Your phone rings. It’s Monica. You used to be roommates in college, now she only calls when there’s a party and they need to fill it up. She sounds stressed out. Someone is yelling at her in the background, probably her boyfriend. After a week spent sitting on the couch, you decide to go. There will be music, alcohol, weed, coke, LSD. Some of your high school friends will be there. Maybe you’ll even meet someone new. Besides, you can’t think of anything better to do tonight. Worst case, you write a short story. You carefully pick out an outfit and a happy face. You go for the “I don’t care” look (even though you do).
The party is close to a major subway stop, kind of. Not bad. You google the directions and wince at all the complicated steps. Three bus rides, one subway line, a half hour walk. Getting there and back will cost you two hours of work at the café. Your parents try to convince you to just stay home and watch a romantic comedy with them instead. They offer you chocolate and homemade wine. Something about their gaze makes you want to leave sooner. You tell them not to worry, your friends will be there. Your father tells you to be safe, don’t do anything dumb. He’s been there before. He looks upset.
It takes a sobering hour to arrive. Bobbing around uncomfortably on three separate bus lines must be worth it, you think. You smell people chain smoking cigarettes on the front porch before you see them standing outside the house. They wave hello, you wave back. You’ve memorized the steps to get inside: drop off coat, walk through the hallway, enter the kitchen, get a drink, exhale. The mood has already been set. The script was written before you had your first sip:
Hey, what up?
You enter the kitchen. A glittery “squad” appears. They huddle over empty shot glasses to bump cheap cocaine. Everyone has a drink in their hand except you. You fill half a red solo cup with clear liquor. The host tells you there’s more soda in the fridge. You notice a table full of comfort food and your mouth begins to water. BBQ chips, cheese puffs, holiday cookies, two-bite brownies, and a stack of eight giant white boxes leaning against the wall. They reveal pizza cut up in small squares. You instinctively grab two pieces at once and lean against the wall as well. The familiar combination of white bread, plain tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese fills your stomach.
As you step into the living room, you notice the lighting shift from boring yellow to neon pink. You see tiny electric blue lights dance across the ceiling. There is a desperate need to make sense of it all. We’ve agreed on a reality that lacks depth. The DJ sets up cartoonish speakers in the corner. Charcoal black with a bright yellow shell. Everyone remains congregated in the kitchen. No one dares to make the first step. The incessant chatting tunes into the loud refrigerator hum. A smaller speaker blares metal music downstairs while the DJ blasts pop songs from the millennium. The opposing sounds compete for the crowd’s attention. Our vibrations meld into one distorted beat.
Your thoughts bounce along to the repetitive rhythm. Where’s Chelsea? Is she still dating Greg? What are they doing now? Should I look for them? How come they never come look for me? Whenever you think of anything outside of these walls, it feels like you’re getting a migraine. It’s better to just stay here. Get used to it. Give in. Your options are to stand still, walk around and be tempted by the food, eavesdrop on conversation topics you are not really interested in, or go smoke outside. You walk straight to the pizza and devour a third piece. Your stomach feels stuffed, but you don’t mind. You’re used to being uncomfortable. The sour keys you swallowed earlier make you puke a little bit in your mouth.
A beer pong table is set up downstairs. Here, teams compete to chug as much beer as possible. Bystanders watch from the sidelines, occasionally tossing back the ping pong balls, and every now and then, a shallow laugh as well. We are distracted from our thoughts for the duration of the game. A terrorized cat sits directly beneath, unable to escape. You contemplate her strategy. Why is she so desperate for human attention? Why won’t she just leave? You freeze. Is it because there is no escape? The party girls stumble down the stairs in their studded heels. Giggles replace speech. One of them kneels down as she tries to get the cat to lick her hand. They reek of bile and sweet wine. If their hair was naturally straight, it’s curled. If it was naturally curly, it’s straight. The belly button piercings that they got in high school have now fused into their flesh. They wear chunky earrings that cost half their rent. They smile with fake eyelashes that they had to glue on. The males wear bands shirts and jeans.
