|"Give it another shot," I told myself. The last time I went to
a dance, my date ditched me for the guy who used to beat me up in grade
school. That was freshman year. Now I was going to try it again. She was
a sophomore from Timothy Christian. I know that these fix-up-with-a-friend-of-a-friend
things never worked out well, but this time it would. It had to. She was
a sophomore, she’d be happy to go with any senior. Right?
And so to the dance we went. There’s always that experiment, some scientist, somewhere, is reading about it, is writing about it, is attempting to perform it. Take whatever life form, transplant it into a completely alien and hostile environment, and see if it will survive the experience. If it is still viable. See if it can swim. I was part of the experiment now.
And so to the lab we went. Transported in a metal cage, gray-green, four wheel drive. Here we are, Timothy Christian. We went inside, myself, my brother, his girlfriend, and my date—what was her name?—the fix-up, and paid our admission fees to the man in the white lab coat. Inside, congregated in the hallway, were those little groups. It was like a field of icebergs, splitting apart, joining, shifting and drifting. Our alien icebergs joining their icebergs. The two which were my brother and his girlfriend—they roped me into this whole mess—split off and were assimilated into a larger one in the center of the hallway. Then my fellow iceberg split off, disappearing beneath the pounding surf, leaving me hanging, cold and alone, in the hostile alien world of the lab. I tried (yeah I tried like hell), to latch on to any shred of solidarity, of acceptance, of hope, in this frigid world that was not my own. Scrabbling for a handhold I slid down this sheer cliff, grabbing at everything, touching to nothing. It was at this moment I saw the entire night before me, all its dark secrets spread as if a meal on the table of the Devil himself; I could see exactly how this night would turn out. I would end up ditched.
Eventually the men with the white lab coats surrounded us all, and ushered every iceberg into the cafeteria which was now the dance hall. In the darkness and the pounding bass of the music the icebergs were shattered from around our bodies and we were human once again. "All right, we’re here," we agreed, myself and the fix-up, "let’s just enjoy it." So we tried. I couldn’t dance. She couldn’t dance. Not to this music, at least. So we waited for a slow song. One came, we locked our arms not so much around each other as around what was not ourselves, scarcely touching, and we danced a stiff, mechanical dance. Two machines responding to stimuli in the darkened lab. Step forward. Right. Back. Left. Repeat. She said something about the song. She said when the song was written, it had to do with the writer’s lover being struck by lightning. "It killed him.", she said. "Oh." I said. It was the most meaningful conversation we’d had so far.
It was almost over before it began; the DJ decided he didn’t like that song, and put on more of the undanceable stuff. We retreated to the wall, leaned against it, and I guess things just weren’t working out. I looked down, at my feet, at the checkered pattern on the floor; it wasn’t a lab, it was more of a chess board. I looked up, and she was history. The ditch was official. Right now they had the strobe lights on, I looked around the room, the strobes were taking narrow slice after slice of time, piling them, one atop another, into a nearly incomprehensible blur. "Taking the integral," I mused to myself. I could be studying for my calculus test right now. I could have saved myself three bucks.
Now I made my way to the far corner, slumped against the wall, and slid down it until I was sitting on the floor. I watched from here, the dance, the patches of light from the spinning mirror ball that scurried like rats across the floor. They were running, running from the strobe lights that threatened to take their integral, from the scientists who were running this experiment. I wished at this moment that I could curl up, folding inward upon myself until I disappeared from view, from the strobe and the rats it had frightened. Chris. That was his name, and he was the one to welcome me to this far corner, this segment of the wall for all the folks whose dates died / moved to Florida / disappeared without a trace / dumped them / ditched them. "Welcome to the Loser Wall." Here were just over a half-dozen others, the captured and discarded pawns of the chess game that raged on this checkerboard floor. We talked, shared our woeful tales, commiserated over the deafening roar of the music. The DJ announced that he would now play the last song.
"My Heart Will Go On." "My Heart Will Go Under." The perfect way to finish off this night, after the iceberg scene in the hallway, I thought to myself, the theme from "Titanic" would be a fitting end. Next to me was another member of the Loser Wall society I had not noticed before, she turned to me, and asked me if I would have this last dance with her. It was almost as if we shared an entire lifetime in those few brief minutes; it was as if we were not two separate players but one and the same. Guys don’t cry, that’s just one of the rules of the Guy Code. My throat burned, my eyes were not dry, but I’m still one of the guys. After all, the room was dark. (Guy Code Rule #2: It’s like cheating on a test—it only counts if you get caught). That last few minutes made the entire night worthwhile, worth the three bucks, worth the calculus test I’d bomb for not studying. Checkmate. The experiment had been a success.