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Mackie's Back

I love my light therapy box. It makes every day a neurochemical beach party, where cabana boys are always serving up coconuts full of serotonin (with paper umbrellas), the sun always shines, and the tropical breezes are always sultry. Goodbye, struggle and drama, hello, Feeling Chill all the time.

I also love having a clearly defined focus of where to put my love. It is much easier and less tiring to invest all my romantic and pair-bonding love in one person, instead of having to spread it around because many people wanted tiny nibbles of it. I prefer one big Yes to tons and tons of little leaky-intermittent switches.

And I love having known people long enough to know who they really are. As much as anyone can know anyone. By now, I know my community. I know what makes them tick, I know many of their secrets, I know why they act the way they do and what motivates their behaviour. Kinda. Enough to feel like, “I've got your number, buddy; you can't pull anything over on me.”

Aaaand I love being familiar enough with an art form that I feel it is my own, familiar enough that the “art” is starting to disappear and I'm not “doing anything.” More and more, I'm just walking, I'm just hugging, I'm just standing around, I'm just feeling. No “dance” there!

I was in the perfect place to stage a communally mind-blowing epic return to the stage I had abandoned. I was ready to go to a milonga, for the first time in a year, the second time in two years.

I was poised in a state of mellow stability that would give me exactly the benevolent detachment necessary to wade back in. I don't know why that night I decided to dive back in to the world of milongas, when I could just as easily have gone to a talk about marmosets. Maybe because it used to be my native habitat, because I missed dressing up, because I am a social being who likes to be around other people, because I wanted to see friendly acquaintances and listen to music and be part of something. I may even have wanted to, gasp, dance.

I was ridiculously excited. My heart bounced around. I got out of my pyjamas and put on a dress and my eyes sparkled. When I arrived, I skulked invisibly in the front corner. Except my invisibility cloak didn't work.

The Blonde came to me, kissed me, and welcomed me back. I was cordial and, while it was nice to see her too, didn't think much of it, until a few minutes after she left. My other mental shoe dropped and I realized, “hey—a few years ago, if that teacher had even given me the time of day in a social setting, I would have thought myself the biggest It Person ever, wow, so-and-so said hi, I must be very important! Now...she's just a person, on her own journey, just like me.”

The Sound Healer came to me and welcomed me back. She was as Slavic as ever, real, unshy of talking about how life really is. Such a woman. I was mentally sighing with admiration when....

I heard a voice that my ear would involuntarily pick out of any crowd, anywhere, any time, a voice like dry leaves, a voice I had assumed was six thousand miles away. I needed to throw up. Right there. On the Sound Healer. She would understand, if I pointed to the Ex who had materialized behind her, talking to someone else, my damned ears instantly silencing every other sound.

Fortunately the moment was brief. I managed not to retch, a settee caught me in my need to sit down, and the Sound Healer's conversation came back into focus. ….After she left and I staggered, shaking and jittering, to the bathroom to recover, I wondered why this had happened. I was so over him. I hadn't seen him in two years except for that one fleeting moment at the milonga of a year ago, and then, I had been fine. We had both pretended we couldn't see each other, I felt nothing, and all was well. Why wasn't I fine now?

I decided this was like the nerve damage from my C-section. The baby is now seven years old. But I can still be walking down a street and suddenly be knee-capped by blinding pain in my cut, stabbing fireworks out of the blue that make me fall to the ground. That doesn't mean I'm not over giving birth. I'm so over it. It's so in the past. But bodies remember pain, impersonally. I remembered what the Turk had said: “maybe you could work on being ok with not being ok.” The floor gradually stopped careening and my head stopped spinning.

I sat for an hour, shaky and jittery, but I think it was acquired agoraphobia from spending too much time locked away in my ivory fortress of solitude. It was also cold, or at least, I rationalized to myself that it was cold.

People were sweet to me. The Supporting Cast Member came by and was warm, appreciative, and welcoming-back. The Other Supporting Cast Member came by and was just the same. I huddled in my long coat and crossed my arms and made myself small, but they came anyway, and they all seemed genuinely glad to see me. I was not expecting this.

The Black Swan was there with her Italian. I was glad she was there. Old people are more fragile than young people. Young people, like who I was two years ago, can sail into a milonga alone, collect tribute from adoring fans, and sail out, as I used to. But old people need protection, support, security. Old people need help. And emotionally, I felt as old as Methuselah. I had seen so much of life. I had felt so much of life. I had loved so much of life.

I watched the Italian watch his Swan like an anxious hen all night. That story's not over, I thought in my driest tones.


The Guitarrista came to me and clapped me in a Duchennes hug, thorough, heartfelt. Our delight at reunion was mutual. “I came with the Russian Doll, but we are just friends! We came as friends. She's not my girlfriend any more. It's so great to see you! What are you doing here! ….I have to dance this dance with the Russian Doll, I promised her, but we are just friends. We'll talk later!”

After he left, I investigated my feelings for dropping shoes. I was thoroughly happy to see an old friend. I was amused, thinking that if I had heard that speech three or four years ago, how excited I would have been, how my heart would have leapt, and how utterly now I did not find the speech personally applicable. And I was smug once again, wishing I could send a picture of this moment back to my baby self of years ago, as a promise that one day, I would be so much of a big girl, not only would my back-then status-symbols be coming to me thrilled to see me, but I would be completely calm about it, because by the time that day came, I would have seen through all of them.

