semi-dark room, another Friday night, a year and a half after graduation.
Laughter rises from an apartment upstairs, thumping and clomping, all too
familiar. Laughter, cackling and almost musical at the same time. Once, I
laughed like that. Now I sound like a constipated goose.
Were getting fucked up tonight, someone calls,
voice deep and yet awkward with young adulthood. I recognize this
Were the kings, another voice yells in response.
Easy to think that way when youre twenty-one, twenty-two. Twenty-six
Dance, asshole, another voice calls out. Or at least I
think thats what she says. Sometimes you hear everything through the
walls and other times, its like living on Mars and listening for sounds
way into the expanse of stars.
try to drown it out. Pull the moon-and-stars sheets over me, the thick wool
blankets too. Soon it will be over, soon the smiles of Friday will turn to the
dreariness and inevitability of Saturday, the motions of pragmatism and
aloneness. But words invade the sheets, the blankets, the pillow even, cracking
like fireworks. I cant make them all out, but theyre clearly full
of hope. This is their moment, their party, and they are seizing it.
So I get up. Turn on the computer. I try to ignore the email,
opened in another tab. Inbox. No numbers. Ads, links to news stories, rejection
letters from a couple of lit mags. Another tab, a half-assed CV glaring at me,
jobs waiting to be applied for.
turn on some Netflix, screen breaking the dusty darkness, the bare sterile
walls. My choice: The Ranch. Thats the first show that comes to mind. I
could watch something else. But I cant think of what. Everything else is
too trite, or too dark and rife with disease, death, destruction, everything in
But not even Sam Elliotts f-bomb spewing mustache can keep
me safe. More laughter, the thump of speakers, cheering rises, mingling with
the shows egregious laugh track. I imagine bodies moving, connections of
hands and hips, secrets whispered. I think of the days of laughter, with Fritz
and Chris and David, playing pool in basements, Chris trying to show me how to
wield a pool cue, the cue always slipping. Fritz talking about that novel he
wanted to write, the one about aliens. David telling a story about painting
Hitler mustaches on mannequins in his hometown mall. Then there were the four
of us, at the dollar theater, huddled in the hallways before fiction workshop,
or at Bavos Bar on Tuesday nights in our booth, a swath of warm light a
witness, while we talked about favorite movies, and my fondness for writing
dysfunctional family tales.
You can only write the same story once, Fritz joked,
raising his Fat Tire, taking a long swig of amber ale.
Get the fuck out of here, I quipped and did my dancing
eyebrow routine, which earned me shoves across the table.
No, Chris said. Gotta agree with that. At some
point you move on. How many times can some miserable fictional fuck drink
himself silly because of his past?
Check back with me in ten years, Id joked,
throwaway words then.
Gotta move, move, move, David said, with a gesture
that looked like someone having a seizure. Be gone stasis. Ill
predict, Nick, that you end up working in some indie theater.
Get the fuck out of here, I said again. Not an
indie theater. Although I love that. At least those movies have some
resemblance to real life. No CGI crap. Just real, limited budgets, and organic
settings. And quirky characters.
Still predicting indie theater, David said again, and
we all laughed.
pause the show now. Maybe some music will help me relax. Spotify list offers me
the majesty of Tchaikovsky, the Impressionistic tinkling of Debussy. But
Tchaikovskys Festival Coronation March only evokes celebration,
achievement. Gathering. The speakers upstairs thump, thump, thump, as if
calling me to dance, even though were separated by a ceiling, a boundary
so firm, and yet so fragile.
Why do people say stay in touch after graduation? Why do they text
for the first year and then responses become more laconic, platitudes? Hope
youre well. Just been busy. Talk soon, talk soon. Not even emails dotted
with copious Is. I know only that Fritz is writing for some
newspaper, Chris is pursuing a Ph.D, and Davids an editor in some great
city. No details for me, no stories of horrible bosses and criticisms and
nicknames for said bosses. No secrets about wanting to take over their papers
and publishing houses or wild dreams for the future.
get up, pace the expanse of bare floor. Ive always thought of getting a
rug, even one like the Dudes in The Big Lebowski, but rugs connote
intimacy, the motion of multiple pairs of feet, the motion of bodies and life.
No, the bare floor is cold, a series of oak lines, but its
Thump, thump, thump.
go into the kitchen, reach into the fridge with wine stains, traces of hot
sauce, wine, Vienna sausages, hummus, and pita. I pour myself a big glass of
Merlot. Sink into that midnight black couch, the one that sags a bit and has a
few rips on the arms. Maybe I can let the wine wash over me, a tide. Maybe,
just maybe, I can sink into a kind of dream, even if its a half-groggy
one. Something beyond the walls, the thumping, the empty spaces. Maybe I can
forget, forget that this was Friday, wake up the next morning to only blurred
images and fragments, walk out into the world among the thrum of bodies and
movement. Absorb the brush of an arm, the scent of Old Spice or deodorant, even
the traces of a joint or a bonus smile, scents of life and
Thump, thump, thump. More laughter. The sound of something
breaking upstairs and cheers, as if destruction is a virtue. I think of the
motion of Fritz, Chris, David, and me pushing and shoving, even while older
people looked in disapproval or befuddlement. And I think of the way we all
laughed, arresting these observers and their expressions, arched eyebrows,
pursed lips, gaping O mouths.
