How Our Shoes Turned Black

I somehow found myself squeezed into a bike shop in Providence around midnight, dolled up in black tights and a short grey skirt, hair twisted and pinned back with bobby pins. I was surrounded by the kind of people I might be today, had I made a few different choices a few years ago. Unshowered, with self-made haircuts. Bicycles piled outside, tattoos along their calves, food stamps in their pockets, recipes for vegan french toast. They all smiled and introduced themselves to people they didn’t know (myself) as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Five minutes earlier I’d debated just going to bed, slipping away somehow, unnoticed.

Ten minutes earlier I’d been in the backseat of a car with the windows rolled down, the icy December wind tearing through my little grey skirt and thin black tights.

Twenty minutes earlier I’d been sitting on the floor of a taqueria directly in front of five large speakers as some large bearded guy named Chip wailed on his guitar. Ever the square adopted friend in social situations, I wondered if it was rude to plug my ears if they began to bleed. The whole floor was vibrating with sound. Depending on the chord played, the sensation isolated in my calves, thighs, spine, or heart, which would stop beating for a few seconds to resume with a heavy thud. This struck me as kind of awesome.

And much, much earlier that day, we’d been at the bike shop, to, you know, look at bikes. We’d ridden a few around the block, the wind in our hair. I hadn’t been on a bicycle in years. It felt like driving a car for the first time: that same thrill of just growing up. Growing up has been mostly boring for the past few years: it’s made me miss high school, to be honest, just for the drama.

“That’s my stalker!” my pretty friend said. “The lead singer! Man, it’s weird to see him sing. I just know him as my stalker, you know?”

Oh, by the way, a band was playing. In the bike shop. At midnight. Presumably they had started much earlier, because they only played one more song before they disassembled and two DJs took over. My pretty friend disappeared into the crowd, and I was left surrounded by strangers.

“So,” her roommate said. “How’s your Providence experience? You guys went to some local awards show, right?”

“Yeah. That was mostly crap.”

“I thought it might be.”

“Hey, you could have warned us!”

“Yeah, well. I thought I was warning you. By explicitly not going.”

“Ah.”

“So what else do you want to do, while you’re in Providence?”

“I don’t know. Have the classic Providence experience? I’ve never been here before. I’m just kind of going with the flow. Following her around.”

“Oh come on, there must be something you want to do. It looks like this party’s wrapping up. We could go to a few bars, or hang out at someone’s place and watch a movie, or . . . I don’t know. You don’t have any preference?”

“No, honestly. Just . . . going with the flow.” I congratulated myself on my incredibly sage and zen response, even as I realized how I hate it when other people say the same to me.

“You can’t think of a single thing you’d like to do?”

“Nope! Just, whatever you guys do.”

“Huh.”

We stared into the distance.

“Okay, so, maybe I wouldn’t mind if . . . there was some dancing.”

Which was approximately when, for no good reason, a dance party began in the bicycle shop. I say “for no good reason” for many good reasons: the music was terrible repetitive electronica (you’re a freaky boy freaky boy, you’re a freaky freaky freaky freaky boy freaky boy!), the beer was gone, and almost everyone had already left. Some of the lights began to flicker back on. And then suddenly, a group of people were dancing, and the lights flickered right back off. My pretty friend came flying out of nowhere and grabbed my wrist.

“Adrianne!” she cried. “Come dance with us!”

“Wao! Okay,” I said.

Three hours later, we still hadn’t stopped. My pretty friend had found a pretty boy, who kept a pet rat named Moose (or Reindeer or Stag or something) in his front pocket. I had discovered that if I closed my eyes and moved my head around enough, I didn’t notice the crowd and could actually dance like I wanted to, which apparently involved a lot of stamping and lurching around. It was a revolution in my mind, and no one else was invited. Meanwhile, five guys and one girl all humped each other in the middle of the dance floor, and a tall middle-aged man in rubber boots and a pastel blue furry fedora cried “WOOOO! WOOO WOO WOOOO!” (At one point I made eye contact with him: he pointed at the space in front of him and motioned: “EH? EH?”) The owner of the bike shop was wearing a suit and elf ears, and his date might have been an exotic dancer. I wound up unintentionally dancing with her: closing your eyes while you move around can get you into humorous situations like that.

You’re a freaky boy freaky freaky freaky you’re a freaky boy freaky boy!

I swear to God, this song was like five hours long. People had spilled beer onto the floor, and now they were drunk enough to slip in it, land right on their backs. Two girls pulled themselves back up, laughing, only to discover they were covered in black liquid gunk. It was all over their hands and arms; they embraced and it smeared on their shirts. Bicycle grease. Later that evening (earlier the next morning) we’d discover that our shoes were completely covered in it, so that my friend’s tan converse sneakers looked like two beady eyes. What the hell is that, she would say. How did this happen.

I had destroyed my knees. All that revolutionary stamping had made me unaware of the more subtle nuances of pain, so that when we tumbled out of her roommate’s car around four in the morning I could barely walk. I crawled on all fours up her staircase, moaning about my old age, how I’d inherited my mother’s joints. “Oh, you’re not old, for chrissake,” her roommate, who is perhaps two years older than me, grumbled. “You’re young and spry, okay?”

Meanwhile my pretty friend and her pretty boy, with the white rat with a name twenty times his size, were in the driveway kissing for the first time. He’s a good deal younger than her — out of high school, but just barely — and she’s gotten some crap for it, but she would later tell me how she could feel his heart racing.

“Do you remember what that was like, to be that age?” she would ask me. “Just holding his hand, giving him a hug — every little thing makes his heart go boomboomboomboomboom . . .”

“Awwww. I remember,” I said. But I was thinking of the bicycle ride, other forgotten thrills.

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