As an only child often misread as extroverted, I often relish in the fact that I’ve always found comfort in the solitude of being a “strange bird, black sheep, free spirit, or non-conformist” throughout the many phases of my life. And yet, gathering at the margins with a larger group of the “oddities and curiosities” of the world (i.e. a furry convention, yoga retreat, or DND game night) has always conjured overwhelming anxiety. What if our “weirds” collide?
So you can imagine I immediately regretted my overly-eager-to-please “OMG YES!” when I accepted an invitation to Haylo Healing Arts Lounge‘s 8th Annual Fire Party last Saturday before heading over to Facebook to check out the event deets:
“We honor the Summer Solstice, Surrender, Expression, Reflection, Authenticity, Becoming, Freedom & Belonging; a deeply personal and joyfully communal evening. It’s about finding your flow, carving your own path, and keeping Our community Lit…If desired, make a renewed commit[ment] to yourself and embrace the freedom to choose your perfect offering to the ritual fire. Remember you’ve carried it with you all along.”
My urge to decline started to fade as I continued to scan the page and discovered the charity beneficiary was Wind River Cancer Wellness Programs, a local nonprofit focused on connecting NC and SC survivors. Still grieving the loss of my dad to cancer a couple years ago, I thought, “Damn you synchronicity.”
Yep, this one was definitely going to test my comfort zone and required a solid pregame plan. But after years of stumbling in and out of sus, unfriendly, judgmental and male-dominated tattoo shops, I refused to miss another opportunity to commune with the coven of community care that is and surrounds Haylo Healing Arts Lounge.
When I heard about Charlotte’s first all-female tattoo studio in 2017, I was enamored by owner Hayley Moran’s healing art skill of mastectomy tattooing. Her captions were thoughtful; her words intentional; her practice enlightening; her vision spiritual; her journey radical; her commitment unwavering; and her work transformational.
I may have fumbled the bag on a tattoo appointment request early that year, intimidated by fear of premature self-discovery, but I knew destiny would lead me back into her orbit when the time was right. Now, if you’d asked me then if that future encounter would include me being embarrassingly five sheets to the wind around a ritual fire, I would have died laughing.
I could feel the boundaries of my safe space slowly constricting my thirst for adventure and my desire to let BP time (Google it) run down the clock as friends asked questions about my plans for the night. After building up the liquid courage, I turned to a laid back, down-for-whatever, Philly-reppin’ new bestie and said, “Wanna get weird tonight?” A simple head tilt and a curious-but-still-wavering affirmative response was enough to conjure a mischievous grin on my face.
As fate would have it, the first thing this Cheshire Cat saw after clumsily traipsing into the alleyway of 1111 Central Ave. (#angelnumberaffirmation) was the Master Magic Maker of a leather and curiosities boutique (appropriately named Down the Rabbit Hole) donning a top hat with bunny ears and a clock creating the perfect fusion of the White Rabbit and the Hatter from Alice in Wonderland!
Like two immature schoolchildren about to get silent lunch, we watched — not-so-quietly making feeble attempts to conceal our giggles — while the crowd gathered in a large circle, turning in tandem toward the cardinal directions with raised hands shouting guttural affirmations, reverence, and thanks into the universe. Thankfully, our shenanigans were interrupted by committing a symbolic offering to the ritual fire, inviting a fleeting moment of warm intentionality and manifestation.
Blame it on my childhood obsession with Lord of the Flies or my recent binge of season two of Yellowjackets, but there’s an intrinsic primality that visibly bubbles to the surface when people gather around a fire. The flickering flames of the controlled chaos mirrored in every set of transfixed eyes, all the while conjuring a unique feeling behind each stare. For me, the feeling was release.
It wasn’t until the shroud of alcohol was lifted well into the next day that I realized my compulsory laughter, while irreverent and disruptive, was more an unconscious nervous response. A protective mechanism that I often deploy even in the most inappropriate of situations to detach from the internal embarrassment of not giving myself fully to uncomfortable experiences built to dismantle and rebuild.
But watching back videos of the feral, giddy version of myself prancing, swaying, hooting and hollering beneath the twinkling string lights, it was obvious that even if only for an hour, she was completely mad, Alice, but incredibly free.
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