Please shut the fuck up, I yell now, the words taking
on a harshness I even didnt intend, something that holds the weight of
something much, much darker. Please stop. Please, please
Thump, thump, laugh, laugh. Thump, thump, laugh, laugh. I imagine
the partiers upstairs, dispersing one by one when the night deepens. Tonight,
they think they have it all. But I wonder if they know the truth of things. I
wonder if theyre dancing, declaring war on the inevitable, but
surrendering to it as they slink away, reciting their friends names and
favorite movies and scents over and over, like a liturgy. Reciting their most
idiotic moments to themselves too, of toilet-papered lawns and passing out and
just riding around in noisy trucks or Daddys BMW, horns honking, bodies
standing on roofs and backseats roaring without thought of the next days
hangovers, proof of poor judgment.
The computer lingers in my room, with empty screens, no doubt, an
inbox without a magic 1, 2, or a truly magic 3 to break the electronic stasis.
Same as yesterday, same as the week before, the month before.
As if some darker force rushes through like a train, I feel my
grip on the wine glass loosening, feel my hand pulling back, feel the glass
released, flying through the air, a half-awake motion, something that feels
distant until it strikes the living room wall, shattering. The sound echoes,
arresting, accusing, a sound out of place, an inevitable sound.
Around me the moon silhouettes dusty floors, white walls, now
stained with wine. A plain faux marble table between the living room and
kitchen, its own island. Upstairs, there are cartons of beer and probably
pizzas or Mexican or whatever they ordered, clothes and condoms strewn all over
the place, a chaotic, yet soothing scene. Proof of other bodies.
stare at the scene unfurling. I could pick up the glass. But I dont. I
let it all sink, a trail of wine sliding and snaking onto the floor, absorbing
itself into that empty oak. Ruins spread, piece by piece. I stare at the shards
of glass, sharp, silhouetted by the pale moon. Each piece is so uneven, some
larger, some ridiculously small, some in between. But each holds an equal
amount of pain. Ill pick them up tomorrow when I can deal with sharpness,
when I have the daylight around me.
The room feels oddly small now.
rise from the couch. Walk downstairs, one step at a time into the parking lot.
Standing outside the my maroon and green building, a rather hideous edifice, I
look up at that window above me. Silhouettes move, so close to one another, a
sea roaring and moving, and I can see the motion of beers and glasses. I try to
make out the faces, but see only shapes, fluid, and fleeting. Colors bounce
against the walls, blues, greens, oranges, and reds, a spinning miniature disco
ball, measuring the beat of desperation and joy and a moment in time.
Party tonight, I yell. Party tonight because
its all you have.
The bodies keep moving and laughter keeps rising. Someone makes a
joke about The Hangover and ending up on the roof, another says its the
best party. Ever. A proclamation with confidence, without nuance. Not a nod,
nor a voice calls out, although a part of me imagines it. Welcome. Or even a
nickname, although they dont know my birth one.
Do you hear me? I yell. Have the best party of
So many parties seemed like that. The first-year party at some
poets house, where Fritz, Chris, David and I smoked and when it seemed
like wed never separate, while the poets gathered in their corners and
discussed how Walt Whitman was dead or some other trite matters.
My last birthday party before graduation, at the bar. I shook my
ass to the throb of Lady Gaga, The Eagles, even Kenny Rogers, embracing the
pink and purple jukebox because it seemed right and full of energy. They all
laughed, laughter so discordant, awkward, yet perfect. Then there was the
graduation party, the one where we promised to stay in touch, when our
achievements were all laid out before us and we let loose a little more,
telling bad jokes, and talking of being different, that different teacher, that
good, kind editor, that kickass author who didnt give a care about
Stay in touch. Famous last words.
reach into the empty expanse of air. I shadowbox it. Shove it. Pretend to push
at it. A girl passes and another, both shaking their heads. But I push at the
air again. Feel only the coolness of evening, Then I touch myself once, twice,
on the shoulder, on the head. I even try to hug myself, hands pulled as tightly
to myself as possible, but feel only cracked hands, like weary sandpaper. I
cant hold on long enough anyway and let go of this contortion, arms
released into the night, which seems much colder than before as I climb the
stairs again, dragging out each step.