Check Yourself

After Peter left at 2am, complaining of illness and fatigue, I was left alone in the club. I could have started to make my way home at that point too, but the warmth of the bass and the insistency of the beat meant that I was still physically and mentally shackled to the dancefloor and I wouldn’t be leaving just yet. Plus, in a couple of hours I could catch a simple train back home, instead of trying to use my softened brain to figure out which combination of obscure night buses might return me to somewhere within walking distance of home. So, I ventured back into the sweating mass that populated the end of the hall nearest the music’s throbbing source.

It wasn’t the first time that I’d been in a large, sweaty, loud East London warehouse by myself in the early hours of the morning; in fact it was becoming a more and more common thing, with my desire being more on the side of wanting to hear good dance music played very loud than really caring too much about socialising. Sure, it was nice to dance with people, to share their energy and enjoyment, but there are advantages to dancing by yourself too. The main advantage of solo dancing is that it far reduces the amount of space needed; when dancing with friends you typically want to open up a circle, which can be difficult in dancefloors as packed and active as this, and you usually spent half your time trying to maintain that space by pushing back against the other dancers around you. By myself I could squeeze in the spaces between groups of people, meaning that I can become something of a tourist, moving around and looking for those groups who are most into it or have the prettiest girls, installing myself somewhere near them for a little while, feeding off of their energy and happiness, and then moving on again when the time feels right. The difficulty of navigating these spaces varies with the congestion of the floor, with a less densely packed one making for easy sailing as on a smooth lake, but as more people crammed the area a deep-sea-like current could take control, from which it can become difficult to extract oneself.  At this point in the night the collective energy was in a happy middle ground and I found myself happy to be pushed and edged into various spaces by the random movements of those around me, watching the ecstatic faces glow in the coloured lights.

What I really wanted was a chance to dance with a girl, but as a lone dancer, wrangling your way into the attentions of a girl who is already surrounded by a bunch of friends is extremely difficult. If it’s a group of all girls then you can just forget about it – it’s too intimidating to even think of approaching them, let alone what the game plan would be if I did make an approach. It can be easier to find a mixed group and make friends with the guys first, show them that you’re just as enthusiastic and “up for it” as they are and they might usher you into their loop. Though mostly the best I could do was just peer in from the outside, locking eyes with a girl for no more than a few thrilling seconds at a time before she looks away and instantly disregards this moment. With my mind racing along at the invigoration of the music those three second fantasies would sate me for a short time; what was meaningless glance to a girl would be a highlight of the evening for me.

After a few of these momentary metaphysical affairs I found myself awash in the skittering polyrhythms of the relentless techno, dancing around and floating aimlessly between pockets of space when I suddenly locked onto a cute round face with pair of bright blue eyes under a curtain of blonde hair coming towards me through the crowd. I quickly realised why this face had me do a double take as the girl made her way past another crowd of people and her eyes met mine in a moment of recognition. It took me a moment to place her as a girl that used to be in the same halls as me in university, and the same cognition seemed to be going through her head. By the time we had both made the connection we were standing right in front of one another, and, swept up in the happiness of the evening, we locked in a quick embrace just as I finally turned up her name from a dusty recess of my mind: Amy.

We quickly disengaged from the hug and took a half step back, leaving our faces in close so that we could hear each other over the din of the music.

“Hey!” I began, wanting to convey both surprise and happiness at seeing her here,

“Hi Greg!” she replied, and the fact that she remembered my name shocked me even further.

“I didn’t know you were into this kind of music,” I ventured, excitedly.

“Yeah, well I like Daniel Avery, I dunno the others playing tonight.”

“Yeah Daniel Avery’s great, his set was awesome. This guy up now is good too.”

“Oh yeah? What’s his name?”

“Levon Vincent” I replied, not garnering much of a reaction out of her, after all it was little more than a name that she probably misheard anyway. As quickly as it had built up, it seemed as though the wind had gone from the sails of our conversation, so I cast around for something to say before I lost her to the crowd. My frantic mental shuffle through conversation starters was interrupted when she asked,

“Where are your friends, Greg?”

“Oh, they left, unfortunately,” I replied, leaving dangling the fact that I was there alone. It was at this point that I realised she was going solo too; “how about you?”

“They’re around here somewhere,” she said, taking a quick look around, “I need to go find them.”

“Oh OK,” I replied, trying not to sound too disappointed that our conversation was being cut short.

