I very much needed to not think about the one thing my mind seemed determined to think about.
I needed to move; to be around people; to be otherwise occupied.
I didn’t go out out much, anymore.
Age had calmed the roaming spirit that had long wrestled, listlessly, within me.
But my mind—my mind wanted for distraction.
Here’s what I now know:
When you beckon unto the night, the night answers.
9:00 pm. Fancy event at a bar in DC.
I arrive at the bar. There is a line at the door. There is a man standing at the door with a clipboard. I tell him my name. He tells me I’m not on the list. I say I’m waiting for “Mike,” who is supposed to let me in. He tells me he doesn’t know Mike. I text my friend to tell her Mike isn’t here.
A gaggle of drag queens join the man with the clipboard. They coo and laugh and tease the man about not letting me in. I marvel at the size of each lady. I attempt a visual estimate of how many yards of sequined fabric are on display before me. A drag queen winks at me. I smile, broadly. Where the fuck is Mike?
Mike arrives, all exuberant merriment. I recognize him, immediately, by his bowtie. He recognizes me, immediately, by—I have no idea how he recognizes me. He tells the man with the clipboard that I’m with him. The man with the clipboard lets me in. I briefly consider how quickly he acquiesces, considering his indifference to my mention of “Mike,” two minutes prior.
Mike and I start to make our way inside. The drag queens grab at Mike. Mike is delighted. We spend the next minute at the center of 4 statuesque drag queens who make a show of patting Mike down. Mike bends over to let one spank him. The drag queen spanks him. Mike bends over again and suggests a full body cavity search. I decide I like Mike very much.
We find our way to a set of tables where our friends await us. “Our friends” is liberal. Only one is my friend. But she has an IPA and a bourbon, neat, waiting for me when I sit down. Sometimes, one friend is all you need if she’s the very best kind of friend.
We drink copious amounts of alcohol and eat a bevy of super fancy, lovingly-prepared hors d’oeuvres. My friend makes sure the waitstaff only bring me meatless food. My friend’s friend mentions that the man she is speaking with at our table is also a vegetarian. Five minutes pass.
“Other Vegetarian” flags down a server with a platter. The server explains that she is holding Korean barbecue. “Other Vegetarian” picks up two skewers of beef and eats them. Then he smiles, gently, at us. I don’t look at my other table-mates, but I am staring at him in awe. “I’m just so hungry,” he says, sheepishly.
Mike and my friend drink more. Mike taps the breast portion of his suit jacket. My friend tells me Mike has a stash of reefer in his pocket. They discuss where they can disappear to smoke it. Mike mentions that his job routinely drug tests. I furrow my brow. Mike explains that he is the (insert fancy, highfalutin job title here) at his place of work. Mike is apparently in charge of scheduling when drug tests happen. I, again, consider how much I really, really like Mike.
An hour goes by, and we begin to part paths. My friend is ready to go home. I want to dance.
11:30 pm. My favorite salsa spot. DC.
I am greeted at the door by one of the proprietors. He takes both of my cheeks into his hands and kisses me very close to my mouth, while laughing heartily. I don’t mind, even though he is super old. It feels good to be missed.
I put my things away and move upstairs to the dance floor. The narrowness of the space doesn’t allow for much movement outside of dancing. I make my apologies as I brush past spinning bodies. I find my way to an empty wall, and lean beside it for purchase. Not long after, a man is before me extending his hand.
I’m out of practice, for certain, but it’s not long before I’m comfortable. I ease into fluidity of movement and rhythm, and he holds me close. We dance for four songs, straight, all salsa. When we finish, I’m gasping for air, and find my place on the wall, once more. The music changes to merengue.
My friend, “John,” appears out of nowhere. We are dance friends who sometimes talk between our sporadic ventures out. I love John because he is an unapologetic asshole. This also makes me hate John. He’s the biggest dance show-off I know. He extends his hand. I remind him that I hate merengue. He makes a noise under his breath that is indicative of his dismissal, and leads me to the dance floor. John is from Cameroon. John brooks little refusal.
We dance for song after song after song. John sends me out for a spin, extends his foot, and gives me a slight kick in the ass before I return to his arms. I am furious. John laughs. I make a mental note to kill John. John says that I am out of practice. John talks a lot when he’s dance-showing-off.
“We have much to discuss, you and I,” says he.
“Just shut up and dance,” I reply.
“You are angry because I kicked you. But you are dancing better,” he answers.
“Stand up straight,” John admonishes. “You dance beautifully when you stand up straight. Maybe not ‘beautifully.’ ‘Adequate.’”
“You are out of practice. And you never follow me. Stop being so strong in my arms. You dance like you live. This is why you are alone.” – John.
“Have you given any thought to my offer?”
“Do not play with me. Are you going to marry me?”
