Grieving on the Dance Floor with a Total Stranger

Grieving on the Dance Floor with a Total Stranger

By Robert Kingett


Because sometimes a total stranger can be just the person to help you through the pain. 

By Robert Kingett

Robert Kingett is a syndicated columnist in Chicago. His column, “Pass the Salt,” details dating adventures.

My body is gyrating to the music blaring from the giant speakers in the packed house. My moves don’t quite match the music, but I keep on dancing because I am incredibly lonely, and I am here to satisfy some desire I can’t get rid of, let alone identify.

The music takes my mind off friends who’ve lied about how much they care about me. The happy couples dancing remind me that the shooting I was at a week before, where two college students died on Chicago’s North Side, has not affected everybody. People are still alive in my world. The people dancing beside me are way better at it than I am, and possibly carry less baggage than I do, but I am a man who does metaphorical things because I read a lot.

When the dancing stops, I make my way through the party to meet and greet various people of various statuses. There’s a guy who’s in a relationship, but he’s here because his sex life is dull, and besides, his husband will never know. Not to mention, they have an open relationship, because of course they do. There’s a lesbian who thinks I am straight and asks me what on earth I’m doing at a gay party. 

I am here at this party because there has to be someone who will not let me down. Friends have let me down so often in the past week that I figure going to bed with a total stranger might solve all of my problems.

My whole family was killed a few days ago, and so I figured the best thing to do would be to do the dumbest thing possible.

As I make my way into the kitchen, I spot a very tall guy in a yellow shirt playing with his phone at a table. I sit across from him, wishing I had a mobile phone to play with. His ebony finger massages the screen with such speed, I assume he’s playing a modified version of Flappy Bird.

“I figured you’d sit down eventually,” he says. “I’ve never seen anyone dance so much in my life.”

“I was dancing because, basically, I’ve had a bad couple of weeks and I just needed to let go of a few things in my life.” He puts down his phone and folds his buff arms on the table. 

“I hear you, dude. I came here because the same thing happened to me. My whole family was killed a few days ago, and so I figured the best thing to do would be to do the dumbest thing possible and go to a party where nobody knows me and I can be whoever I want to be.”

“Are you serious? Like, shouldn’t you be in mourning right now?”

“That’s the thing. What if I don’t want to grieve right now? What if I want to be somewhere where nobody can see me even though I am standing in the same room as them?”

“You’re weird,” I say, and he laughs. I don’t know why I feel the urge to treat him like any other person, why I’m not saying I am sorry for his loss, but I get the sense that isn’t what he wants or even needs right now. Mark introduces himself, and soon we are connected by sorrowful chemistry. Losing his mother and 8-year-old sister in a drive-by shooting on Chicago’s South Side is so much worse than friends letting me down, so we figure what better thing to do than make the worst jokes possible. We joke about the nice things people say but never mean at funerals. We joke about religion — he’s an atheist too — and the afterlife, but we do not joke about the dead. With so many dead police officers and fellow members of the LGBT community, somehow this seems like the best kind of medicine we can give each other.

Then Mark asks me why I am single and I tell him I have no idea.

“Why do people always say you will find the one you need if you just do your own thing and never look?” I blurt out. “Sounds like a poor excuse. Maybe there really is nobody out there.”

“I disagree,” Mark says, fixing me with his intense brown eyes. “There’s someone out there for everyone. You just have to try a little more. You know?”

“But if I try, I’m not doing my own thing, right? I’m searching. Isn’t that what people always say we shouldn’t do?”

“Some people, yes, but you have to understand that there’s a personality type for everybody. You just have to be aware of that and keep your eyes or, in your case, ears open.”

“Do I have fat ears?” I ask suddenly. He comes over to me, holding me close as he studies my ears with mock intensity.

“Nope. Your ears are cute!” Then a slow song starts and we look at each other.

“Since we bonded by making fun of funerals, do you want to do something normal, like slow dance?” he asks.

“Sure!” I say. He guides me into the living room. There are non-dead couples dancing beside us, swaying to the song that’s playing. It’s about some guy who ran over some woman’s dog, but she still loves him. We dance, Mark’s arms wrapped tightly around me. I feel as if I am his life support tonight. The longer the song plays, the tighter he holds on to me. Just as the song is about to end, I feel something wet hit the top of my head. I think it’s rain at first, so I don’t react, until I lean my face up to kiss Mark. When I see the streak of tears on his face, I take him into my arms and wipe away his tears as another song fills the room. He doesn’t need to say thank you. His embrace is enough.