It was early 2010 and due to a series of whimsical and rapidly escalating remarks, I found myself in Piccadilly circus. Specifically in the queue for Tiger Tiger, my upper body swathed in the enormous shell of my winter jacket and my legging-clad pins poking out the bottom, comically small beneath the polyester mass. A boy from my halls had sold my friends tickets, and they’d gotten one for me as well. Navigating the hapless streets of central London as the sweat from the crowded tube ride cooled on my forehead, I was the first to spot the club, the facade smaller and less gregarious than my American companions were expecting.
As soon as we queued up, two boys sidled up to us (pardon my manners– us is me, my American friend Kelly, and another American girl I’d just met called Emily) and in the most roundabout and English way aired for a favour.
‘Pardon me, would you mind awfully, if it’s no trouble, could we maybe– it’s these damn ratios, can’t have too many chaps, you know, they like to fill the place with birds until you’re positively gasping for a bit of fresh air…might we queue with you? We’ll be no trouble once we’re in.’
I linked arms with one of them (he flinched, surprised, no doubt an affront to his English reserve) and smiled brightly at him.
‘No sweat. You’re with us,’ I told him, and fished out my ID for the bald, cranky bouncer. I oversold us as a group– fervently insisting the bouncer acknowledge us as one cohesive unit, and led my small party inside. They hung around for a bit until I asked one where the restrooms were and he chuckled (English men only chuckle– never snort, guffaw, roar, or otherwise demonstrate an unseemly level of amusement) and corrected me.
‘The toilets are up there,’ he said, using the cocktail straw from his £8 Jack and Coke to illustrate his directions. When I returned, he and his mates had gone off.
I enjoyed my night at Tiger Tiger. It was one of the clubs that only stayed open until 2, so we crammed our fun in as quickly as p o possible. A slew of English boys night us shots from the nubile shot girls. A group, no doubt celebrating something, had come decked in body paint, glowing under the backlights of the club. I had a drink in my hand and my purse slung across my body. I’d checked my coat and was dancing near the bar, waiting for my friends to get served. The leader of the body painters came up to me and watched as I danced. I stopped, took a contemplative sip from my drink and waited.
‘Why do you look so sad?’he asked, a question I get asked much too much. Without any real response, I said nothing and took another sip from my drink. A moment passed and neither of us said anything. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed that looking at me was enough for him. I liked that I didn’t have to explain myself and it was fine. I liked that he could share an observation and I could absorb it or leave it and it was okay.
‘I like your face paint,’ I finally said.
‘Thanks. I like your face,’ he replied.
I smiled, took another sip, and walked away.
The thing to know about Tiger Tiger is that it’s complex. It has twists and rooms and levels, and each one is a bit different. In one of the adjoining rooms, our friends from the queue found us dancing. One of them started dancing with Emily, as Kelly stood moodily along the wall. I was sipping my drink and finding the beat to some ridiculous remix when I felt Emily’s dance partner rub up against me. Placing his hips against my butt, wee started dancing. His instinct was to lead but from years of a heavy diet of reggae, I was following the off-beat. He feel in line with me and we danced for a couple tunes. Having no grasp on this boy’s devastatingly ambiguous sexuality, I want sure if our dance was sexual or for kicks but I wasn’t bothered.
The club started emptying at quarter to two, and I wanted to use the toilet before the long trek home. Again I found myself queuing with the boys from outside. The other one, the minorest character in this whole memory, finally spoke. He told me about the trouble he’d been having with his boyfriend, and how hurt and confused he’d felt. His troubles were so outside my realm of experience I could do nothing but listen and sympathise. He said something to me, a side remark, during the course of our conversation that stuck with me all these years later. I have no idea how much of it he meant and how much of it was empty flattery, but he said ‘you’re too beautiful to have ever had your heart broken.’ I clung to those words (do I tell a lie? Is clung right? Or would I be more honest in saying I cling still?) because it felt like a buffer. I’d had my heart broken already, and I’ve had my heart broken worse since, but I remember him saying that to me because it has given reason, however illogical, to those heartbreaks. It makes them feel, even though infrequently, sometimes like they didn’t happen to me. They happened to a lesser version of me because I am too beautiful to be hurt.
I think I was right the first time– I clung to those words, for a time, but the heartbreak has grown too large to escape, even in a memory. So I think what it boils down to can be summed up in one of my favourite quotations: ‘You’ve been running a long time not to’ve gotten any further off than mealtime.’
I’ve been running from heartache since before that night in Tiger Tiger, but it’s still right here with me.