Previous Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4
Trevor invited me to a party later that week at his frat house. I usually made a habit of avoiding parties but my inexplicable affection for Trevor overcame my better judgment in this instance.
The fraternities are arrayed in a row on a long street jutting south from the main campus. On any given weekend there are dozens of parties ongoing, dozens of ancient houses filled to the brim with drunken children. You could walk down the street on party nights and feel as if the entire campus was on fire, as if all the houses were actually part of one greater party and everyone was invited.
Of course, that was an illusory effect - and in reality, most parties are illusions. There’s an aching solitude at the heart of them, a cloying adolescent loneliness that won’t be alleviated merely by mass drunkenness or group sex. Perhaps I just don’t get it. I don’t know. I do know that parties usually don’t entertain me.
When I was fourteen there was a party at someone’s house . . . someone’s birthday party, I don’t remember exactly. I dressed nicely and had my present wrapped, I don’t remember what I got, it must have been something my mother picked out.
So as bad as college parties are it goes without saying that junior high school parties are worse. There’s not really a lot to do because you’re not old enough to be outside of the immediate purview of adults and you’re not young enough to think that’s OK. You want to be older but you’re stuck being what you are for however long you’re there. If I could go back in time with a fresh keg of beer and present it to my fourteen-year-old self he wouldn’t have the faintest clue what to do with it.
And of course its impossible to cast my mind back without stumbling across memories of Lauren.
There were years in my life devoted to abnegation, entire periods of my youth blacked out between the time of my father’s death and my departure from home. My childhood was given over to phantom deliriums, and my adolescence was almost entirely consumed by a negative burning lust aimed inwards and fueled by self-hatred.
Sometimes I crept out of the house and walked across the long and luxurious fairways of the nearby golf courses. I lay on the grass and looked skyward, slowing my metabolism down until I could feel the movement of the Earth in orbit beneath my fragile pulpy body. I dreamt inky purple seas of molten grief, and my father’s face spinning high above me, unable to see me or to hear me.
Lauren was beautiful, of course, and looking back across the years I can see now that she was irresistibly innocent as well – a virtue that would have appealed to me. Of course I was unable to do anything, to act on my impulses, because in all seriousness I was just a kid, and a pretty fucked up kid at that.
But I remember snippets of the year and I remember moments from that party in particular – a magical moment towards the end of the party. We were sitting on the couch waiting for our parents to come, sitting in a darkened living room somehow, inexplicably alone. I don’t remember thinking anything so much as wondering how this could possibly have been allowed to happen, it seemed so odd in a house full of people to be alone with Lauren in the living room . . .
And it was dark and we were sitting there together looking out the window and seeing the headlights pass by on the road and feeling the faint glow of reflected light on our pale youthful faces. It was dark in the house but there was white light from a lamppost outside and it played across our faces through the vertical bars of the venetian blinds.
I don’t remember what we said, and I don’t think we said anything important. But I remember that one single shining moment for what it was worth. Not much.
Trevor was nowhere to be found when I arrived at the party. The house was already filling with people, younger coeds and older members of the fraternity, in addition to sorority sisters and athletes and perhaps even a few townies somehow thrown in the mix. There was liquor everywhere, domestic beer in cheap plastic cups and ugly liquor in small shot glasses on coffee tables.
There were a few people I vaguely recognized. A younger girl came up to me and asked if I knew where the bathroom was. I told her that I didn’t and she thanked me and walked away. She was attractive in a preening slutty way, in much the same manner that most of the younger girls were.
The house itself was beautiful, an old gothic residence with high vaulted ceilings in the living room and elaborate winding staircases throughout. It was a perfect house in which to throw lavish parties, and a perfect house to entertain guests. I began to lose awareness of my surroundings and my eyes stretched off across the ceiling and into the spaces between spaces.
I turned my head and looked over towards the corner. There was a keg of beer set on a thick wooden table with a few younger coeds milling around. Looking closer I saw an older gentleman whom I hadn’t recognized when I first entered the room, but who I soon remembered. I strolled across the room and reached my hand out to him.
“Hello, my boy,” he said, taking my hand in a firm shake. “I’m so glad you could make it. Trevor told me you were coming and I’m very happy to see you here.”
“Thanks,” I said. He was holding a small plastic cup of beer in his hand. He reached over to the keg and poured another cup for me.
“Here you go,” he said. “I am happy to be of service to you.”
I took the beer and drank deeply. It was warm, room temperature, but it slid down my throat easily enough. It was good to see my friend, and he looked well. He was wearing a nice dark suit, with the tie pulled slightly loose from his collar, just casual enough to look at home anywhere he went. His complexion was a healthy light red, his black hair slicked back behind the tiny little horns poking out just above his forehead and to either side of his widow’s peak.
“Seriously, my boy, I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you for a good long while here.” He reached out and put his hand on my shoulder, comfortingly. “I’ve heard some pretty special things about you. You’re going to have a good year, you know that?”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, really. Once you get out of here,” he gestured around the room with his free hand, “and get home, you’ve got some big decisions to make.”
“Yes . . .” he paused. “She’s certainly a big decision. But there are some even
bigger decisions on your horizon.”
