I Should Have

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

12th January 2018
I should have stayed at home. The car was full of smoke and a dark heartbeat of music, so strong it felt as if we were pulsing along the road. I couldn't even tell how many people were in there; I was squashed between my ex boyfriend, Matt, and a friend of his who was chemically on the nose, smelt as if he'd been drinking all week. He probably had. They were all crazy, I'd decided, piled into this clapped out car, drinking, smoking joints and screaming laughter.

I wasn't afraid, yet, I was just tired. I'd called Matt when my present, extremely dodgy boyfriend who I was trying to save, threatened me with a heavy glass ashtray, held it up to my face and shook with anger. I ran to the phone box and called Matt. He'd two-timed me and knew he owed me, so along he came, scooped me onto the back of his bike and shot off with me into the darkness.

'Fancy going to a rave?' he'd said.

Raves were happening all over the country. It was the early nineties; everything was evolving and every weekend, empty warehouses throbbed with the beat of illegal music. Inside, people danced to the drugs they were taking. I'd read about them in the newspapers. There hadn't been any ecstasy-related deaths yet - that would come later as bad drugs flooded the market, created by immoral amateur chemists who cut the original stuff with anything they could get their hands on.

'Why not?' I said. I grabbed a change of clothes from my student digs, slept the night at Matt's - on the sofa - and in the morning we hitched to London.

Now I was thinking it had all been a huge mistake. I should be in my bed, having an early night, instead of in a car full of people I barely knew or didn't know at all, screaming through the countryside on the way to an illegal rave which would go on all night, unless the police got there first.

Inside it was vast, empty and loud. I could feel the music inside me. On the improvised dance floor, a few people shook wildly, their movements accentuated by the strobe lighting. Lights hung down, on the walls were UV pictures, weirdly lit by moving lights. Groups sat huddled on the floor.

I should have left. I should have found my way out of the labyrinth of sheds and warehouses, all joined by sheeted corridors, and gone to a hotel, alone, until I could catch the train back in the morning. That's what I should have done.

But instead, a pill was pushed into my hand.

'I'll look after you,' said Matt, and I knew he would. Slimebag as a boyfriend, solid as a friend. I shrugged. Why not? One day this would just be a memory. Maybe I'd enjoy it. I put the pill in my mouth - it looked like a small paracetamol - and swigged from a bottle of warm, shared water.

Instantly, I regretted it. I wondered if I could get away with going to the toilet and spewing it up, but Matt was smiling wildly at me.

'You'll love it,' he said. His friends arranged themselves on cushions against the wall and one of the women patted the cushion next to her.

'Should be good,' she said. 'These are from my mate in Amsterdam. Said they're amazing.'

I nodded. She looked at me. 'You all right?' she said.

I nodded. She looked at me harder. 'This your first time?' she said.

I nodded. She grabbed my arm.

'Oh my God, your first E. I'm so jealous. There's nothing like your first E. Have a fucking wonderful night,' she smiled and kissed me.

I sat, awkward as I always was in groups, wondering that if I went to the toilet would everyone see me go? Would they all watch me? I didn't know what to do. I watched everyone else. I watched them fall into each other. Matt joined me and took my hand.

'You're okay,' he said. 'Do you feel anything yet?'

I considered. I was bloody terrified, but wasn't about to admit it. I felt my heart rate start to pick up.

The music changed. It got stronger. I could feel it inside me.

Colours got brighter. I turned to tell Matt and saw his eyes, huge and deep, dark and beautiful.

'Wow,' I said.

'Wow,' he agreed. 'Want to dance?'

I shook my head. I had a fear of dancing in public. Since primary school, when I'd been awkward and gangly and as far out from the in-crowd as it was possible to be, I'd been laughed at once at a disco. I struggled on, at disco after disco, watched others intensely to see how they danced and tried to copy their moves. I was laughed at time and time again. I smiled when people told me to 'cheer up love'. I tried to move the top half of my body as well as my feet, and in the end I gave up, aged 15. I stopped dancing and sat down, or went outside for a fag. Dancing made me feel awful, in a nutshell.

'You need to dance,' Matt said again. 'Trust me.'

At that point, everything began to go weirder and weirder.

'Try to relax,' said Matt.

I shook my head. 'I can't,' I said. I felt myself curl up.

'Let your shoulders drop,' Matt said. I looked around me and tried to un-hunch my shoulders. They were rigid.

