I don’t really believe in anything supernatural, but I find it helpful to think of my biggest personal problem as a demon living inside of me. I often refer to it as a “pussy-demon” because I feel it most strongly when I’m around women I find attractive—all of my confidence drains away and I’m reduced to a scared little pussy who can’t even summon the balls to talk to them.
But I suppose it would more accurately be called an “isolation-demon”, as it goes beyond the issue of my inability to approach the opposite sex. It completely saps my will to so much as leave my apartment and go out into the real world. I spend most of my time alone, in the company of no one but myself, either feeding my intellect or indulging in some form of entertainment. To invoke another metaphor, my former history has provided me with an abundance of bricks with which I’ve built a wall around myself, and the demon keeps me inside.
The thing about being inside the wall is that it’s quite comfortable. My emotional state is not dependent on anyone else and I rarely experience strong emotions at all. Whereas I used to go from extremely low lows to absurdly high highs, my emotional spectrum has narrowed significantly over the last two years of living completely on my own. Life inside the wall is pleasant and enjoyable, disturbed only by the occasional confrontations with the meaninglessness of my life and my uselessness to the rest of the human race.
My friend Corey has been in a similar situation for most of his life, having the same difficulties as I’ve had, but recently he’s been frequenting a club near his home and flirting with women there to what I can only describe as an astonishing degree of success. He’s been writing me detailed accounts of his nights at the club, even writing out the dialog as best he remembers it, and I’ve been deeply impressed by how far from his wall he’s managed to emerge and how much easier-by-the-day it seems to be getting for him to talk to women.
Several weeks ago he recommended that I check out a goth metal band called Lacrimosa, specifically an album called Echos that he thought I might like. He’s been trying to get me into the metal genre for years but for some reason it just never took. I don’t dislike the music but I’m almost never in the mood to listen to it. Echos, however, was much different—a seamless blend of orchestral and heavy rock music, one of the most unique and impressive sounds I’ve ever heard. I fell in love with the album and have since been listening to more Lacrimosa as well as a couple of other goth metal bands.
The final bit of back-story for the tale I’m about to tell has to do with one of my English students from E.ON, a guy named Holger. I only started teaching him recently but we’ve been getting along well due to a number of shared interests including politics and astro-physics (he lent me a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time which I’m currently reading, and we’ve watched some of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos in class). One of his hobbies is photography, and he’s also really into the metal scene. He frequently goes to metal concerts where he gets in for free to take photos of the bands and write reviews of the shows for a website. This past week, as I was telling him about Lacrimosa, he told me about a show he was going to on Saturday night that he said I should come to. There were two German metal bands playing, one called Unzucht and another called Coppelius. The latter plays what’s called “heavy wood” which is essentially heavy metal with wooden instruments, in their case the flute and cello. It certainly sounded like it would be worth checking out.
But that meant I’d have to battle my isolation demon and crawl out of my nice comfy wall on a Saturday night, just when it’s at its comfiest. I really can’t understate what a mental struggle it is for me to pick myself up and go out into the world, especially at night. My natural tendency is to remain home, remain alone, just enjoying my own company and entertaining myself. It feels like the demon is clutching my leg as I try to climb out, injecting me with anxiety. Over and over again I’ll reconsider actually going, trying to settle on some excuse like it would be too expensive or the bands might suck. I listened to some of the bands’ songs on YouTube actually hoping they would suck and I’d have a good reason not to go, but they sounded good enough. Worth checking out.
I drank a few beers in the evening while finishing up the most recent season of True Blood, which has been keeping me entertained and happy to stay home at night for weeks (as well as getting me thinking about things like demons). By quarter to nine I was loosened up enough to overcome the natural social anxiety I’ve had for as long as I’ve been alive, and get myself out the door and into the rain.
I felt much better once I was actually under way. Listening to Lacrimosa on my I-pod as I rode the U-Bahn to Dragonerstrasse, I figured I’d give the demon a good run for its money tonight. Yes, I’d just slip in quietly and keep to myself for awhile, but hopefully as the night would wear on I’d come out of my shell and start chatting with people as I had two weeks ago in Kassel (though I had no intention of getting even half as drunk as I was then). There might even be attractive single women there, in which case I’d have to at least try to flirt with them. I figured if Corey can do it then why the hell can’t I?
