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It was around 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning and I was sitting on a bench in my college’s police department waiting outside a closed door. My eyes were heavy and sore. I stared down at my boots, the leather toes milky and stained from sloshing through snow and salt on the February city streets. I leaned my elbows on my knees and pressed my hands together, folding into myself, making myself small. I counted my breaths—four counts to inhale, hold my breath for four, four counts to exhale, hold for four. This is called square breathing. I learned it from a silver-haired shrink who I saw for a few months in high school. Square breathing is supposed to make you feel like you have control. I sat on the bench in the police department outside the closed door fighting to hold together my square.On the other side of the door was a girl I had met only hours earlier. Her name was Ellen. She was from New Hampshire, and she was 19 years old—10 months older than me. Ellen was small, shorter than my 5’5 frame; her straight dark brown hair was cut to her shoulders and she wore it parted on the side. Her brown eyes were framed in black eyeliner, and she’d brushed glitter across her olive cheekbones. I pictured her on the other side of the door with her eyeliner smudged and the glitter sticky and wet on her chin from tears dragging the flecks down her face. I sat on the bench and listened to her cry through the door.I met Ellen at a fraternity house party in Boston earlier that Saturday night. I was a freshman in college, and on that night, like most of my Saturday nights that year, I set out across the city with my two girlfriends, Alex and Emily, to drink cheap beer and sweat through my clothes. The fraternity house was a big brownstone with a white spiral staircase and a balcony and creaky wood floors. The ceilings were tall and photographs of the fraternity classes dating back to the ’50s hung on the walls in golden frames. On the second floor, there was a study with a fireplace and shelves from floor to ceiling packed with books, their spines snug and stiff. In the basement there was a bar and a pool table the brothers used for drinking games. Most of the people at the party collected in the basement, pooling like stale beer at the bottom of an empty keg. That’s where I met Ellen, in the basement.I sat on a barstool leaning my elbows on the counter and drank warm beer out of a red plastic cup while I watched my friends dance. The music was loud, and I could feel the bass in my chest, the beat reverberating against my rib cage. A girl wearing a black dress with glitter on her cheeks came and sat next to me.“Hi, I’m Ellen,” she said, and plopped down on a stool.Ellen was visiting one of the fraternity’s brothers. He was her friend from high school and she drove up for the night to party with him. She was on a gap year. She’d graduated the same year as me, and had deferred her acceptance to a college on the East Coast. She was living at home, working to make money for school, and taking some time to slow down, she said. She was burned out after high school, she told me. We talked for a while, shouting over the music and laughing, and then Ellen finished her beer and hopped off the stool to go dance.Girls dance and boys watch. This is what I’ve learned. This is what we’ve learned. Under the low lights, in our short, tight clothes, we pulse and dip. Our eyes look out from under blackened eyelashes, trying to catch a glimpse from across the room, or maybe watching for what’s coming. Our backs arch, unfurling each vertebrae and spines curling like the stems on flowers. Our knees are strong. We bend like hinges. Our hips press into the beat, and our bodies throb as the bass enters our bones, wraps around our muscles, and moves us to the rhythm of the song. Our chests are open, princess collarbones framing our breasts. We showcase ourselves; we hang ourselves up because we are beautiful and brilliant and crafted like art. We perform like we’ve learned to since we were young girls, and when a stranger walks up from behind us and grabs our hips we’re not shocked by this entitlement. We continue to dance.

Source and read the rest: For Us (@msmagazine)