Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
List of Characters (in order of appearance)
The Now-Sedated Maniac
The Observer, aka The Always Vigilant
The Fool, aka The Poor Fool, aka The Poor Old Fool
The Overlooked, The Unmentioned
New Year’s Eve:
I am sitting on a long couch mixed with longtime friends and Unknowns. The large living room is packed tight with college students looking to get laid. Beer cans and chip crumbs are scattered all over stained carpeting and there is a pile of buffalo wing bones decaying in a corner. The collective smells of booze, ball sweat, and bongs being ripped are enough to drive those with even the strongest of stomachs away from the scene.
The house party is in Hartford, Connecticut and after the long drive I am left questioning whether coming down here was worth it. Another sip of my seltzer and I could not feel more empty. Everyone awaits the new year as I stand at a cliff’s edge, resisting the temptation to jump off and make a fool out of myself. Some things never change.
The music is not ideal either. An agonizing mix of commercial EDM, Drake rip-offs, and occasional Taylor Swift songs cycles endlessly. I can swear the playlist has restarted for the fifth time since I got here, but this matters little when there are loud conversations spazzing out all over each other throughout the room. I reach for the headphones in my pocket but show self-restraint. I would not like to start the new year being anti-social.
Guests are either drunk, high, or both. I am none of the above, at least not yet, and am not too thrilled to be a spectator of their stupidity. I scan the room, desperately searching for someone to connect with. My eyes meet with The Now-Sedated Maniac, who sits bouncing his leg with his girlfriend sprawled on top of him. Their chair continues to lean further and further back with each leg bounce. I am completely sure that at some point the chair is going to give out, but the grin he flashes my way says otherwise. I cannot help but smile back, at least someone is having fun at this party.
Suddenly an Unknown stumbles over in a cheap T-Rex costume (this is all completely true, by the way, and I am sad to say I was never so fortunate as to find out why he chose such an eccentric outfit) and begins speaking in a voice that evoked memories of my Chrysler Pacifica’s engine while on its last limbs. From a few overheard conversations, this guy is the life of these parties. Case in point, The Observer sits next to me hanging on every word that sputters out of this kid’s mouth.
“Oh my f—–g God, how do you guys hang out with [name removed for reasons undisclosed]? That kid is f—–g cancer in its purest form. I mean, Jesus Christtt, I would like to go back in time and push his pregnant mother down a flight of stairs. Seriously, how the f—k do you guys put up with him?”
The Observer lets out a high cackle and I cannot help but join in. [name removed for reasons undisclosed] is not someone I would call my best friend, but the way this kid degrades him to a previously incomprehensible level of human waste is more than admirable. It is becoming clear why this is the one Unknown you would make sure was on the guest list.
“Let me tell you, look me in the eyes, right here. I am telling you the f—–g truth. Are you looking me in the eyes? F—k, I can’t tell. Doesn’t matter anyway. This kid is so f—–g annoying, I heard yesterday he pushed someone through a wall and left a huge gaping hole. I mean, you know me, and I get drunk, but this kid… This kid doesn’t even own up to it. Do you hear what I am saying? This kid…”
Unable to finish his own train of thought, the dinosaur-clothed man stumbles away and whatever blip of excitement there was dies back down instantly. With my only distraction now gone, I cannot help but think that deep down I would rather be alone. It takes all the power within me to contort my “eyes looking down on the floor, depression taking over, I would do anything to not be here right now” look into a “I cannot to wait to hit the sack once this party is over because I am just so tired” look. The Observer, as always, sees through my disguise.
“What is up with you?”
I take a sip of my seltzer water. “Eh, these parties… Don’t they ever seem played out to you?”
“What, are you bored?”
“I guess. Like haven’t we been going to the same party since high school?”
The Observer sips his beer and looks around the party.
“Well, the thing that always got me through these parties was trying to understand people’s motives. Prime example: Have you noticed him over there?”
Across the room stood The Poor Fool, deep into a game of beer pong. The Poor Fool was a large, one-dimensional, but lovable cartoon within my old friend group. My father would often refer to him as Dudley, with no further explanation than one would assume his name had to be Dudley. The Poor Fool was making of a stab at getting with one of the female Unknowns. By no means someone to write home about, but clearly in a different league than The Poor Fool.
So naturally I say, “Yeah, he’s been trying to get with that girl the whole night. Big deal.”
“Exactly. And do you see the pain in his eyes? Notice how he looks down every time she turns away. He has been going after this girl for months, doing just about everything he can to let the girl know he likes her, and you know what the saddest thing is?”
“He knows that she knows that he likes her and he knows that she knows that nothing between them will ever happen. And you know this would not be particularly sad if this was an isolated incident, but I watch this happen every time we have a party and it is rough for me to watch. Like can you imagine being him?”
I pause, waiting for my brain to bring together a proper rebuttal. I respond, “Yeah, I get it, he’s sad. But do you see me here with a girl right now?”
