Talking to Strangers

When you’re a kid, they tell you not to talk to strangers.

It seems like these days I do exactly the opposite of that. I talk to strangers. I go out, drive long distances by myself at night, and then dance with strangers.

Recently I went on a blues event on a cruise ship and I roomed with a stranger. We slept in the same room having only just met that day.

I took an acro-yoga class from a stranger. I then joined a group led by this same stranger to go wander around a strange country for the first time. On that excursion, I had lunch sitting beside that stranger. I ate the organs of a strange animal (I don’t speak Spanish, the natives tried to warn me, it smelled good, it was good, I ate it) on a taco.

I went to a tequila shop and a bar, and I drank a good quantity of liquor with that same stranger. When we kept accidentally uttering the same phrases as each other or finishing the other’s sentences; I stopped speaking my thoughts out loud because it was eerie.

That stranger asked me to dance that night (if you’re not familiar, I do Blues dancing, it wasn’t some seedy cruise ship club grind) and then spent a good amount of time sitting and talking with me in a dimly lit corner. We danced again.

And again.

And the last song.

It was the last night of the cruise and we took a “survivors photo” of everyone who made it to the end of late night dancing at nearly 5 am. The stranger tucked me in next to him and smiled.

I didn’t want the night to end.

Neither did he.

We had to be out of our rooms in 3 hours for checkout.

The stranger asked if I’d be up for roaming the ship instead of sleeping.

The stranger’s hair was purple, blue, teal, just a touch pink, and tied away from his face in a long unicorn tail down his back. His coat was gold brocade. His smile was soft and warm and I wanted to wrap myself in it. He didn’t feel so strange.

I said yes.

He followed me to my room so I could get a jacket. My dress was short, and thin, black linen with delicate puffed sleeves in lace.

I tucked my hands into the pockets of my hoodie and followed him back up the winding stairs. We glided along the empty, silent hallways of the ship together. For once there was no ambient noise. No frat boys falling off of deck chairs. No one smoking. No music.

We found our way into the balcony of the theater. There was large high-backed, circular booths overlooking a stage hung in gaudy glittering gold curtains that blazed appallingly in full light, but in the quiet hours, under the dimmed chandeliers, merely twinkled softly. We slipped into a center booth and sat side by side.

He tucked me under an arm and I leaned in, comfortable, tired, eyes still aglow. The day had been so full and lovely. I peeked at his face and our eyes met. There was no pressure in his gaze. Everything was soft, neutral.

I knew from our conversation at that dance that we had a good amount in common. I also knew this was the last night of a cruise in an event that drew people from all over the country and while he lives in the same state I do, he’s pretty far away. If he was looking for something in me, logic dictates that it probably wasn’t the start of something serious.

When I looked in his face, I saw no expectation but I also knew he was going to kiss me at some point. I looked away quickly and said something vague. I felt like the situation should scare me. I felt like I should distance myself. I felt like I should feel something other than the utter calm and peace I felt sitting so close to him.

He’s a stranger. He was a stranger.

I have a good amount of guilt in me. It follows me. It dictates a lot of what I do. For some reason, I felt like I should feel guilty or ashamed. I felt like I should feel that I was doing something wrong.

For the life of me, though, I couldn’t muster the guilt.

He read my palm.

This may seem like nothing to some people. Or hokey. Or occult. To me, it felt like home.

My childhood best friend used to read my palm. The library of our Junior High had a selection of nonfiction on fortune telling. We read palms and tarot. She bought me my first set of tarot cards and used to swear “Goddess!” instead of “God!”

As readings go, the one that took place in the theatre wasn’t anything to write home about, but when he finished with the love line and the markings of old loves that he said on my palm were thin and “fading away” (and indeed they are), I realized I wanted him to kiss me, just like I’d wanted him to ask me to dance,  and that if he didn’t do it soon, I was going to kiss him.

I just wanted a kiss. It didn’t have to mean anything.

I liked him, and I wanted to kiss him.

There’s this dumb quote I had on a piece of “room decor” in college which I secretly hold a firm belief in- the soul can be seen through the eyes and felt with a kiss.

I wanted to sip ever so slightly from his soul.

If we’re being honest, at this point in the night, I knew I wanted to know more about him. He’s too fascinating and too similar to me not to draw me in. The more we talked the less “strange” he became to me.

He did kiss me.

He leaned in slowly. That same soft, smile on his face. No expectation. No force. His movements were very clearly defined and so, so very slow. He gave me every opportunity to move away, give him my cheek for the friendly Europeanesque greeting that had become so commonplace on the ship among the dancers that weekend, or otherwise decline the advance.

I leaned in ever so slightly and my eyes drifted shut just as his lips touched mine for perhaps (not exaggerating) the softest, lightest kiss I’ve ever had. It was just a soft, drawn out, lingering brush of lips. Think of how you’d kiss something incredibly valuable but made of spun sugar.

I caught my breath and he backed up just enough to give me space to initiate the next kiss. When I leaned in, his hand came up and tangled in my hair.

