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Dance Anthem of the Under 21 | 2011 | Same Party Twice

06.24.11 1:13 p.m.

A wonderful realization will be the day you realize that you are unique in all the world. There is nothing that is an accident. You are a special combination for a purpose and don't let them tell you otherwise, even if they tell you that purpose is an illusion. You are that combination so that you can do what is essential for you to do. Don't ever believe that you have nothing to contribute. The world is an incredible unfulfilled tapestry. And only you can fulfill that tiny space that is yours.  

-Leo Buscaglia


What It Is To Belong

Becca, Dreadlock Guy, Ella, Marigo  
Becca enacting Ella's birth through the medium of interpretive dance

I arrive at a house I hope to be Ella's. I have not spoken with her in years. While I am certain I have seen Ella around New Paltz since then, without the glue of our mutual friendship with Dan Kessler - who years ago moved to New York City - I likely gave her little more than an unnoticed nod in passing.

She - curly haired, smiling a slightly gap-toothed grin that makes strangers wish they loved her - seems confused for a moment when she answers the door, as though she can't quite place me. I meekly proffer a bag of food and she hugs me, which quashes any nervousness that I may constitute a crasher to her birthday/going away party. As the invitation was open and she had invited upwards of seventy people, I had assumed my presence would be at worst unnoticed.

It might have been but for one fact. Though I am fifty minutes late, I am the first guest. Already in the living room sits Katy, Ella's sister and housemate, whom I have met a dozen time (the first time during which I referred to her as one half of The Lesbians) and whom I decide on sight is a friend I had forgotten about; Dave, who wears a shirt unbuttoned to the bottom two and whose parents built this house; Laura, his instantly sweet girlfriend; and Marigo, the other half of The Lesbians who is, in fact, not heterosexual. Later, John, Katy's boyfriend and the last of the housemates, will arrive.

I am asked for my profession as an opening social gambit to make me less of a stranger. I murmur a bit about tutoring kids who got expelled and that I am a certified teacher but then explain, "I don't properly have a job this summer. I'm living on my savings and writing; I'm a published novelist."

Ella entices me to show around the copy of my book which I, by dint of my charter membership in Insecure Writers International, carry everywhere. I make apologies about the cover art - that is not how I envision my protagonist - and Dave asks if this is all I do.

"At the moment. I have not actually gotten a royalties check yet, so I feel like I can't tell people it is my job until I cash something." It is a measure of how comfortable they make me that I can manage to say even this without blushing scarlet and trying to vanish within myself.

The house is decorated with a synchronicity of disparate elements of the various housemates. The kitchen walls are painted to be blackboards, on which a large poem is written, emblazoned by sketches of fruit. Beside the poem is a star assuring the curious that they currently are in possession of six chickens, which cluck over the backyard and form uneasy alliances with the cats.

A woman enters, their neighbor Laura who is unaware but unsurprised there is a party going on. She is tall and eloquent, sardonic, wearing a long gray sweater and black tights, her dark hair held back, intense eyes behind thick rimmed glasses, bone structure so flawless it borders on the sinful. She is the sort of woman for whom martinis and scarves were invented. In a more just world, she would be at a cocktail party discussing the issue of the New Yorker she had finished editing. I am obviously attracted to Lauren and know almost instantly upon feeling an this that she must be a lesbian, something she backs up later through boarding school stories.

Filling her plate from the tableful of various salads, she begins to detail the trip from which she just returned, visiting her father in Florida and her mother at a "religious compound". "But it's not a cult!" she says with a laugh, meaning it is and she is in on the joke. "You are going to think I'm cray cray."

"No!" I insist. "Everyone's family is cray cray. I believe I can cray cray with y'all."

Marigo notes, "I like how it went from an adjective to a verb within two sentences."

"Language is alive, Marigo. It grows," I reply.

The whole party has an improbable texture. As I am later talking to a girl with the improbably gorgeous name of Avalon (one that suits her Swiss milkmaid meets Hawaiian mystic looks), Dave walks out, flings a pair of martial arts pants over the rafters, and begins to do pull ups. No one comments or interrupts their conversation for more than a moment. I know better to be the exception.