“Are you sticking around?” She asked me,

“Yeah, for a while,” I replied.

“OK stay here and I’ll come find you again once I’ve found my friends.” I agreed and watched her slip between two writhing bodies and disappear towards the recesses of the hall.

I wasn’t entirely sure that I would see her again that evening – I wasn’t even sure that I believed her when she said she’d return – but I stayed in the same area being engulfed by wave after wave of euphoric techno, my limbs moving to the demanding beat, seemingly of their own accord, and my eyes rolling back in my head with pleasure; Amy’s return becoming less of a concern as the music took over my mind.

I was pleasantly surprised not too long later to feel a tap on my shoulder and to turn around to be met by Amy’s big blue eyes, beaming.

“I found my friends,” she told me, “they’re over here. Come dance with us.” I nodded in accession and she grabbed my hand to lead me through the crowd, intertwining her fingers with mine; which shocked me with its sudden intimacy. Now interlinked, she pulled me easily across the dancefloor, my eyes on her blonde hair the entire time, snaking between the distorted masses of people that appeared in my peripheral vision until we reached a small group of people who welcomed Amy’s return with big smiles and parting to make way for the two of us in their circle. I didn’t exchange pleasantries with any of them, the music being so loud we couldn’t really talk anyway, but I felt more or less welcomed as they continued to bob and flail to the music, and I quickly fell into step with them.

A quick scan of the faces around the circle as they were briefly illuminated by the flashing and roving coloured lights revealed that of the five new faces, four were guys. I was concerned that one of them might be attached to Amy, which would scupper my chances with her; finally I had penetrated a dance circle – welcomed in by a girl nonetheless – and I didn’t want my chance at something real to slip away. I was encouraged by the fact that none of the other males in the circle seemed to make touches or movements towards Amy that would indicate some kind of deeper relationship. This, of course, meant that I now had to make good on all those times I’d spent wishing that an opportunity like this would fall into my lap and try to dance with her.

From across the circle I watched Amy dance, trying to catch her eye, but she self-consciously kept her head bowed, her hair in her eyes, looking up rarely – and more to look around than at me, though in the brief moments when our gazes did meet, she’d flash me a quick smile. I perceived that perhaps she was a little drunk and feeling slightly embarrassed by her dancing and the situation, so I decided to wait it out, hoping that she would soon feel more comfortable with my presence. At the same time I could work on plucking up the courage to make a move.

My constant ogling of Amy must have been fairly obvious to all in the circle, as after about a half hour or so of trying to pick an opportune moment, the only other female in the group caught my attention. She was a short and skinny girl, with cropped brown hair and small nose that gave her a bullish though not unattractive appearance. She was evidently the girlfriend of one of the other guys in the group as they had been dancing closely and comfortably with the odd kiss since my arrival. She detached herself from her partner to come over to speak to me, and beckoned for me to lean in close so I could hear what she was saying.

“You alright?” she asked me, and I thought I detected a hint of umbrage in her tone, but it could have just been from the need to raise her voice over the music or her inebriation, which was obvious from the glazed look in her eyes and the smell on her breath.

“Yeah, great,” I replied with a nod and a smile, not really knowing what else to say.

“You got a drink or anything?” she asked me. I nodded my head and indicated that I had a bottle of water stashed in my back pocket, which she glanced at, unimpressed.

“So you know Amy then, do you?” she asked after a brief pause.

I nodded again, “We used to be in halls together, but I haven’t seen her for a while.” I’m not sure she heard me clearly, but she nodded curtly, maintaining eye contact the whole time, then had a little look over at Amy who still seemed to be dancing away happily in her own world, then back to me.

“What’s your name again?” she asked.

“Greg,” I responded.

“Alright,” she replied seemingly disapprovingly, then, before I could return the question, she took one last quick look at my face and turned her back to me and moved over to the other side of the small circle, edging in next to Amy, distancing her from me further and setting herself right in my eye line.

From that point it became uncomfortable to keep trying to attract Amy’s attention, as each time I’d look at her I’d see her friend watching me from the corner of my eye. I kept hoping that at some point she’d have to leave to go buy another drink, but she had her boyfriend to do the buying for her and Amy, so neither of them left the circle at any point and I remained marooned away from where I wanted to be; next to Amy’s soft skin and shiny blue eyes.