“No, you are not getting it. Come closer, we can’t have him hearing this. That’s better. Look, this kid’s life is consumed with rejection. It is like he is watching a car crash happen over and over again. You may see it as pathetic, but I’ll tell you this is tragedy played out if I’ve ever seen it.”
And perhaps The Observer was right. It was easy to sit here and feel a little embarrassed for The Poor Fool, but in reality it held a deeper sadness. The humor of him failing masked a true sorrow that no one ever wanted to see. How The Observer could perceive all these things and still keep an upbeat attitude was beyond my comprehension entirely. However, this did not change the fact that the party was still one-note and superficial. There were no concealed motives other than “I like that person and would like to get with them.”
“There’s no depth though, so he is sad on a deeper level than I realized. He still plays into a game he knows the result to.”
“Is there not something noble in his attempt though?”
“It is still empty.”
“Once he finally gets with that girl, the girl who will finally say yes to the question he’s been asking so many girls since I have known him, once she says yes all will be worth it and I am telling you that will be the most beautiful moment of any college man’s life. It will be a joy that neither you nor I could ever hope to experience and I am rooting for the guy.”
I take another sip of my seltzer, contemplating it all. The Observer shoots me a look noticing I was not fully convinced and in turn searches for something to say.
“Regardless, look, we are at a college party. There is not supposed to be any depth to these situations. Look around you, this is the cesspool of deprivation.”
The Observer was always reliable for a laugh and I felt a little better. Needing to refill my drink I got up when The Patriarch bumped into me.
“We are going to smoke a cigar outside, let’s go.”
Connecticut is not warm during late December if that is not already completely obvious. A small group of us huddle around the cigar as if it were a campfire. The cigar possesses an ancient romanticism that feels disconnected from the world around us. It continues to make its rounds as the four of us pass it along.
To my left is The Patriarch, the old Varsity football captain who has now moved onto rugby at college and defies all expectations when one discovers he’s actually playing more into a “type” than anything. At his core, he is a pretty nerdy guy and loves Tolkien with the same amount of passion as he does for ESPN. He has been a rock in my life with his gifted ability to both reassure and minimize conflicts that have always felt colossal from my perspective. He also has never disappointed in terms of depth or intelligence, which led to real crises regarding making assumptions about anyone before getting to know them (a lesson which is regularly forgotten given that the brain loves to categorize). To my right is a chubby Unknown, currently the one smoking the cigar, and his positive disposition implicates an uncanny ability to always keep a smile on his face. I cannot help but wonder if this is a defense mechanism or sheer arrogance regarding the horrors of the world when considering his good standing financially as he attends an expensive school such as Quinnipiac. His light-hearted laughter is contagious enough to put my contemplations to rest. And directly in front of me is another Unknown who leaves me with no impression whatsoever. My mind writes him off as an extra, pushing him way further down the list of credits that will roll after my life finishes its runtime.
Regardless of our differences, we are all members of the “Shouldn’t I Be Having More Fun” generation. A generation defined by luxuries our parents (and most certainly their parents) could never have imagined. A generation also characterized by a dissatisfaction that almost every generation has experienced; the only difference being our qualms were more abstract. Leaving us discontent with the fact that we were discontent. Of the four of us, I suspect that I exemplify this notion the best and begin to fear I am losing myself in an archetype I never consciously chose. To be honest, I am not sure if any of this matters.
The Patriarch passes me the cigar, still lit so I luckily do not have to light it. (I have a knack for burning my thumb when trying to light such objects, past experiences comprise of either asking someone for help or waking up the next morning in pain.) I inhale ridiculously, pulling in way too much cigar smoke for my lungs. One that causes The Patriarch to say, “Dude, that was a ridiculous inhale.” In a joking manner, I balloon my cheeks and desperately turn from side-to-side, acting as if I no longer remember how to breathe. In a manner that encapsulated his disposition towards me perfectly, The Patriarch yells, “You have to exhale!” In a way that summed up our entire friendship, I cough projectile smoke into his face. We both double over in laughter. Some things never change.
I pass the cigar to the Unknown next to me, continuing the rotation, as a quiet sadness washes over me. Despite my disdain for these parties, they were fleeting. Things had been getting repetitive simply because we were getting older. We had all stayed too long at a party that was just about to end and none of us wanted to leave. The notion was not at all new and anyone older than I would probably remark that we are still young and have no reason to be getting overly sentimental. They are probably right, and I cannot wait to be able to look back on this feeling and realize how stupid I was.
We hear the excited screams of people cheering from the living room inside. It is 12:00am and the ball has just dropped, starting off a new year. So as another chapter begins, another chapter ends. The Unknowns remain Unknowns because that is all they will ever be. The names stay the same because, for me, they will never change. These moments are turning to memories as quickly as they happen.
At this old party, filled with angst, a lump in my throat, and happiness, I can say that I loved the moment with all my heart. And despite my despair, whether it was to stay here forever or get as far away from it as possible, I was gladly ready to let this moment pass on into the Jetstream of memories that only grew larger as they flew behind me. At an old party with old friends I could not ask for anything more.