The Hannover Musik Zentrum was tucked away in a strange little area between a few residential blocks and what looked like an abandoned rail depot. There was no one around as I approached the place, and then suddenly I was there. I walked inside and somehow paid the entry fee without speaking any German, then proceeded to find the coat-check place and hand in my jacket and umbrella.
I spotted Holger right away, as he was standing in the front on the right side of the stage near the coat-check. The bar was also there on the right, and I quickly ordered a beer and walked closer to the stage, on which Unzucht was already performing.
Holger was taking pictures the whole time but he shook hands when he spotted me and indicated that we’d talk later. I sipped from my beer and watched Unzucht perform—decent but nothing too impressive. They were a second-rate band at best, but they looked about as quintessentially goth metal as you can get. For my first genuine metal concert in Germany, it seemed appropriate.
This being my first genuine metal concert in Germany, I also spent a lot of time scanning the crowd, gauging the whole scene. I was dressed in the darkest clothes I have—a plain black T-shirt and dark blue jeans—and I was glad to see this wasn’t too far from the norm. Everyone was wearing black but almost nobody was all decked-out fashion-wise. There were a few people wearing black top-hats but for the most part it just looked like a bunch of German people in black clothing. The only other difference between this and any other crowd of Germans is that I actually fit in much better there with my long hair and beard, as I haven’t seen such a high concentration of people with the same look since I’ve been here.
Naturally, my eyes were mainly scanning the room for beautiful women, but during the Unzucht performance there were none to be seen. There were plenty of girls there, but every last one of them was overweight to some degree. I know it makes me shallow, but I’m just not attracted to overweight women. I wish I was but I’m not. It’s the same with men—I’m just not attracted to them. I’d like to be gay—fuck knows it would make having a sex life much easier—but I just can’t. My brain isn’t wired that way. Perhaps the isolation-demon is responsible.
But the fact that no good-looking women were around was actually a source of relief for me. At least now I wouldn’t have to force myself to approach anyone, as there was no one there whom I had any desire to approach. I could keep to myself, talk to Holger at the end, and call it a night. Experience had. Self-imposed-obligation-to-go-out-into-the-world-for-one-night fulfilled.
Then Unzucht finished playing, and suddenly she was next to me. She literally seemed to appear out of nowhere as soon as the band finished playing. A girl about my height with straight blonde hair, light brown eyes, and the most perfect cheek-bones I’ve ever seen. We were standing too close for me to check out the rest of her body without it being too obvious, but she seemed thin enough and her face was beautiful enough to make up for any shortcomings the rest of her might have had.
So now I’m suddenly standing next to the most beautiful girl in the club, and my demon roars to life. “Hah!” it laughs. “You thought you could make it through the night without a fight, didn’t you? Well I’m going to make sure you don’t say a word to this girl! You’re going to pussy out, she’s going to walk away, and you will learn once again that you are mine!”
“Fuck you, demon” I think, but I already know he’s right. My mind is spinning trying to come up with something to say to her, any combination of words that wouldn’t sound crazy or awkward or stupid…but I’m drawing the most monumental blank of my life. There’s just this void in my head where words should be. The demon is obscuring them from me.
It probably doesn’t matter, I think. This girl is drop-dead gorgeous. There’s no way she’s single. Her boyfriend will walk up to her any minute and I’ll no longer feel an obligation to say something to her.
A moment later a guy did walk up and stand beside her, and for a second I thought I was off the hook, but he didn’t speak to her. He started talking to another girl, one standing behind her. The two of them weren’t there together. It seemed she was there alone—completely alone—not even accompanied by a girlfriend.
What the fuck was this? I knew the demon had dominion over my own mind but could it actually be influencing events in the external world? I have never seen a girl this beautiful at a club on her own, and she just happens to be standing right next to me! This is not fucking fair.
