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Near-Death by Moshing

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“I’m not seeing your name on the list.” The ticket attendant frowned as she squinted through her bifocals at her computer screen.

“Well, I have a confirmation email right here from Linda Jenkins,” my sister said. She reached into her purse while I stood nonchalantly, trying to look like I knew someone who knew the club’s owner.

“I suppose this will work,” the woman admitted through pursed lips. She handed us two Admit One passes. “These should get you girls in. Enjoy the concert.”

We turned from the box office window to the large security guards taking tickets.

“She wasn’t going to let us in! I can’t believe it! I’m so glad I printed that email,” Melissa said as one of the guards searched her purse.

“I’m just glad one of us knows important people. Now run!” I squealed.

Our new friends, Kelly and Dena, waved us over to where they were standing. We’d only met a few hours ago in line, but we’d already made a pact that the first duo to get in would save spots for the others.

“This is as close as we could get,” Kelly said breathlessly. “All of those VIP people were already here. Jerks.”

Melissa and I looked around and agreed that we were in a perfectly good spot. Standing as close to the stage as physically possible had been the goal, but we were only about 10 feet away from the barricade—altogether about 20 feet away from where the band would perform. If there had been designated rows for the audience instead of a large open area, we probably would have been in the equivalent of the fourth row.

“Just think, in a few short hours, he’s going to be right there!” Dena said, pointing at the vacant microphone stand. “This is going to be awesome!”

The venue continued to fill with a swift and steady stream of newcomers. Our personal space shrunk a few more millimeters with each new wave of people until everyone was so close we couldn’t even take a deep breath without displacing our neighbors.

As time wore on and the crowd grew more restless, that personal space became nonexistent. Outside, there was a cool September day, but inside, the air became stagnant from body heat.

“Excuse me, everyone, I need you to make a path,” a security guard’s booming voice broke my meditation on overcrowding. “We have an injury and we need to get the young man out. Just split right here.” He made a slicing motion, cutting the crowd down the middle.

I turned to Melissa. “Wow, someone’s hurt? What happened?”

“Well, I think that guy fainted or something,” she answered uncertainly. “Someone is on the ground over there.”

“He fainted? The show hasn’t even started yet.” I looked where she pointed, but the crowd was so dense I couldn’t make anything out.

“Yeah, it’s kind of pathetic. Get some willpower, dude!” she said under her breath.

After security helped the guy lift himself over the railing, the halves of the crowd suctioned back together with such forceful speed that the breath was nearly knocked out of me. Whereas before I’d only been uncomfortably close to others, now my head was the only part of my body not pressed against the strangers around me. I felt as though I could completely lift my legs off the ground and not fall.

I had just managed to wriggle myself a little extra breathing room when the lights went down.

“Oh, thank God!” I heard Kelly say. “Let’s get this thing started!”

The opening band made its way out to feverish applause. I purposely clapped my hands right in front of my face with the hope that the small puffs of air might offer some relief from the suffocating pressure.

“Okay, guys, who’s ready to rock?” the lead singer yelled as the drummer pounded out the first notes of the song.

Suddenly, something I couldn’t see slammed me to the right. Before I could even regain my footing, I was pushed back to the left. Back and forth, again and again, we were tossed across the floor in an unstoppable tide of inertia affecting the entire audience.

“That’s it! Show me how you party, Oklahoma City! Don’t stop!” the band’s front man shouted into the microphone as he banged his head along with the bass solo.

The crowd continued to thrash with increased intensity while he nodded his encouragement, separated from the melee by a line of security guards and the steel barricade. I had no choice but to try to stay upright while our small group was tossed about in the fray.

Luckily, as the opening band, their set wasn’t terribly long and a few songs later they were taking their bows. Before leaving the stage, the drummer tossed his drumsticks into the audience, one of which landed directly in front of Kelly.

“Grab it!” Melissa yelled as she pushed Kelly to the floor.