We kissed for a while and traced each other’s hands. He traced the line of my cheek with his nose and traded me Eskimo kisses. It was peculiar and perfect.

The rest of the night (wee hours of the morning as it were) is a blur of talking, kissing, joking, lips brushing throats, laughing, kissing, his nails trailing over my calves, watching the light play through the ocean of colors in his hair, and kiss after kiss after kiss.

We were interrupted when the staff started walking in through the doors downstairs on their way to other parts of the ship. Music came back on through the speakers. We ducked lower in our booth and listened to the ship coming back to life.

We eventually decided we should leave the theater. It wasn’t that we weren’t supposed to be there, but it also wasn’t that we were allowed to be there. “American Pie” came on over the speakers and he offered me a hand to dance. We did until another staff member burst through a door and we guiltily broke apart giggling and ran for the doors.

I’m almost certain we weren’t supposed to be in the room overnight because only one of about 10 doors was unlocked. We’d been sealed in and hadn’t noticed.

The magic was over. If ever I understood how Cinderella felt at midnight it was that night. We walked apart from each other and I felt the distance. There had been enough talking and laughing through the night that I didn’t want it to be all there was.

I began steeling myself for it being a “cruise fling”.

He kissed me quite passionately in the elevator but stopped when the doors opened.

He said “see you at breakfast” and I agreed but only half believed it.

Oddly (and nerve-wrackingly) enough, I was wrong.

When the ship officially came into port and the wifi came back on, I was seated across from the man we’re now going to refer to as The Unicorn because (spoilers) he is very much not a stranger to me any longer. Our shoes were tucked under our seats and we each had a foot resting on the other’s thigh.

He watched me sleepily push scrambled eggs around my plate and winked or blew me a kiss each time I met his eyes.

He eventually made a friend of his switch him places so he could sit with an arm around me in the booth.

Six of us napped in the booth, waiting to disembark. There are a couple photos of me sleeping tucked under his arm, head cradled on his chest.

He added me on Facebook.

His last name is my first name.

When we disembarked, I wanted to cry.

We didn’t find a moment alone for a goodbye kiss between the booth and customs and when we tried to kiss each other on the cheek at the same moment at breakfast resulted in an accidental and public peck on the lips, I didn’t think he’d kiss me goodbye in the group outside the port. In front of people.

He did.

Hugged me, then pulled my face close and kissed me soundly.

Smiled and said we should keep in touch.

Yesterday, I bought the plane ticket for my second trip out to see him. [The first trip is a fairy tale for another time]

We have 2-hour conversations about food and 6-8 hour conversations about everything into the wee hours of the morning. He still reads my mind, and I still accidentally finish his sentences.

It’s still a bit early to say, as it could still all go to Hell in a handbasket, but at this point, it’s looking like talking to strangers is something I could stand to do more often.

Occasionally you might find a Unicorn.

 

Return to Port

I am not happy with my life.

I haven’t touched this blog in ages. It seemed wrong to put the negativity and utter loneliness that’s been weighing me down these past months into these pages and out into the world. I may touch on it later, and catch any hangers on up to speed, but safe to say I have been living a life of quiet, alarming, desperation and it has been stamping out each breath of creativity that has managed to rise to the surface.

But despite exactly how bad THINGS got, somehow I didn’t realize that I, all-caps-I, I wasn’t happy until this morning, driving home from a weekend cruise and thinking about fast food.

I didn’t sleep much on the cruise. Maybe a few hours a night Thursday through Sunday. It was something like a dance exchange for Blues, so with activities in the day and dancing at night there just wasn’t time.

Last night after the dancing stopped and everyone started going back to their cabins to pack and cram in a few hours of shuteye, I was aglow with the bliss of a perfect evening and excellent dances. I didn’t want the night to end, so when a new friend asked if I wanted to just stay up the 2-3 hours until we needed to start vacating our rooms I dragged a hoodie on over my dress and together we wandered the empty corridors of the ship.

Finally, we tucked ourselves away in a balcony booth in the empty theatre. In the warm silence, dimmed chandeliers made the heavy gold curtain on the stage twinkle softly and he read my palm.

As readings go it was vague but entertaining, and his hand on mine was warm and heavy and pleasant in the wee hours of the morning. It wasn’t the palmistry that pierced me, but the plain questions he asked of me as we continued talking.

We’d spent a good deal of the day together in a group, wandering the streets of Ensenada. I’d never been out of the country and the day couldn’t have been better. He led us away from the tourist traps and into a restaurant where weathered working men stood at the counter for a quick comida on their midday break. He brought us into a shop where the owners recognized him from years past and poured us samples of a more fantastic variety of tequila than you could imagine. We sat in a closet of a dive bar, discussed and sampled sweet bread from vendors in the street and wandered in to giggle at “SEX BOUTIQUE” like the adults we are. We had a good amount of information on each other but other than a few minutes alone at breakfast the morning before, and a chain of exquisitely slow and close and intricate dances at the end of the night, we hadn’t spent much time one on one.

He asked “If work goes wherever you go, why don’t you travel?”

