I Felt Like Dancing (A Short Story)

beach-silhouetteBy: Derek Hobson

I’d known Jackie for about eight years. I’d tell you he was a normal guy, but I don’t gravitate to normal. Jackie had anger issues, although I never asked him what from. He would react defensively to certain comments and then pout for (more or less) the rest of the evening. It prevented him from enjoying some genuinely fun times.

Several times, I tried to sit back and observe Jackie’s behavior and maybe see what sets him off; what comments; statements; what have you. I found no through line. The best I could manage was that when he snapped, it was because he was in his own head. It was on the occasions where he was really quiet – not disassociated, but talking less than “normal.” Something would be said and that’d be the turning point. I’m convinced it was due to something he was thinking about.

No one else seemed too bothered. The rest of the group would refer to them as “Jackie fits,” a belittling term in an effort to pry Jackie out of it. It seldom worked, but always made his silence more noticeable.

However, anger was only one part of Jackie and there was a lot more to adore and love. He was creative. Not in a technical or engineering sense; his creativity couldn’t be measured in art, technology or academia, it was better served as ideas… and it got us into some bizarre situations.

One time, we were hiking along the tide pools – bare foot, I might add –which proved to be ridiculously painful. We had no destination in mind, but all powered through. Then Max was hit in the head with a rock. Not a big rock, but a rock nonetheless. He looked up – baffled – and there was Jackie. He was ahead of the group holding an armful of rocks with a smile on his face, “Hey guys!” he said, before any of us could say a word, “Let’s play rock tag!”

Dumb? Yes.

Painful? Yes.

Fun-tastic? Absolutely.

We did our best to avoid faces (eyes and whatnot), but everything else was fair game. We were already in pain by walking on the rocks, but now there was the added element of urgency. We needed to move faster to duck for cover, get more rocks, or simply progress further. Shockingly, because our feet were already in pain, we used them to block incoming rocks – my toes were numb by the end… but it made dipping them in the cold ocean all the more rewarding; I didn’t flinch at all.

I got one rock in the groin. I folded over and used my back to shield me from the barrage of stones. Ooo, Sammy pegged me in the spine with one of them – that actually hurt… and totally took the focus off my crotch. You couldn’t stay huddled, you needed to fight back.

Truthfully, it wasn’t so much tag as it was us hurling stones at each other, but it was fun. It created a memory I wouldn’t forget – haven’t forgotten. We would never play “rock tag” again, it was very… in-the-moment. Present, you know? It’s one of those things, where, I can imagine if we’d tried to do it again, we would just be groaning in pain. It was just a crazy idea and it made the pain of stepping on sharp, pointy rocks… fun.

We parted ways for two years (college stuff), but reunited like we’d never been apart and things were good. In fact, his anger seemed to have subsided quite a bit. I wanted to ask if he’d… you know, been to therapy, but I felt it would be rude, like asking a magician what his secret is.

We were eating in a Chipotle when I first saw it. He’d offered to pay, which was great since I was unemployed (recent graduate) whereas he’d been steadily employed for nine months. He brought over the burritos and asked what I wanted to drink. He went over to get our drinks – fill the cups at the fountain that is – and everything was fine. Then, I saw peoples’ heads turn, someone laughed, and another few cheered. I turned.

Jackie was dancing.

Let me start by saying that Jackie is not a dancer. We did not go clubbing and if we danced it was fists pumping in the air and knees slightly bending.

Here, at Chipotle, Jackie was dancing and it wasn’t any particular form like salsa or tango, he was just bobbing with his whole body, swinging his hips side to side while his shoulders pumped up and down. He did several spins and twists and with each move he took our cups and pushed them under different fountain choices. It was almost like he was playing a keyboard: sprite, sprite, mountain dew; coke, Hi-C, tea, tea. He swung his head like Kevin Bacon in Footloose and his hair whipped all over his face. The drinks were overflowing – and I wouldn’t be drinking it – and his eyes were closed.

Perhaps the strangest part was that he wasn’t going to the music playing. There had to have been some sort of a tune in his head because it did not match whatever song the rest of us heard. And it totally didn’t matter.

This went on for maybe two minutes before he stopped, dumped our drinks and walked over to our table. There was some applause and comments from the patrons, but people quickly forgot and went about their business.

I asked him, “What was that?”

And he said very plainly, “I felt like dancing.”

Thereafter, sometimes I would catch him dancing at different moments, but the dancing wasn’t the strangest part.

The next time I remember it vividly is when I was living with Jackie and Tyler. I didn’t know Tyler well then, but he was a co-worker of Jackie’s. On his day off, we hung out and watched some shows, did some cooking – usual roommate stuff. However, it was in the middle of our Halo battle that Jackie burst through the door. Before we could even recognize him. He sprinted – not just ran – upstairs, hiking four at a time. We heard his door swing open and slam against the wall. Then, in an instant, he was back at the top of the stairs. I swear he thought he could jump them all. He leapt and tumbled down the last five. Tyler was already on his feet, ready to help, but Jackie was too fast, he used the momentum of his fall to roll forward onto his legs and them he dove – like some sort of parkour champion – over the coffee table.