Okay, well, it is what it is. I was dealt this shitty hand and now I’ve got to play it. But how? I keep looking at her but she never makes eye contact with me. It would be so much easier if she were to look at me, do something to acknowledge my presence. If we made eye contact it would then be quite natural for me to smile and say hello, strike up a friendly conversation. But she never looks at me. All she has to do is turn her head 45 degrees to the right, but she doesn’t.
The worst part is this is the exact right time for a conversation. Coppelius is setting up and the DJ is playing music at a low enough volume to hear the person next to you. Once the band starts playing, there won’t be any opportunity for a chat…but then again…isn’t that just what I want? An excuse not to have to talk to her? Hopefully the band will start soon and I can say “oh well, I just didn’t have enough time.”
Holger comes back and says hello. He’s going to head to the front for the first three songs, as that’s all he’s allowed to take pictures for. After talking to him in English I turn back to the girl to see if she noticed my English-speaking and whether it intrigued her, and she is looking at me but before I can open my lips she’s turned back away.
“See?” says the demon. “She’s not interested in you at all. She knows you’re standing there and she’s aware that you keep looking at her. If she had any willingness to talk to you whatsoever she’d make eye contact. But look how she’s deliberately avoiding it. If you do say something to her, it’ll be an imposition. She just wants to have a good time and enjoy the band, not get hit on by pathetic losers like you. If you talk to her it’s going to be awkward as hell and it’ll poison the rest of the show. Do her a favor and keep your mouth shut.”
Like a slave before his master, I obey. He knows all of the right bricks to throw at me and now I’m sealed behind the wall. I wanted to have a good time tonight, but now I’m not where I want to be. Now I’m in a dark place.
Perfect for dark music, at least. That’s what I think as the lights go down and Coppelius finally takes the stage. They look very interesting and I’m excited to hear just how hard they can rock out with flutes and cellos. The singer is an obvious showman, going through a funny little routine before they begin playing. But once the bassist starts plucking on that cello and the base notes ripple from the speakers just a few feet from my head, I know that this night is at least going to be enjoyable on a surface level. My entire skeleton vibrates from the bass—it’s like my bones are getting a massage. Time to forget the girl standing next to me and slip into the zone.
But alas, the girl is just too close to shut out of my mind. She’s got a hand-bag strapped to her right shoulder that repeatedly brushes up against me as she dances. Bizarrely, I find myself deriving a strange pleasure from it, as though she’s dancing with me. It may not be her body rubbing up against mine but it’s something attached to her body—the kinesthetic sensation of the handbag’s texture against my arm is the end of a causality chain that begins with her motions. Touching that bag is as close as I’m going to get to touching her.
Another important element of the situation is the odor. People are farting up a storm throughout the show—it can’t be heard but it can definitely be smelled. Yet she maintains the most pleasant aroma throughout the evening, and I occasionally turn my head just to get a whiff.
I’m constantly looking over at her, especially when the lights go up in the audience. Every time I look at her face it looks more beautiful than the last. I haven’t been in close proximity to a girl this beautiful for such a long period of time for as long as I can remember. I try to simply appreciate the beauty for its own sake, to separate it from the desire attached to it.
But oh how nice it would be to put my hand behind her head, to touch her check with my other hand and move in closer, admire that skin from an inch away and press my lips against it…god what an amazing sensation that would be.
If she would just look at me! Obviously there’s not going to be any conversation going on during the show but we could at least acknowledge each others’ presence. I could make a gesture towards the band and say, “They’re pretty good, huh?” or something of that nature, thus establishing contact and paving the way for some kind of chat when it’s over.
But she doesn’t look at me once, even when her dancing sets her off balance and we collide a little, her eyes remain either closed or on the stage. And my how adorable she looks when they’re closed—even though I’m only seeing half her face! She looks so lovely as she just rocks gently to the music, her lips occasionally singing along to the lyrics (I made sure to take note of that) or sometimes pulled back in a mysterious and lovely smile…she must be having a funny thought. Oh, to get inside her mind…what’s going on there? Who is this person? What is she doing here all alone? What is her name, for fuck’s sake? Will I at least go home knowing her name?