“Because so many other men have asked you?”
“Is it because we have not gone to bed together? We can finish this dance and go to bed together, tonight.”—John.
“I do not know if it has escaped your attention—I’m sure it hasn’t—but I am a very good looking man.” –John, with his first inarguable platform of the night.
Finally, during our last dance…
“All you do is fight me. And say ‘No.’ But when I hold you like this (draws me nearer)—right here (puts pressure on small of my back as we move together in bachata), right here says, ‘Yes.’”
I am ready to go home. John won’t let go of my hand and begs with his eyes the way he always does, but doesn’t protest. His pride won’t let him ask, out loud. It’s the thing I respect most about him.
I take a cab to the train.
U Street Metro. 1:15 am.
My phone is dying. I sit on a bench and wait for the train. A homeless man sits behind me. I play with the hem of my dress. I hear a grumble. The homeless man is talking. He seems agitated. I turn around to see the object of his ire. He is staring straight at me. I turn back around, but find the “memo” function on my phone. I know this is about to be legendary. He begins to curse me out.
“You are one stupid, ignorant bitch. Why don’t you do something with your life? Other than act like a fool—“(If, at this point, you’re kinda mystified because his tirade seems really personal and direct, join the club. I legitimately have to take a second and consider whether I’ve ever actually dated him, so accurate are his criticisms.)
“You think everybody wants to be with you, but they don’t. Nobody wants to be with your dumb ass. I’ve had enough pussy to last me a lifetime. I don’t need yours. Why don’t you just focus on one thing? Can you do that? Can you focus on one thing?” (The whole time, all I’m doing is taking shorthand of this homeless man who, inexplicably, knows my life. Other people start to sit down, but no one says anything. I guess they figure that I’m not overly-concerned, and reason they shouldn’t be either. He is loud, though. And convicted. Also, pro-tip: Never sit beside a man with no house but lots of conviction.)
“Why don’t you focus on breathing, you slow bitch? Can you do that? Can you at least do that? Just sit still and breathe somewhere for a while. Because your pussy AIN’T all that (debatable). I’d want you if you had some goddamned sense, but you don’t. And I don’t have no time for any no-sense bitch. You thick. But you can take your bum ass on.”
My train comes. I do as he bade me.
King Street Station. Old Town Alexandria. 1:45 am.
I walk down the steps towards the turnstyle. Two tall, brunette women are a few paces before me. I watch the first woman hold her smartrip card to the turnstyle and walk through. The second woman makes a show of putting her smartrip card on the turnstyle but doesn’t. She proceeds through anyway. I shake my head, apply my card, and walk through. The metro attendant calls after us from his station.
I turn around, point to my chest, and mouth, “Me?” The two brunettes continue walking, pretending like they don’t hear his voice booming into the otherwise quiet night. He shakes his head at me and calls out to the brunettes, “Excuse me. Ma’am?! Ma’am! Come back here, Ma’am.” The taller of the two, RideThief, turns to him, abruptly. I can sense the indignation in her movement. I slow my step to idle by the entrance.
She marches back towards him, irritation obvious in her gait. She presents much in the fashion a small child would, tantrum at the ready. “What is it—“ she spies his nametag, “*Jamal*?” She spits out his name with disgust. I bite my knuckle to keep from laughing.
He responds, “You didn’t touch your smartrip to the machine, Ma’am.” RideThief is furious. “I did! I did! Are you saying I didn’t? Is that what you’re saying, *Jamal*?” She keeps saying his name with this shady intonation, as though she suspects “Jamal” is not his real name; as though his name is only *allegedly* “Jamal.” I look over at her friend who is nervously hanging back in the periphery. She says nothing.
Jamal speaks again. “Ma’am, I’m going to need you to apply your card again, or I’ll have to detain you.” RideThief loses her shit. “DETAIN ME?! FOR WHAT, *JAMAL*? WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DETAIN ME FOR, *JAMAL*? WHAT CRIME HAVE I COMMITTED, *JAMAL*?” I’m not certain what this woman has drank throughout the night, but it’s clear she chased it with White Privilege.
I take out my phone and turn on the camera. Jamal spies me and peeps game. I see him suppress a smile. He looks into my eyes. Shaking his head, he mouths, “No,” silently. I put my phone away dejectedly.
RideThief is about to have an apoplectic fit. She’s screaming out things like, “What? You think I don’t have any money? Is that it? ARE YOU SERIOUS? ARE YOU SERIOUS, *JAMAL*?” Finally, her friend approaches, whispers to Jamal, and hands him her fare-card to run through the machine. I consider that this is no solution as it won’t account for wherever RideThief entered the metro, but Jamal seems content to get her off his hands. I walk towards my car as he swipes her card.
When you beckon unto the night, the night answers.