It was approaching 4am at this point and although I felt I had the potential to stay until the 6am closing, I had no idea how much longer Amy and her friends would be sticking around. I decided my next best course of action would be to ingratiate with the other males in the circle and perhaps work my way into Amy that way. I had no idea what these guys were into, so I decided that I would try bonding over music and dancing. I moved in closer to them, smiling and looking into their eyes and trying to dance in similarly simplistic way to them, toning down my usual hopping and limb-swinging style for more of a simple side-to-side step routine. Every time a new and particularly vigorous beat would land on the floor I’d smile at them and nod my head more vigorously as if to say ‘yeah mate, what a tune’, receiving similar actions from them in response. At least men are easy to figure out, I thought to myself.

Despite this newly formed camaraderie with the males of pack, Amy’s female friend’s watch over me only seemed to grow more dogged. If only Amy would make the move towards me, I thought, but looking at her now it seemed as though she were drunk beyond the point of even really knowing that I was interested.

At this point I decided to stop fretting over Amy, and the knot of nerves that I hadn’t noticed had been building in my stomach loosened somewhat. Now that we had had this chance encounter and she had seen that I was ‘cool’ I could make follow-up contact with her without seeming random or outlandish. I resigned myself to another night out without any physical connection, and let myself become swept up in the tide of onrushing music once more.

Not long after I’d come to this conclusion, Amy was suddenly dragged out of the circle and towards the back of the club by her friend. The guys in the circle took a quick look around and then, led by the boyfriend of the smaller girl, decided to follow in tow without a word, leaving me alone on the floor. I thought they might have all just gone to buy more drinks but with the clock having past 4.30am I was fairly sure they’d decided to up and leave. I stayed dancing in the same spot for a little while longer, in case they returned, but unsurprisingly they didn’t show up again.

I stuck around for a little while longer, since I was still enjoying myself and had some energy left in the tank. Plus there was still the unlikely possibility that there might be another girl whose fancy I might take. Unsurprisingly this didn’t occur, and even when I did catch the eye of a couple of girls the excitement from earlier in the evening seemed to have faded and it nothing more than a standard glance. I left alone, just before 6.

Listening to Nico on the gloomy train ride home I watched out of the window as the blackness of the night started to become shot through with streaks of grey. I tried to formulate a plan on how to proceed with Amy. It seemed a casual Facebook message would be the best plan of action.

Once back in my room I lit a stick of incense, set a record spinning on the turntable and turned on my computer. Quickly I found Amy’s profile and set about writing her a message that would seem at once casual, interested and blasé. After a few different attempts, each ending in hasty deletion, I figured it would be best if I got some sleep, and then took stock of the situation when I awoke with a clearer mind. I didn’t want to seem over-eager anyway; if I sent the message now she’d see the early AM time stamp on it and might be put off.

Waking a little while later in the early afternoon, I laid staring up at the ceiling of my bedroom trying to recall the events of the previous night. It was unclear to me now whether there had actually been any interest from Amy’s side or if I was simply seeing and feeling what I so desperately wanted. I tried to simplify the facts: she didn’t dance with me quite as intimately as I’d liked, but as I had thought at the time, this might have been just due to embarrassment, or because her strange friend had said something to her. On the flip side of the coin there were the facts that she’d remembered my name, and the intertwining fingered hand-holding as she pulled me over to her friends – was I reading too much into this? There was only one way to find out: send her a message and see what she sends in reply.

I sat back up at my computer and opened up my Facebook messages once more. After even more deliberation and deletion of messages, I ended up simply sending:

‘Hey Amy! Pretty random and awesome running into you last night. I had no idea you were into that kind of music. We should definitely hang out again some time. Let me know if you’re up for it.’

Casual. Maybe too casual. Maybe I should have been more explicit about my desires. But it was too late now; the message was sent. I decided to roll and smoke a joint to calm my nerves. I l put on a record and laid back on my bed, watching the smoke from the tip of the joint curl up into the air, trying to take my mind off of the message. It was just a casual message, why was I so nervous? Because my experience in this department is wholly lacking, and with each passing day the thought that I might never get to fill in that gap in my experiences became a more terrifying possibility. This was a chance – a small one in all likelihood – but a chance nonetheless.

I drifted off again and awoke a few hours later to find a message in my inbox. At first too nervous to even open it I eventually apprehensively clicked on it and what I was presented brought an instant smile to my face:

‘Hey Greg. Yeah It was good to see you. Yeah give me a call, here’s my number… I’ll be at home tonight so give me a buzz if you’re free.’