Eventually that becomes the goal. If nothing else, I have got to find out this woman’s name. After the show, when the lights come up, I’ll have a moment to turn to her and say hello. If she looks at me, that’ll be perfect, but even if she doesn’t I’ll make myself tap her on the shoulder and say hi.
“No you won’t” the demon taunts me. “You won’t tap her on the shoulder while she’s walking away from you and you know it.”
I suspect the demon is right, but I try to focus on what to say. Now that I can’t actually talk to her the demon isn’t hiding words from me anymore, so I try and plan out the whole approach. “Hello,” I’ll say. “I just wanted to say thank you. You’re very beautiful, and I’ve really enjoyed standing next to you tonight. Would you do me the honor of telling me your name?”
I knew it was flawed and rather silly, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. I know you’re not supposed to tell a girl she’s beautiful—that’s basically saying “I’m a loser and you could do better than me” but the goal tonight was not to start a relationship but only to beat the demon. To prove that I can beat him by obtaining the name of the girl around whom the night was revolving.
The show goes on and on, delaying the moment of truth as I prepare to face it. Holger is standing next to me and we’re shouting into each others’ ears from time to time but mostly just silently watching the show. He buys me a beer which helps me loosen up a little more, although I can tell I’m not nearly as loose as I should be for flirtation purposes. I’m even holding back on the dancing, not wanting to look like a fool in front of this girl, but I think that if I did get into it a little more I might have a better chance. It can be endearing to women if a guy is obviously enjoying himself a lot. You don’t want to be so drunk that you can barely form coherent sentences, but a slight buzz isn’t much better than no buzz at all. The ideal place to be is somewhere in the middle.
At one point I thought I might be off the hook, as she took her phone out of her pocket and read a message from someone named Tim. Who’s Tim? Probably her boyfriend, right? He probably just couldn’t make it to the show tonight for some reason and that’s why she’s alone. So that means I’d be doing the right thing by not approaching her, right? That’s what the demon thinks anyway.
But I know that’s no excuse. For all I know, Tim is her brother or her father or her even her boss. I’ve sent text messages to girls I’m not in a relationship with. I couldn’t justifiably draw any conclusions from that. No, demon, I’m still on the hook.
The band plays their “last” song and walks off the stage, but I relax because the chance of an encore is 100%. The crowd is clapping hard in unison, the lights are still down, and no final bows have been taken. They waste no time in coming back to the stage and rocking out a little more. I’m really liking their music but I’m too distracted by the girl to get fully into it. At least its darkness complements my state of mind well.
I can feel the moment of truth approaching. The band finishes one song and I desperately hope they’re not done. Please just put this off for a few minutes longer. Thankfully, they play another song. As they walk off the stage again I hope for another encore. I turn to Holger and ask him if they’re done or if he thinks they’re coming back. He says the lights are still down so they’re coming back. After we’ve exchanged those words I look over at the girl and for the second time, her eyes meet mine (it’s only the second time I’ve even seen her left eye). She knows I exist. She knows I’m not German. But she doesn’t want to look at me long enough to give me a natural opening to say hello. Her gaze darts back to the stage as quickly as I notice it. I think of whether there was something I could have said just then but it’s already too late. But don’t worry—now’s not the time. Just stick to the plan.
The band comes back to play one final song, a slow and moving tune about soldiers. English lyrics—half their songs had English lyrics. But the girl only sang along to the German lyrics so it’s still quite possible she doesn’t speak English. The language barrier is a huge asset to the demon, but after the experience in Kassel I’ve resolved to just assume basic English-speaking ability on the part of everyone. That will at least remove half the difficulty of making my approach.
And now it’s almost time to do it. The song ends, the band takes their final bows, and suddenly the lights go up. It’s now or never. I turn to face her directly but she doesn’t even glance at me. She turns to the left and starts walking towards the door. The demon grabs me by my arms and holds me back, laughing maniacally as I watch this girl walk away. “She doesn’t want to talk to you!” he shouts. “She deliberately turned the other way so she wouldn’t have to acknowledge you! Let her go. It’s what you want to do anyway—let her go.”
