Thursday, May 15, 2008


There was the time that S_____ asked me to the Homecoming dance during the first week of Life Drawing class. Looking back, there was never even the feel of an attraction between us, besides the excitement of meeting a new friend; but S_____ was clearly very handsome, and I was eager to put the nail in the coffin of my awkward and lonely years. Somehow I knew to show up to his friend C_____'s room for cocktails before the dance; once there, I learned that S______ had asked another girl to the dance. It's long enough ago that I don't remember how explicit this revelation was. Did the others in the room know that I was the forgotten date? Did S_____ blurt out an apology for asking two girls to the dance? Did anyone know what I was doing there at all? Not only did I not know the other people in the room (except one or two by sight), I didn't know anything about their milieu. I was a public school veteran from down the road; they were prep school graduates from up North. Their vodka-gimlet conversation tossed nuances, references, and attitudes far over my head. No one was exactly nasty to me, I simply didn’t exist in their world. I remember I was busy trying to plot my way out of the room, out of the evening; I remember I was wearing a short black and white dress with huge shoulder pads; I remember that I was anchored in an armchair at one end of the room, with the couples sitting in two rows before me.

It was a small party in a small chamber; I didn't have the language (literally, the right phrase or two) that would allow me to leave the room with what I would have called dignity. I had to wait it out. My chance came when we all rose to walk across the foot-bridge to the dance. I faded into the night's darkness in the other direction, virtually without a sound.

This last image reminds me of a party I attended in high school, a "field party" as we called them. Field parties were less about wide open fields in the middle of nowhere and more about someone whose house had a large acreage of yard. This particular party was being held at a small house out in the rural, western end of the county (the county lines being the parameters of our world); the house sat at the bottom of a steep hill. The steep hill was flood-lit by a single light which guarded the front door like an evil eye; the light was so bright that it had the effect, in fact, of hiding the house from sight. Sharp shadows formed the edges of the party.

Sharp edges were drawn also around the "camp" that was holding the affair. This was a jock's party, and I wasn't. (In fact, I did play one sport, but was not part of the jock faction.) Some childhood friends of mine had taken me out this night--graduation night for the class ahead of us--and this was their scene, not mine. I was anxious and curious how the evening would play out. Here I was with old friends who knew me and cared about me, but they had brought me to the viper's nest of this crowd. I was anxious because of my past with these people, but curious because my present social situation was much different than it once had been. My life now included new friends and shared affinities. My interests had diverged so completely from those of this crowd tonight; what could we possibly have to say to each other? Did we exist for each other at all?

Before I could wonder too long and hard about it, the ground slid out from under me. I slipped far down the hill, which was long of uncut grass and slick of keg beer. I slipped so far that I fell out of the light that shone on the people, until I was inhabiting the darkness outside of the party. Once there, I couldn’t think of a good reason to reenter: the light, the party, the throngs. So I stood and watched. I waited, with relief, for the party to pass.

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