Her number! Give her a call, not a text! And she wants me to call her tonight! This was more than I had bargained for. Much more.

It took me a few minutes of pacing around before I worked up the courage to input the number into my phone. And even then I could only save her as a new contact. A new cycle of pacing began when it came time to actually call. Finally I sat down nervously on the edge of my bed and hit the button. After a short pause came the ringing on the other end.

“Hello?” came Amy’s voice down the line.

“Er, hi Amy, it’s Greg…”

“Oh hey Greg, how are you?” she asked, warmly, which calmed my nerves somewhat.

“I’m fine thanks, and you?”

“Not too bad, a little bit of a headache, you know, standard.”

I chuckled, “Yeah of course.” There was an awkward pause. I thought I’d better just cut to the chase, “so, I was wondering—“

But before I could ask her out she interrupted me “Greg, are you alright?”

A little confused I simply replied “yeah… still fine… why?”

“Well, I’m a little worried about you…”

“Worried?” I parroted dumbly, now  a little lost and quickly becoming deflated.

“Well, it’s not healthy to be going out and doing a lot of drugs by yourself…”

Stunned, I tried to think of something to say but only weakly stammered “Er, erm… drugs?”

“Seriously, Greg, your pupils were so dilated last night it was freaky, and you were sweating so much. Sometimes your eyes were rolling so far back in your head I thought you were going to collapse. As soon as I saw you I felt you needed taking care of, which is why I brought you over so we could keep an eye on you. Not that my friend was very happy about it – she’s extremely anti-drug use…”

Now feeling puny all I managed to pathetically reply was “So you weren’t…” before pathetically and probably inaudibly adding “interested in me…?”

“Look Greg, the reason I asked you to call me is in case you need someone to talk to. I’m training to be a nurse and I think maybe if you’re depressed or using too many drugs you could really use someone to vent to, and I’d be happy to be there for you, I’ve spoken to plenty of people like you. Or I could recommend you someone more qualified, if you’d prefer. It’s my natural inclination to help people like you who I see in some sort of distress.”

Distress? Help? Now I was not only confused but starting to get angry. “But Amy, I’m fine.” I tried keeping my voice steady, but I couldn’t keep a quiver of annoyance from entering, “Besides, you were drunk! How is that any better!?”

“I wasn’t that drunk Greg, besides it’s perfectly acceptable to have a few drinks on the weekend. And I was out with friends whereas you –“

Now completely reeling, I butted in “What business is it of yours is it to decide what’s acceptable for me to do and what’s not? And I told you, my friends left! So what if I wanted to stay by myself?” I tried to regain control over my outrage, but I wasn’t going to let her lecture me, “And drugs aren’t all that bad either, have you ever even tried them?!” I enforced, before adding “alcohol is a drug too you know!”

There was a brief pause on the other end of the line before she responded, gently, “Greg, don’t get angry. Look, I’m just trying to help. Another side effect of depression and drug use are mood swings like this, I really think you should talk to someone before it goes too far.”

Sick now of this patronisation and humiliation I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out profanities, “Fucking, fuck… Amy…” trying to pull myself together I decided I’d better end the call before I really lost control. “Look Amy, I don’t need any help. Go try and impress your evangelical bullshit on someone else. I’m perfectly fine!” I abruptly ended the call and threw my phone on my bed, bewildered.

Letting out a long sigh I sunk my head down into my hands. I tensed and untensed my arms, clenched and unclenched my jaw, trying to make heads or tails of what had just happened.

Finally, after a few minutes of being unable to stop my emotions from swinging wildly from to despair to fury and back again, I decided to try to just forget about it. I laid back on my bed and shut my eyes, but I couldn’t think of anything but Amy’s face, which now rather than exciting me seemed to be taunting me. The promise of something special that I had stupidly built up in my head had been obliterated entirely, taking my happiness with it.

I snapped my eyes open and sat up again, casting around for the remainder of the joint from earlier on. I snatched it up, lit it, inhaled deeply, and laid back on my bed. As I exhaled I felt my whole body deflate and become nothingness as I began to float down into a lonely pit of self-loathing. The world around me started to weaken and recede, as I continued to drift deeper and deeper. ‘There’s always next weekend’ I told myself, and I clamped my eyes shut once more, and gave in once more to the dark embrace of loneliness.