I couldn’t answer. It hadn’t occurred to me to just up and do something like that. I’ll work from a friend’s house so I can hang out with them, but hadn’t thought to go to any of the places I want to visit.

He asked what my goals are for my dancing and again, I had to give serious thought.

Driving home once we got into port I turned off the radio and drove home rolling over the trip. It was light and happy. I felt good, more pondering than dwelling.

I hadn’t slept and my vision was getting a bit fuzzy as I drove. I was also hungry, since I’d only picked at my breakfast between a growing hangover and preferring to doze in a booth with about six other dancers in something of a “cuddle puddle”.

Traffic was bad and I started considering the onramps coming up to grab something to eat. After 3-4 days of just going, grabbing and eating quality food, perfectly ripe fruit, and piping hot coffee, nothing sounded good. All my go-tos also happen to be “mexican food” chains and after the handmade tortillas, rich organ meat, sweet molé, and the cold, sugary cola of Ensenada, there was no way a “classic Del Taco” was going to pass my lips. I passed exit after exit and didn’t pull off. I thought of getting sushi (always my favorite) and couldn’t bring myself to.

The magic had rubbed off of the edges. The trip had been everything I’d hoped for and more. I was so caught up in what I was doing and seeing and tasting and feeling that I only took about 60 photos all told.

I think it was in trying to console myself or find something to look forward to that I had the realization: I am not happy with my life.

Again, though it wasn’t a negative thought, despite the fact that it came from my day to day being so hollow that I couldn’t find something to keep me going. It was freeing in a way.

I keep turning the theatre over in my head: my legs in the lap of a man I’d really only just started getting to know, his hand on my knee, my head on his shoulder under the low shimmer of the gold curtain, talking about learning to say yes to things. It should have been as far out of my comfort zone as I could possible get, but somehow it was just like the warm comfort of resting with an old friend. It was what I wanted. I remember the moment I decided that my goal for the cruise was to dance with him. I remember the moment I knew he would kiss me, and the moment I decided I wanted him to. I got to that moment by saying yes to the experiences I wanted and not worrying that my friends didn’t want to do what I wanted to do, or that I might have to talk to strangers. I felt fulfilled.

I’m not happy with my life. I am very lucky in a lot of ways, I know that. I have my needs met and have time for leisure, surplus for luxuries, and it’s steady. I am very careful to count my blessings and I think that somewhere along the way that morphed into some fabricated love of my job, and my routine, and what I’m doing and creating (or not creating) and putting out in the world.

I’m not happy with it, though. I’m not fulfilled. I am thankful, but not happy.

I can fix it, though. The things that I want from life I can take. I am not helpless in this. One of the characteristics of depression is feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. There are similar triggers for my agoraphobia and anxiety. The awareness that for once I can fix what’s wrong has been not just the silver lining, but the ray of hot, hopeful sun breaking through the cloud.

I want to write so I opened this blog again to talk about my life. I will give that novel outline a new look, rework my characters. I want to create. I will write a song about the beautiful man I met at sea with blue hair and mischief in his eyes. I will move that harmonica out of the top drawer, and play with it now and again. I will start covering the songs I like again on guitar. I will choreograph dances, and learn those routines that make me feel something when I see them online.

I want to express through my dancing as easily as I breathe; that’s the goal. So I’ll keep working. I’ll go to exchanges. I won’t skip weekends. I’ll go to venues I don’t like. I’ll dance with strangers.

I want to travel and eat and see. I want to ride horses and do acro yoga and keep getting stronger and watch the muscles ripple and glide no matter what other people think it looks like. So I will keep up my new program and work another one after. Work on pull ups. Keep working on floating my handstands.

I’m tired of complicated relationships with men who can’t commit or are missing something. I want someone I can be passionate about. Who has time for me. Who wants to adventure. I don’t want to get so caught up in finding SOMEONE that I take ANYONE. I see friends doing this and I don’t want that. I’d rather wait for someone who takes my breath away.

My job is nothing close to what I want or have planned for myself. While I’m not going to run out and start looking for something new immediately, I will start to take a more active part in my professional development. Our company is innovative and I know that if I put in the effort I can at least change what I’m able to contribute and create through work.

 

Productive therapy. I’m going to DO something about this. I deserve to be happy.

 

This all seems cliché in a very “Eat, Pray, Love” kind of way, but it’s how it happened. I’ve always wanted to travel and this trip reminded me that while I am afraid of a lot of things, I am also an independent person, and capable, and I think I may have forgotten until I made some decisions purely for myself.

It was also just a lovely adventure and I’ll probably be talking more about that later, and maybe playing catchup. I have missed this.

I hope someone reads this. I hope this puts something good out for others to consume. THAT is the hope perching just inside my ribs and I can finally hear it singing clearly.

The Fear in Knowing

I was talking to the Viking the other night. I hadn’t seen him in about a month since I’d been gone one week and then he had a couple trips he’d gone on.

After a hug on the stairs that lifted my feet from the top landing of the stairway where they’d been planted  and felt like the most cinematic reunion ever he followed me into the Blues room and sat with me for a while.

