There’s always a way out. My eyes are drawn to the door, but they focus on everything else, looking for an excuse not to go home. If you give me one more chance to leave, I’ll probably take it, but I don’t want to yet. It’s always warmer on the top floor, and so I head that way after grabbing another beer from the fridge. The stairs creak expectedly, and I stop to peer out the window that acts as a rebound to the last leg of the climb. The wires block my view, but I assume the moon is still full as it falls. I catch a figure moving in a distant window and decide that the silhouette is that of a recently divorced man peering blankly into a mirror that only I can see. He’s picturing his only child, wearing a Spiderman knapsack, taking the long way to his mother’s car. She yells, to him and at him, but because of herself. Sullen, pink-faced, with a permanent snarl. A prominent scar on her face is not why people look at her strangely, but she can’t look past it to the actual reason. In the rear windshield of her unnecessarily large vehicle is a sticker bearing the logo of a radio station she actually listens to, and then the shadow disappears.
I steady myself against the wall to avoid stumbling over a Bryan holding an empty glass and a Jenny with a ukulele. Imaginary clouds invite me higher, until I find myself surrounded by a smaller room with a single bed and four people I don’t recognize. Crossing the doorway’s threshold, hesitating first with my head as a scout, my understanding changes again, but not into anything relevant. I greet them because I’m supposed to, in my mother’s tongue. I search for reminders. Now I only search for the feeling I had when I used to enjoy being here. A lot of it was fun but a lot of it was forced. Most of the jokes are for friendliness, not laughter. When nobodies laugh, minds are thoughtlessly changed. Everyone wants to be everybody’s friend, here at this gathering of compliments. The illusory connections are being made, but I only want to know which of these voices is mine. I try to minimize what I hypocriticize, smiling along at people’s words I can barely hear. The sounds all blend as one, a place I don’t belong.
A chill sweeps through the room, the perimeter unfortunately lacking insulation and causing hesitation. As we discuss the books I said I read, I look for the same meaning I’ve searched for for years and have even found sometimes. I already bought into the last generation, and it told me we’re no better or worse off, no matter what we tell ourselves. The places and the names change, but everything else stays the same. I interpret a fleeting glance by one of the girls as one of annoyance, possibly because of my age, which may be too high at this point. The older guys who would show up at our parties always came across sideways, at least to me. Then again, the more times a moment is remembered, the less accurate the image becomes. The truth loses strength as it’s recalled.
The guy sitting on the floor stands and walks toward my wall to offer me a joint, which I decline but thank him for. I used to smoke to be creative. Now I smoke to forget that I’m not. But only when I’m alone, when others won’t be subjected to my thoughts and the thoughts of what I say out loud. After passing it on, he turns back to his spot and I unconsciously compare his pants to mine. The back pockets of his tight black jeans are empty, but a faded patch on the left side shows where a wallet is normally kept. I’ve managed to forget that the girl thought I was too old to be here. My memory eroding, I pretend it’s because I live in the present. She gets up to leave, mentioning that next week she’ll be travelling to Chile, the first time she’s pronounced the country with an accent on the e. Her two friends feign or experience sadness and excitement and clutch her exaggeratedly before she goes, childlike uninhibition portrayed. Several pictures are taken, but I only briefly consider the negative impact of cameras on my enjoyment. Neither of them is particularly physically attractive, and by noticing this I wonder why this is something I did notice, and why it matters anyway, if it does.
The guy pretends that he will see her again before she leaves so he can avoid a potential awkward goodbye, since they kissed earlier tonight or in nights before this one. We all want the same thing but we’re afraid to ask. She closes the door on her way out, to keep us in or keep someone out or out of habit. I pick up a copy of a novel I read in high school because it’s within reach, and I read its jacket as I wonder what I am still doing here. I might have something left to contribute, but realistically I don’t believe half of what I say, and right now I can barely generate coherency even within my own mind. Or maybe I’m hoping to learn something, even though I’m not sure if I’ve ever learned anything. If somebody walked in they would assume I’m normal. Or ordinary. This is something I’ve been taught to pretend, but it’s exhausting.
Chilé must have been carrying the conversation. The silence gets to be too loud, and my own problems bubble to the surface, each of them in a different stage of undress. I’m not as anything as I thought I was, only tired and uninspired. I laugh to myself, which comes across as a crooked smile to anyone who’s looking at me, which is no one. Misunderstood or delusional, self-medicating with laughter or lies. The door opens and the room fills with people. I instantly relax, finding it easier to get lost in my head in a crowd. I remind myself to remember the thoughts, but I’ll only remember the reminder. The revelation becomes a blur anyway, disappearing before I can decipher its meaning.
The room continues, as downstairs earlier, and the simulated stimulation is enough to advise me that I like to sleep. I say out loud to nobody that I’m going outside for a cigarette. Somebody tells me we’re allowed to smoke in here as long as we open the window. I never like when that decision is made, since it removes my reason to leave my current situation without another reason. I ignore his comment and head toward the invisible exit sign. What might not be coming across is the obvious, that the fun only starts when it’s all over.
[Editor’s note: The above is Part 1 of 3, of 5. Part 2 can be found tomorrow.]