This is a touching, brave or self-indulgent piece, depending on your point of view. Funny, I have for a long time considered myself an expert on loneliness, what it feels like, what it does to you, ways of dealing with it, accommodating it, and deluding yourself that you are dealing with it . . . . I’m not lonely now, relatively speaking; in fact like many newish parents I suppose, I desperately horde the precious few droplets of solitude I can scrape together over a week. But until very recently the reverse was the case; the hours of my solitude extending for days, weeks on end; I remember some evenings, bored of reading, bored of TV, tired of trying to write, just lying back on the sofa with my eyes closed, waiting for the hours to pass. It happened when I had a full-time job, and it happened after I gave it up, the difference only being that without my job I sometimes literally didn’t speak for days on end. I wouldn’t say I was particularly depressed – I was just resigned. I had no friends. Nobody called; there was no-one I wanted to call. I was 43.
One day I walked past a local salsa club welcoming beginners to their Saturday evening classes. Something told me I needed to give this a try. I did, and I was hooked, with all the near-psychopathic fervour of someone who subconsciously thought she’d never hold anyone else’s hand again, let alone dance with him.
I had to resist the urge to be out, from then on, every night of the week. I rationed myself to three or four nights, roaming across town with a tenner in my pocket to join classes and dance in the half-light with strangers; drinking only water (serious salseros don’t drink, that’s why so many clubs go bust) staggering home exhausted, on foot, at 2 or 3 in the morning. Some nights I spent hours as a wall-flower, hungrily gazing at the showiest dancers, but on others – increasingly – I danced showily enough myself. I lost more than a stone in weight without even trying.
Salsa clubs vary, but the more touristy ones are rightly known as pick-up joints. The nicely-brought up girl in me resisted my inner slut for at least a year, telling myself it was just about the dancing, really. And the atmosphere, yeah, that too; sleazy, brash, loud; the chance of a last pretend shot at youth, and the chance to socialise without talking. I had nothing to talk about.
When I finally let her out, my inner slut, she didn’t last long; in fact she became my swansong. The third dance partner to get me in the sack got me pregnant. I miscarried that time, but eight years later here he is, in my house, my baby’s father.
When I walked timidly into that salsa club (now long defunct) a decade ago I had little idea of what I was setting in motion, but a strong physical instinct, I now believe, about what I really ought to do.
It was a venerable instinct developed over years. I have been desperately lonely so frequently over the course of my long life that the non-lonely periods are rather the exception. At other times my reactions were different; upping sticks on impulse to cross the globe; chucking in a promising job, walking out of grammar school on a whim . . . The difference this time was the absolute freedom I already had, combined with a belief I had absolutely nothing left to lose – what are those immortal Janis Joplin lines? Freedom’s just another word . . . I had no career – already jacked in – no family – too old now – no future, indeed; but I did have a little money. I was free. I could live, if I chose, exclusively for those three-minute bursts of ecstasy on the dance floor.
I’m not free any more. I’m frazzled, anxious, have aged at least two decades since, but despite still having no friends, no invites, no-one to call (oh, it’s a long story!) and no conversation, I’m not really lonely. I will be again, I expect, when my child grows away from me, and my partner – who knows? But when that day comes, well, I’ve neglected it for a while now, but I believe salsa is like bike-riding; once learned . . .