I’d come alone because Kay bailed to watch Civil War with her church friends instead and I’d had a rough week with a lot of things happening outside of my control so I was already feeling rambly and vulnerable.

He teased me gently about being a wallflower and then laughed when he realized I was wearing the very floral dress that started a bit of an inside joke of referring to me as the wallflower, or sending me Wall Flowers songs through facebook.

I explained I’d just got there and was still feeling slightly overwhelmed and he smiled and at the same time I started to say that I enjoy people watching, he said it. I mentioned coming out is always less horrifying for me if I have a friend to hide behind or use as a buffer between me and people. He said something about hoping he didn’t overwhelm me, but in a soft way, like he knew he wasn’t. I told him he wasn’t. That I know him, kind of. He smiled and looked away and tripped over saying “as much as two  people who see each other on a-” he paused and finished with something along the lines of on a regular basis as if he’d only just noticed we see each other at least once a week.

I nodded. We don’t really KNOW each other. Not like I know someone like Kay: her family, all her stories, her tics. “But you’re… familiar.”

The Viking eventually asked me to dance and we did and I could barely follow because he’s so tall and warm and I’d missed him and after a literal month of thinking of him he was finally touching me again.  I don’t remember the song that that was playing and I’d been making a conscious effort to do so since “Ray of Sunlight” solidified the last dance we’d had so perfectly in my mind.

The song ended, because we’d started halfway through, and he asked if I’d like to dance a full song.

So my hand stayed tucked in his and we picked up the next song.

Out of nowhere, really, he got a peculiar look on his face and asked if it was scary for me “being known by someone.” He floors me, sometimes.

It was an oddly deep question and its been all I can think about, since.

I asked him whether he meant in general or- and he followed up by saying, like we were talking about getting to know people and how we kind of see each other regularly and then in relationships, is it scary to be KNOWN by someone.

What I wound up incoherently rambling at him was something along the lines of big-picture, end-goal, no it’s not scary, its something I want. It’s getting there that’s scary. Then he wanted to know why. I rambled some more as we finished up the dance.

I don’t specifically recall much of what I said after that, but I do remember he put my name into the last line of the song we were dancing to and sang it in my ear. He sang my name to me and I don’t remember the words surrounding my name, because I was already flustered, and he confuses me, and it was such a sweet moment that all I can remember is those two drawn out syllables resonating in my ear.

The question remains though: am I afraid to be known?

After days of agonizing over the question I’ve come to the conclusion that like so many other things with me, its not as simple as I am afraid or I am not afraid.

There are stages of knowing someone. I happen to have a LOT of stages. If knowing me came in levels, I’d be like the stairs of some ancient French Cathedral: steep, winding and seemingly endless.

On the outside, I’m “the girl with the outfits” (this is actually something more than one person has called me out dancing because I’m apparently always dressed to kill AND its never the same dress). Watch the outfits long enough and you’ll notice I play at acceptable fashion. I know how to put an outfit together, but I like an edgy sort of comfort in my clothes. Start looking at me to make sense of my outfits and  I have a sunny personality, I laugh easily and appreciate wit and peculiarity. Talk to me and you’ll catch me swearing or letting out a morbid or innuendo laced joke. My humor leans towards violence and self deprecation. I can’t take a compliment.

If you make it to a landing, higher up the staircase, you’ll know I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder but manage it with diet and exercise and meditation, journaling, art therapy: anything to not be on medication. I am also an agoraphobe using social dancing as my exposure therapy. I manage my anxiety and panic disorders with breathing exercises, tapping, grounding, and the occasional self medication with a nip or two from the bottle. I’ve had an eating disorder since I was about 14 that rears its ugly head when I feel like I need more control in my life.

I used to self mutilate but haven’t hurt myself in a while and won’t again because I can’t stand that the last group of scars hasn’t flattened out and turned white but remains raised and ugly and purple for the world to see and judge.

I’ve been abused, stalked, assaulted, threatened- more than once and its left me with an awful lot of triggers and trust issues.

The ugly parts of me are so closely tied to what you find out first about me. They come out early on because a lot of things are triggering for me and I often find I need to explain why I reacted the way I did to something seemingly innocuous.

I’m difficult. I try to be as functional as possible, but I’m under no illusions. The jagged edges of my person are tricky to get around.

Still, it’s not being known that scares me.

I am afraid of being known halfway. I’m afraid of someone starting to know me and stopping before they get to the good parts. I’m afraid of being known only to the point of being crazy, and sad, and angry, and afraid of everything.

I’m afraid of not being given the chance to be known in all the ways that matter. That I’m funny and enjoy taking care of people. That I’m a good cook and like feeding people. I’m a loyal friend but will tell people they’re being unjust or overly judgmental. Dogs, horses, and small children inherently trust me. That I am afraid of everything but that it’s never going to stop me because I can make myself work through anything.

I’ve been hurt in many ways but I love deeply and permanently.

People who see the whole picture, stay.

Its just a rare occasion that they take the time to get that far.

So is being known scary? No.

