My friends and I sit in the café brainstorming ideas for party themes.
“I’ve got one: biomes,” Sam says. We’re running out of original ideas. We’ve been throwing a lot of parties lately.
I used to look forward to the weekend. I would wonder who we’d meet, where we’d end up at the end of the night, what kind of questionable decisions we’d make. Now I’m afraid I’ve met everyone there is to meet, there’s nowhere to go and every question is answerable: same as last weekend.
“What kind of drinks would we serve?” one of my friends asks.
“We always throw parties in the basement. It’s so closed off. Let’s throw one where you can wander the whole building. Change up the scenery,” I say, drawing a map of the building on the inside cover of my book.
“And?” Ryan asks.
I haven’t quite thought this through.
“Okay, picture it: Everyone is drunk. The person you walked in with is nowhere to be found. You decide to check upstairs. You miss her because she’s also looking for you, walking downstairs on stair B.” I circle the corner stairwell.
“You try to call her. Someone else answers. She’s swapped phones with someone on the second floor. That’s what you do on the second floor, because everyone is just sick of reading messages written for them; it could be part of a drinking game. On the third floor, that’s where the real party is, that’s where everyone wants to be. On the fourth floor, there’s another party, but this one is always slightly less exciting than the third floor. But only slightly, so that everyone wants to be at both. And then on the first floor, we could sit and tell everyone that their friend is looking for them. I call it: Search Party.”
“I love it,” Sam says. Sam once texted at two in the morning asking if I had any ideas for weird things we could do. She’d apparently sent that text to two other people as well. She liked my idea best though, so we drove around yelling “GORDY!” at strangers as though they were our friend Gordy. I’ve never met anyone with that name. “We all love a good search, right?” she asks. I appreciate her enthusiasm.
“Oh, and at the party, there could be no rules about how long you need to stay talking to someone you don’t like. You can look for someone you like better, everyone else will be looking for someone else too,” she adds.
“Good thinking, Sam.” She might be my only friend.
“You forgot about the basement,” Ryan says.
“Eh. I kind of want to leave one thing unplanned,” I explain. If this party doesn’t surprise me then I’ll have to move to a different continent or get into harder drugs.
It’s the warmest December on record. We walk around in flip-flops when we go out to buy party supplies. Global warming is unsettling, but being unsettled keeps you on your toes. My emotions used to be in sync with the calendar. Every December brought the same feelings. But this is different. And it’s not that I’m July feelings, just at the wrong time; I’m having new feelings altogether. It’s never been that particular combination of things before: bare trees, warm breeze, early dusk. Who knows how long it will last?
“It’s so warm outside. Why not make it a pool party?” Ryan asks. I don’t like Ryan.
This was a suggestion I’d already heard from him. And it sounded so innocent. It’s because when people drink by the water, they have to pretend like they aren’t sort of planning to get drunk and take off all their clothes. It has to appear spontaneous.
Though you might like to do it at every possible chance, you can’t do it too often. You shouldn’t skinny dip more than 50 times in your life. I’ve done the math. That’s it. That’s optimal. You also can’t put skinny dipping down as a hobby on your online dating profile. It’s like saying you like to dance on tables. It’s something you need to uncover about somebody.
We’d already had a pool party and almost everyone got naked. That was the best outcome we could have hoped for. It wasn’t something we needed to repeat.
I tell him I’ve been to too many pool parties. I could go the rest of my life without going to another one. You shouldn’t be able to utter the words “the rest of my life” without passing out. But I say it and I don’t because I’m not thinking about what it means to have a whole life ahead of you. I have thought about it. All I get from it is a headache. I get nowhere. We ought to think about it more when we sign contracts and plan our weekends. “Besides,” I add, “we already sent out invitations. What’s wrong with the Search Party?”
“Some of us are trying to meet people,” Ryan says with a laugh. He places this emphasis on “meet” that makes it sound like he means “fuck.”
“I’m trying to meet people, Ryan,” I say flatly. My friends are crazy about “meeting” people, going home with them, leaving me behind. I’m always the last one at the party. They’ll see me talking to a boy and get disappointed when I have no story for them at brunch the next morning. They say things like, “Why are we surprised? You are the antisocial one.”
I’m plenty social. Besides, what better way to meet people? Sure, everyone will be disoriented from the party and the drinks, but that will make them move around. It will be like a carousel. Much more exciting than staring at people on a couch.
One of my friends asks if there could be a scavenger hunt.
I laugh at her. How could I not? A party that tells you what you’re looking for? “Cold, cold, warm, warmer, hot, colder, ON FIRE”? That wouldn’t be fun at all.
Sam and I have known each other for three years. We’ve slowly become closer and closer. Very slowly. I think it would be interesting to look at a graph of our closeness—the distance between us on the Y axis, time on the X. The line would be curved. It would start to approach 0, but it would never reach it. I see a distance that cannot be overcome with her. I like it, though, having someone within arm’s reach and not right by your side. I guess so that you can use that arm to push them away while you hang on tight. If the graph could project our closeness in another three years, I expect it wouldn’t change much.
Maybe there will be a sudden jump in distance. I might just leave this whole place behind. It kind of depends on how the party goes.
“Haircut’s here?” Sam looks at me, stunned.
I see him walking over. I quickly search the category in my brain “Pretty Boys in Social Circle” to find his real name. Taylor.
“Hey, Taylor.” I have a fuzzy memory of us from last year when we bumped into each other at some sort of social gathering. It’s fuzzy, but I do clearly remember this moment: We were talking about something and then Ryan, drunk, came over and started harassing us, yelling that everyone was going to the bar and asking why we weren’t coming. Taylor looked right at him and said, “Why are you asking us like that? Really.” I can’t explain why, but it was just glorious. Something about the way he said it. I burst out laughing.
