by Annabeth Leong
I had recently separated from my husband, and a big thing I wanted, not just that night but with my life, was to go dancing.
The moment that led to my divorce happened at someone’s wedding. The DJ started playing Justin Timberlake and Bon Jovi and it made me want to join the party. My husband wanted to keep sitting at the table, and he wanted me to stay with him. I was bored and frustrated, and I guess something had slowly been breaking in our relationship, because I stood up and left him there. I kicked off my shoes at the edge of the dance floor and air guitared to “Livin’ On a Prayer,” jumping up and down until sweat soaked through the sides of my dress and I could hardly breathe.
It took a couple months after that for me to actually leave him, but when I did I started going out. I’d married young enough that I was perplexed by the scene I found. Who knew that shit doesn’t really get going at the club until midnight? How are you supposed to deal with that when the trains stop running at one? What do you do with your purse? How do you let someone know when you want to dance with them, or when you don’t? What do you do when you start dancing with someone and you get a feeling like a punch to the lower belly because there’s something so exciting about being close this way to a living person that it’s like your clit is trying to crawl out of you and jump them independently?
Christ, it was messy. It had been almost a decade since someone really hit on me, and suddenly I had people telling me they thought I might be the one, saying they wanted me to have their children. At what age did guys get so intense? The last time I’d been a free agent, the big question was whether I did anal.
And I wanted to go dancing, not just that night but in my life. I felt like I was having a second adolescence. Please, for the love of God, don’t tell me you think you’re falling in love with me. Tell me you know where there’s burlesque. Tell me you know where that good DJ is going to be, the one who knows the difference between goth-y noise and stuff that’s danceable. Tell me you want to try nipple clamps. I had spent so much time thinking about nipple clamps that just the words made me tremble.
I went out that night because Femme Bones had posted on Facebook that her new burlesque troop, the Slaughterhouse Sweethearts, would be performing at this club downtown. I wanted to support a maybe-friend, and I wanted to see breasts, and I liked the way the Sweethearts could turn you on and make you uncomfortable at the same time.
Much as I wanted to have fun in my new life, I still felt like I was missing a manual. The club was right next to Fenway, where the Red Sox play. Before my divorce I would never have dared to drive there, but now there I was in wild gridlock on Yawkee Way, dressed like a schoolgirl, shirt way unbuttoned, lipstick a shade of plum that made the whole thing look obscene, trying to figure out how the fuck anybody parks while there’s a baseball game, and wondering if I ought to just give up and go home.
I circled the club several times, shaking, clock ticking. Finally, I found street parking and went in. I discovered this wasn’t just a burlesque show—there was also dancing. I hadn’t known, but I went with it, purse tucked awkwardly against my body while I tried to move (where the hell are you supposed to put that thing?).
Gradually, the building filled. The challenge of dancing with too much floor and too many lights focused on me gave way to the challenge of dancing without accidentally clocking anyone with my elbow.
Then I looked up and smiled and waved, chest warm with recognition. My body reacted the way I do when a dear friend walks in while I’m having a sad day. I was flooded with relief, the sense of finally being able to let go of things I’d been holding in. Refuge. Sanctuary. The pleasure of being yourself with someone who can do the same with you.
It took a few seconds for me to realize I didn’t actually know that guy I’d just waved to. He was coming toward me, though, invited by my smile and my gesture.
We danced until his friends made him leave. I kept thinking maybe I shouldn’t do this, maybe I wanted to just dance tonight and not get into any romantic messes. I really wasn’t looking for a relationship, or even a hookup. On the other hand, I couldn’t shake that feeling of goodwill I’d had when I first saw him. I liked him so much. We were doing sexy things, sure, and that was working for me, but there was that powerful sense of friendship underneath it all, like we’d known each other forever.
He asked for my number before he left, and I sort of wanted to refuse him, but I was afraid that if I did he would think I didn’t like him, and I couldn’t bear that, because I did.
It was that way for months after that. I kept thinking I didn’t really want to be dating someone. I probably shouldn’t see him again, I’d decide. But I liked him so much I’d tell myself I’d just do it one more time.
I don’t want anything serious, I told him. I’m getting divorced. I want us to have fun together, not plan for the future.
That sounds great, he said, and he was the only person I’d met who knew how to be with me without applying pressure.
I did think he was hot, don’t get me wrong. But things didn’t click when we went to bed. The blow job technique that was at that time driving other people wild made this guy lose his erection. On the other hand, he had a way of thrusting that kept me from feeling him any of the places I wanted to. We struggled to settle on a brand of condom we both liked.
The thing was, though, we figured all that stuff out. Then we started checking out the nipple clamps. Then he caught me one day with the porn I’d always been ashamed of, and his nonreaction to it healed me more than I’d thought possible. And I think what was going on through all this was that the liking was good. It made us able to talk about anything, and the thing about sex is it works best if you can talk about it.
A few years later, I married him. I’ve never liked living with anyone, but I like living with him. People say marriage should be based on friendship, but this is a friendship I felt right away. It was so instant, it had the sense of something resumed. In my spookier moments, I’ve wondered if past lives are real and he was some sort of dear friend before.
After we got married, I realized, partially thanks to the way he encouraged me to really be myself, exactly how serious my attractions to women are, how my sexuality seemed to be changing. Fuck, I thought. Don’t people always have to ruin something? Here’s a person who accepts me like I didn’t dare to dream of, and now I can’t be with him because I think I might be gay.
And I did think about leaving, because I really felt I might not be interested in men anymore. I wanted to be fair to him, and to me, and I cried every morning because I couldn’t imagine living my life while suppressing my attractions and I also couldn’t imagine living my life without him.
We’ll figure this out, he said. This is what marriage means.
Christ, I thought. Is it? That sure as hell wasn’t what marriage meant before.
We’re polyamorous now, and our sexual connection has changed but it’s still there, and I still like him just as powerfully as I did that first moment, at first sight. All that stuff I felt was true. He is my refuge, my sanctuary, that place where I get the pleasure of truly being myself. I hope all the time that I’m something similar for him.
And if the music starts playing, literally anywhere, he is the first on the dance floor.