Playing the crapshoot of letting people get into the gnarly stuff necessary before the finish line and hoping they’ll make it?

Positively horrifying.

 

And of course, because I’m still caught up in this silly crush, I’m stuck thinking of those earnest blue eyes locked on mine and that warm voice singing my name.

If I had to pick someone to let know me, I’d want him.

Desperately.

But I’m afraid to let him get past the charming exterior.

Affect(at)ion

All of my chill is gone and we’re officially in trouble.

I THOUGHT I was in trouble but now I’m REALLY in trouble.

I almost kissed the Viking.

Unconsciously.

Without thinking about it.

I freaked out when I realized I trusted him without thinking about it.

Now I am absolutely climbing the walls from how uncomfortable I am with myself and my feelings and instincts and the whole weird situation.

It happened on Saturday.

He showed up at an event he’d previously said he wasn’t going to. It was Fusion, and so far as everyone knew, he didn’t really do the whole Fusion thing. Then as I’m working the door he came up the stairs. I put a wristband on him and when I managed to get the sticky bit stuck perfectly straight on the band (which is a FEAT let me tell you), grinned “Perfect!”

He sort of murmured “Wouldn’t expect anything less” with this tiny smile on his lips and glowing in those baby blues. He walked away and I hid under the desk (literally) while Kay fetched my (vodka-laced) Powerade from my bag so I could knock enough back to hopefully stop my hands from shaking with anxiety.

I am such a classy broad.

So I work at the front desk for my hour shift and then Kay and I go looking for him. But subtly because we’re adults (I think). We find him in the Blues room and he’s dancing with someone. I go back to the Fusion room because I actually very much enjoy Fusion. I dance and can’t manage to get away for a while but I see the Viking poke his head in now and again, always retreating to the Blues room.

Evan comes in eventually and snags me for a dance but drags me into the Blues room to do it where the Viking is dancing with someone else. Evan and I dance and he nods in the Viking’s direction before saying in a tone usually reserved for oh la la “You should ask him to dance, I think he’s been following you.” He then wiggles his eyebrows at me.

Now I told Evan a secret on Thursday. Long story short he knows about my crush.

[Long story, medium Evan was playing “pick a boyfriend for Kay from the dance floor” on Thursday. She rejected all of his picks and then later, dancing with me he asked if she’d be into the Viking at which point I jumped at the chance to confirm whether a rumor from the previous Thursday that the Viking has a long-distance relationship with some swing dancer from Canada was true or not. Evan seems to think they broke up but either way “they’re not married.” He pressed on with setting up the pair and I was then stuck making lame excuses as to why Kay wouldn’t be into Mr. Viking until I finally just told him she wouldn’t touch him because she knew I liked him. Evan then pronounced himself Switzerland in the whole thing and nothing more was said.]

So then the whole night was spent thinking maybe Evan had mentioned something to the Viking (they ARE friends) and that THAT was the reason for the unexpected appearance. But after dancing with him that once I never got the change to actually ask him what he’d done.

I slipped into the Fusion room to calm down leaning against wall of the dance studio like a coward and not ten seconds later the Viking appeared in the doorway and casually leaned against the pile of dance barres next to me. We chatted, he said he’d seen me flitting in and out of the Blues room but never really staying. I said something about looking for songs I like and then mentioned I did go in a few times hoping to snag him for a dance.

I asked him to dance, we danced. He thanked me and disappeared for another hour until he pulled something similar and I found him back against the dance barres watching the Fusion dancers.

The wall was more crowded than it had been when he’d joined ME there so there wasn’t a ton of room. I grinned cheekily at him and told him to “budge up” so I could fit between him and the stack of barres. There was just enough room for me, he didn’t need to move, but it would be close quarters. He grinned at me and said “no.”

I wedged in next to him. resting my elbows on the higher barre build into the wall where his were. The line of our sides touched. Just enough to feel the warmth, but not the weight behind him. We talked. I cannot recall what about.

He had to lean down a bit to talk to me because he’s tall and it was loud. It meant his face hovered over mine. I was practically tucked under his arm. He could have shifted away a bit but he didn’t.

At some point in the conversation I found myself turning from the dance floor, smiling, and looking up at him and he was smiling and looking down at me and I just felt this tug I haven’t felt in a long time. Like a knee jerk reaction I wanted to lean up those last couple inches and press a quick kiss to his face.

I didn’t want to make out with him. I didn’t even necessarily want to kiss his mouth. But in that moment I instinctively, unconsciously, FELT that I should kiss him.

My mind or body or some combination of the two feels affectionate towards this man I’m just barely getting to know. Just like my mind/body/hybrid knows he won’t drop me when he sweeps me into a fast dip.

It makes sense. I was naturally at one point a very affectionate person. Leaning over to kiss someone, or slipping my hand into someone else’s was easy as breathing.  Hugs. Shoulder bumps. Brushing an arm.

Then I dated someone abusive who didn’t allow me to touch him without permission and certainly never in public and a couple emotionally distant people who wouldn’t hold my hand or otherwise touch me around other people. I now have a learned habit of deliberately, physically distancing myself from people.

