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  • cassieebrown

When You Do Not Keep Pace With Your Companions.

Around here, I dance on a blade’s edge—leftist brain with a farmgirl heart. White-collar job with blue-collar sensibilities. I always feel about a half a bubble off plumb.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. Maybe it’s a kind of sadness that keeps me from connecting, makes me hold others in abeyance. Maybe it’s because of my politics or sexuality or whatever ineffable quality allowed the boys at my school to feel okay beating me up in elementary school when they knew better than to “hit girls.”

I clean up okay: I make nice with necklaces and floral blouses at work. I wear ballet flats. But I prefer getting my hair cut at a barbershop with a black-and-white checked floor and a cigar lounge upstairs and a humidor that sells the kind of cigar I like.

I don’t hang around after I get my neck cleaned up with a straight razor.

At my last haircut, I listened to the man next to crack a joke about how funny it would be to get a hundred-dollar bill tattooed on his dick. He said it twice because it didn’t get a laugh the first time. The prodigiously inked barber giving him a trim obligingly agreed after he repeated himself that, “Yeah, man, that’d be cool.”

I tipped well over the cost of the cut, thanked my guy, and left after I admired the stylish new me in the mirror.

The face reflected back at me looked neutral, devoid of expression, and plain surrounded by the macho motorcycle ads and figurines of anthropomorphic hogs with facial piercings. I am short. I carry a purse. My face is nearly always naked of makeup. I don’t make that nice.

I don’t fit neatly anywhere, it seems.

Last night I broke in a pair of thrift-store hot-pink Doc Martens, occasionally dancing under a waxing moon in a dusty parking lot to a rock and roll cover band from St. Louis in the nearest thing to a real town. I wore a black trench coat, embroidered with large, lovely pink and gold flowers, and I missed my long, flowing high school blonde locks when I shook my head to “Back in Black.”

I cannot tolerate my hair in the length in between half-grown pixie and well-past my shoulders. Everything in between drives me bat-shit. I don’t live in comfortable middles. I find no comfort in moderation.

There’s an uneasy gift in being a misfit. It allows you to see the world eternally with both a sense of wonder and a degree of longing. And what is being a writer if not looking at things with love and fresh eyes? This is neither neat nor tidy. This is simply an acknowledgement that I can experience things and be held captive by them, or I can find their utility.

I nursed a little bourbon and coke under the moon.

With whisky, I threaded a needle between past and present. I recalled gay bars with drinks as muscular as the go-go dancers. I remembered the warm samples of bourbon at a distillery by the Kentucky River amidst deep green hills. I recalled a few long nights that an ounce of scotch was all that could get me past my terror of the nightmares that awaited me if I dared sleep.

I am lucky that I have always enjoyed whisky, but never struggled with it. With my genetics, and some of the unkind ways life stacked my metaphoric deck, I am rightly fortunate to have learned to savor.

I learned to savor the taste by sipping scotch in a cornfield about a mile and a half outside of Speedtrap with a few other precious misfits. We laid our blankets on gravel, staring up at a sky so devoid of light pollution and so full of stars that we wished on a dozen satellites a night, pretending they were shooting stars.

I wished for true love. I wished for whatever shame or pain I was feeling to disappear like the streak of light when I blinked. I wished for my life to make sense. I wished to fit in somewhere.

Later I just wished my sister wasn’t dead.

But these were satellites, not shooting stars.

Last night, I swayed in the moonlight as it grew colder. And as it got colder, somehow, the cover band seemed louder. I stamped my feet on occasion to keep my feet warm in the hot-pink patent leather.

I felt the bass resonate in my chest, and I could have been anytime in front of a speaker at all—my cousin’s wedding when I was twelve, a high school dance, one of the three college parties I attended, a gay bar. The band covered everything from Fleetwood Mac to Lady Gaga, and as their jukebox spun so did the familiar memory of swaying with the music as my dance partner. The thump-thump of the bass and drum kit vibrating my heart, my stiffened legs, my chilled skin.

I was the only one standing and swaying for a while as everyone else sat clustered on hay bales or stood chattering away, sharing gossip and laughter.

I heard my drummer. I closed my eyes and stepped to the music that I heard.

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