Charming Friends

6 05 2006

The night smiled; nothing more existed. The romantic chaos of pageantry, hand-holding, and formalism eroded over the now-mellowing sounds, only casually resonating the sweaty intensity of a few hours ago. The girls laughed in unison; apparently one made a joke that was universally comical. I sat there amongst the boys; we were all so different. John, the tragically-typical handsome football player, sat alongside me. Andrew, the destructive introspective product of ADD, must have overdosed on Ritalin tonight. His subdued mannerisms belie his general energy and fervently deprecating black humor. I smiled, as I always do, pretending to play along in this charade. Part of me wants to believe they are all cognizant of the pathetic nature of their (and, unfortunately, your beloved narrator’s) lives. John recounts something about school; a teacher is giving him trouble and apparently I missed when Andrew and John set off his car alarm. I doubt they realize how petty it all is. Or worse, maybe they do, and they just don’t care. I’m more inclined to believe that; but that just leads me to thinking, why am I around these people? I suppose their “teenage angst” or “rebelliousness” will simmer down in a few years and as their comrade-in-arms, I will wait for that. Waiting is what I do; waiting for car alarms, for that next story, for a fix, for a friend, for something real.

Between Brittany and Tiffany (we call her Tiff as if that is cute and stimulatingly original), sits Michael. Michael is more apathetic than the rest of us, and thus drinks the most. Generally speaking, pretty boy Michael keeps us balanced. I’m more emotionally destructive, Andrew is more vandalistic, John tends to be self-destructive, and Michael serves as the means to collect and temper us. We are all of us guided by the usual stereotypical motives: drugs, sex, and money, though we would hardly admit it. We like to believe we’re above that. I laugh again, perfect timing, at John’s ridiculous joke about Canada. Andrew had added, “Canada is just a different way to spell Communist.” Everyone laughed, though this time I couldn’t. Every goddamn joke I hear is this stupid and she laughs at every one. She adores this culture and so do they; they’re absorbed by each other, the tangled web of interconnects, relationships, common friends, experiences, and kisses. I fit in perfectly, these thoughts so buried under the surface no one will ever know.

It’s beautiful, really. The way suburban urbanites play with culture. Oh, it’s like fire to us – we love it. We’d light up the sky if enough people would burn it with us. The girls laugh again almost in unison, until my girl breaks the ranks and laughs a little less. I wonder if that means she is starting to think, to understand that making fun of an entire population is no fun at all. No, I was wrong, she had choked and is now laughing as loud as the rest. I am again disappointed. The driver focuses on keeping a steady pace, invisibly maintaining order with a silent voice of authority. We, on the other hand, reveal to each other certain items we managed to get past our parents. John brought some grass, Andrew brought sharpie markers – apparently to decorate the afterparty with. Sharpie tagging is so commonplace, so easy to do, that even a first grader could do it by accident. It’s vandalism without style, which to me, does not appeal. Some of the girls reveal small bottles of alcohol. I proudly took out a few condoms and a pack of cigarettes. Michael has a sophisticated flask filled with imported wine. Very dryly, I comment on how it’s actually domestic if they’re bringing it from Napa California. Everyone is nonplussed, my date laughs saying, “oh shut up Paul.” Paul is such a horrible name; we all shared biblical names, but honestly, I had the shortest straw.

If there’s one unifying aspect to our clique, it is our pride. We all love ourselves more than we ought to, but can anyone blame us for feeling like we have little more than our pride. We’ll refer to California as if it were some exotic foreign country in one sentence and in the next, bleed words into the air about how our state is better than those gay Hollywood mansion hillsides. I’m glad our insults make so much sense. We have pride because we’re so focused on “making ourselves”, we’re intent on believing our down-to-earth existence that no one else understands. It’s so convenient to be in a clique where you can excuse the world’s dissenting opinions as misunderstandings. Michael always loves to remind us of how, this one time, he told his dad’s boss’s son that “rich boys will never be friends with poor boys because rich boys don’t get it.” Some stupid third-grade act. I love our pride, it’s an excuse for our shortcomings. We take pride in things we have no control over; the state population, the local haunts, the memorials. It’s not like we chose to live here, we’re just proud of things like that because there’s nothing else to be proud of.

