I grinned into nothing. Every electric current the music had to offer lit my central nervous system. Teeth gnashing. Eyes rolling. My feet flashed, bouncing to the juke step my best friend taught me back in college. This was EDC New York, 2013, an electronic dance music festival spanning the open fields of Randall Island.
A dude in a neon tank top and a camelback walked up, nudged my friend Tim in the arm. “Yo, let me have what he’s having.”
Tim laughed. “You can take what he took, but you can’t have what he’s having.” Tim crossed his arms and watched me clown. I moved my feet fast enough to fly. Bounce bounce. Magic sugar sky. A Moleskine notebook with a blue leather cover bulged from my back pocket of my linen shorts.
Back then, I carried this notebook everywhere. I thought a notebook like this had power. A notebook like this, one everybody could see from my back pocket, made me a writer. The dude in the neon tank top stood next to Tim, crossed his arms, and watched the free show.
I had just moved to Brooklyn and didn’t have many friends in the city when Tim, a homie from college, told me a bunch of the Chicago people were coming to visit. EDC. Electric Daisy Carnival. Be Ready.
Electronic music wasn’t my thing, but I thought it would be nice to see Tim’s and everyone’s faces. Day one of the festival, Tim handed me a baggy of pills that I crotched past security. Inside a Porta-Potti, I popped molly for the first time, downing the crystals with light beer. When I stepped into the sun, my body dispersed like soul flow. Like soul glow. Like a blessed, Technicolor dream light show—every physical movement I had ever seen or learned wanted to claw its way out of my face.
Borrowing a Chicago friend’s Indian headdress, I ran off into the dance organism and danced my face off for eight hours. Running around shirtless, rivulets of sweat flew off my body, defying gravity. Every hour or so, a concerned person gave me life-giving gulps of water.
“Okay. Thank you. I love you. Bye bye.” I bowed ninety degrees, grinning at the hilarity over everything. Moving like a jellyfish, I danced to be one with the Universe, believing with one hundred percent certainty the Universe had once again gifted me the ability to pop and lock. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe pop and lock is a state of mind.
Yellow and red feathers flashed from my head. Some feathers wilted over my face from the capillary action of my incredible sweat. This was before I knew it was racist to wear an Indian headdress and dance to be one with the Universe. Back then, I didn’t care. Something about the feathers spoke to me. The moment we saw each other, I knew we belonged together. And I thought maybe Asians got a free pass.
Maybe I’ve always been sad and I just wasn’t aware of it. I first became aware of the sadness during my time in Peace Corps Honduras. During those two years, distance in body and mind isolated me from home and family. Sometimes, the loneliness got to be so overwhelming that I spent days in bed to hide from reality.
Living in the Department of Santa Barbara, I closed my blinds for the third day straight. I curled on my thin, cotton mattress, draped beneath a swamp green mosquito net that I had jerry-rigged to the metal beams in the ceiling with twine. Geckos darted up my chalky, cinder block walls into the gap between wall and tin roof. Heat surrounded me like a lost Asian man in an easy bake oven.
I cradled a cold, three liter bottle of Grape Fanta like the battery to life support until the sun went down. The moon came up and the atmosphere chilled. I opened my front door to let the cross breeze in, the streets emptying of sound. From the ease of the night, an abstract desperation came over me, a possible infinity that made me squirm, an exasperation that could cut skin. My will to live had hit an all-time low, making me feel so crazy, I had to give a wordless prayer, imagining a flowing, silvery blanket made of stardust hovering over me. Eyes closed, I held on to this feeling. Somehow, the imagination of God let me drift into my dreams where I felt safe and protected.
The next morning, I woke before the sun came up. I had to get out of site and find a friend. I needed to find some goddamned love. I locked the front gate of my one bedroom apartment, and took a straight shot down the road to the town entrance. Gravel crunched beneath my feet. The town river gurgled. I crossed the bridge and passed the two-lane highway where I waited for a chicken bus with other shadowed figures, grateful for the cover of pre-dawn hiding my Asianness.
In a school bus pimped with chrome wheels, tinted windows, and red dragon flames, I rode for two hours to Santa Barbara, a city central to a group of five volunteers spread throughout the Department.
Around noon, I got to our usual place, a bar whose name I forget, a place you had to walk through a tunnel to get to open concrete floors buffed to a shine—a place where men spat on floors and watched you get smashed out of your minds with a frightening look of detachment in their eyes. All the other volunteers were already there, sitting on the yellow plastic chairs and drinking Salva Vida beers, the local lager. Fast moving ceiling fans spun overhead. Ranchero music whined from a tube TV mounted on the wall. We drank.
After collectively consuming a mountain of brown-bottled beers, the five of us went back to Lisa’s place, the veteran volunteer who had come to country a year before me. Grabbing a chicken bus to the base of her mountainous village, we then hitched a ride in the back of friendly person’s pickup truck to her house. In Lisa’s house, an expansive four bedroom cinder block with a sprawling backyard, we blasted blasted bachata on the radio and doused ourselves in Flor de Caña rum.