We had fun together that night, walking to the bar in the back of the crowd. I never told Sam about it. I tell her mostly bullet points and I skip details like this one. I don’t like the thought of sharing every part of me with someone—especially someone who I suspect isn’t sharing every part of herself with me.
Sam knows this about me and seems to admire it. I didn’t realize any of this until the intimacy issues became a topic of conversation. Guess my breakup with Grant brought them into light. Whenever I tell her that I expect nothing and trust no one, she says I have a good head on my shoulders, like she’s jealous. I keep trying to tell her that it’s just that I’m fucked up.
She doesn’t listen. When I go on about the way I’m willing to give so-and-so a chance but just can’t, she seems to like it. She does. You can tell by looking at who she dates. Someone with an open heart is basically disqualified from being with her. It shouldn’t be a turn-on when someone tells you they’re hung up on someone else, but it is for her. She tells me that outward dysfunction is attractive because, I don’t know, she thinks it’s easier to be with someone who admits to being fucked up. That’s one way to look at it, Sam, I tell her. There’s got to be more that she’s not telling me, because that is fucking dark. I’m not saying that she’s wrong, though.
She says I should be proud that I’m the way I am. What do you mean, I asked once. Flighty? She just said, “You loved someone. That’s great.”
I wasn’t following.
“I just mean, you’re right; you’re flighty. But it’s like you have battle scars. Own it. I wanna hear you say, ‘If you think this is bad, you should see the other guy,’ and like, plop your broken heart down on the table at a pub or some shit.”
I told her it sounded like a great way to meet men, but I was going to refrain.
So anyway, I don’t see Taylor much anymore and I wonder what he’s been up to.
“Hey, Sarah,” he says without a smile. Finally, something different.
We’re dancing but we can’t stop talking, or talking and won’t stop dancing. I can’t hear him. I ask if we could move to the stairwell, unsure if he’ll be willing to leave the party. He takes my hand and walks towards the door. There is a steady stream of people moving from one floor to the next and back again. Everyone is drunk. It’s exactly as I’d planned it. But it’s too noisy. We walk down three flights of stairs, down to the basement. There’s no party there. We find that we’re all alone.
We sit on the basement couch. I’m waiting for desire to kick in but it’s out of my control. Grant’s the only person I’ve ever looked at and wanted to undress and see up close.
The first night with Grant, I felt nervous to ask, but I just wanted be naked together. Having sex with him scared me for some reason. I was used to feeling directionless and displaced desire for everyone, and I felt too much for him—all of it for just one person, right in front of me. I didn’t just want something to happen. I wanted it to be with him.
So I asked if he could just let me take my time and he didn’t ask me what I meant or why. We took off our clothes. We kissed. I told him that I finally got what tongues are for.
Then we stopped.
From there, it wasn’t a gradual thing. I felt ready to have sex the next night. Bridging the gap had always been hard for me, but it felt good to stop wanting him and just sort of have him.
We would sometimes talk about that not-quite-sex night and how much we’d both loved it. He’d say, “It felt like something was telling me: enjoy your last night before this changes everything.” He told me I always chose the best times to pause things; how that was truly an art.
No one’s ever complimented me on that. People usually tell me “hurry up” or “move on.” He was patient with me.
A year later, though, I was afraid he was losing interest. I said, “Hey, remember the first time we were naked together and we just kissed? Can we try that right now?” We did. I tried to focus on our lips. But then I stopped and looked at him. I started to cry. He stared up at me like it could have been a pause or an ending and it would have made no difference to him. It wasn’t patience anymore.
So I couldn’t stop crying, though then I didn’t understand why. At first, I told myself they were tears of joy, told him that I was so happy to be with him, he was everything I wanted. Then I realized that I was crying because all that we had felt the first night had died. I felt abandoned.
After that, I knew it was over. I dumped him before he could dump me.
It had been so easy for him to do that. To fall in love. I’m afraid of people like that now.
Taylor and I talk until I hear the sound of a vacuum from upstairs. He brings up the “imagine if the stars only came out once a year” thought experiment. As he talks, I nod and hope he thinks that I understand. I think I do understand. We live in a beautiful world and we just get used to it the way we get used to the smell of paint fumes as they slowly kill brain cells. I want a world that holds nothing but fumes. I confess to him I love the smell of wet paint. Maybe that can be the theme for the next party. A Wet Paint Party.
“Shouldn’t you be on the first floor with the other hosts, making drinks for people and telling them the rules?” he jokes.
“You know, maybe.”
“And…aren’t we breaking the rules? I thought we weren’t supposed to stay talking for this long.”
“No, no. That’s only the rule for people you don’t like. I might actually like you.” I don’t add this, but I want him to be my best friend. It makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with Sam. Maybe two people with built-in distance are better off staying far apart. Taylor and I have gotten to a different place already and the sun hasn’t come out yet. Or maybe it has, but it hasn’t reached us here in the basement. I want to explain everything I’m thinking to him but I stop myself.
Is there a point at which honesty becomes dishonest? When you share every thought you have, don’t you stop communicating effectively? The way I understand myself is by being selective about what thoughts I choose to hang on to, which urges I choose to follow. If I listened to all of them I’d be a mess. So if I do tell him everything, does he really know me or does he know me just as poorly as I know myself? Though does distance actually help? Does closeness? This distance between us: I know I can change it. I distrust all of my instincts—if they can even be called instincts— but even so, I have to figure out which one to follow.
I kiss him. There’s a smell that can only be made by the proper pairing of lips. It has something to do with pheromones linked to your genetics. When we kiss, it isn’t there.
-Ari Basche, class of 2016