The demon’s words reach me, and I succumb. As she takes two steps away I almost raise my arm to tap her on the shoulder but the demon is holding it down. How easy it is to just let her go like that, to let her walk away without saying anything and tell myself it’s what she wanted. It’s so incredibly easy, so much easier than saying something. All I have to do is nothing. Just let her disappear into memory, then go home and brood. Let the demon have its victory.
Brooding it is, I think, and I turn toward the coat-check counter to retrieve my jacket and umbrella. Holger has disappeared but I’ll find him to say goodbye before I leave. Just a quick trip to the bathroom as I feel the demon dance around inside of me, delighting in its triumph, looking forward to the feeding frenzy it’s going to have when I get home and wallow in self-contempt.
I look all around the main room of the club trying to find Holger but I don’t see him. I give up and decide to go home, but spot him in the room between the main room and the lobby where people from the bands’ crews sell CDs after the show. He’s showing his book of pictures to a girl who looks like she’s with one of the bands, perhaps trying to do some kind of business. I say hello to him but he’s still in a conversation with the girl, which allows me to take a step back and examine the room.
Holy shit—there she is. Standing by herself in the back of the room with a CD in hand, probably waiting to get to the desk so she can meet someone from Coppelius, she looks positively radiant. The demon freezes. He senses danger. He knows I don’t want to go home and brood. He knows I’m thinking of Corey and how I should be able to do this if he can. He knows I’m hungry for a victory.
I take a step towards her and she spots me. It’s unmistakable. Her eyes meet mine and then immediately—immediately—she turns her whole head away.
I stop in my tracks and turn back around. “See that?” says the demon. “You weren’t just imagining things. She really isn’t interested in you. The last thing she wants is for you to go up to her. You saw how quickly she turned away. Take the hint, man. Spare yourself. Spare her.”
Yes, maybe she finds me repulsive and is terrified that I might actually go up to her. Or maybe she’s just über-shy. Maybe we have that in common.
Holger and the girl are still talking. The girl is still standing there all alone. I’m about to go home and fight the urge to take a knife to my skin for the first time since high school. If the demon wins tonight, it’ll be an epic triumph the likes of which he hasn’t known for years.
I take the metaphorical sword that I was ready to jam into my heart and plunge it into the demon instead. The surge of anxiety so overwhelming I feel I might drown in it rising within me, I take a deep breath and walk straight up to her.
“Entschuldigung,” I say. She’s not looking at me, and the German word for “excuse me” sounds much friendlier than the English. As soon as she looks at me I switch back.
“I just wanted to say hello,” I say, surprised by the calmness in my voice. In the back of my mind I already realize I’ve won. The demon is stunned, his mouth agape as he lies bleeding.
“Hello,” she says, an unreadable expression on her face. For the first time I’m getting an extended look at her whole face.
“I was standing next to you during the show,” I say.
“I know,” she says. Of course she does.
Now what? “This was my first concert in Hannover,” I say. Not technically true but true enough for the purposes of this conversation.
“Where are you from?” she asks.
“America,” I answer. “Have you ever been there?” If she had, this would have put me in very comfortable conversation territory. If she’d been to Brooklyn it would have been perfect.
“No, I’m from Hannover” she said. Uh oh. The first sign of less-than-perfect English. The first real sense I get that she doesn’t want to be talking to me.
“No, I mean have you ever been to America?” I ask. She hasn’t. “Anywhere outside Germany?”
She lists a few countries, and I nod. “Are you a big fan of Coppelius?” I ask.
“I don’t know…” she says.
“I noticed you knew all the words,” I tell her. She smiles at this…it’s heavenly…but can’t seem to think of anything to say to it. She tells me this is the fifth show of theirs that she’s been to.
I realize I’m not in flirtation-mode at all. I’m in English-teacher mode, attempting to make small talk for the sake of small talk. My voice is super-high and I don’t sound comfortable at all. I know what I’m like when I’m acting naturally, I know I can be fun and relaxed but not at the moment. At the moment we’re both uncomfortable, and the escape-route is just too tempting.
