I don’t honestly understand why I said it. Only that one moment I had been standing sensibly, peaceably, unobtrusively in the corner of the room trying not to call attention to myself. The next I was yelling, “Shut up! Shut up!” at full volume.
Shut up they did. The full party came to a stop and the sensible, peaceable, unobtrusive girl standing in the corner of the room was suddenly the center of everyone’s attention. No one spoke for a long moment though the music kept playing, which was a weird feeling like the movie and the soundtrack splitting apart and realizing they hadn’t ever really gone together well.
My friend, Audrey, was first to speak. I say friend because she drove me there and, also, she could always be counted on to check in on my welfare. We were the same age but she was always playing mother to me, calling me after a bad episode to soothe my feelings, check to see if I needed anything. When she came over, she inventoried my dorm room cabinets to be certain I had food in them. If she ever saw a pill lying out on the counter, she was quick to ask if I was taking my medicines. All of my medicines.
Now my good friend Audrey was just looking at me, wearing the face that everyone else was wearing. The worried, fretful but slightly irritated that I had ruined the party, again, face.
“Are you okay, sweetie?”
She calls me sweetie when she knows I’m not okay.
Yes, I try to tell her but having been so inappropriately loud, now my voice won’t come out at all. So I just nod.
“She’s okay,” Audrey translates for the others, but I can see that she doesn’t really believe it. This is just a thing she says to get people talking again, put the soundtrack back into sync with the action on screen.
People resume talking and the party slides back into its groove and I slide out.
She is at my elbow now, holding me like some priceless heirloom, a tiresome thing she has inherited and feels responsibility for but secretly resents because of the burden of its value. Like an expensive vase in which you can not even place flowers. What use is it?
She doesn’t say any of this. That is too gauche. Audrey takes care and doesn’t complain. Complaining is gauche.
“Let’s get some air,” she says. “Okay?”
It is colder outside than I expected. I left my sweater in the guest bedroom, mixed somewhere in the sexual heap of coats and jackets and sweaters. An orgy of winter wear. Such casual disregard.
Audrey is looking at me closely. I am looking at the driveway which is lined with cars. Audrey’s car is in the middle of that scrum. There’s no easy way for us to leave. The night is young. And so are we.
I haven’t been young for some time.
Age is just a number, they try to tell you, but, actually, age is a tightening in your lower back, a spreading awareness of pain and exhaustion.
I had been losing my breath but now my breath is settling.
I can feel Audrey looking at me and tell myself not to look at her. But it is almost impossible not to look when someone is looking. You can’t just turn yourself invisible with your own mind. I’ve tried. You have to distract them.
“I’m sorry I lost it in there,” I tell her, hoping an apology will soften that gaze.
Audrey shrugged. “You didn’t lose it. You just caught people off guard.”
“I’m pretty sure catching people off guard like that is called losing it.”
“Well, you seem fine now.”
“Good.” Another long look. “Did you take all your medicines today?”
“You think I’m crazy,” I told her.
“We’re all crazy, sweetie. Some of us just have a name for it.”
Audrey has a way of saying things that make me feel better.
“I just got a little bit closed up is all.”
Truth: I erupted like a volcano. The lava was still flowing around.
“Is it better out here?” Audrey asked.
“Yes. A little. A lot. There were too many voices.”
So much talking. Conversations stacked on top of conversations. They were crowding me out until there was no place to stand.
“Would you like to go back inside?”
“In a minute,” I told her. “You can go.”
“You’ll be okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” I told her, smiling my brightest aw shucks smile. It was the payment she expected for services rendered. “Honest.”
“Okay, but if you aren’t back inside in five minutes, I’ll come looking for you.”
“You’ll find me right here,” I tell her.
Audrey nods and checks around the neighborhood. It is a nice night and I can’t help feeling that out here on the front porch is a better place to be. “See you in a few,” Audrey tells me.
“Okay.” And then, just before she reenters the house, I say, “Audrey. Thanks.”
She is glad for this small offering, and I am glad as well. I hate being the friend who can’t do parties. I hate being the friend whose crazy has a name, but standing on the porch watching the moon sail slowly up the sky, I am grateful to have a friend like Audrey. A friend who comes immediately to the rescue when the party slips and the good times are no longer feeling good.
I stand on the porch for a while, longer than five minutes for sure. Audrey has gotten herself into a conversation and has forgotten the time. Which is good. I am glad. It was just a weird, awkward moment. I didn’t ruin the party after all.
I wait outside until the bad feelings pass.
I watch the moon.
The moon watches me.
I wait long enough for the moon to become disinterested.
I wait just long enough to completely disappear.