The mark is not disappearing. I can’t stop staring at it – a thick, jagged “X” in black, off-centered on the back of my right hand.  It’s almost as if the mark was taken from another world and branded onto my hand, as my own. My goodness, why can’t I wash it off? It sticks out its sharp tongue with a red, dangerous smile, laughing at me for trying to hide it. Erasing this is impossible. I look over to my left and see a hand clean, untainted, and glowing. I look to my right and see a bold, outrageous one, pale in comparison. I wish they were both shining goodness. I follow from my right hand to my forearm and up to my shoulder. I know it isn’t, but I think this arm is dying. My left tries to regain control, all the way from my hand to my chest, but my right overpowers it. My gaze falls upon the mark on my right hand, and I recall its birth from several nights before on a dark, empty street in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

            The sound of a bell resounds from a tower nearby on a Tuesday, flowing through the lifeless street as I nervously trek towards my first night club experience. Many people may not think going to a club is a big deal, but for me it’s like jumping into sewage with my nicest clothes on. I’m not one of those people that go out on nights just to get drunk and “have fun.” If people were honest, they would probably testify to how good of a person I am. But anyways, weirdly, everything is still, except for the occasional flickering of hazard lights from an unoccupied car. Even the red lights above road intersections forever stop, hanging in the space above. It’s crazy, I know, but I keep looking frantically around me to assure security. Just when I think the area is clear, I hear the rattling of metal chains, and sense a person about to attack me. I look back with breath held. With a sigh of relief, I see a student running with a heavy backpack in the direction opposite to me, and I continue forward in worry. My heart pounds rapidly as I arrive at the street of my destination. I stop in my tracks as I look with contempt into the distance and see the sign of the night club, protruding its uniqueness with an enticing orange light, “NECTO.”

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My friend and I decide to eat dinner at a lovely restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. Brightly lit and filled with warm-brown wooden tables and chairs, I’m filled with comfort and happiness as we are seated and make our orders. Soon after our food arrives at the table: Japanese noodles glistening in glossy, white bowls. As usual, we say our prayers to give thanks for the meal, and with a hearty “Amen,” I begin to eat but stop when I hear hysterical laughter from a group of people sitting beside us, brazenly drinking alcohol. How can they do such a thing – in public? I ignore this displeasing sight, and begin gobbling the spectacular meal before me. With a big smile on my face, my friend and I leave the restaurant to be met with the loud sound of chattering, shouting, and laughing filling the street.

I look across and see a large gathering of people standing in a long line. My eyes follow from the far end of the line, and are led to a stop at a door underneath a glowing, orange sign: “NECTO.” I can’t believe my sight. On a cold night in mid-January, girls wear dresses revealing their breasts and naked legs and go into that awful place? My thoughts are suddenly interrupted by the voice of my friend, who I forgot was with me during this entire time of shock. “What’s with that look on your face?” he says, laughing. “You seriously look like you just got punched in the stomach.” I regain composure and turn to look at him. Pointing my thumb behind me at the place of evil, I respond, “That’s so wrong. Who would do that?” Confusion appears on his face and is suddenly replaced with understanding. “Oh, that’s right! You’ve never been to a club before.” “That’s right, and I never will,” I answer with pride seeping through my body, up and out of my head. “Well how holy you are,” he says with lifted, mocking hands and leaves me behind.

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             I had to go. So many times I lecture younger students I meet not to go there. I always talk about 1) how disgusting it is: the taste of sweat in the air, vomit all over the floor, people naked and having sex left and right. 2) How dangerous it is: people getting drunk and into life-threatening fights, girls getting sexually abused, and drugs slipped into everyone’s drinks when not looking. 3) How evil it is: that only the worst people in the world go there. Of course, I wasn’t sure if these facts I gave were completely true. After all, I’ve never been in a night club my entire life prior to my experience. But I knew the last reason that I listed was true for certain; clubbing is one of the worst possible sin. I had to take the risk of assuming my idea of night clubs was true – you know, for the sake of the innocent, younger students. Unfortunately, some of them ask me the one question that shreds all my efforts: “Have you been there before?” I can’t lie, so I reply with a light-hearted “no.” Although my ideologies prevent me from even thinking about going to a club, I need to go there to gain credibility. All my mocking and lecturing means nothing if I don’t experience this night club sensation myself. These students – they just don’t get the severity of going into that ravaged, corrupted place.
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Slowly, reluctantly, I creep towards the club. There’s no line here tonight. I arrive at a glass door and veer off to the right when I see three large men look at me at once, to which I react by pretending to have no intention to enter. I should have worn something different, like the guys I see usually standing out here with button-up dress shirts instead of my black winter jacket, sweat shirt, and tennis shoes. I want to just observe the club one night and leave after a few minutes, but shame seeps into me while merely standing outside of the place. I can’t turn back now, though. I’ve come too far. I need to be able to stand tall before the younger students. After repeatedly turning back and forth in circles, I open the door and enter the club.

