I glanced at my phone out of habit, even though it hadn’t vibrated. No one was trying to reach me. A part of me wanted to power down my phone so I could prevent myself from checking it once every few minutes. I tried calling my sister again, but her phone went straight to voicemail, like it had done countless times prior.
Spence, I messed up.
I chose not to leave another message for my sister, and texted Spence instead. I wasn’t planning to talk to anyone about what I had done. I didn’t even want to let myself think about it. But I needed someone.
Spence was one of my random best friends in college. We met in an alley behind a bar where I had gone to get some air and where he had gone to buy cocaine. My parents warned me to stay away from drugs and the bad people that do them. But Spence didn’t seem to fit their description of those “bad people,” and he became responsible for opening up a new part of the world for me.
What happened, Sav? You okay? I’m here.
Reading his response felt like receiving a hug. My girl friends were always skeptical of our relationship, thinking there was something going on between us. I told them it wasn’t like that, and they said okay then what is it like, but I couldn’t tell them the whole story. Shortly after meeting Spence, I was diagnosed with severe depression. The drugs the doctors prescribed to me failed repeatedly, so Spence gave me drugs that worked. I kept my habits a secret, knowing that few would understand my decision to feel happiness for a few moments instead of accepting sadness as a way of life.
I gave Spence the credit for making those feelings possible again. When I graduated from college, Spence and I moved to different places, and I did everything I needed to do to kick the habit and shoot for that fresh start that the post-grad life promised. I had been getting by ever since.
I wish we could talk in person. It’s so bad. I don’t know what to do.
I resented the distance between New York City and D.C.
Pack a bag and get on the next bus out here.
If it had been anyone else, I would’ve thought they were kidding. But Spence knew he was the person I could turn to when things got bad. It took a little over an hour before I had a bag packed and was handing my paper ticket to the Megabus driver.
Spence agreed to let me crash on his floor for the night, the weekend, or however long I needed. When I got to his apartment later, he welcomed me with open arms. He told me he would be all ears and all mine just as soon as he called up his friends to cancel his plans for the night. He told me they wanted to check out a club that he had discovered on a flier taped to the door of his favorite Ethiopian restaurant. I told him he should go. He said fine, but he wasn’t going to leave me alone. I would go too. It would be good for me, he said.
“Okay, so what happened, Sav?” All it took was one question and I began to cry. “Shit. It’s that bad.” I nodded and cradled my face in my hands.
“Well you know my sister, and you know she had a fiancé…”
“Had.” Spence focused on the key word.
“God, Spence, what have I done?” I felt anger, shame. “I... He and I, we…” I paused. “I told her after it happened.”
Spence was silent.
“She said she would never forgive me. And she shouldn’t. She has every right to hate me forever, I just…” The thought that I lost my best friend because of something I had done was numbing. “She said I’m not her sister anymore.”
He hugged me and spoke into my hair.
“You can’t undo what happened, Savannah. You’re going to have to deal with what you did and keep moving forward.”
He squeezed me tighter to show that even though I had done something terrible, he was still there.
“Easier said than done,” I said. “I hate myself. And I feel like everyone in the whole world should hate me too, because that’s what I deserve, you know? I deserve that. But then sometimes I wish I could just get out of my head and stop torturing myself over what happened.”
I broke from Spence’s embrace and turned away from him.
“How can I possibly forgive myself for this?” I didn’t know how to even begin doing that, and didn’t know how he could even suggest it. “Look, I’m going to take a walk, okay? By myself.”
“I really don’t like the idea of you wandering—“
“Stop. I need to be alone.” I cut him off sharply. He hadn’t seen this side of me since college. “Please. Go hang out with your friends.”
“Okay.” His tone softened and I felt bad for snapping. “I’ll go grab a drink with them. Will you meet up after?”
I didn’t have the energy or the motivation, but I was tired of letting people down. “Sure. Just text me.”
He gave me a worried look.
“I’ll be fine.”
I walked around aimlessly as the sun started to sink. I squeezed my hands into fists until my nails made crescent-shaped marks in my palms, and it hurt a little bit, but really I just felt sad that even physical pain was insurmountable to all of the emotional pain I had caused. I wanted to get out of my head and I didn’t care if I deserved to or not. I knew the easiest way to make that happen, and knew that Spence could help. I questioned for a second if the real reason I was in D.C. was because I knew there was such a simple way for me to forget it all, and it could be snorted, injected or swallowed.
Spence’s text lit up my phone. We’re in a cab heading to Shadey’s.
Okay. I’ll head there now.
I hailed a cab and rode the entire way in silence. I felt a sudden sense of urgency to get there fast.
I looked around at the people waiting outside the club, hoping Spence beat me there so I wouldn’t have to be by myself.
“Whatcha lookin’ for?”
The question came from a pale stranger standing on the curb smoking a cigarette. He wore all black and had multiple piercings on his face. He almost looked scary, ghostlike. I was intrigued. He blew a cloud of smoke into the night.
“I’m Luc.” He flicked the rest of his cigarette into the street and extended his right hand for me to take.
“Savannah.” I approached him and shook it, unafraid.
“Haven’t seen you here before.”
I shrugged. “First time.”
“Ah. Well, Savannah. You’ll never want to leave.” He paused for a second and looked up at the glowing sign hanging above the entrance to the club. The “S” in “Shadey’s” flickered on and off at random. “You never really will.”
