I met Nick because his friend Sam was courting my friend Kyla at the University of Puget Sound. Sam is a little drummer guy with a pompadour hairdo and black plastic glasses. It’s a good look for him and he’s been sporting it since at least 1993. I’ve seen photos. Kyla is a wonderful heartbreaker. They met at Spanish conversation hour, one of Sam’s weekly girl-meeting spots. The relationship only lasted a couple of weeks, but as a result, everyone involved are still friends.
Kyla was one of my four roommates. Living in a three bedroom house from the fifties, our common space was the kitchen. Everyday we’d hook up a boom box and dance to mixed pop CDs for hours– mostly top forty from the ’80s to the ’00s. We loved to dance.
On Friday night, Sam invites Kyla to Nick’s house for a dance party a couple of blocks away. She’d been to one of these parties the week before, said the music was different and the guys wouldn’t bother us, so Erin and I tag along.
We start the night at the Chemistry Club Party. Erin and I joined the Chemistry Club because we thought it’d be really cool. It turned out to be nearly as so-so as it sounds, but they throw great parties. The big hit this time are flaming Dr. Pepper shots– mostly amaretto with a Bacardi 151 floater so you can light them on fire. Inspired, the next fall, we buy a bottle of Bacardi 151 to try and light all of Erin’s 21st birthday drinks on fire. Her birthday is near Halloween, so we buy a cauldron and dry ice and try to make a steaming, flaming witches’ brew. It doesn’t work and the brew tastes awful, but at least nobody gets sick. There are dumber ideas.
That Friday, we have our fill of flaming shots and move on to Nick’s house, a triplex called “The Squire” on Alder Street. The landlords generally rent to UPS students and it’s a college squat. We follow the music, entering the courtyard from an alley. The Squire has a concrete patio with a couple of abused couches and a fire pit. We step through the sliding door and into a small, dim room. Ten or twelve guys spread into the space. Sam sits at a drum set in the corner playing along to vinyl. Different guys seamlessly take turns throughout the night to drum or dance.
The rhythm is intoxicating. At the time, Nick is into Brazilian pop à la Jorge Ben and lot of funky soul. We get right into it, taking up our own space and stepping into the dance. It is an understatement to say Erin is a spirited dancer. I’ve walked in on her gyrating around her bedroom to an earphoned mp3 player, cheeks flushed and soaked in so much sweat it flicks off her hair as she moves. It’s weird and hilarious to walk into that in silence. At the Squire, we’re hooked into the music. Erin’s shaking and I’m moving and Sam’s drumming and mostly we can’t see much of anything because it’s dark.
At some point I do remember seeing Nick buzzing up his own circle. And for a moment, I watch him. He feels music through his whole being, dancing mostly from the waist down. His feet glide with grace and his hips carry the baseline. His torso stays upright, strong through the core and lifted in the chest. He has roots in Ukrainian dance. At one point, he drops back, putting his hands on the ground behind him to kick his feet like the Russian dancers in the Nutcracker. He holds the floor.
I don’t think I spoke a word to Nick that night. We were content on our own.
I see Nick again a few days later and we meet for real while practicing handstands in Sam’s yard. It’s sunny in Tacoma and everyone comes out to play. Nick has a freshly shaved head. It intimidates me. I’ve never seen anyone so confident in their own body. While the rest of us walk from place to place, he cruises away on his long board, doing his own thing.
We kept going to “The Squire” to dance and Nick and Sam started coming to our little red house too. They were game to wear costumes and dance in our florescent-lit kitchen and we were happy with our new friends.
Nick sent us all away for the summer with mixed tapes. Erin and I went to UC Berkeley to take Physics and Calc III and live with my grandmother in Oakland. I dropped out after a week, but kept up the charade as if I was going to school everyday from 8AM to 4PM, so we could keep staying there and Erin could finish the classes. I spent my days walking from Oakland to Berkeley, listening to a walkman and reading Virginia Woolf. Whenever my grandmother asked about school I told her it was great.
I went back to Tacoma in the fall and found Nick sitting on his porch. After a summer of working at the docks, he was golden with sun-kissed hair and skin and an easy smile. I fell for him right there. We spent our first day together scouting the neighborhoods for Italian plums and blackberries. We filled baskets of fruit, sliced it on wooden planks and made jam and pie. I spent the night at Nick’s house and didn’t go home for the next eleven. We’ve been together ever since.
I danced at Nick’s party nearly eight years ago and that may have been the best decision of my life.
I feel like this is the beginning of a very long story.