three thirds (part one)

If I do it justice, this will be one of the best stories I've told here. But I don't want to leave anything out, so you're going to have to come with me as we cover a lot of ground, weaving back and forth across time and context. It'll be long but it'll be worth it, I promise. It's a good story. It's about what's possible when people are their best selves: their kindest, most honest, vulnerable, respectful, giving, and loving selves.

But first, a request. I'm going to use real names, because pseudonyms are silly when no one has done anything that merits disguising their identity. But please don't be weird and go digging through social media to try and find out more about the people in this story. That's happened once or twice in the past, and I neither understand nor condone it. This story is only one third mine. So please stay here, in the realm of my third. Here you are welcome.

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Today at about 3:30pm, I found myself sitting under a tree, my back against the trunk, crying almost uncontrollably--from happiness. Here is the tree, which I took a photo of because I wanted to document the emotional magnitude of the moment:

I sat up against this tree with my arms wrapped around my knees and my sweatshirt hood up, just holding myself, for probably half an hour. Waves of thought and feeling kept breaking over me, bringing fresh and deeply cathartic tears with every new realization.

So what was I crying about? Well, at first I didn't know. At first I just knew I was feeling overcome with gratitude: for how good things are going with my job search/career track change, for the strides I've been making on my mental wellness, and for the amazing time I had last night at Dreamstate. So I let myself get swept up in those emotions and just cry from sheer happiness. It's not the first time I've done it, and I sure hope it's not the last. I've said it before and I'll say it again: emotional dysregulation is a killer when it's working against you. But when it's sending you up, it is a drug like no other. 

But as the episode went on, I started to examine my thoughts. I started to piece them together, and to see the connections. And I saw all at once, in what I can only call an epiphany (even though it is a super dramatic word, I know), that I am quite clearly, demonstrably, and undeniably not the same person I was a month ago. I'm not even the same person I was yesterday. Last night drove the nails into the coffin, wherein lies the body of the person formerly known as Ellie. RIP; may the overlords running her simulation have mercy on her soul.

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As I said, this story is only one third mine. So let's shift gears and I'll introduce you to Matt. Matt owns a third of this, too. 

I've only known Matt a few days longer than you, because it wasn't until Friday night at about 10pm, on Day 1 of Dreamstate, that I made his acquaintance. Matt and I were watching the same set, hanging out in the same area--separately, not together--when we found ourselves getting pulled into a three person mini dance-off by an exuberant young woman named Becca.

Becca was bouncing around the section we were in off to the side, where there's much more room to play and flow and mingle and spread out. She was making friends with everyone in the area, jumping in to dance with them if they were dancing, asking to try their light toys if they had light toys, or just introducing herself cheerfully to those standing about. She's the kind of delightful presence any festival is lucky to have, boosting the positivity with her infectious energy. It's not important that she's also absolutely beautiful, in an unassuming, wholesome, girl-next-door way (which is to say that being twenty-one she still has no idea how beautiful she is), but for the record: she is. 

Becca, Matt, and myself fell into a vibe. As we danced and cavorted around, we introduced ourselves, comparing notes about who we'd come to see, whose sets so far had been lit (sorry, I'll put a dollar in the generation violation slang jar), and whose we were still looking forward to. Becca and I discovered that we love all the same artists; she even follows the same record labels I do. But despite being super knowledgeable about EDM, it was only her second festival ever. And it was Matt's first; and he'd come alone, like me.

When he said that, I looked at him in surprise. I couldn't put a precise age on him, but I knew he was definitely closer to my graduating class than Becca's. He understood my look and opened up without hesitation, explaining that he was somewhat recently divorced, and just now starting to explore own interests. I smiled and nodded and tried to express something along the lines of Fuck yeah. Good for you. Dreamstate always has far and away the largest contingent of older attendees, and when at some point he disclosed that he's in his forties, I was delighted to have someone close to my age to run with.