They move in packs. Chuckling, squealing, pissing, passing looks to their friends. Their personalities condensed into sushi socks and memes. Occasionally, someone repeats an “edgy” message that popped up on their newsfeed. Usually, it’s the one with catalogue tattoos, eyebrow piercings, or cotton candy streaks in their hair who speaks up. Their message lacks both commitment and style. They stand out in a predictable way. You realize you are them. They are you. We are animals. We socialize because we can’t fend for ourselves. We copy the trends that make us blend in. We pretend to be interesting to stand out. Society magnified on the living room couch. We’re all just trying to survive. So, now what?
You realize that you are observing far too much. Aren’t parties supposed to get you to stop thinking every once in a while? Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. They haven’t wiped off their smiles yet. So why did you smear yours off as soon as you entered this house? It doesn’t seem like anyone else is experiencing an existential crisis. Their lifestyle doesn’t bother them. If only you could just fully let go. Relax. Dance. Release. Gorge. Fuck. Give in. Forget about all the little details that add up to nothing. Be alive. Maybe these glass bottles aren’t poison after all, but magical potion. Maybe its not that bad. You try to join a conversation, but people leave before its your turn to talk. Otherwise, they stand alone and slouch with their phones in their hands. They constantly update their social media profiles to show off their “lit” night.
You give up on human interaction and play video games. There are still some Cheetos left.
During your last sesh on the front porch, you overhear someone talking about how their brother got sent to the ER after overdosing on LSD, cough medicine, PCP, alcohol, and cocaine. You’re entranced by his misery, you can’t look away. Apparently, his heart gave up. The nurses had to use a defibrillator and CPR to reset his heartbeat. Miraculously, he survived. He laughed uncontrollably when he saw everyone’s serious faces staring down. Now his family is desperately trying to get him to go to rehab, but he claims he’s fine. He just beat death; he’s a superstar.
A sudden round of hugs marks the end of the first stage of festivities. Your friends have to go to bed. Everyone says they had a good time, they’re glad they came. Tomorrow morning, they have to wake up early to go to work so that they can repeat this night again. Someone knocks their head against the sharp corner of the railing of the stairs. He laughs. He doesn’t realize he’s bleeding. He won’t bother to check if it’s a concussion. Someone else nearly collapses outside. You help her find a bathroom, her friends have already left. She pukes on the carpet. You offer the couch you had reserved to sleep on and she passes out. You head back upstairs.
You feel trapped in a microcosm of human destruction.
All the lights are still on. They stab your bloodshot eyes. While exploring every possible means of escape, the cat has gone missing. Her panicked owner gets a couple of coke heads to search outside. Downstairs, a rapper slurs about raping bitches and getting too fucked up. You want to complain, but remember from the last party that the easiest way to piss off someone on coke is to talk shit about coke. You lie back on the living room couch and hope they turn it down soon like they promised. The music rocks you to sleep like an alcoholic’s lullaby.
The birds begin to chirp frantically. They’re used to being fed at a certain time. You desperately want to sleep, but the quiet only comes in unpredictable bursts. You sway in and out of dreams. This time it’s a nightmare about being a cricket trapped in a paper bag. Your sister picked you up, opened the bag and tossed you into her iguana’s cage. All the crickets were desperately trying to escape. You’re awake. It’s difficult to readjust to this reality. The kitchen light switches off and on. Every time you turn it off, a ghost turns it back on. You nearly fall back asleep when suddenly you hear lovers arguing into the morning light. Her desperate cries pierce the night.
A strip of sunshine settles across your eyelids. It’s too hot. You smell fried bacon and hear someone cracking eggs. Your stomach growls. You’re hungry again. But first, you must find a bathroom sink. Your mouth is caked with drool, your eyes are crusty. A tired stare pops onto the mirror. You’ve been here before and you feel guilty for coming back. For making the same mistakes. This is the part of the script where you talk about last night, whoever is there gets spared from the gossip. You can leave whenever you want, but you don’t. It’s cold outside.