I watched the dancers. There were plenty of people, a representative roundup of all the usual suspects. Some familiar faces, and some stock figures now played by other bit-part actors. There was the same quota of 20-something Asian sylphs with perfect bared midriffs and careful embraces, the same assortment of aging earnest beginners, the same bunch of young people who thought they were dancing nuevo, and here and there, a few people who could actually dance.

I was pleased and stung to admit that other women were ably assuming my role of Fascinating Style Icon and they looked great. Nobody is irreplaceable, not even me.

I was pleased and not stung to admit that while everyone else had stayed the same, I had changed, for the better. My eyes were more compassionate now. I saw that everyone was meeting the evening where they were. It didn't matter to me any more that people were not connecting, were not hooking up to the Thing, were not assuming alpha states. It didn't matter to me any more that the music was tone deaf, the men's posture was terrible, the women didn't know how to say yes to themselves, and the clothes were often...well.... Let's just say, I didn't take any of this personally any more, and I used to. They're all where they need to be, and they're all getting their own experience out of this evening, I realized. I was released from having to care, and it felt free and light.

Finally I could just enjoy myself at a milonga, instead of stressing and fretting.

A hand on my shoulder. Firm, large, hearty. An incontrovertible hand.

I looked up. At Ex.

“Hola Jordana, how are you doing?”

How could such a person possibly ask me such a question? How dare he be standing here? What made him think that I wouldn't punch him in the face? He had a lot of balls, that one.

My brain locked down, much the way rabbits freeze when they know they've been spotted by predators. Somewhere, my limbic brain was saying, “if I don't move maybe he'll think I'm dead and go away.” He stood, looking, waiting politely, while I blinked and gaped. A thousand images ran through my head much the way a bug's body runs through its head when it hits a windshield. I knew I had to answer. I even knew my line, because it's in An Affair to Remember: “and all I could say was, 'Hello.'” But all I could do was blink. Five million years of my suavest, wittiest, most urbane blinking.

Finally I mentally kicked myself. He comes in peace. He's not going to bite. And the sooner you answer, the sooner he'll go away. I mustered up this gem:

“I'm fine, thank you.”

He smiled, relieved. “Good! Fine is a good answer. I am fine too.”

And then he disappeared back into the crowd and I blinked again, wondering what just happened back there, realizing that I would never know and that trying to figure it out was a waste of time.

The Russian, one of the four Russians with the same name, a respected community backbone who had never danced with me except once during a class under duress years ago when I was a baby, and who had indicated back then that the experience made him suffer, sailed across the room toward me. Even though I was still huddled in my coat and crossing everything I could possibly cross, he most kindly asked me to dance, and I realized, this was the perfect re-entry to the big scary dance floor. Someone kind and sincere, whom I respected, and with whom I had zero chemistry and therefore nothing to worry about. I said it was a relief to see a friendly face, he said it was his pleasure to serve, I felt myself still jittery and awkward and unused to all this stimulus, and I did the best I could. I had always assumed that a woman with a big dance like mine would overwhelm his fragile, starchy embrace, but that night I realized that anyone who (like he) was married to the Fox must be used to women with character. I have no idea if he enjoyed the experience or not but he was pleasant and civil and I felt like now I was really back.

The Tiny Hunchback sat next to me and we communed. “Many people in the tango community just have these relationships that come and go and disappear as if they never mattered,” she said a propos of nothing, mystified. I knew what she meant. I had never understood such blasé affaires du coeur. For me, relationships are like getting involved in a land war in Asia. They would probably hurt a lot less if I could be like these people who appeared not to care. But if they didn't care, what was the point? And perhaps they cared more than they let on...but I'd never know, because these weren't my lives to live....

I danced a bitchin' d'Arienzo milonga with my dear old buddy el Arquitecto, who had just arrived to spend one single week in the States with his long-distance wife, the Biologist. We were like happy rats at play, scrambling along on our four legs. Our dances had always clicked with one another, even though personally, we had nothing to say to each other, and I couldn't help feel it was a little gross that he was about 35 years older than the Biologist. He had suddenly gotten old in the time I'd been away, the way grandparents do one day when you're not watching them. But our musical understandings still aligned harmoniously. We could still sacar una viruta en la pista. We could still show them what the word “tango” meant.

The night wore into the wee sma's, a many-veiled parade of friends, chatting, satin-clad bottoms swishing by, the Indian's incessantly pounding music like water torture dripping into my skull, and old patterns revisited. I felt alive again. I felt like myself again.

Only better, because after the floor stabilized and the jitters subsided, I realized that from here on, things would be different. Better. Safer. Happier. “This is a toxic environment,” the Mother's Helper admonished. And I realized can be, if you are in the wrong place in your own life and head. Then, yes. But if you're in the right place, and have that essential touch of distancing, that degree of remove, then you can have a pleasant evening and leave feeling energized and glowingly rosy.

“La vida es una milonga, y hay que saberla bailar.” (Sciammarella) A milonga is like life. What you get out of it depends on what you bring to it.

I think I will bring my light box and my long-distance lover to more milongas!

Ella sings Mack the Knife, Stockholm