It helped me recognize the sensation and squash it before I did something awkward like lean in.

But a small (very small, miniscule, really) part of me wonders if it would that have been the worse thing I’ve ever done. It may have solved all our problems.

I know he felt some sort of pause and the pink that found its way into his cheeks when we broke the silence and looked back at the dance floor before I asked if he wanted to dance some blues with me says its something along the lines of my complimenting him, saying he’s handsome or talented or witty.

So I almost kissed him.

My unconscious tried to kiss him.

Which means the crush and our growing friendship has turned to some rosy shade of affection, for me at least.

I am horrified and more anxious than ever before. But it’s also exciting, and I still don’t understand anything on his side.

 

Zero to Awkward REAL Quick

There’s a guy I see at all the different Blues (and now Fusion) events and he’s super nice, a little quiet, and one of my favorite leads. He’s actually the first person who ever asked me to dance the first night I tried Blues.

He always asks me to dance at least once, and usually towards the end of the night when people thin out and the music gets slow, we wind up dancing 2 or 3 songs in a row to a nice Slow Drag (I would link to the wikipedia page, but their definition just makes Slow Drag sound kind of sleazy, so if you’re really interested, maybe try youtube?).

Either way, he’s just nice and not intimidating at all and it’s very comforting to dance with him at the end of the night.

I went to a Fusion event a couple weekends ago and he was there it was VERY lead heavy so I didn’t sit practically the whole night and towards the end of the night he snagged me and we wound up dancing a slow song together. He pulled me into a closed embrace and leaned our heads together, tucked my hand into his and let them fall to our sides. We kind of just swayed there talking. It was relaxing and a nice break from the high energy of the night.

The song ended and since we were still talking I asked if he wanted to go another round. He did and we picked up where we left off.

I mentioned he did a lot of different dance events.

Then he mentioned he didn’t really come for the dancing. He spun me and then back with his head next to mine said he came to “see what his options are.”

INSERT THE SOUNDS OF SCREECHING TIRES HERE.

Now, in my mind, I’m like “IS THAT WHAT THIS IS??? AM I AN OPTION???? ABORTABORTABORT!!!” The cozy snuggle took on a new meaning.

Outwardly, we continue our endless bluesy circles on the floor and I pipe up:

“I come to events because I’m using it as therapy for my crippling Agoraphobia!”

There was a long pause before he asked if that was like Claustrophobia.

At which point I began with “That IS a common misconception but-” and followed with the DSM definition in a rambling deluge.

Needless to say, that was the last time we danced that night and he got REALLY quiet after that.

The good news is, I now have a tried and true method for shutting down a potentially awkward romantic approach.

 

I may think you’re hot. 

I may be ABSOLUTELY BATSH!T!!!

 

Can’t go wrong.

Damselling

This weekend is a great one for dancing but something happened that was worrying and needs to be discussed.

Now I’ve mentioned that there are a lot of things about dancing that are triggering for me. Going outside for one. Letting people touch me. Talking to people. Dancing with people. Now those are normal things that stress me an okay amount.

If its a good night and I’m in high spirits, a couple laps to my car and I’m good to go. I can shake off or at least postpone an anxiety attack. Ever so often, though, someone will do something that triggers something OTHER than my agoraphobia, and that’s when we have a problem.

Once upon a time I was a battered woman. I don’t mean to belittle anyone else who might have a similar experience by being so flip about it here, but that’s how I manage to get by it every day. Brush it off. Move forward. Live in the now.

Sometimes in the now, though, people grab you unnecessarily hard by the upper arm. Sometimes in dancing they might jerk you into weird positions to get leverage. Some Leads (not all, and certainly in my opinion not GOOD Leads) who are at a certain skill level will swing less experienced dancers around like a rag doll, mistaking puppetry for a firm lead.

This happened this weekend.

Now I’m still new at Blues and social dancing in general, so I’ve had my share of men (and I don’t say this to be gender biased, women do lead as well, it’s just that I’ve never been rag-dolled by a woman, so I say men)  toss me around like this instead of just leading me. If you’ve never danced before, the best analogy I can make is to compare it to leading a child (or anyone really) by the hand. You can hold their hand and walk in whatever direction you want and they will be able to toddle along after you; if they want to go slow or fast or walk alongside you or behind you they can do it. You’re both connected and going the same way, they just have some amount of independence.

Someone rag-dolling you is like jerking a child by the hand; it’s putting force behind the guidance. Like jerking a kid out of the street or frog marching them out of a store post or mid-tantrum. They don’t have an option. Their pace and direction are set through force and momentum. There’s less ‘give’ in the guiding hand and with the wrong attitude it can turn into something quite different. Something threatening.

In dance when you are being rag-dolled by someone threatening, it’s bad.

For me, it’s often traumatic.

Now, this weekend a man asked me to dance. I don’t recall his name. We’re going to call him Meathead. He walks up and asks me to dance, stretches out his hand and I smile, hop up, acquiesce, the whole nine. He’s not much taller than me, would be slight of build, but the way his tee shirt falls you can tell he’s actually pretty muscular. He’s handsome, I suppose, objectively speaking, though his nose is a bit crooked (found out later it’d been broken fighting).