I don’t know what to do; I’ve never felt so clueless in my life. There are three men around me. Who am I supposed to pay? Am I even supposed to pay? All I can hear is the pounding of my heart against my chest and the blast of music muffled through the thick cement walls. I focus in on the man to my right, hand held out in request for something. I scramble for the wallet in my pants, pull out a twenty, and place it in his hand. The silence around me breaks with short, monotone words that escape the man’s mouth, “ID, man.” In embarrassment I exclaim, “Oh!” as I take the twenty and replace it with my driver’s license. I can almost hear laughter coming from the two men behind me. The man takes a long look at me, pulls out a black permanent marker, and marks my hand.

Impossibly, the moment is finally here. I walk down the concrete steps into a dark alcove lit with a little red light in the corner. Fear stops me from entering. I don’t know what I’m going to witness. I could get ambushed the moment I take a step, but worst of all I – someone who’s never even sworn at or mistreated another person – may be forever sucked into this evil. I take a long, deep breath, remind myself of my need to do this, and enter this alien world of possible no-return.

What I expected to be a room filled with people pushed up against each other is just small and hollow, made of concrete, with a mere number of people less than ten. Dim red lights disperse throughout the darkness. A small, brightly lit bar that takes up about half the room is occupied by a casually-dressed bartender cleaning his table.  I observe the people in the room, only to find that they were staring at me from the moment I entered. Quickly I break eye contact and try to act normal. The problem with that solution is I don’t know what “normal” is at a night club. Two girls pass by and disappear into an opening emitting no light. I begin to follow them, but pause at the sight of a sign to the left of it, glowing red in large, bold letters: “THE RED ROOM.” Again, I feel the gaze of people behind me. Seeking escape, I enter that infamous place.

LED colored lights sear through the pitch black room. I walk down a small case of stairs, and soon realize I have to cross the middle of the room to reach a table. With my head down and shoulders shrugged I hurry through and take a seat in the far corner. I immediately pull out my phone and casually pretend to fiddle with it. I peer over my phone’s screen (unfortunately shining my face for all to see), and observe the two girls on what I presume is the dance floor of the club, unprovocatively dancing. The music is clear now: electronic genre, with loud sounds of indistinct bass and synthesizers. It actually doesn’t seem like devil music. Two guys take seats at an adjacent table, and with one glance towards me, I avert my eyes and vanish out the door.

Back at the main room, I find a staircase leading upstairs. I take it and find myself in a larger room, completely empty. It is lit with dim, yellow lights, and worn drapes cover the concrete walls. This is probably where people come and wildly drink, like at frat parties. But then again, I haven’t gone to one of those either. The room seems to be presented specially, but it’s really just a regular room, nothing outrageous. I return to the main room, and take one long look around and into The Red Room before heading towards the main entrance (pretending not to see the three men that witnessed my previous embarrassment, of course). There’s nothing so utterly sinful about this place. It’s just a building where people dance and have conversations. They could probably do the same things here in their own dorms or apartments. Calmly, this time, I open the door and go out into the street, leaving my fear and skepticism behind in that place.
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But the “X” stays with me. Everywhere I go I unconsciously attempt to cover it, except for those times that I have no choice but to leave it out in the open for all to see. I pick up my fork while eating with a friend, and incredulous, he asks if I went to a club, to which I quickly respond to defend myself. I unconsciously use hand gestures to speak with another friend from afar, and she shakes her head before I try to explain. What’s worst is when someone glances, as fast as the blink of an eye, at my hand while speaking face-to-face. I can’t clear any misunderstanding when the person pretends not to know and doesn’t mention it. What if they can’t believe I went to a club? Bringing up the topic would destroy their high view of me. All of these instances include a certain look that I get, a long stare into my soul during which a person hopelessly assumes I’m that kind of guy, building any further understanding of me upon that. Right now, because of this terrible mark on my hand, everyone thinks I’m the “bad guy,” the despicable person that I always mock and lecture against.

My friend and I exit out onto the street after eating dinner again, and for a few seconds I observe the expressions of the people’s faces. They’re the same as always, the appearance of freedom from worry of judgment. I turn to the left and head towards home. “Aren’t you going to talk about how messed up they are?” I hear my friend joking as he catches up to walk beside me. I turn my head to respond, Yea, of course they are, but then look back down in silence as I squeeze my hand hidden in my pocket, hoping desperately for it to disappear.

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