“Yes, yes. It’s a damned good thing I found you when I did, because I have some very important advice to offer you. Come with me . . .”
He grabbed my arm above the elbow and escorted me out of the living room. We found ourselves in a smaller area, perhaps a family room, with a much cozier space. There were fewer people here as well. My friend sat down in a chair to the side of a plush sofa and I sat down on the sofa nearest to him.
“There’s one thing you’ve absolutely got to remember, I mean, above all else this is vitally important. Are you listening?”
“Everything is important. From this moment on in your life, everything that happens to you has a reason. Like a puzzle. You have to be smart enough to put everything together because everything is going to mean something.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“Of course you don’t understand. Not yet you don’t. You’re going to be in the middle of some crazy shit, my boy. You’re going to have your hands full.”
“Hmmm. So, I’m not going to marry Connie?”
“No, I never said that. But I think you’re going to want to take some time off after school, go find yourself. This is a big country and you’ve really only seen a tiny sliver of it.”
“Yeah, I was thinking of doing that. Road trip out to see New York maybe.”
“Yes, New York. Maybe you could see Ground Zero?”
“Yeah, I did think of that.”
“You’re not the only one. Anyway. In the coming days and months there’s going to be a lot happening around you and you have to be very careful to make the right decisions, to choose the right paths, or the consequences could be much more disastrous than you or even I could possibly foresee.
“You just have to remember one very important thing.” At this he leaned down from his chair and pressed his index finger into my chest. “Everything counts. Everything that happens to you from this day forward is important, it all means something, it all adds up. Pay attention and see if you can discern the shape and texture of the patterns that surround you, the patterns that dictate your existence. That’s the only way you’re going to get ahead.”
“I’m afraid,” I said meekly.
“Don’t be. I’ve seen this kind of thing before – a kid like you, fresh-faced, straight out of college. Takes some time off, finds himself. You’ve just got to figure our where you’re going, is all. Its not that intimidating, is it?”
“Not when you put it like that it isn’t.”
“See, that’s just my point. You’ve got to take it easy. You’ve got a lot of power now, a lot of potential. You can do anything in the entire world if you want and nothing can stop you. The only thing that can stop you is fear, and you can’t be afraid of anything, OK?”
“That’s what I like to hear.” He slapped me on the back in a jovial fashion. “Would you like another beer? A cigar perhaps?” He opened his coat to reveal his inside pocket, crammed with freshly-wrapped cigars. “Just got in from Cuba – fresh as a daisy.”
“No, no thank you, I don’t smoke.”
“Fine, fine. I can respect that. Anyway,” he said as he rose from his seat, “I really should be on my way. I’ve got a busy night ahead of me yet.”
“It was good talking to you,” I said dully, lifting my hand up to grasp his.
“Don’t let it get you down, kid, just go home and get on the road. Things will start happening, I guarantee you’ll end up on the right page in the end. I have it on a pretty high authority that you’re destined for greatness. Just be on the lookout for synchronicity – it’s the secret story of everything all around you. Figure out how that story ends and you’ll rule the world.”
“I will, I will. Thank you, thank you so much.”
“No problem. I still owe your dad . . . we go way back, you know that. He was a good man.”
“Yeah he was.”
“Cheer up, kid,” he said with a smile, “you’re on the right track.”
He grasped my hand and left, turned abruptly down the hall and disappearing into the party.
I sat in silence for a moment, ruminating on the conversation. My friend hadn’t said anything which I did not strongly suspect to already be true, but it was heartening nonetheless to hear it said by a voice besides my own.
The party grew louder and louder with every moment I sat thinking. There were more people streaming in from the outside and there were already more people than I thought possible packed into the house’s cavernous basements. The faint but insistent throbbing of music from deep in the building’s foundations was strangely, ominously comforting.
I looked up from my reverie and saw Trevor approaching from the main foyer. He had a broad grin and was carrying two more plastic cups of beer. Without a word he handed me one and took a long draught from the other.
“Dude,” he pronounced solemnly. “You made it. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show.”
His face was flushed, I could tell he had already been drinking heavily for a while. Did he ever stop drinking, I wondered? He sat down next to me on the sofa while I spoke.
“I’ve actually been here a bit,” I answered. “I was talking to a friend before you came in.”
“Fuckin’ wild. I told you you’d see someone you knew.”
“Yeah, I’m glad I came.”
“Dude, you saved my ass the other night, you know that? I mean, seriously, dude. I was hardcore fucked up, seriously fucked up. I don’t even remember any of that. But I sure got some blood on my T-shirt to, uh, commemorate it by.”
I chuckled and took another sip from the beer.
“So, like, I’m glad you could make it, but you are just so not being where the party is going, dude . . . I am afraid I am going to have to insist you come on down with me and see what we can see. Seriously, dude.”
He rose on shaky feet and I followed. We turned the corner and found a long thin hallway leading to a dark stairwell at the end. There were kids lined up all across the hall, in various states of disrepair. Some were making out with others, some were fast asleep. I tried to be as careful as I possibly could, lifting my feet to ensure I didn’t step on anyone’s fingers or knock over any beers. The floor was already sticky with liquor.
