The first time I see you, I am alone in a nightclub in Amsterdam, in a bathroom with my hands on either side of a sink. I am trying not to throw up. Even muted, the whole space is pulsing to the harsh synth beats, and only the single, swinging door holds the chaos at bay. It is fresh, my fascination with the dark, rusty seduction of techno music, and all night I have pulsed, pulsed, pulsed. Somehow between one beat and the next, I have lost the very friends who brought me to this underground space.
So I am breathing in and out in small gasps, thinking of the music and the lights, and the way people dance, when I see your arm peeking out from under a stall. I almost decide to ignore you – almost. But something about your curled fingers, the nail polish so pink against the scuffed beige floor, disturbs me. I rap your door a few times. No response. Girls in ripped jeans push in and then out again. I squat down to peer underneath the stall door and there you are, crumpled around the toilet. You are lying in a white crop top, long blond hair tousled over your face, and I notice you have been sick over yourself. A thin, wet trickle hangs from the corner of your lips.
“Help!” I yell and begin dragging you by the arms, through the tight gap, out of the bathroom with its too-bright walls. You moan with every awkward movement. A man with slick hair comes to help and together, we heave you onto a couch beside a metal door. Your eyelids flinch open and even in the dim light, I can see how your pupils, so large and black, glisten like round pebbles. I wonder what drugs you are on. This is the first good look I have had at your face, and I realize you are older than I initially believed, older than I? Even then, you are disarmingly beautiful, your face heart-shaped, blond-haired, long-lashed. You cough and murmur something in Dutch. “I’m sorry, I can’t speak Dutch,” I say.
“She wants to know your name,” the man with slick hair says. I tell you, and you close your eyes again, quiet for a while. The bouncer is standing quite close, his face as smooth as the distant moon, and he looks at us, but does not say anything. Here in this slice of Amsterdam nightlife, there are house rules. Taking photos is forbidden, as is wearing heels. It is to celebrate the release of dance, the doorwoman explained as she took my euros. Around in the darkness, I can still feel the motion of bodies flinging themselves joyfully around to a beat that repeats.
You shudder in my lap and open your pebble eyes, and begin speaking in lilting, accented English. You tell me about the village outside Ultrecht where you live, and how you have always loved to run. You tell me about staying with a man who hated you for seven years, because you were afraid being alone was worse. You tell me everything, everything that hurts, and soon I am shuddering too. The words spill out of you in long spools, like the tears that collect first at the corners of your eyes, then leak down into your fine, knotted hair.
The man with the slick hair who has helped me carry you begins rubbing your legs up and down in a manner I do not like. I push his hands off you. A smile that does not quite reach his eyes fans across his lips, and he leans down to whisper something to you in Dutch. I stroke your cheek and hiss. It is too hot, burning even in the pressing humidity of the club. I tell the man to stay right here, and I tell you to stay right here and I sprint to the bar, where the bartender pours me an ice-filled glass. Minutes later – I am sure it was minutes – I return and still there is the smooth moon face of the bouncer, avoiding my eye, and still there is the metal door that is now gaping open, revealing slices of the chilly, dark night, and still there are your shoes scattered beside the couch.
The man with the slick hair is not there, and neither are you. You, my responsibility, you with the blond hair and the heart-shaped face, you whose name I never asked, you are the one I will desperately search the sour canal streets for, hours later. Six months pass and I am still so sorry, still do not know how to forget the moment of horror crashing when I returned with a glass of dripping ice to find only your shoes left, the straps swaying in the breeze of the open door.