His smile may have been crooked as well. But who knows. That’s probably some sort of bias I’ve tacked on subconsciously in hindsight.

One bar in to the dance it was clear he has an elevated level of skill. Two bars and I accepted I was going to get jerked around if I didn’t take some initiative.

So I took some initiative. He jerked my hand into an awkward position to try to muscle me through a step and I snaked under and stepped behind him. I dropped his hand and circled him with a cheeky smile.

He snatched me back to him and fairly crushed me to his chest. He then used his knees to knock my legs wider apart and then forced a sort of jerky side to side action that I suppose would have looked seductive and serpentine if I hadn’t just been deliberately thrown off balance and allowed no space to follow willingly or add my own style.

The next time he turned me, I slipped him again and that was the last time I had my freedom. He snagged me by the wrist instead of the hand and yanked, saying “C’mere” with this sick smile. He crushed my chest back into his and I could feel his fingertips hook up UNDER the cup of my shoulder blade, digging into my back. The fingers of his other hand dug between the delicate bones in the back of my hand. His thumb pinched mine, deliberately gripping too tightly for me to slip away again. “You have to do what I want: I’m Lead.”

When he turned me after that he would grab my elbow or force my arm around to his other hand behind me.

Being pinned is triggering for me. Fingers digging into my torso is triggering. The lazy, arrogant, self-satisfied way he was looking at me was triggering. It was proprietary. Smug and later this unhurried sort of lust.

I mentioned after he dipped me, too fast because everything he did was force and momentum, that dips worry me. He laughed and started doing them on purpose. Faster and harder and lower to the ground.

The worst was when he deliberately swept my legs and tripped me into a dip.He mouthed “sorry” after he did it but it was a leg sweep; clean and intentional. I flew towards the floor and he caught me just in time, but the momentum meant the arm/shoulder he grabbed, and then my spine at the point he snagged around my waist protested (and had my chiropractor asking questions). My hair brushed the floor. My hair is bobbed.

At the end of the song, he ordered me to dance with him again. There was no way to say no without causing a scene. And at that point I had shrunk into the far corner of my mind where I peer out and look for a coward’s exit, or some way to de-escalate or make him lose interest.

I spent another song trying not to twist an ankle and keep from giving him another opportunity to deliberately trip me. I tried again and again to make eye contact with Kay and a male friend of ours in the corner. Help me, help me, help me. A mantra in my mind in time to whatever song played.

He was talking, too. I was having that tunnel moment in panic where everything’s weird and you can hear your pulse and all the words sound like they’re in slow motion or under water.

Things I remember:

He said that I’m strong, and that most guys don’t like that, but he does. “You’re strong here… and here and in your legs…” Digging his fingers into my upper back, then stroking the back of a finger down the line between my ribs and over my stomach, drawing up just before my navel. It’s not an overtly inappropriate touch, but still intimate and it makes me feel dirty. He repeated that I’m strong a lot of times.

He said he used to do martial arts. “Now instead of beating people up, I dance with them.” It was a joke but it had an edge to it. When he said this, I had a flash of heat followed by a chill that hurt my skin followed by a rush of fear sweat that soaked my dress. He then said he traded getting sweated on by men for getting sweated on by women, which he doesn’t mind. He actually kind of likes it.

“I really, kind of like it.” His face went into my hair and his breath touched my ear. “Really…. kind of…. like it.” It dwindled into more of a growl than words.

At this point I was nauseous from anxiety, dizzy and sore from being jerked around to hard and fast. I wanted to go home, or lock myself in the bathroom for a while and cry on the floor. I wanted someone to rescue me but also didn’t want anyone to see me unable to take care of myself.

All things end, though. If you wait long enough. When the song ended. I let the fear slide off my face. I made myself take my teeth out of my cheek and lower lip. I gave him a tight, fake smile, and an empty gaze. I thanked him quickly, spun a quick about-face, and beelined to the corner with my friends.

Now, I didn’t let it ruin my evening, but it needed to be addressed.

 

It doesn’t happen often, and for the most part the Blues scene is a safe, nonthreatening, environment but things like this do happen and not just to me. It happens outside of the Blues scene as well. There are men out there that use public situations and social norms to prey on women while everyone watches.

I read an article on how we’re conditioned to “de-escalate” situations instead of calling people on their BS. I’m certainly guilty of it, but it’s a complex thing.

I thought of 3 different ways I could have hurt the Meathead to get him off me. I almost hit him when he was in my ear about liking sweat but I didn’t. I dug my nails into the palm of the hand resting on his shoulder, I bit my lip. I didn’t hurt him.

I AM strong in ways he wouldn’t understand. I have a lot of self control. But I also am weak, I’d rather de-escalate than drag other people into my drama.  Or make him angry and have him follow me to my car when there are less witnesses around.

It was less risky to just swallow the fear and be afraid for a few minutes.

