I hate feeling trapped. I sit on the aisle, scope out the exits, break into a cold sweat when the doors to an airplane shut. I like being incognito, stealthy, slipping out of parties and relationships on the quiet. I know it's time to go when I feel the walls closing in.
And that was exactly the feeling I had when the oncologist told me I had cancer. As he went over my options, I felt trapped, no escape. It was time to face the music.
No, not death. House music.
Let me explain.
I grew up on my older brothers' classic rock. It was the '70s. "Houses of the Holy," "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy" and "Hot Rocks" filled my impressionable ears. By 18, I was hardcore. My first boyfriend was a Deadhead—200 shows. I was sold. Garcia was God.
Then college, and that guy in flannel and a dockworker's hat who changed everything. He took my rock and roll soul and smashed it on punk rock.
I got married, moved to New York City and spent weekends listening to jazz at the Village Vanguard.
What followed was a divorce and a lot of sad indie music. Along the way I dabbled in reggae, metal, funk, rap. But never house music.
And then it happened. Pushing 50, two weeks away from a mastectomy and at the wedding of an old college friend. My ex was the best man. This was to be the first time I'd see him since our divorce. I sat at a table that faced the dance floor and tried hard not to notice him there with his family, not to see his hand on the small of her back as he ushered her through the crowd to an open space on the floor, his other hand holding his son's. It's these little gestures that an ex should not have to witness, that weigh down an already heavy heart.
I was sitting alone, my table of odd singles having dispersed, and planning my own exit when a handsome stranger sat down next to me.
"You look worse off than I am," he said.
"Buddy," I replied, "you have no idea."
The stranger revealed that he was clinging to the dying embers of a tortured love affair. We had an instant rapport—suffering can do that for people.
He asked me out. I told him I was scheduled for a mastectomy. Waited for the reaction. None came. He just hoped I would be OK. And he kept in touch, inquiring about my health and mentioning the possibilities of movies, dinners.
Three weeks after my surgery, with the expanders in my chest feeling heavy, I received another offer. I looked at my war-torn body in the mirror and decided things couldn't get much worse. Go on a date, I told myself. You may learn something.
What I learned is that this guy was into house. As our friendship grew, grateful for his compassion and acceptance, I still couldn't get my mind around the music. As a loyal Deadhead, I frowned upon the techno age, these kids and their new fangled ways. For me, house DJs weren't musicians, they were computer programmers. During one of my "in my day music was" rants, he invited me to experience house for myself. Not in a house, he explained, but in a convention center: 20,000 people, international DJs. I worried that I would feel trapped. And worse—really old.
The plan was to arrive at 3 a.m. I was counseled to get some rest before departure. I was also told there would be stimulants to help keep my energy up if I so chose. After all the chemo and dilaudids, I was hardly afraid of a drug called ecstasy.
We showed up way past my bedtime and, like Alice, I drank the potion and fell through the rabbit hole. What followed can only be described as mind-blowing. I stopped looking for the exits and wondering how long it would take to get through the hoards of people. Instead, I felt safe. I told anyone within earshot, "I love this music." My heart and the beat were one. Who cares if it was the drugs? I danced. I danced until the sun came up and then some.
And as I walked out into the daylight, I felt I had danced away all the sadness and pain of the cancer.
Sure, when I woke up the next day I felt like someone had dropped a bag of concrete on top of me, but it was worth it.
I got it. I felt free. The DJ had saved my life.