“Do you want some of my water?” a girl with pigtails asks as she hands me her water bottle. A green glow stick floats vertically inside it.
“Sure,” I say. She compliments me on my sneakers as I gulp.
“Who did you come with?” she asks. The music builds. It gets louder. I move in closer, yelling in her ear.
“Oh, my friends. They’re somewhere outside,” I say, pointing to the opening in the wall. “Wanna come with me to find them?”
She takes the lollipop out of her mouth, her eyes wide, her pigtails bouncing as she nods. She takes my hand—and hers is warm—and we begin to sift through a sea of people.
We reach the middle of the main room, and the beat speeds up. That rumble fills my chest—it was always there, it had never left—but right then, as she leads me across the dance floor, it takes over. I kind of want to stop. And then she stops and turns around, and I realize I really want to stop. She lets go of my hand. We have found this place, our place, and decide to dance.
We dance for a minute. Or maybe it’s longer. I don’t really know, and I don’t want to know. She doesn’t either.
* * *
I look down at my palm; it’s warm and a bit damp, just like hers. She grabs my hand. And we walk again.
I see everything in the dark. But not everything makes sense. For some reason, this is comforting. And then she turns to me, and we lock eyes. I recognize her face from an hour ago. This relieves me even more. She points to the doorframe in the wall, and I nod.
I see the outdoor space through the frame, and it’s exciting. We walk through. Fresh air! I touch my temples and feel sweat on my face, and the cool air feels good.
We survey the pavement. It’s like a forest out here, all these clans scattered about. I want to wander.
“Where do you think they are?” she asks.
Oh. Yes. She has reminded me of what we set out to do.
I link my arm with hers, and I guide us to the right. Her upper arm is slick, and specks of glitter rub off onto mine. I look at the faces we pass, scanning the visors, the Jnco patches, the camo pants, the Shell-Toes. And then I see them: Ann and Ben and Todd and Krista and Aja and Rachel. Those faces that are familiar and warm, the ones I came here with, the ones who will see me walking toward them and grin, and will ask where I went, and will laugh playfully when I tell them, and will greet this girl next to me as their friend, too.
* * * * *
Directions to Twain Harte, California: check.
Super-smart phone with loads of music: check.
A carload of junglists: check.
A cozy house by the lake: check.
32nd birthday: check.
Last weekend, a crew of old friends went roadtripping into the woods, to celebrate the wedding of our friend, Rachel, and also to reconnect with each other. It had been too long.
It’s special, this group. I met some of these friends in 1997, a few in 1998, and more years later. In the beginning, we were 16, 17, 18 years old, from different schools, paths, and places: the city, the suburbs, and even further out. But when we congregated, after hours, we became the same. Or where we met made us the same: darkness, smooth and uniform and non-discriminating, had its way of doing this.
We frequented abandoned warehouses on 2nd and Jackson and 85th and Baldwin in Oakland; we partied in a massive empty space in the rear of the Home Base home improvement store on Hegenberger Road; we escaped the house music upstairs in the jungle room in the basement of Maritime Hall; we spent the wee hours in a dodgy flat above Burger King near the Civic Center; we danced to sets by DJ Dan in cramped Big Heart City when DJ Dan still spun records in tiny places; we lounged with other Happy Kids in a dark chill room at an ice skating rink.
This kind of darkness.
It was our scene: a nocturnal setting of green lasers, machines blowing smoke in the corner, neon glow sticks seemingly dancing on their own in mid-air, flimsy mattresses scattered outside, and the occasional yet intrusive whistle blown off beat. We were young, inquisitive, and malleable: lured by these elements, connected by a bold soundscape of cybertrance and jungle and breaks.
We bonded under particular, and sometimes peculiar, circumstances. We lost each other; we found each other; we returned with new friends; we expanded our circle.
And we found ourselves. Or rather, we discovered who we were at that moment.
And this moment? It wasn’t a single, concrete moment in time. Yes, there was an original moment, one from which all subsequent moments stemmed—a moment of discovery that we each experienced intimately, on our own, early on.
But there was a drawn-out moment—one that lasted years, for as long as we all swirled together, nourished through the music and the substances. The partying halted like a trainwreck, but in slow motion. As we came down, I tried to grab onto something tangible to take with me: a constant, or a totem from that world that made sense outside of it.
But nothing did. Instead, life happened: friends branched off into new circles, people broke up, and the world that we haphazardly created dissolved.
Today, it exists as an afterthought. A lingering sensation brought on by music. A blog post.
* * *
And so, I eagerly awaited this weekend, sharing a house with friends from this time. We cooked together; we played cards; we swam in the lake; we laughed at ourselves; we operated like a family. It’s intensely fulfilling: a chill weekend for a group whose shared past is one of excess and recklessness.
Those who know me know there was a point, several years ago, when I questioned my friendships born inside the rave—when I feared the experiences and emotions were synthetic.
I think it simply takes time, and maturity, and patience, and perspective to understand and accept things.
* * *
When I saw Rachel walk down the aisle with her father, statuesque and beaming, my eyes welled up with tears. I saw a youth and happiness in her face that reminded me of when we met, but also how we have grown into women. That day, I was able to resurrect something from that time, yet look forward.
I continue to ask myself what those years meant. I still don’t know, and I know I’ll never be satisfied with what I come up with. But there is a dimension in these friendships that is unique and still, after all these years, is hard to explain. And that makes me happy.
Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Blogger at Writing Through the Fog. Story Wrangler at Automattic.