You’re free to dance here.
I know you think dancing got you into this whole mess. You danced, laughed, stayed out too late.
And then the unthinkable happened.
This time, however, and all the other times since then that you’ve gotten up and went out and sang and opened your mouth and drunk the wine and gone home swaying in the arms of the people you love, you’ve tasted what it means to feel that you’re alive. And that feeling of life is overwhelming in its lightness, especially after coming so close to darkness.
You see, seven years ago I was assaulted on this night. Last year was the first time I wrote about it publicly. If you want to read the story of everything surrounding the assault, you can do so here. But after pulling it out of me in a way I can only describe as cathartic, to retell it again, here, would only feel stale in my mouth. I can let my story continue speaking while I move on and focus my feeling and attention elsewhere. Where for instance? Celebration.
This time six years ago, after confiding in my roommate and hearing her parallel stories, we had a great idea. We were the self-proclaimed masters of the themed party. And this was late-college, the time when pun or sweater-themed social gatherings feel novel for newly-minted legal drinkers. So why not another one?
She said this one would be called “Ain’t it good to be alive?” in celebration of our state of alive-ness after the harrowing, unwelcome assaults of our past. This, the core meaning of the party, would pass as a shared secret between us. We had survived, we were alive, and we were young and foolish and self-aware. In a kind of ritual borrowed from past parties we cut out large letters from magazines and pasted the theme on the wall of our small living room. “Ain’t It Good To Be Alive?” spelled in all caps would truly be the centerpiece of our party. The details of the night remain hazy, but I won’t forget what she gave me in that idea and its manifestation: to celebrate is proof that you are alive, that survival is about more than simply having cheated death.
The March 8ths since have made for loud re-tellings bitter and emotional and somber, as well as quiet evenings spent alone in forced forgetfulness or bleary remembrance of this day. After last year, marked with such a public declaration of my living secret, I feel freer, lighter—though no less aware of the event’s effect on my life. For a long time I felt like something was truly stolen from me. Peace of mind. Safety. The evolution of healing, it must be noted, never moves in a straight line. But I gained more than was taken. Shortly after the attack I hardened in defiance, and in that learned the power of anger. I transformed and crystallized my experience into artwork and writing, finding power in expression. After its initial settling I grew accepting of the trauma, of its certain harsh truths. Then resilience, of what one can do in spite of these truths. And then it simply became a reminder; a reason to continue enjoying myself, to laugh, share stories, dance. In short, to live.
I’m now residing in a place now that actually celebrates today officially. It is International Women’s Day. The physical evidence of this holiday is mostly flowers: bouquets wrapped in brown paper and carried upside down on trams for safe transport to mothers, wives, colleagues, girlfriends, and friends. The other clues are warm embraces, and some eye-rolling over the nature of the day. But like Mother’s and Father’s Day, it is an excuse to celebrate. And rather than the bitterness I’ve felt in the past over the irony of the day to me personally, I can almost feel the presence of my former roommate and our shared secret, her knowing smile at what we had survived flashes across the crowded party. I can turn today into a party if I desire, a wild coincidence of dates and places. And here I am, in full bragging-rights of living in this area of the world I’ve been drawn to since my first whiff of it. I still have to pinch myself. I still feel bolts of lightning run through me telling me: “Hey! You live here!” Why? Because it’s so good. Here I'm following my path; this time in a supportive, loving, creative community; one that I’ve sought my entire adult life.
What will we do in this community today? In this collective absorption of artists, teachers, writers, actors, activists, business owners, dancers, poets? Well, work, of course. Free-lancers, teachers, and the self-employed rarely go a day without working. Some of us will be marching at a demonstration. Some of us will be buying flowers, hugging, sending sincere messages, celebrating each other. And after that? Well, my very best friend’s band is playing a concert. And after? The re-opening of what I consider the core of this community, a teahouse, a čajovna, a cornerstone of magic in the everyday to so many here.
So what will we be doing? Well; eating, drinking of course, hugging, bull-shitting, talking, connecting, and staying up too late.
And dancing, we will be dancing; each of us, I hope, capable of feeling that it’s good to be alive.