His words confused me, but I didn’t have time to figure them out.
I heard Spence’s voice and saw him running over from across the street with two figures trailing behind. I jogged to meet him, but glanced back over my shoulder at the black figure I left behind. I saw him slither through a crowd of people, in through the club’s open doors.
“Sorry I’m late. You know how it goes.”
I smiled and shook my head, pulling him into a hug that told him I was fine, like I promised I would be.
“Alice, Murph, this is Sav.” He motioned to each of us as he called out our names, and we acknowledged each other with a nod. Then he spoke to me, “We brought along a little bit of our own fun. Let’s go inside.”
I loved that Spence knew me well enough to know I didn’t want to have to ask him for drugs. I loved that he knew me well enough to know I was back in the place where I needed them. He saved me in college and he would save me again.
Upon entering the club, we each paid cover and were directed over to a staircase leading us down. As we descended, the music grew louder and louder until we reached the door at the bottom which opened up into a spacious room full of bobbing bodies and colored lights.
“Come with us!” Murph slid her hand into mine and we chased behind Alice into the women’s restroom. Once we were inside, she let me go, but made sure that I held on to the little capsule she’d pressed into my palm. Murph filed into a stall and Alice into another, and I took their cue to mean that I had to follow suit. I shut the rusted tan door behind me and slid the silver lock into place. I took a deep breath and turned in a slow circle, admiring the things decorating the walls around me.
The monkey and I disapprove.
I chuckled when I saw the sticker. It was plain. Black font on a white background. A large circle placed at eye level on top of illegible back graffiti that looked like it may have said, “I’m lost.” I looked at the sticker again and thought about the decisions I’d made. Rights, wrongs and really wrongs didn’t seem all that clear anymore, and at least for the night, I had the power to make it vanish.
I swallowed the capsule and took one last look at the sticker, interpreting its message in ways that didn’t seem quite as funny anymore before I realized that it did and didn’t make any sense.
“Sav, you ready?”
The three of us exited the bathroom as one and gave ourselves up to the crowd.
The music surrounded me like a pulsing blanket. I was warm. Instantly warm. The vibrations moved me from side to side pushing me into the middle of it all, and I swayed and spun and closed my eyes. The room was full, and I was full. The music boomed. I bounced and jumped and I felt my emotions crashing around inside of me, heard clips of the past on replay in my head like recordings. I covered my ears and squeezed my eyes shut and continued to move, figuring if I did that, then nothing would be able to hold still long enough to take over and that soon enough, the ecstasy would.
It was hot. I was hot. The room was on fire and I was on fire and everything was fire. The sweat ran down my bare legs and dripped off my bare arms and darkened the back of my shirt. I felt as though I was melting and I jumped higher and danced harder to see if I could melt away completely.
I opened my eyes again. The lights made patterns around me and over me and through me. I laughed. I laughed and I looked up at the ceiling and then I laughed some more. I looked over at the DJ controlling it all, orchestrating it all, and recognized the figure behind the turntables. Luc looked out over his crowd and used his music to tell our bodies what to do. I was no longer my own maker, no longer responsible for what I did. I gave up control, gave in and allowed myself to become a puppet of his underground show.
I danced with myself, for myself, with the crowd and for the crowd. I watched the people at the bar bobbing their heads, getting deliciously and dangerously drunk. I watched a pair of my fellow dancers grab at each other hungrily and escape off into the very bathroom from which I had emerged. I watched it all and took it all in as my own and then gave away all of it and more.
After a few more songs, I stopped. I realized I didn’t know where Spence was. I didn’t know where the girls were. I didn’t know what time it was, and I didn’t even really know where I was, but I wasn’t looking for anything anymore.
I was high and then I was low and then I was dizzy. There was a swarm of bees buzzing around my brain and it annoyed me, but it was distracting enough to keep me from thinking about anything. The lights flashed. Everything was illuminated and everything was dark. I tried to determine if this was heaven or hell, and decided I had found the exact place where the two meet.
The party began to wind down, and the music eventually stopped. The basement emptied, expelling a line of sweat-drenched bodies that emerged from the club like they had just been baptized by darkness. The four of us found our way back to one other when time ran out, and we climbed the stairs together, leaving the empty room behind us to swallow up all that we had left.
The bouncer opened the door to let us out, and then there he was.
Spence gave me a weird look, but shrugged and began to make small talk with his friends.
“Hey, you were right about this place.”
Luc stared at me for a moment, and I could almost see the light enter his eyes when he recalled what he had said to me before. You’ll never want to leave and you never really will.
“You let go.”
I nodded. “For now.”
He smiled. “Clubs are for us sinners.”
“Yeah, well. At least I know I’m not alone.”
There was a comfortable silence. I ended it with a wave and headed back to where Spence and the girls were standing. We walked around aimlessly for a while, and then decided to go home.
Hours later, I woke up on the big shag rug next to Spence’s bed, and had a brief moment of wondering where I was and what I was doing there. The memories of the previous night came into focus, and as they did, I pulled my knees into my chest and curled up on the rug. I thought about a saying I’d heard about Band-Aids and bullet holes, and then tried to recall what the sticker on the wall of the bathroom stall at the club said. But I could only remember that it was white and black and placed on top of the ineffectively scribbled, “I’m lost.”