GIRL IN THE PIT
I met a girl. She died in the pit. Rest in peace, Jill.
I saw her as soon as I walked in. Reddish brown hair, green eyes, freckles, button nose. Her left arm was a forest of tattoos, different types of brightly-colored flowers growing around trees with meticulous lines in the bark and deep roots that stretched down and wrapped around her wrists. Amidst these woodlands was the small face of a man in a cowboy hat and bandana covering the lower half of his face.
She was about twenty feet to my right, standing alone in the center of the club’s floor, sipping a latte from a “World’s Greatest Teacher'' mug resting on a matching saucer. She finished with a flourish, licking the rim around the cup clean. She tucked the cup and saucer into her cloth canvas bag with the words “Normal Human Items'' printed on the side.
I looked at her. She turned to look in my direction and I looked away, shifting focus to the gathering crowd in their cut-offs and Doc Martens. A woman with a mohawk in a black sports bra laughed at a friend’s story. A man in leather and spikes from head-to-toe sipped whiskey from a tiny straw. A couple in matching white undershirts and black eye make-up shoved their tongues down each other’s throat, pausing only to smile into each other’s eyes as they caught their breath before going back for more.
I looked back at the woman and she did the thing I just did, looking away as if she had not been looking at me.
Or did she? Only one way to find out. Play it cool. Think of something interesting to say. Edging closer to her, I noticed she was on Duolingo learning some foreign language with a different alphabet.
“What language is that?” I thought of asking her. I held back. Maybe looking at someone’s phone over their shoulder was not the best way to convey that one is a cool and interesting person. Not too charming to announce yourself as a nosy creep right from the jump.
I inched closer, casually browsing Twitter on my phone, looking for any news I could share. I found nothing. The world had turned boring when I needed hilarious chaos the most.
I put my phone away and looked at the hipster couple behind her. “Do you know what song this is?” the girl asked.
“No. Do you like it?”
“No, but it sounds familiar and it’s going to drive me crazy if I don’t figure it out.”
The boy opened Shazam and held his phone up in the air. The app could not get a read on it because of the humming crowd noise around us. The girl tried with her own phone and failed.
“Do you know what song this is?” I asked the beautiful stranger.
“No. Do you?”
“No. They were just trying to figure it out.”
“Oh, are these your friends?”
“No. I’m just emotionally invested in their journey.” The hipster couple looked at me like I had just waved a gun around and walked away. The beautiful stranger laughed.
“Excited for the show?” I asked.
“Yes, very. You?”
“Absolutely. Been waiting a long time to see them.”
Her name was Jill. She was a yoga instructor learning Greek on her phone because she was going to a retreat there in a week. The conversation flowed like a good first date. We discussed TV shows, movies, books, and the people around us. When the topic came up of avoiding standing behind the tallest man at the venue, a guy who could easily pass for an out-of-shape Eastern European Basketball player, she mentioned a giant ex-boyfriend who looked cartoonish on his motorcycle. “6-foot-4, God knows how much he weighs. A big boy.”
Was that a bit of yearning I heard when she mentioned him?
She told me she went to concerts alone a lot because she liked to be in control of the experience. “I just hate when you’re out with someone and they want to sit when you want to stand or they want to leave early and you’re not ready to leave. You get it, right? You’re here alone.”
I was there alone because none of my friends liked the same music as I do, so I nodded and said, “Totally.” I was smitten. I wanted to know everything about her. I wanted her to tell me more about the people at concerts that bother her. I wanted to know about the coffee she was drinking. I wanted to know the story of the little face tattoo.
The lights dimmed and the opening act started. The band didn’t know what it wanted to be. The music sounded like a Skinny Puppy B-side but the vocals reached for the emo rap of Kid Cudi but fell far short. The whole performance was done in darkness, with minimal lights on the stage. The singer seemed shy. He barely looked at the crowd and did not interact.