And run we did, because young Becca, who had come to the festival with only one other friend, someone she'd met just once prior at her first festival, decided to adopt us. I don't know why. She could have adopted anyone. But at that moment, in the mindset she was in, we were the ones. "I love you guys!" she exclaimed, inviting us in for another group hug and making plans for us to meet up again the next day. I'll give myself some of the credit. After all, we were music twins. In fact at one point an acquaintance of mine from the electronic scene in LA happened by, and when I introduced everyone, I characterized Becca as me twenty years ago. "And I'm her in twenty years." Everyone laughed (quite possibly at my expense).

Also, Becca said something out of the blue while we were dancing that first night that I will never forget. She said, "I feel so safe with you." And I don't know if it was because I'm a veteran, or if she sensed my sobriety, or if she picked up on the deep and genuine affection I have for kids at festivals--or all three. Whatever it was, I didn't let on how much it moved me. I just nodded vigorously. "Good," I said. "You should." And I smiled at my new young friend. 

I didn't learn a lot about Matt that first night. I learned he has a daughter, because when we exchanged IGs, at first glance of my page he mistook one of my selfies for a baby picture. "No kids," I shook my head emphatically, making the universal nope sign with my hand. When I did that, he responded almost in a clap back: "I have a six year old girl." It registered with me as a thing that he wanted to say, wanted known--and I respected and appreciated that. In a world where people keep all kinds of huge things about themselves secret and hidden for whatever strange reasons, Matt was doing the opposite. He was asserting two key aspects of his identity--dad and divorcee--in an authentic and unabashed way. And it was kind of beguiling.

It wasn't until today that I connected some dots and realized who Matt reminds me of, both in his physicality and the way he carries himself: Deadmau5 concert hookup guy from this summer. Gabriel. In fact in the one tiny video clip I have of Gabriel, the face he makes is dead-on the same expression Matt wore. It's a warm, friendly smile that looks like it could burst into laughter, possibly at your expense, possibly at his own. But Matt's smile has something else in it: years of experience and hard-won wisdom. 

Like I said, I was glad to have someone my age around. Similar music taste is easy enough to bond over. But the hard-won wisdom of many years is a rarely seen badge at music festivals. 

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But now let's skip across time, across the glowing, giddy grounds of the festival to a different stage on a different night, so you can meet the final third of this story. Because the other third is not Becca. Becca, charming addition to the weekend that she was, is an auxiliary character to the story I am telling. 

The final third of this experience belongs to Amit. 

Day 2, 9pm. I have resurfaced from floating around solo for a few hours, to reconnect with Matt and Becca at the massive main stage where all the artists I've come to see are lined up to play out the night. Amit is in the small group that constitutes our crew. There's Matt and Becca, Becca's friend Nick, and two other guys that I'm not really sure are with us or not. They're dancing with us, hanging out under Nick's totem--but I have no idea their connection to the group, if any. 

Amit is one of these guys. 

I don't pay a lot of attention to Amit at first, frankly and simply because he's very young and very hot. He's one of the thousands of super ripped, shirtless male ravers. They, like the thousands of scantily clad, super fit women, are a fixture at any music festival. Everyone is exceptionally friendly at EDM shows. It's what makes EDM, EDM. But while yes, I do get hit on, let's be real: it's rare that one of these creatures invests any energy in the likes of me. As far as I'm concerned, they are just neutral scenery; I don't really register them much other than to enjoy the sight of them in a general, detached way. At some point, he introduces himself to me, though I immediately forget his name. He's extremely polite in his tone and demeanor. And I pick up on an accent, which intrigues me. But we're in the middle of a rave. Now's not the time for chit chat. 

Besides, he's just scenery. 

But then somehow we do end up talking. And suddenly, we are in a moment, because he's just told me that his favorite EDM artist is Deadmau5 and now I am looking at him with fresh and newly interested eyes. 

Two things:

1. If you're thinking, Big deal. Everyone loves Deadmau5, no, they actually do not. At this point, Deadmau5 is pretty old school. Despite how much time I spend in the scene, I never meet anyone who even mentions him anymore, much less obsesses about him the way I do.

2. If you know nothing about me yet, know that I am obsessed with Deadmau5. I think he's a fucking genius, utterly alone in his class--and his music has saved my life. Don't care if that makes you laugh. I can't hear you laughing OVER THE DEADMAU5 TRACK I AM BLASTING.