There comes a point when everything becomes crowded and despair overcomes me, this depressed anxiety that this night is something I want very badly to have. I want to be in this house, I want to have this group of amazing friends around me, singing and playing guitar, all of this delicious food (and some culinary abomination made of fresh berries, mint, and rum that I attempt to drink because Avalon is standing beside it and it gives me an excuse to speak to her with further depth). And then I think, well, I am here right now, aren't it? Don't I have this? I am a valid member of this party via my presence and the presumption that I am. I can eat whatever I wish, I can speak with whoever I wish. This is a part of my life, however alien that thought registers in my brain.

Granted, I wish I could have had this necessary invigoration without the burden of the night before - I know that I sleep deprived tonight, that I am not in my normal humors - but perhaps I needed the contrasts to appreciate more thoroughly.

It is a night I feel intellectually stimulated by people who largely lack pretense. Most of the people here, for their varied interests, are my equals, my species, and it is rare that I meet their like. I can talk freely to them without censoring.

There is singing. It is spontaneous but not obnoxious. I hear this little critic in my ear, borrowing Melanie's voice, that groans when a man with dreadlocks each as thick as my wrist pulls out a guitar. But that isn't me, I don't have objections but those borrowed from former companion who has quit my company.

Yes, there are some people here are are a little overexuberant. Yes, it can come off as a bit grating in high doses. Yes, I still feel a trifle tetchy about gay girls, who are here in profusion, but this is a night that reduces the degree to which they feel like triggers.

When Dave walks away after having given a dictionary level definition on the topic, I get into a conversation with a theatrical woman named Becca as to the definition of "queer" versus "gay". She holds that queer is anyone who bucks the gender stereotype, one who is other that heteronormative irrespective of who they take to bed. I realize that this is a new perspective, and am impressed that this near stranger has added definition to my life. By this token, most people at this party are queer in some measure and I believe this contributeg to my comfort.

To wit, Becca says, "I don't usually like women, but when I do it is because I want to be them. So I love them and then I take in their medicine. Once I have their medicine within me, once I've owned it, I don't really want them any more."

I feel that a lot of people at this gathering have different sexual and romantic mores that I do. A woman mentions she is in a relationship with a guy who is her polar opposite, who she was attracted to because of these differences. But, though she has yet to leave her boyfriend, she is now in love with a boy who is much more similar to her, but who is not interested in anything serious with her because she is temporary staff when she works.
Marigo and Lauren  
I did mention the music, right?

It seems so terribly complicated, but how much better is my method, this waiting for a highly compatible person before I do more than kiss? People don't do that these days, not as far as I can tell. Whoever I end up with will have to have compatible, if not congruent, sexual mores. I can't imagine her being the sort to sleep around in lieu of saying hello.

In conversation, tell Lauren that I am single. She says, "So you are on the prowl."

"No, not really. I am growing comfortable with my solitude, because I need the right person. I am okay with it. I would rather not be single, but it is a matter of waiting. I have a freedom of movement right now and I won't give that up easily."

Given my unattached status in a social and not just romantic sense, I can just wander from conversation to conversation, listening to people talk about educational reform or the embarrassment of having one's girlfriend show up to a lesbian skinny dipping excusion with no public hair or the likelihood of space aliens ore the meaning of queerness versus gayness. People do not mind my presence, I contrubute when I wish but and largely just aborbing the experience of being present.

By the end of the night, Katy has a joke with me of trying to get me to be a drinker, a flimsy inside joke that carries over into the next day, a joke that lets me know we actually are friends of a sort. I am more grateful than I think it prudent to mention.

Leaning against the wall, I see Laura preparing to leave.

"You are going?"


"There is a party tomorrow," I say as evenly as I can manage. "You should stop by."


"Yes, here. For Brian's going away party. It doesn't really matter if you don't know Brian, you should come."

She pauses for a second. "I'm just down the road. I think I will."

"I would like that."

Tonight made me realize how uncomfortable I usually am being smart. How I have to put up a fašade of silliness because it is about the only way I can begin to convey what is going on in my head in any form that approached palatability. Unfiltered, I feel I would be hard to bear. I feel I need to make these jokes with new people so I don't begin to lecture them about the bystander principle or Drake's Equation (as I began to do tonight). Tonight, I knew contributing details for just about every conversation I wandered to. Tonight, I remembered what it is to belong.

Soon in Xenology: Parties. Amber.

last watched: Doctor Who
reading: Anansi Boys
listening: Tom Lehrer

Dance Anthem of the Under 21 | 2011 | Same Party Twice

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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