It was forty minutes of auditory torture in which Jill and I bonded over enjoying something we deeply disliked. “Sometimes it’s fun when things just suck,” she said.
When that band ended its set, I headed to the bar and asked, “Can I get you a drink?”
“I don’t drink.” She said it with the intense tone of someone who quit drinking for serious reasons.
Guess I won’t be drinking, either. I went to the bathroom and came back with a cup of water.
We talked about horror movies and musicals and found that not only did we both love the two genres but have the same favorites: “Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3” and “Grease.”
The lights went out. The headliner started with a roar from the singer. The drums kicked in, double bass throbbing. The dual guitars clashed, echoing through the club.
The crowd transformed. We had been hundreds of individuals standing around, looking at our phones and occasionally each other, making small talk and wondering what the person we were with was thinking. When the music started, we became a single entity, swaying to the music, gently bumping shoulders with the people on our sides and tapping our chests against the backs of the people in front of us. As the seconds passed, the physical movements became more aggressive. A violent urge rose up from within us. The gentle swaying became rougher. The bumps became shoves.
Our feet lifted from the floor on their own accord. The beat of the music was a puppeteer, lifting us in rhythm as our bodies jostled for space, for a better view of the show, for a better view of the people around us who had gone from non-entities to a part of us to finally, mortal enemies.
A circle opened in the center of the crowd. Men in black t-shirts, the sleeves ripped off, ran around the circle, swinging their arms to push people further back from the ring they were building. The number of men grew. The circular marching became more difficult as more bodies took up space. The men pushed and hit each other harder. Their numbers grew. Women joined them, moving toward the erupting anarchy. The struggle for space grew fiercer, less in tune with the music, more personal and uglier.
The circle of flesh soon pulled me into it. Wet, sticky, sweaty bodies threw themselves against mine. I felt their sweat mixing with mine and splashing on my face. I tasted its warmth and bitterness on my lips. The tension in their muscles became the tension in my muscles as we moved to the music together, every inch of our bodies colliding as we morphed into a single unit.
I looked for Jill. Where had she gone? Was she in here with us? Did she feel what I felt? What all of us felt? Was she also chasing this connection and oneness?
Yes. I saw her jump and lunge forward, tilting her head back as she did so, a jungle cat leaping at its prey, her fist pumping the air as the drummer hit the cymbals.
I moved toward her but just as soon as I had seen her, she was gone, once again drowning in the ocean of people and music.
The singer stopped to introduce the band and thank everyone. Midway through his mispronouncing of the name of our city, we heard the first scream. It was a deep and internal shriek, the sound of voice was trying to scream its way out of a body.
As suddenly as it happened it was over. The singer cracked a joke about the interruption. No one laughed. A new circle began to form. People moved away from the center. I pushed forward, squeezing my way through the crowd without apology.
“Jill!” I yelled the name like I had known it my whole life. I kneeled at her head. Her eyes were closed. She wasn’t breathing. I leaned over to do CPR. Before our lips could touch, she took a deep breath. Her eyes widened. She looked like she had been shot with adrenaline right in the heart.
“How should I know?”
The music started again. The circle around us grew smaller and smaller. I squeezed her hand and tried to pull her up with me. She pulled me back down to her. “No.”
“What? You’re hurt! We need to get you out of here.”
“No.” She grabbed my shirt and pulled me down so our faces were nearly touching. “This is where I need to be. You understand.”
Yes. I did understand.
I stood up as the wave of the crowd reached us again. I walked backwards into it, away from her and back to the bodies, rocking back and forth in unison, one mass of moist human skin, fat, and muscle. We were all exactly where we needed to be.
Alex J. Barrio (he/him) is a political consultant and progressive advocate living in Washington, DC. He is a Cuban-American who grew up in New Jersey and spent most of his adult life in Florida. He can be found on Twitter for poetry (@1001Tanka) and fiction (@AlexJBarrio).