The stairwell proved narrower than the hallway had been, curving down into the hill on which the ancient house stood. The music came up to me, thicker, meaner and bloodier in my ears. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the viscous darkness that enveloped us. We were surrounded by people all around us as we descended the stairwell, sweaty figures in the fumbling dark, leant against the crumbling masonry of the walls. There was smoke, tobacco and marijuana and more.
The stairs came to an abrupt end and we were suddenly in a large, dark enclosure at least thirty feet below the first floor of the house above. I had underestimated how deeply the foundations of the house had had to be cut into the hillside in order to build the house.
There were people everywhere, dancing sluggishly or lounging against the walls. The confidence and languor of these guests assured me that the basement was obviously the epicenter of the party. There was a small bar set jutting from the wall at the opposite end of the room, with half a dozen men whom I recognized as members of the fraternity taking turns pouring beers from a large metal keg and taking shots with the other revelers.
There was a DJ in the corner, two turntables and a mixer set atop a long piece of plywood perched on two piles of cinder blocks. He was in deep concentration as I entered the room, his headphones half ajar on his head and scrunched up against his shoulder. His fingers were slowly and methodically turning the record as it spun on the platter, speeding up or slowing down the incoming music to match the song that was already playing.
The crowd was lazy, however, and inattentive to the music. There were dozens, hundreds of bodies moving slowly across the dance floor, propelled by liquor past the point of exhaustion. Here was the dense hard core of the party, the people who had been here for hours and had no intention of going home, and the people for whom this permanent state of Bacchanal excess was home.
There was a thick iron chain hanging from the center of the ceiling, and there was a large iron-wrought cage hanging from this chain – like a birdcage, only bigger. Suspended about three feet off the floor, the cage contained a girl.
I don’t know if you could call the caged girl beautiful, because a latex mask covered her face. She was wearing some shiny fetish gear over her body. Her body language seemed dazed, slightly disinterested, perhaps bored. I think I would have been, in the same situation.
Trevor tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to join him at the bar. The bar itself was surrounded by what seemed to be thousands of swarming lowerclassmen screaming for beer. The bartenders gave a cup of beer from their keg to every third supplicant, in between downing cups of beer themselves.
The music was good but no one cared. I pressed into the crowd with Trevor, gaining ground on the bar as we slowly came through to the gate. Trevor swung the gate open and we emerged on the other side in the small area behind the bar. There were two chairs off the side, next to a television that was bolted to the wall. There were neon beer signs – flickering orange “COORS” and “BUDWEISER” talismans that gave you a headache to look at them.
Above the bar, on the ceiling behind where the cabinets were situated, there was a large poster of a naked lady, perhaps a Playboy model? I didn’t recognize her. It was an old poster.
Trevor leaned over and spoke in my ear, loudly through the noise: “Having a good time?”
I nodded my head dully. One of the seats was empty so I sat down, careful not to spill my beer.
As I situated myself, Trevor leaned under the bar and found a half-empty bottle of whiskey. He found a pair of shot glasses and slammed them onto the arm of my chair with an audible thunk. He filled both shot glasses, motioning me to take one.
We clanked our shots in mock toast and threw the liquor down our throats. It had been a while since I had drank whiskey and I was reminded, briefly, of just how foul it actually tasted. It ran down my throat as quickly as I could manage, and it landed in my stomach like a drop of molten lead. I was growing quite drunk despite myself.
Trevor turned away and shared a shot with his fraternity friends. My mind slowly tuned out the crowd beyond the barricades of the bar, focusing on the music and the light, soft and hard on my senses. The girl in the cage was still bored and looked drunk or stoned, and from the other side of the room I commiserated with her. I wondered, obliquely, how much she was being paid.
Then it occurred to me that I had seen the One-Eyed Man just a few days ago, after having missed him for almost a decade. It was an upsetting thought, and for a moment I fought feelings of paranoia rising out of my stomach and into my brain. It was a reptilian feeling, a pure conception of the primal ego that left my skin feeling vaguely like coiled scales. I felt the harsh fabrics of my shirt against my naked flesh and I was repulsed by my physicality.
But what was left? I was drunk and I had nothing to fear, at least for the time being. I found myself enjoying the party despite myself. As was to be expected, I had nothing to do and nothing to say to Trevor’s companions – anymore than I had anything to say to Trevor himself – but I enjoyed the party from my vantage point at the far rear of the basement, observing from a position of serene detachment. Life was good, at least for the time being.
After a few indeterminate minutes, Trevor turned back to me and we downed shots again. I was smiling, I could feel the grin across my face, and I could hear the blood pumping through my brain. It’s an odd sensation, drunkenness, and I am rarely prepared for the disassociation, of perceiving my surroundings in crystal clarity but being unable to speak or act in a rational manner.
For a moment, at least, I relaxed into the dull soft-focus of the party, enjoying the brief high and putting all unpleasant thoughts outside of myself. I would pick them up later, when the voices resumed and I was free to act on my friend’s advice. I had the rest of my life ahead of me, and the rest of my life started tomorrow.