Awkward silence, and everyone’s looking at me. My date said something a few seconds ago and I was too deep in thought to hear. It must have been directed at me. In a sure-fire voice and glassy tone I say, “Of course I’ll kiss you.” I lean forward and, while everyone continues the conversation without interruption, I kissed her. Whether or not it was what she asked me for did not matter to anyone. I find this tradition strange. Here we are in our finest suits and dresses, pretending, and all the while debating every man, woman, and child about how difficult life is. Girls remain an entity to me, shapeless, love taking on shallower forms in every manifestation I am presented with. I’ve dated the aforementioned Brittany and Tiff, and my current one isn’t much different. I’m not interested in sex, though I know that’s what Michael and John want tonight; they’ll probably end up envying me for no real reason whatsoever. I know Andrew is more like me – he wants something real, but he’s so lost between Ritalin and Zoloft to know which way is up. We usually call him Ritalin (I always call him that) and I find his problems funny. Truth is, as close as the eight of us are, including Jessie (Andrew’s date), none of us care about each other’s real problems. The sub-cliques that form, essentially when we go out with one another, form out of a silently painful desire to be heard and cared for. It is that emotionally consequential highway that allows us to go on. I laugh out loud. I just realized something. We date to find in each other what I want out of every single friend.

The car slows down, we arrive at Jessie’s house. Her parents take our pictures one-by-one and then in couples. This is extremely irritating, and we all pretend to play along as best we can. Of course, that means Andrew moaning about not getting smashed yet. He almost blows our cover, John gets upset and takes him outside. I hear a scream and then an apology. Everyone is astonished, parents included; no one expected John to get violent because he is such a charming young fellow. John and Andrew re-enter, questions were being fired left and right. Were you drinking? What happened? Are you okay? It’s stupid and I don’t care, so I walk to the basement to get a drink from Jessie’s second refrigerator. Splitting up into two teams of four, we left the house an hour later. The parents were eloquently subdued with our most-pleasant small talk.

In the car driving, I put on some quiet music to think to. My date sits alongside me, while John and Brittany grope each other in the backseat. No one says anything, pardoning, of course, the muffled noises behind me. In the meanwhile, I entertain thoughts about our charade. I hold her hand and reminisce about our dancing earlier that night. The immeasurable difference between holding hands and grinding our sweat-laden sexually stimulated bodies against each other is so ironic, it’s beautiful. I know she prefers the sex over the hand holding and I think I know why. Maybe it’s because the sex feels good and there’s really not much else here to do and no one really cares and maybe someday it’s love. I don’t delude myself with notions of love, especially not with this crowd. It’s something I long for, but I don’t expect to find it here. The music resonated in my empty brain, channelling a lost soul that died burnt alive in childhood. I lift my arm to her shoulder and she starts to cry. John moans softly, we do not look back; even though it is my car, such an act is a violation of privacy. I turn off the music and murmur her name, mulling it over, imagining a real conversation with that name. She speaks to me, allowing me some insight on what she wants currently out of this relationship, this temporary arrangement.

She says, “I am not so sure about you Paul, you seemed so distant tonight. At the dance, I almost felt as if you wanted another girl. I know you think there are problems, but it’s nothing we can’t work out. Relationships are meant to be experienced not just questioned to death. Let it be and let’s have some fun tonight. Watch for the stop sign. Okay, and remember that time ..”. At the moment she corrected me, I tuned out. I don’t need a lecture on love. I’m just passing the time here, waiting for something better. Granted, my idealism leads me to be a purist and not enter any relationship short of what I want, but my forgiving soft side is stronger, and I go out with the most fun, convenient girl on hand. Relationships just work like that; no one actually cares or attends to the incomparably important selection process of picking a girlfriend. Relationships, more or less, just happen, and some parties come more willingly than others. I find it funny that when one of us begins to reach out, say like phone calls or emails, to someone else, that the two invariably go out. It’s part of the secret code to being a guy; all you have to do is “listen and she will sleep with you.” I don’t listen to girls and their issues for the same reasons, but I don’t mind the benefits. It’s almost a grotesque way of saying thank you. However sick it may be morally, I don’t mind it. I’m beginning to look forward to tonight in bed with her.

As strange or sick or beautiful or ornate or delicate you might think our group is, you’re probably wrong. Either that or I’m wrong. I find my friends to be the patchwork quilt that gets me through the day. They sure do come through in a pinch. We’ve all committed our crimes, tripped over the ethical line, and danced our souls away. We all feel shallow, but proud. We all imagine something better, something less apathetic. But the apathy feels so good.

“Prom” [short story] [1892 words]

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