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She’s walking towards me and I think it’s her but I don’t have my glasses so I can’t really tell. I squint until she’s close enough to recognize. Yes, it’s her. Then I open my mouth to say hi but of course she’s already said hello to me and asks how I’m doing, which is fine, except I’m still standing there doing the nearsighted monkey face.
I shake myself and respond with the mindless ‘fine-how-are-you?’ I’ve picked up from the act of making several new acquaintances every day. Flat and unnecessary and disinterested—the opposite of how I want to act around this girl. I even forget to smile.
She affirms that she is ‘doing well’, her grammar perfect, in a voice warm and engaging. She asks why I’m hanging around here by myself, if perhaps I’m waiting for friends to show up.
Friends! Of course. Friends are a good thing to talk about! Yes. I’m waiting here for my friends; hell, I should do it right and tell her just how many people are coming to hang out with me.
I say I’m waiting for a bunch of people.
She nods, says that sounds really fun. I agree, tell her that it is really fun.
Then I ask her what she’s been doing today. Homework, for instance. How much homework does she have?
She forces a smile. Damn. Why do I always bring up homework on Friday night? Talk about killing the mood.
But she’s nice about it, just like all the other girls I’ve asked about homework, and she goes along with it. It’s not so bad this weekend, she explains, because she did most of it yesterday. Then she asks about my workload, just to be polite.
I sigh like a war veteran and remark that although I always have a lot to do, I’m coping with it. But naturally I can’t work tonight. Not now. I wait for her to ask why.
She asks why. Then I remember that I actually have no reason, except that my roommate and his girlfriend were hanging out in our room and I felt that I should leave them alone. But even the thought sounds lame, so instead I go for the ambiguous and offer that my room is ‘occupied’ at the moment.
She gets it right away, giggles, and exclaims something about my being ‘sexiled’ and how it’s never happened to her, not yet, and I nod and tell her that I’m used to it now, brazen in my acceptance of outrageous college life. Pleased as I am by her reaction, I know full well that my roommate and his girlfriend are probably just having one of their inane little conversations over coffee and brownies, possibly snuggling a little, but nothing more. Still, it feels good to listen to her talk about it, telling me how she’d be pissed and how it’s so early for that sort of thing.
I’m about to reassure her that it’s really not that bad, that I can survive despite the overwhelming injustice, when she stops the conversation. She checks her phone, announces that she has to be at a party in five minutes, and says goodbye.
She’s at the door when I remember to ask which party she’s going to. She turns on the spot, waves her arms in a comical dance routine, and says she’s going to the Blacklight party. It’s crazy stuff, from her description.
I grin, remark on the potential awesomeness of that party, trying to project some enthusiasm or something. I tell her I might be over there later. Perhaps we’ll see each other there. Later.
She says that would be cool. Pushing against the door with her back, she twirls out into the night. I say goodbye again then flip open my phone. I lean against the wall. I scroll through the contacts list. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes I find a friend I didn’t know I had. Time to go soon.
Might be there later, I’d said. Obviously, what I’d meant was, I have no other plans for this evening, I’ll be at the party in ten minutes, and I’m going by myself. But she didn’t know that.
My eyes have zoned out; I stare through my phone and must consciously refocus. I see her name on the list. I remember that late night in my dorm room when I added it, can picture the moment clearly. But when I hit OK, the number slot is empty.
A university-registered party. What a joke. I smirk as I join the queue at the front door of the frat house, waiting to pledge my name and I.D. number as insurance of my sobriety. Because now everyone’s going to think, oh, no, now I can’t get wasted here. I wonder where the hell I can find alcohol on a college campus at 11:30 on Friday night.
I step up to the table, glance at my I.D., then put myself down as ‘Ted Thundergun’ and scribble eight random digits for the I.D. number. Who do they think they are, anyway?
Then I’m in. I go immediately to the basement, from whence I can hear thudding bass and screams. I love dance parties. I can’t dance. Don’t even pretend to. But I can jump. And skip. And flail my arms. And when I combine the three, it’s a great way to draw attention and make friends (despite the large number of people I punch in the mouth by accident).
Then I spy her. She’s in the room adjacent to the main dance floor, flushed and drinking water. She waves at me, shouts my name. Exuberant. She must’ve been out for a few rounds with her friends. I saunter up to her, emboldened by the music and her welcoming demeanor. I really want to dance, so I tell her that we should get out there. We should get out on the dance floor. It’ll be great.
She agrees. Leading the way, she presses into the heaving mass.
Unbelievable. I pump my fist like a fool and prance in after her.
It’s amazing how fast you can learn something the hard way. You never forget. In fact, I believe we should research the Hard Way for use as a modern teaching method. ‘Hard’ college classes will become just that—strenuous, educational, and so narrowly focused that the entire course spans less than two hours.
Topics covered include: bridge jumping, Axe-can explosions, jaywalking in NYC (travel-learning experience!), gourmet Mexican water sampling, and a cooking class that revolves around frozen turkeys and boiling oil. Then again, not every subject taught is so blatantly dangerous. For example, the Hard Way course on Love. It’s actually an upper-level honors course. I get straight A’s in that class, and I didn’t even know of its existence before now. But they taught me well.
In fact, I’ve just aced the final exam.
It’s her: partially obscured by the crowd, she’s pressing everything she’s got into the crotch of the guy behind her, a guy she’s never met before and still hasn’t talked to. It’s not like he’s making her do anything she doesn’t want to; she’s going at it with a fury, twisting and writhing in what I shudder to describe as ‘feverish ecstasy.’ This guy doesn’t even know what to do, he’s so stoned and so surprised. He looks like he’s just had an epiphany, not that I recognize his expression, because I’ve never seen anyone lose his testicles to a meat grinder at such close range before.
I continue dancing, I clap and sing along with the rest. I continue to smile. In fact, I have one of the most exciting nights of my life—I’m all over the dance floor, making new friends and shouting in conversation with people I already know; I’m all over this party, wall to wall, skipping around like a lunatic.
Except there’s one place I don’t go. One place I’ve permanently excluded from my field of vision, one small corner held firmly out of mind.
Two hours later, I walk home with my friends. It’s freezing but we’re all enjoying ourselves, singing children’s songs and hopping over sidewalk cracks. It’s amusing to think about how studious everyone is during the week, hilarious to watch these study freaks, my closest friends, cavorting around like four-year-olds. Everyone has an alter ego; people are so different on the weekend. People change.
That’s when I remember that we aren’t children anymore, that there’s no fantasy here, just the hot, sweaty truth, and that even the weekends are not exempt from reality. I remember.
I see her tonight, and I see her again tomorrow and nearly every day for the rest of the semester. When we next meet, we say hello and talk to one another, and we become good friends, but we don’t really talk, not anymore. We even go to parties together, and afterwards she tells me that she had a great time and I tell her that I did too, that I loved the music and the dancing and the lights, even though only one of us had a good time—and only one of us was dancing.
I’ve never been high in my life, but I imagine this is what it feels like on the way down.