Ilan Bluestone is on: Becca's favorite. She knows every word of every song, and she's having the time of her life. She's drifting around, dancing and talking and playing. Members of our group ebb and flow, falling in and out of mini moments and chats--like Amit and I, when we compare notes on Deadmau5 for a minute--but Matt and I are pretty solidly knit. He doesn't know any of the artists specifically, just knows he loves the music, and he's totally in the zone. And I am in it with him. 

Running underneath everything that's happening is an awareness, at least on my part, of the fact that Matt and I have an obvious and unique connection here, in this space. We are both older than nearly everyone around us. We've been messaging one another all night, as we bounce around the festival, keeping track of each other so we can meet back up with young Becca and be our fun little fam of three. We had met up right at the start of the second night, though we quickly split to go catch different sets. And now here I am again, finally, having gotten my crazy dance wiggles out in the trance room all by myself. I'm content to just be in the mix here, much closer than I ever would want to if I were alone. But there is an awareness, at least on my part, that a connection exists. And that it could probably be pursued. It could probably be escalated, if we wanted it to be. 

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But now I'm going to grab your hand and pull you out of the crowd. We have to go; I need you to come with me back to the park. I need you to sit with me while I'm crying, bursting with happiness, bursting because a sort of shell is breaking off of me. It's a shell I no longer need. Can you guess what it's made of? 

It's made of the past, in a word. It's made of all kinds of things I don't need anymore. Things I have been discarding, slowly, over the past several months--then faster, as things have sped up in the past few weeks.

As I've gained powerful new tools to get a strong handle on my anxiety and depression, so much so that people in my life have noticed, and commented. I can let go of my need to have other people fix me, or take care of me. I'm all I need, ever. 

As I've looked hard and deep at destructive patterns in my life around relationships, around a lack of self-care, self-interest, and self-love. As I've let go of those patterns and built, brick by brick, a sense of self-esteem I never knew that I never really had. I can let go of the sad, scared person I once was--the person who, if she was honest with herself, saw the world as a threat, and as a scary place to survive in...but not thrive in. Never thrive. Not her. 

As I've lost my job and come to the realization that I can chart a new course, in that area of my life. That I don't have to be afraid of the unknown, because I've spent the past five years working and sacrificing any semblance of a life in balance--and now it's paying off, in a real way. And I will be okay. I can let my imposter syndrome fall to the ground. It's an illusion. I am accomplished and capable, and valued for what I know and can do. 

As I set a boundary after regrettably seeing an ex, sending him an email to say Actually, don't message me next time you are back in the US. Our story ends here. I can let go of the fear, every time a man leaves my life, that he will be the last one to love me. I am someone amazing to be admired and desired and respected; I was reminded of that last night.

And as these things have fallen away, I have filled the void they left with big, beautiful boundaries. Boundaries I never had before. Boundaries that allow for zero tolerance for all kinds of shit I have always put up with. Boundaries related to friendships. Boundaries related to conflict. Boundaries related to my time and energy. Boundaries related to what I will accept as communication--or a lack therof.

All in a flash, as I sat there crying with joy for the person I know I am becoming, I saw suddenly and clear as day, just how much toxic behavior I have allowed, both in real life and virtual life. Yep, that's right. Today at the park, sitting under that tree, I realized how much utterly gross, passive aggressive, patronizing, condescending, creepy, controlling, manipulating, negging behavior I have tolerated on my goddamn social media. Social media! Of all fucking places! You'd think me if anyone would know better. I am the original hater of social media. But it has gone on. And I have allowed it, because in the cases in question, it was rolled out so slowly, and with such calculating cynicism, that I didn't see it for what it was until a few days ago when one offender tipped his hand twice in two days. And I saw him, instantly, for what he is, and what he has been trying to do. 

I saw him.

But I'm getting off track, and on a subject I'm going to return to anyway, because it's important. I just needed you to understand why I cried today:

I cried because I buried an outdated version of myself. And because I am so happy about who she's been upgraded with.

But we should get back to the festival. There are two incredible, amazing, beautiful people there, waiting for us to return so they can show us all the ways in which they are those things.

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(to be continued)