The place had filled up. The music was... it was amazing. I could feel every single tiny sound within every single bar of music. People danced, everywhere. I was on my own with Matt, I suddenly realised. Where had our group gone?

My face began to feel funny. I didn't know how to hold it. My heart started to bang, uncomfortable, a bird trying to escape from my lungs. If I shouted, would it fly out?

'Jen, dance with me,' Matt said.

I didn't want to but I didn't want to stay sitting down.

I got up.

I didn't know what to do with myself and the colours were swirling around me and the music was inside me and everywhere I could see people talking, close together, swaying, dancing, holding hands, hugging, moving as one great big breathing organism.

And suddenly, I knew I was part of it. For the first time, I knew I was with other people, not alone in a crowd as I usually felt. I was together, in the same beat, as everyone.

'Relax...' Matt murmured in my ear. I tried really hard, and dropped my shoulders. I felt myself begin to move. I felt the music fill me up and I felt myself as a part of this whole pumping dance floor, one person of many, one cell of many, in colour, seeing the music in the smoke, feeling my hands moving all by themselves, to the ceiling, wayyyyy above, touching the air and feeling it in my fingers, being hugged by someone from behind and swaying into them and dancing to their beat and moving their way, then moving gently away and moving in my own way and the colours got brighter and oh my god, who knew dancing could be like THIS?

Matt never left my side. He laughed with me, seeing my delight, his face wide with love and joy and his eyes huge and bottomless. I wanted to tell him everything, but at the same time I could see that he already knew, so it was all right.

'You're a great little dancer,' said the woman I'd sat with earlier, whose name I didn't know but it didn't matter because I loved her as I loved Matt and I could see they loved me. And I knew that I was a great little dancer. All this time, I could dance. I could dance and dancing was the most wonderful thing in the whole world and I wanted to do it all night long. I felt my body move in ways I'd never imagined. I just gave myself to it, and felt different parts of my body respond to different parts of the music. In one section of music was a whole world of movement.

People shared their water with me. I hugged and spoke to people, I walked around to try dancing in a different place. Matt came with me. He took me to the loo every now and then. I knew we'd be friends forever. I made seemingly hundreds of new friends. I spent hours talking to someone about how they gt the scar on their wrist, listened to a long and amazing story, only to realise we were still in the same song and we'd gone into some new time frame, where love made the rules.

Everywhere we wandered, people were friendly. There was nothing frightening about this, not at all. Everyone was looking after each other. There was no alcohol and therefore no violence. Everyone there was together. In many ways, it was incredibly beautiful.

We drifted and danced and sometime later, the colours began to fade.

'Do you want another half?' said Matt, and we shared another tiny paracetamol-thing.

Lifetimes later, when I was sore from dancing but unable to stop, we noticed the light had changed. It was greyer.

'Time to go,' said somebody, and I wanted to cry. But I was aching in entirely new places. I felt empty but full of love and goodness and joy. I was entirely relaxed. Matt and I laughed along at life, held each other up and climbed back in the car.

Somehow, going home, there was much more room. We were all softer around the edges.

I should have stayed home that night. It was risky, I was afraid, and I didn't really know what I was doing, who I was with or where I was going, or what I was taking.

I shouldn't have gone.

And yet, what would I have missed? Lifetimes of dancing in one long lovely night. Connections, meeting people in different places, in different parts of themselves.

I never felt shy about dancing again. Matt and I are still friends. The woman was right, there never was anything like my first, and after a few more attempts, I gave up. I have since danced on tables and bar tops in a variety of countries. I dance often and wildly, and I never, ever worry about what I look like. That fear, with me beforehand for fifteen years, never came back. The connection I found was something magical and I've discovered since that if you look at people, you can see that depth anyway. You just have to know how to look. And you can feel that connection any time you like. You open your own door, and people will walk right in. You don't need the drugs. I wouldn't touch anything now, anyway and I rarely did again.God knows what awful chemicals things are cut with nowadays. I don;t even know the names of drugs now.

Illegal or not, dangerous or not, that night a door opened. I was shy, awkward and totally lacking in self esteem. I was afraid of letting go; I was afraid of people's opinions of me, especially in the way I moved. I didn't trust my body; I didn't trust my heart. I was closed off from so much of the good stuff in life. That door needed to be opened. If it took a drug to do that, well, so be it. I would hate to still be the woman who was too afraid to dance.

Perhaps I should have been more careful, all those years ago, but I'm very glad I wasn't.