Of course, Jackie is not a parkour champion.

He hit the end of the table, tumbling into the ground, the coffee table flipped, causing the back end to whip around and hit Jackie on the back of the head.

We pushed the table off him and immediately asked, “Are you alright?”

He looked up at us and his eyes were blank… almost like he didn’t know what was going on and said, “Yeah. I’m great.”

Tyler was much more vocal about the episode. He was upset that the table might’ve been damaged or smashed his Xbox. He kept prying in hopes of being met with a reason for this sudden action, but to no avail. He even brought it up again and again with me for several weeks afterwards; he jokingly said that he tensed up whenever Jackie came home, expecting him to do some crazy parkour stuff again. For the most part he didn’t, but like with the dancing in Chipotle, you could catch glimpses of it.

Occasionally, we would go for a jog and he would just bolt. He wasn’t competing, nor was he running from anything, but his eyes would narrow. The more we did it, the more I anticipated it. I would look over and see him staring straight ahead, eyes blank, and then he’d run; a mad dash to… who knows.

Sometimes, I’d lose sight of him, but I’d always find him again, out of breath, resting somewhere on the trail. No reason, just suddenly… envisioned something.

There are two more cases that I remember and they’re so similar and yet wildly different that I can’t help but laugh reminiscing.

One time, we were heading to the grocery store and there were a lot of people. I mean, I guess there’s always a lot of people on the sidewalks, but I remember specifically having to change my walking trajectory numerous times and we could hardly carry on a conversation without splitting up to weave around people. Different faces flashed by so quickly and I had just passed a bunch when I turned around – and I could swear to you this happened in slow motion – I turned around and saw Jackie holding a girl’s face, his hand cupped under her ear and fingers weaved into the hair on the back of her head. She was indisputably beautiful and they were locked in a kiss that seemed to make time stop.

Their eyelids were closed, relaxed, their cheeks red and the orange sunset lined their hair with an amber glow. Their lips were perfectly locked like jigsaw pieces. He had tilted his face to better match her lips, but she looked… lifeless, as though he’d just drawn her soul out. They pulled away and she seemed awestruck (lovestruck?), her entire face was at ease. No furrowed brows, no smile, nothing. Then, he smiled, said something and kept moving (towards me). She watched him, but to my surprise, only momentarily before continuing her own journey.

When he caught up with me, I asked, “Who was that?”

And he said, “I have no idea,” but contrary to other times… he gave me a little bit more, “but hopefully she’s having a better day.”

So how can something be so similar and yet completely different? I’ll tell you.

We were leaving a theater late at night and we were passing through a crowd when Jackie straight-up, punches a dude in the face. I kid you not. We were walking; this dude was just walking – he didn’t even look like an asshole – but I saw Jackie wind back his right arm and punch him square in the face. The guy crumpled in agony, howling in pain. Everyone stopped what they were doing. They all turn, blood is splattered on the pavement, his brief case popped open and papers are flying about. Someone is trying to help gather them while the one guy grips his bloody nose, getting his – probably important – documents bloodied and Jackie runs. Some say to stop that guy, another calls the cops, and the rest look at me like I’m guilty by association. In a panic, I run too.

I follow Jackie’s trail until the sun is down and it is dark and we’re both out of breath on a secluded sidewalk bordering a ravine and a little-league baseball field. I don’t know if cops are chasing us or not, but we are done running.

We waited there catching our breath, when he turns and asks me, “Did I just punch that guy in the face?”

If I wasn’t so out of breath, I don’t think I could’ve stopped laughing.

He shook his head in disbelief and after a few moments of shock, he started laughing. Then, I don’t know if it was the lack of water, the shock of the situation, or endorphins, but he said, “Sometimes I think my imagination gets the better of me.”

And I think that’s most telling.

I could almost see it when he was younger, angrier, but it cocooned and metamorphosed while I was away. Whatever that silence was, whatever was going on in his head during those times… it changed him, it was something different; it was the driving force behind his creativity. It was in his actions. I’m not sure what it was, but I believe his imagination has something to do with it.

Jackie disappeared a few weeks later. Gone. Vanished. Had not so many people asked me where he was or where he had gone to, I probably would’ve assumed I damn near made him up myself. But that was it. He literally disappeared. All his things were still in his room; his credit cards untouched. No word. They’re going to do a special on him on that TV series, Disappeared, but I don’t think he was murdered and he definitely wasn’t involved with underground gambling…

Personally… I think his imagination consumed him. I probably should’ve asked more questions, but I don’t even think he had the answers. Somewhere, in that silence, he was living in another world and I think, little by little, he wasn’t so much bringing that world to this one as he was travelling to that one.

I believe he’s gone for good and I believe he is better off.

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