“May I have your name?” I ask. I’m slightly amused that the question came out that way.
“Zora,” she says. It’s a beautiful name when she says it. With an American accent it’s kind of ugly, but with a German pronunciation of the Z and the R it sounds lovely.
“Zora,” I repeat and smile.
“What’s yours?” she asks politely.
“Kyle,” I tell her. She repeats it and smiles.
We’ve been talking for about 20 seconds but it feels like an eternity, like we’ve just had the longest conversation of our lives and now we know everything about each other. I get the distinct impression that she’d like to be left alone, and I’ve already accomplished my goal. To move the bar even farther now and attempt to keep it going, to possibly find out how to contact her…it’s unthinkable. Why not quit while ahead?
“It was very nice meeting you, Zora,” I say, and I take her hand.
“It was nice meeting you too,” she responds, and I’m unable to tell whether her tone is one of relief or disappointment.
“Have a good night,” I say, and turn to leave.
I say goodbye to Holger and walk out the door, immediately tossing some Lacrimosa back on my I-pod and lighting up a cigarette. I don’t open the umbrella. The light rain on my face feels wonderful, and I’m feeling more alive than I have in a long time. Meanwhile the demon sits in the corner clutching his wound, plotting his revenge.
I continue to feel good for the rest of the night, even staying up for a couple more hours listening to music and appreciating the emotion. I’d broken the hardest barrier and actually gone up and approached a girl I was strongly attracted to. I don’t remember ever doing that before—just going up to a girl at a club and striking up a conversation. I usually wait around for an opportunity that never comes. This time I didn’t wait. I just fucking went for it, and it felt pretty good. I beat the demon and punched a hole through the wall. It may have been nothing more than a 1-minute chat, but it was a major breakthrough on my part. Even Corey didn’t become a ladies’ man overnight. I figure it may be a long process but that success is possible. I just have to be content with baby-steps, and I was proud of myself for taking one last night.
But the morning has a cruel way of shedding a different light on things, and I woke up today with nothing but regret in my heart. The hole in the wall let both good and bad emotions through. I’ve been alone for a long time, but this morning was the first time in a very long time that I actually felt lonely, that I wished I had someone to be with.
Oh Zora, were you really as uninterested in me as you seemed or were you just shy? Would you have liked for me to stick around? If you had, you could have said something like “you have to go now?” when I signaled that I was leaving and I would have stuck around, but you sent me no sign whatsoever that I was welcome.
Still, I can’t help but wonder. This was an amazing fluke. An incredibly beautiful girl, all alone, standing right next to me. It’s rare enough that a beautiful girl is anywhere all alone but the fact that she stood right next to me, thus giving me an excuse to approach her later (not to mention that I could have spoken to her any time throughout the night) is insane. That kind of thing may never happen again. I didn’t get much of an impression of Zora but I liked what I did get. She seemed sweet, atypical of German girls. She might have been a truly wonderful person, alone only because of her shyness. I might have let someone really special slip away.
Of course I plan to go to a lot more concerts now, and perhaps she’ll be at one of them. If she is, I’m good to go. Now that we’ve made contact approaching her again will be easy, and I’ll be better prepared to have a relaxed conversation—something I was not in the right frame-of-mind for at all last night. But there’s a solid chance that the Coppelius show was it—that that’s the first and last time I’ll ever encounter the lovely Zora.
So I don’t know whether to be proud of myself or to beat myself up. I wounded the demon but he’s already healed and ready to do battle again. I can only hope that he’s been permanently weakened and now that I’ve exposed his vulnerability I’ll eventually be able to destroy him completely.
But even now I hear him whispering: “You don’t want to destroy me. You need me. You want to be alone and I keep you that way. When you signed up for this life, I came with the package. We’re in this together, and we’re in it for the long-haul. As you get older I’ll only get stronger, and in the end I’ll have my ultimate victory—you will die alone.”
At this moment I fear he’s right. The world outside the wall is too riddled with emotional turmoil. The distance between the way I currently am and the way I’d have to be to get a woman to go out with me feels insurmountable. I probably will die alone.