BETTER THAN DANCING
I was on a bus for what seemed like hours heading down to meet my friend and a couple of her friends to go out dancing. When I got to the room we rented for the occasion it felt late, but it was good to see her. I liked the two girls she brought with her. They were changing and styling their hair. I asked the time because I was tired and she said 2:30 AM. My face must have contorted because she said, “I know.” I asked where the hell we were. Connecticut was the answer. Why the hell were we in Connecticut? She had only given me the name of the Metro North station. I hadn’t been paying attention, but if I’d realized it was all the way in Connecticut I would have declined. Why had we traveled so far out of our way, both of us, just for a reggae night? We had nothing against reggae, but we weren’t obsessed with it. “Don’t worry, this thing goes all night.” Everyone in her group seemed pumped. Like they go out at 2:30 in the morning all the time. In Connecticut.
She slid her baby into a sling on her chest. The baby was coming too. The baby was always up, so it didn’t matter. Outside we met another mutual friend I didn’t know was joining us, and that raised my spirits. She and I were catching up in rapid-fire Q & A’s and because of it we accidentally lost the group. She had the address, thankfully, and it looked like we had to switch onto another bus.
We bonded with the bus drivers on the new bus. They were in good spirits, and we soon found out why. There were three of them and they kept taking turns at the wheel. They were driving so fast it was kind of crazy. But it was a special night in the land of bus drivers, and for this crazy driving, they estimated that they had earned $15,000. It was some kind of citywide race. A bus marathon. Between prize money and tips from thrilled passengers, they would likely walk home with over $5,000 each. I had no idea this existed for bus drivers but I was pleased it did. I couldn’t imagine the state of Connecticut endorsing such a thing, and I was glad they had a secret.
We connected with the three drivers so well that we offered to help them count their tips. We were invested by then, and wanted to see if they really cleared $15,000. They took us up on it, and we soon realized that not only is counting other people’s money boring, but it was the middle of the night and we still hadn’t reached our destination.
Once we got to $15,000, we worked up the courage to tell our new friends we had to go. They weren’t offended in the least. They were happy there with their money, with or without us.
Unfortunately, while we were lost in the oatmeal smell of the cash, the rain had been coming down incessantly and before we could leave the bus, it was swept up, for the moment, in a flash flood. The river had expanded into the streets beside it and now we were flowing downstream in the choppy and wild waters. “Fucking Connecticut!” I said. But I could tell my friend thought I was being negative. She was having fun. This was an adventure! She didn’t know how many people die in situations like this.
We didn’t die. We were carried a block or two and then the water receded and we finally bid the drivers adieu. As soon as we exited the bus we saw a plaque in a park honoring people who had died in this river. I had a terrible joy of survival wash over me at the same time as I plunged into sadness at the fact that others didn’t survive. I tried to drown the joy down with the sadness because the joy was inappropriate, looking at these names, these real people gone from the world too early. The joy did get drowned, but it morphed into a kind of underwater dissonance, because it didn’t understand why it couldn’t be glad it triumphed over a raging river, the joy couldn’t. “I” could understand it, whoever the hell “I” am, but what use am I against streaks of feeling snaking through my pipes like confetti down the drain. Not much.
The dissonance soon turned into anxiety, as dissonance does. Now here we were soaked, the sun starting to come up, and we still weren’t at the all night reggae party. My friend seemed to be allowing her joy despite the list of names whose joy had ceased. I felt conspicuous in my negativity again. My friends, they could just be happy to party with babies in the middle of the night, or careen through the streets on once in a lifetime bus rides and survive flash floods by dumb luck, trudging through the streets muddy and wet with only the dim hope of a warm party egging them on. My friends could simply be alive in Connecticut.
I began wondering what is wrong with me. Why can’t I just surrender, like my demanding Speed Yoga teacher yells over her blaring Cardi B soundtrack. The soundtrack makes me feel older than I am, because I don’t waltz around with “girls on molly” too often anymore. Or ever. I attend damp gatherings in Connecticut, apparently. But in that context, I never complain. I just quietly wiggle my hips in my sexy downward dog. Obedient.
Sometimes in savasana my Speed Yoga teacher offers breathy monologues about cutting out toxic people from our lives. “Toxic people may not even be toxic to others. They are simply people you have outgrown, or have outgrown you.”
I wondered if I was still a match with these middle of the night in the suburbs friends, but my guts revolted at the thought of trimming them out. Or worse, being trimmed. So I shut up about my wet jeans chafing my thighs and tried to simply accept Connecticut. Connecticut on the inhale. Connecticut on the exhale.
When we finally arrived at the party, it was winding down, but my friend was rosy cheeked, reliving the bus-centric night we had to the others. The rest of the girls made it to the party without event and simply danced. They thought our night with the bus drivers and raging street rivers sounded even better than dancing. It was so exciting the way my friend told it, that for a moment I thought it was better too. In the telling, I did feel wide open and free.
Listen to Jess read "Better than Dancing" below:
JESSICA LEE RICHARDSON is a graduate of University of Alabama’s MFA program. Her first book, It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides, won the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Adroit, Joyland, New Delta Review, the Indiana Review, the Rupture, Slice, and Willow Springs among other places.