Heated, Lisa opened her screen door for airflow. The village looked ghostly. A mist hovered over the streets. Not a soul whispered except a belly-bloated horse across the street, twitching next to a solitary, adobe wall. We sauntered outside with the radio on low.
Jay and Lisa held each other, dancing. Jay, another veteran volunteer on the other side of Honduras, had taken a fifteen hour chicken bus ride to see Lisa. Seeing them together like that made me happy, but reminded me of my own loneliness, so I swayed with one hand on my navel, the other out like my palm was catching warm water.
I danced with myself.
The stray dog Lisa took in watched from behind the screen door. The entire village slept. The belly-bloated horse shivered. We danced under the mist and stars. Starved by the desire to be around someone who understood, we were allowed to have these moments, melodramatic or not.
Throughout the great spiral of time, we all tell the same story, even if the location changes.
I wake up feeling raw and lonely in Honduras.
I wake up feeling raw and lonely in Brooklyn.
I wake up feeling raw and lonely in Orlando.
I am a couple months into the MFA program, and I need to dance. To move. To something before I get to another boiling point and want to stomp a face in. But I have no chicken bus to take me to an oasis, no friends coming for a dance festival. New to Orlando, I have no idea how to go about releasing. Friday night, I send a distress signal on the Facebook MFA group. Something like… Hello? Is anyone out there? Does anybody care?
No one answers the call. I have to go alone. After some Googling, I find a bar called Lil Indies on Mills Avenue where a DJ spins Hip-hop beats on Friday nights. I start my party prep. Toothbrush, phone charger, and a miniature thing of face wash in my jacket pocket. Then, I call a Lyft, splurging the eighteen dollars from Union Park to Mills Ave, mentally prepared to spend the twenty something bucks on the way back, because I am desperate for human affection.
At Lil Indies, a hipster bar, no one is getting into the music. People pause conversation and stare at the empty dance floor like someone left on the TV. So, I decide to get wasted out of my mind until I believe in myself. I order a beer and down the brew in three gulps. My stomach rumbles. A rush slips past my head from drinking on an empty stomach. I polish a few more beers and a shot when several friends from the MFA program show up.
Minute by minute. Hour by hour. I drink faster and faster until a grin I can’t wipe off plasters my face. Fellow MFA cohort members and I create a dance circle and pull people in with the promise of anonymity, the only way you can get most people to dance. The dance organism builds. Time ceases to exist. Riding the wave, a high rushes over my body.
A group of girls walk up. They want to talk, not because they want to be sexy, but because they want to be friendly. Having friends is better than having nothing.
“Group hug!” I scream.
Girls. Guys. A jumble of arms. We all embrace. I disappear into the physical contact, because this is the first intimacy I have had with anyone since moving to Orlando, and I’m starving.
“You need eight hugs a day if you want to live,” I say. Emboldened by the beer and the good vibes of the night, I run around like a child hugging strangers, giggling into my chin like fat, drunk baby, stumbling up a stairway to nowhere until I scream into the abyss.
Dance until last call.
Dance until the bar closes.
Dance until the end of the Universe.
Wonder if there is an afterparty.
Wonder if there’ll be yayo so I can stay up.
You can go on forever, ilgenius jo. You are
champion of the world.
“I am champion of the world,” I scream. Then my body shuts down. I need bed. I stumble out of the bar without saying goodbye and hail a Lyft ride home. Ninja Vanish.
Trying not to puke my guts out in the Lyft, my head lolls around like I’ve got a baby neck.
“Are you okay?” the driver asks from the front.
“Yes,” I say, spitting into my sleeve when he’s not looking to keep from puking. “I am fine. I am just baby neck drunk.”
An eternity of closed eyes later, we arrive at my apartment complex. Home never looked so good. I push open the car door with my foot leaving a chalky print, take a deep breath, and carefully step out.
“Thank you so much for the ride, sir.” I bow, still clowning a little but being extra careful to be polite so that I don’t get a low rating for almost dying in his car. Then, I stomp up the stairs to my apartment and crash without washing up, not caring about anything but sleep, swirling into a frenzy of alcohol dreams.
I wake up feeling embarrassed, remembering myself from the night before. I was so thirsty for attention. So thirsty for affection. I am glad that I am in Orlando, a new city where no one knows me, where no one will remember me, because this party version of me is not me. I used to think this version defined me, because alcohol made me fun and interesting and provided me a way to make instant friends. But the come down has made my highs underwhelming. Maybe when you do things outside your sense of self, you leave yourself with nothing.
I scroll through my phone, avoiding Facebook messenger because at this point in my life I don’t need to know what stupid shit I message people in my blackout state. Instead, I deactivate Facebook, remove the app from my phone, and text a handful of people I love, asking them for reassurance that I am a good person.
I stare at the ceiling. “Oh God,” I say. “Oh God.” I roll out of bed and into the shower. “Who am I?” I hock a loogie congealed from a night of chain smoking. I clear my lungs and sing. “Hakuna Matata. What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna Matata. Ain’t no passing craze. It means no worries. For the rest of your days…”
No more drinking, I promise myself. No more drinking. At least for a little while.