Just as her hand closed around it, so did another, much larger hand. Attached to that hand was one of the largest Samoan girls I’ve ever seen. She didn’t look much older than 18, but she was at least four times larger than the petite Kelly.

Kelly meekly tried to pull the drumstick toward her, but the Samoan girl yanked and twisted so that Kelly had no hope of keeping her grip. The dangerous glint in the girl’s eye and the near-bloodthirsty look on her face suggested that she could have taken Kelly’s arm completely out of the socket and she would have just considered it another souvenir.

Dread began to creep around the edges of my chest. I’d been trying to convince myself that we were all reasonable music fans who wouldn’t succumb to savage chaos. Now I wasn’t so sure.

The surrounding crowd again pushed us out of the way while someone tried to force himself in.

“Excuse me,” he said as he shoved his way through the crowd, carrying two bottles of water over his head. “I’m just trying to get back to my friends.”

“You left!” the Samoan girl screamed with the approval of her posse. “You can’t just come back—you lost your place!”

I leaned toward the back of my sister’s head. “Is it just me or is this getting really bad?” I half-shouted in her ear.

She turned toward me and solemnly nodded.

To my relief, the lights went down before anything else happened. The man made his way to my left side, where he proceeded to perspire all over my sleeve.

The stifling stench of body odor and beer, along with my own dehydration and growing fear, were beginning to make me light-headed. After hearing the reaction to someone trying to fight through the cramped space, though, I decided I wasn’t willing to give up quite yet.

The next hour became a dizzy blur of pushing, lights, yelling, music, and pain. On one side, someone used my shoulder as a lever to propel himself higher above everyone’s heads, nearly pulling my hair out in the process. On my other side, two college guys were trying to push everyone out of the way so that they could have more dancing room. Behind me, I could feel the sharp jabs of multiple elbows to my back. In front of me, a drunken couple was jumping around so frenetically that they couldn’t keep their balance and kept landing directly on my feet.

Through various gaps, I could see Melissa was getting knocked around more than I was. I saw her fall once, but she soon sprang up and began punching everyone in close proximity to clear some of the space around her.

Wow, I thought grimly, if we live through this I’ll have to give her a black belt or something.

One more blow to my ribcage and I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I tried to reach Melissa to tell her I was getting out, but a surge from the crowd pushed me closer to the bar. Without hesitating, I catapulted myself to the counter, ordered two waters, and chugged both.

I sloshed my way around the edge of the crowd and happened upon Kelly.

“You got out, too?” she asked when she saw me.

“Yeah. I couldn’t take anymore,” I answered. “Have you seen my sister?”

“Oh, she’s still in there,” Kelly pointed. “So is Dena.”

I took a few deep breaths, reveling in the ability to expand my lungs to their full capacity. When my head again felt like it was on straight, I turned my attention to the stage.

“Oh, man, I love this song!” I exclaimed to Kelly.

“I know! Me, too!” she answered.

For the last few songs, I finally appreciated how much you can enjoy music when you are fully hydrated and not worried about being crushed to death. In those last minutes, I remembered that I actually did like this band.

After it was all over, I waited for Melissa by the entrance. I barely recognized the person walking toward me. Her hair was mussed, her makeup was smudged, her tank top hung off one shoulder, a large goose egg was growing above her knee, and she limped because she was missing a shoe.

“What happened?” I asked, looking down at her bare foot.

“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “It was there, and then it wasn’t. Then I fell. I lost my sunglasses, too.”

We began to hobble outside. Melissa’s limp was a little more pronounced in the gravel parking lot.

“You know, they were actually pretty good,” I said when we reached the car. “We should see them again, but, you know, we can just make sure there are seats and rows next time.”

Our eyes met over the roof and we both burst into laughter.

“Definitely. Let’s heal from this one, first,” Melissa said as she ducked into the driver’s seat.

“Awesome,” I whispered to the air.

In exhausted silence, we began the much quieter journey home.

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About Amanda Stonebarger