This is for my friends who knew me then and after.
I've never been good at parties held in my honor, from my first recollection, when I made Jeffrey Hackney cry after I unwrapped his gift of a bath set, he (and obviously his Mom) had picked out for me. It was a box containing a toothbrush, a wash cloth, a towel and cup, all with the same 70s-era duotone cartoon print of a big dog or a cherub-cheeked kid or something. Astonished, and somewhat disturbed, I said, "This isn't for me! This is for someone else, it's a mistake!" before I realized the repercussions of my remarks. But I was a kid--maybe five years old. I didn't think ahead.
A mere 16 revolutions of the blue earth around the hot sun later, on my 21st birthday, I was not much more thoughtful.
My amazing and kind friends threw a party in our huge backyard. Bicycle Face played their unique brand of alt-rock. There were a ton of people there, most, didn't know me. It was sleepy and warm. My very new girlfriend, Sara, had spent the afternoon gathering party favors and decorating the trees with streamers, balloons and dancing white Christmas lights. It was very generous and sweet of her. The backyard was fragrant and lush. I was giddy and drunk, probably overwhelmed in a dreamy sort of way. I wish that was all there was to the memory, or the story of the memory, but there's more.
Sara was a cool, preternaturally quiet, slightly askew, painfully gorgeous girl. Long, curly chestnut-colored hair, huge gray eyes. A pout that was not so much cute as sincere and troubling. I'd had a crush on her since the first I'd seen her, when she would come to punk-rock shows at the club I worked at. Of course, at the time, and for far too long afterward, when someone returned my affections or attention, I'd wonder what the hell was wrong with them. For, if someone actually liked me, well, that's just insane, and cause for suspicion.
She and I had only arrived back in town that same morning, my birthday. When I returned home, I noticed my roommate Brian's eyes welled up a little, as I'd called him after I left, said I may never come back, and asked him to feed the stray dog that had been sleeping on our porch. His emotional display at my return, of course, surprised me, for the same reasons as my new girlfriend surprised me. Besides, Sara and I had only left a week or so before, after a long, muggy summer night of drug-induced making nothing out of something.
Sara lived in the entirely intact ground floor of a sprawling old Southern mansion, the likes of which, most people have not seen inside unless invited to a wedding, or anniversary party, in one that's been repurposed as a reception hall. The house was in a state of decay that teetered on condemnation. There was a solarium--or sun porch--filled with broken glass and trash, which had been sealed off, and relegated to raccoons, birds, squirrels, and the occasional petty thief. Another large, unlit room was used solely to paper train her roommate's puppy.
Yet, just as the potential for great joy retains an inverse potential for sorrow, the inattention of the absent owners meant the house was almost exactly as built. There were no unfortunate improvements, dropped ceilings, drywall dividers, no removal of oak trim, giant doors, heart-pine floors, or leaded-glass. Nothing but the smallest improvements, after, say, 1920. To accentuate its lost grandeur, there were ancient wall sconces placed there around the time electricity was invented, huge, old pieces of dusty, dark furniture, (a player piano!) that had not been moved (or seemingly dusted) in 80 years.
It was a Faulknerian scene to the point I'm almost embarrassed remembering it, and in which I was a crippled and corrupt character. Built around 1840--it's massive doric columns probably stood alone surrounded by farmland and wilderness for decades, before it became the elder matron among many large Victorians in the then-new suburbs of our bustling late-19th-century town. By the year of the spastic, drunken night Sara and I sat chain-smoking at their aluminum kitchen table, and decided to move to Mexico before our buzzes wore off, by then, the old mansion was no longer suburban, but considered part of downtown Greensboro, North Carolina.
After attempting to drown the suffocating heat, and the vicious fleas that preferred my ankles to the house's infested floors, in her shower; when toweling off, we still had the idea to leave town, so we climbed inside her old Honda and drove away without a word.
We headed for Mexico, sort of. The plan was there was no plan. I was eager to explore the concept of home, place, identity. I may have articulated something like: I mean, why was I, when was I, who was I, where was I, etc. (These are not unusual thoughts for a 20-year-old.) Sara and I would get jobs in bars or restaurants, or, maybe we'd rob gas stations. When the shoebox containing a circa 1963 police revolver and dozens of its brass-colored bullets fell onto the asphalt and scattered and rolled in all directions, in a Stuckey's parking lot outside of Memphis, I knew my life of crime was over, before it began. I sold my typewriter for thirty-five dollars at a pawn shop. It paid for a few nights in a cheap motel, which, for some sad and obvious reason, had pornography on every channel that coincidentally looked as if it were being created and piped in from the next room.
As Sara and I ran out of money, we headed home, to the surprisingly warm reception of our friends.
My ex- longtime girlfriend, Patricia, showed at the party. And here's where the story becomes banal. Yet, underneath all this, is simply grief. Patricia and I broke up not so long after my friend Kevin was killed. I'll not dwell on it here, but, as one may guess, after my good friend died I went from being a painfully shy, insecure, yet somehow, also reckless and dangerously conceited, 20-year-old with a great and kind best friend, to all of those things plus grief-stricken, which manifested as a much larger dose of recklessness.
Anyway, the party didn't end well.
Postscript: Many years later, I did arrive in a place where no one knew me, where I was almost entirely alone. And, while it was slightly exciting to think I would not run into anyone on the street who knew I could be a complete ass, I did not like it.