Essay, Life

“ONE—TWO—THREE!”

Neon-green teeth against deep, dark violet skin. A ceiling fan broken from too many hands flinging into the air. Too many bodies crammed into too little square footage, forcing the heat to climb upwards until your white shirt has turned filmy as it clings wetly to your skin.

We see the host, and I grab the drink out of his hand to take a sip of artificial margarita. We set up residence against one wall, some girl’s long strands of hair whipping against the small of my back as she dances with someone else.

Talking becomes a post-lingual experiment. The mouth forms words that will never reach someone else’s ears, instead swirling out and upward into the collective cacophony. You communicate by mouthing simple words, by pointing, by the arching of eyebrows.

That’s a college party. Sound so big it forces you into the corner, heat so high everyone loses water weight against their will, and a Babel tower of red Solo cups.

It’s the kind of thing that could only occur in college. Only occur when there’s an uneven distribution of wealth. Top-shelf liquors mixed with liters of lukewarm Sprite, the kind that our teachers brought in for class parties. J.Crew button-downs with beaten-down Converse splashed with various liquids. You bypass the club with their $10-covers and instead cram in with sixty of your Facebook friends-of-friends and sweat it out to Childish Gambino.

It’s the kind of thing that could only occur when you’re on the razor’s edge between childhood and adulthood.

Before, we stood in her bathroom, me balancing a water bottle of Patron and two shot glasses on the ceramic lid of the toilet tank. I poured the Patron into the glasses, alternately labeled in ridged letters “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “Malibu”. I took care to make sure they were level with each other before handing one off. In between her putting black eyeliner on, we licked the bony tops of our thumbs and dumped salt on the damp.

“One—two—three,” I said as we clicked the shots together.

Lick the salt. Suck down the Patron. Hold the two in your mouth for a second before gulping. We didn’t have limes so I grabbed a bottle of lemonade. The sickly-sweet-sour taste of the lemonade, from concentrate, cuts through the tequila as I made a hasty gulp before passing it on to her. We stagger the second round of shots so that we can have equal access to the chaser.

Lick. Suck. Gulp.

I perch behind her as she tries to balance out her eyeliner. I pull thick swathes of auburn hair into place. We preen, and something warms in the outline of my ribs.

Later it was a bottle of red wine that we passed back and forth. We had to clench our teeth to avoid consuming the coils of foil from the twist-top that had fallen to the bottom of the deep dark red. Afterward, we would have to comb our tongues free of the aluminum scraps.

We went to a birthday pre-game first, one we drastically overestimated the punctuality of its occupants. By the time we strolled in at 9:45, they were already platonically grinding to Top 40, and That One Girl was yelling at people to start requesting their Ubers.

“FIVE MINUTES PEOPLE, CALL YOUR UBERS,” she waded through the clusters of drunk people. “FIVE MINUTES.” This was not a Lyft crowd.

We had enough time to say hi to Birthday Girl & Co and mooch some Smirnoff Raspberry into thrown-together cocktails. But they were annoyingly punctual, and by 10 p.m. we were the last ones to swirl out of the apartment, shoving potato chips into our pockets for snacking on the sidewalk.

At the second party, the purple light burned through the window even as we were approaching from outside. Inside, sweat mixed with liquor mixed with burnt weed. Hawaiian shirts glowed hotly against dark violet skin. Synthetic leis lit up the undersides of chins and matched eerily with the neon whites of people’s eyes.

Inside, everyone is a stranger, even the people I know. The darkness coats everything, so that familiarity becomes a moot point until they’re in your face. I run into people from class, old half-forgotten acquaintances, and former besties. In a party, old frictions are limned over in the alcohol haze.

She and I stand by the bar counter, a square hole in the wall between the living room and the kitchen. Separated by a narrow line of strangers are friends from my collegiate nascence. Friends whom I knew when I hardly knew myself. That clogging nostalgia rises from my chest and coils behind my tongue. The sense is that identity is a series of rolling hills.

You climb one with some cluster of people, crest over the top and skid to the bottom. Then you begin again. And suddenly people begin to drop off. After one hill without them, they become a little blurred. After two and three, you have lost sight of them entirely. But they’re on their own hills, cresting and skidding endlessly over and over. Run up, hover, run down.

And eventually you realize that if you keep looking back, as the hummocks replicate, you’ll trip. So you force yourself to look forward, cresting with new people, ending at the bottom of the hill with new people.

Sucking the foil from my tongue, I lean down to say something to her and come face-to-face with a yelling landlord. Party’s over, he says. The purple light weakens as yellow-bulbed rooms are opened up, the crowd thins, but the music thumps on, as loud as before. It blankets over the scurrying people, grabbing coats, appearing from cracks in the walls and hidden spots like cockroaches.

As I wrestle our coats from the pile, she spills a cup of something over me, her and the floor. Margarita, probably, or Sprite. Something sticky and sweet that dots my jeans like rain.

As we leave the purple light party, our laughter trailing behind us at this long-ago failure of a night, we cut through back alleys to our familiar place. Two identical beers and nearly identical burgers—fries to split between two people.

Our hills have neatly aligned, I realize as we tuck into burgers, the kick of spicy secret sauce hitting the ridged roof of my mouth. Bite of burger, snap of fry, sip of beer. Sloppily sopping up that secret sauce, too drunk to care about appearing proper.

Balancing between childhood and adulthood is like that. It’s the razor’s edge, the series of hills. The ravenous eating of two dollar burgers after wine and tequila and beer. Patron in plastic and curls of foil on tongues. Too many metaphors because I haven’t learned yet that one will do. It’s the here now and the not there yet.

We stand at the bottom of the hill and I reach my hand out towards hers. She clasps it, sweat against sweat. Chipped baby-blue nail polish.

“One—two—three.”

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