It’s the fall of 1990. I’m a miserable 18-year-old college freshman, home for the weekend, yet again. I’ve made the 1 ½ hour drive from College Station back to Austin as I’ve done pretty much every weekend since school started.
I’m despondent at A&M, missing home desperately, completely out of my comfort zone and choking under the pressure. I have nothing in common with anyone there – they are NOT my people. I DON’T fit in. During the week I don’t go to my classes, too intimidated by those huge rooms filled with strangers. I spend my days hiding from my roommate and her friends, waiting for Friday, when I can finally pack up my laundry basket with dirty clothes and head back to my big fish-little pond scenario at home.
So now here I am back in Austin — comfortable, safe, laundry soundly deposited in the utility room of the house where I grew up. I wrote a hot check for the new outfit I’m wearing tonight – a black miniskirt with matching vest. My mom would be furious if she ever found out, but I tell myself she won’t. Priorities, you know.
My close friend Big Boobs (a name chosen with the greatest of irony) and her best friend The Pretty One (not ironic at all), are my companions for the night. We started with a quick crawl of Sixth Street but eventually made our way to the warehouse district – winding up at a popular two-story club called the Lizard Lounge.
My sole purpose of the night was to get drunk with my friends and dance all my troubles away. And so far, that is exactly what I’ve done.
We’ve spent the night on the dance floor, the three of us, taking only an occasional break to catch our breath, have a cig, let the boys of the night buy us drinks. (We’ve always considered that whole legal-drinking-age thing to be more of a guideline than a rule.) The music’s been great tonight; the D.J.’s clearly got a hard-on for the alternative stuff, largely ignoring the big hits of the day and favoring older tunes from Depeche Mode, Erasure, New Order, Yaz – all my kind of stuff.
Before I can say “Another Sex on the Beach, please” it’s 2 A.M. and the D.J.’s voice comes over the speaker – Last Call. There’s a quick swarm to the bar, and then the crowd begins to thin.
Big Boobs has disappeared with one of her admirers, probably making out on one of the gross couches downstairs. I have no idea where The Pretty One is.
I’ve successfully ignored my main suitor for the night, who finally gave up and left with his buddies and my fake phone number. Now I’m standing alone on the balcony, overlooking the dance floor, waiting for my friends to find me. I’m still a little drunk, and spent from all the dancing. Really ready to go home. I look around at the few patrons still left in the club – mostly couples, a few passed-out stragglers resting on benches. All of them are smashed, sweaty, tired.
Out of nowhere, a rare moment of clarity hits me – This really isn’t my life anymore. I need to move on.
The last song of the night begins to play, a song I’ve never heard before, and within the first few notes I’m taken in. It has an almost entrancing quality; the voice is almost a plea; the lyrics are… dreamy. It’s kind of the perfect closing song for a night like this.
I glance down at the dance floor again and there’s just one person left – a very tall, very skinny guy in tight black jeans and a loose white shirt, doing the strangest dance I’ve ever seen. His eyes are closed, arms flailing, body writhing – it’s a really peculiar but somehow striking, graceful movement.
I stand there, looking down on this strange, beautiful man, mesmerized by him and the music he’s so obviously FEELING. He makes ME feel it, too, and I sway along with him, even though he can’t see me and wouldn’t even if he could – too lost in the music.
I make my way downstairs and approach the D.J. to ask what the song is – something I’ve never actually done before. The music’s still loud, so instead of telling me he just holds up the album cover for me to see. It’s a pinkish, ethereal-looking cover; the singer’s name is Sarah Mc-something. I make a mental note, but I’m still a little fuzzy. I won’t remember it tomorrow when I go to the record store to try and find it. McLaren, maybe. Or McLaughlin?
The song ends and the skinny man exits the dance floor. My friends finally find me, and we all head home. In the car, they chat animatedly about what fun they had, how great the music was, how cute the boys of the night were. I sit in the back seat alone, quiet, thinking about the dancing man and the song and my life.
The girls drop me off at home and I let myself in the front door as they pull out of the driveway, still babbling to each other about the evening. This night hasn’t been much different from any of the other countless nights I’ve spent on the town with friends, dancing and drinking and dancing some more. But somehow, as it ends, I know this one will always stick with me.
And it has.