I wanted help, but I didn’t want help. I looked for anyone to come save me, but when someone said I should bring it up publicly, I said I didn’t want to be a damsel.

And I don’t. I want to save my own goddamn self.

But sometimes I don’t know if I can.

Its a very confusing thing.

And scary.

Fortunately, Meathead didn’t ruin my night. Like every other injury dealt me by idiot men my hyperextended elbow will heal and my chiropractor knocked everything else back into place today.

And if nothing else, it made me appreciate every other dance all the more.

Two of which were with the Viking.

But that’s another story, one that has no business sharing space with a post on anxiety and panic.

Molting

I don’t make New Years Resolutions. I have never managed to keep them.

But every year in like November or February I usually come up with something I want to change and get on it. I usually manage to stick with these little changes.

When I was like 14 I decided I wanted to stop biting my nails. And I did.

Last year in March I decided I was sick of gaining weight after throwing out my back so I decided I was going to get healthy. I started going to the chiropractor, started working out, got my nutrition in line.

I am today 56 lbs lighter than I was. I fit in a pair of jean shorts I bought in high school when I was swimming 3 hours and dancing 2 hours a day. I can do more pushups than my brother. I’d say it was a success.

This year, my goal for myself was set back in early December.

I wanted to reclaim myself. That wasn’t the goal, really. It was far too vague, but it was definitely on my mind.

When I was younger I was wild. I tried out for bands, went dancing alone (or with friends), stayed out all night walking around Hollywood, then drove to the beach on the way home to watch the sun come up. I played drunk kickball with my friends in the park near our sorority house after midnight then hiked to Denny’s for pancake puppies. I stalked musicians on twitter and “bumped into them” outside restaurants.

I wrote short stories and played guitar.

I sang in the shower and danced around my kitchen.

I went to art shows.

I crept around the library like a ghost at night just before it closed and consumed 20 books a week.

I was social. I met new people all the time.

Even at my saddest I was on fire for life. I would use depression and anxiety to create something new.

In December I didn’t know where that girl went, or quite when she went. She was just gone. I wanted to find her, but I’m just SO afraid of everything these days I didn’t know where to start.

I’ve been an Agoraphobe since Junior High, if we’re being honest. Walking the halls was too much for me so during break and lunch I’d stay in the library, tucked up by the window watching everyone else, or reading. When I hit my stride in high school, I never really let it bother me as much. In the 16-20 range I worked through it easier. It just seems that whenever the joie de vivre left me, the phobia crept back in.

I decided that this year, now that I’m healthy and more confident in myself physically, that its a good time to start putting myself out there again. Maybe if I started going out and doing things with other people, I could start reclaiming my joy. As I’ve mentioned multiple times, now, I took up social dancing, and even got my roommates into it. As a result I’ve made new friends who are encouraging me (whether they know it or not) to go out and try more new things. It’s begun to feed into itself.

After a night out dancing, I would feels so good. Confident. Happy. I could take on the world if I had to. The sucky bits of work sucked less. I slept well. I jumped into my workouts with more gusto. Everything was better the days following a Blues dance. I called it my dance high.

That high has been lasting longer and longer each time I go out.

I looked at myself the other day and realized it might not be a dance high. I may just be happy again.

I’m dancing again, that goes without saying, but it’s not just blues. I listen to music again. I EXPLORE music again like I haven’t in years. I was always the girl who knew the underground, indie, new comer, up-and-comer bands and artists you HAD to listen to. I had a lyric for every moment. The perfect song for anyone. I’m getting there again.

Instead of listening to Netflix or YouTube while I cook or clean, it’s music. And I find myself dancing. All arms one moment. Jazz hands! Disco arms! Other times I’m swaying like a leaf, drifting on a summer breeze.

I’ve picked up my guitar again. An acquaintance from the Blues scene wants to form a band and I want to try out.

I started singing in the shower again some time before Dee moved in with us.

I’m a huge fan of adult coloring books.

I read before bed instead of watching Netflix and I’m back to finishing off 2+ books a week.

I’ve started writing again obviously. It’s not just this blog, either.

I dusted off some bits of fiction I workshopped in college and then abandoned somewhere in the mix. They’re lovely. I don’t know why I let them go.

..

What I’m trying to say in all this is that my life has color again. Hope.

I don’t set resolutions in definite terms because it doesn’t work that way.

If I had set a resolution to pick up all my old hobbies, it would have flopped. I would have stared at my short stories and lost faith that I could ever be creative again. I would have picked up my guitar and not had anything I cared to play. I would have played the old songs I knew and got irritated that I couldn’t play them like I used to.

Instead, I started doing something different. Something I knew I could do. Something I had support for. Something that would make me happy and get me out of the house and start me on a new trajectory.

Everything else fell back into place.

Its not the activities that matter, it’s how you feel.

Right now, I feel good. Not all the time. But in general, and most of the time, I feel great. Feeling great feeds into itself just like feeling awful does, so if I continue on. If I set attainable goals for myself I can keep moving forward and putting myself on the right path.

And I plan on doing just that.