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.

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.

I Like Your Puffy Sleeves

Oh-kay, folks, I think we need a palate cleanser after that last one. Not that you read it. But if you did. Here comes the ginger.

I went Blues dancing last night (shocking).

I took my two roommates with and so besides being worried for myself and finding my chill all night I was also worried that they wouldn’t have a good time. Kay was my main concern. She is taller than me (I’m practically a giraffe) and thinks she’s way more socially awkward than she is. Dee, our other roommate, is teeny and walks around a little dreamily sometimes, as if everything is in a soft, warm, focus for her. They’re both uber Jesus-y and Kay is more self conscious than me in a lot of ways. We ran last so they almost missed the pre-dance class and neither of them have dance experience. As I was taking their things so they could run to the class and I could get everything settled and catch up if there was time, the first person to talk to me through the door was rude… Just the stuff of nightmares.

However, despite the choppy takeoff, they both LOVED IT. The night wound up being very fun for everyone involved. Kay got asked to dance more than I did and I think I’ve finally convinced her that there are actually tall, manly, men out there in the dating pool (and that some of them dance). Dee almost never made it off the floor, she was a huge hit with one of the choosier regulars and just about everyone else.

Jo, my usual partner in Blues-related-crime, came later after a friend’s wedding. A girl we met from our out of town Dance Weekend came later. I don’t understand how this “SQUAD” thing the kids are talking about nowadays works, but guys, I think we were Squad (squadding? on squad? squad fleek? seriously, someone explain this to me)!

Now, somewhere in the night it occurred to me (possibly as I was eyeing the lead I’ve developed a ridiculous crush on after literally being introduced to him once back when I first started Blues dancing in a “notice me, Senpai!” sort of way) that Blues dance events are basically Junior High dances with grown ups.

No one really knows what to wear. The events are generally Dry, though a lot of times you get a whiff of malt liquor from a passing Starbucks cup. The music is ALL over the map. Girls (and by girls I mean me and Blues Squad) wind up in the corner giggling about boys or eyeing the cool kids (pro level dancers) with longing. If two equally shy kids wind up dancing, they just rock from side to side in awkward circles with plenty of room for Jesus between them and its all but impossible for me not to quote Napoleon Dynamite.

Its ballroom, sort of, but also not.

I love it is what I’m saying. Also, possibly, Senpai.

Who asked me to dance.

Twice.

And according to Dee attempted making contact a third time before he was swept away by another dancer.

But that’s definitely not what made my night.

Nope.

Even if it was, that’s a story for another day.

The moral of this story is that Blues Dancing is like middle school dancing if middle schoolers knew how to dance without jamming their crotches into people’s butts unannounced.

Or something like that.