that dress he didn’t like and not wearing her retainer to bed at night and negotiating what concerts were worth spending the money on. She was sick of listening to his music even though it was good – even though it was better than her music, which had was now a three-year-old archive of her single life, back when she dutifully searched for music that moved her personally. His soundtrack had become her soundtrack and these songs were doomed to be only memories of him. But she would always have this memory – this moment of temporary levity, like that part of the day where the sun burns off the marine layer, that particular moment when light supersedes fog. She would remember a moment that she had not lived in some time, dancing freely to a song that was hers because he hadn’t beaten her to it.
It was winter and she danced and Sammy felt the love melting away like the snow in their backyard – full and abundant and alarmingly pure at first and dissolving over the course of its short life, layer by layer, unnoticed until the sad brown earth revealed itself in muddy rough patches.