Sarah is going to cry. Holy shit, she thinks. This shit is going to make her cry.
She feels the abrasive gasoline heat of grain alcohol drawing blood to her face and distorting her makeup—she, herself holding tight to the thought that at least she is not a bitch-tits. Michael Ignado is probably puking out in the yard right now and she imagines it must taste like hot infinity. She dips your head under the running faucet and drinks the water in unhurried gulps. It's colder than she wishes.
The bathroom is an intuitive window into the regular life of the party's host (whom, by the way, she detests). Sarah feels like a welcomed intruder. There are bottles of shampoo and soaps and body-wash things lying around in a scatterplot indicating banality and repetition. Sarah is reminded in a vaguely unsettling way that things exist outside of her own immediate domain of experience and that people are, like, complex and autonomous. This guy lives ninety-nine-something percent of his life without her. So does everyone else. She farts loudly. The party-time bathroom is a bubble of quiet. She leaves.
Sarah Jenson can pivot between different conversation groups with relative ease. This is not a skill so much as a coping mechanism for the catatonically introverted. She's been at this school for an entire year and has few friends outside of the cross-country team. She is here with her roommate and plans on standing near her as much as possible.
The event is dynamically happening before her. She enters the crowd of people, conscious of the way she's sort of disrupting what's occurring. Human beings live together through intersecting trajectories of enthusiasm. It has reached the point in time at a party when someone has inevitably turned on, like, a Radiohead album or something because enough people are intimately conversing to a point where the music has become a background entity. The party is mostly seniors and is the last of series of shindigs put on by Geoff Conduit, who apparently wants to put his D in Sarah's P—he told this to a bunch of his friends during practice.
When she tries to reverse-engineer an image of the whole Geoff-Conduit-telling-his-buddies-that-he-wants-to-put-his-D-in-her-P scene, he comes across as a total fucking turd. He's running with his stupid running cronies and they are wearing their gay running shorts and conversing about stupid shit in, like, no real order—like, the conversation careens into sex right after, like, LinkedIn or an Anchorman reference or something. They are all shirtless in that skeletal, posture-conscious way that male runners carry themselves while running shirtless. He tells them that she has rockin' tits or whatever guys say to indicate sexual approval. He tells them he wants to put his D in her P.
His voice is the worst part. He has this really deep, gurgley, nasal voice that makes him sound like some combination of troll and whale. He is very tall and very annoying and tries to talk to Sarah very often and must be interpreting her timid/uninterested responses to be shyness, when really she just doesn't want him around. When she imagines him saying "I want to put my D in her P" in his stupid, deep, nasally ogre voice she feels this really weird amalgamation of embarrassment, horror, annoyance. He has a shitty fuztache and looks oddly mammalian.
But she's got to give him credit for the party. There is a baby pool full of some kind of jungle-juice thing in the living room with real apple slices floating inside of it. The roommate told Sarah not to eat any, because apparently they soak up all the alcohol and are, like, super effective at fucking you up. She doesn't really need that at this point because she's coming down from the Four Loco roommie and her split in Jasmine's Jeep Laredo before entering the house a few hours ago.1 Jasmine is the designated driving wedge2 tonight. Sarah took a shot of Everclear because Michael Ignado is a bitch-tits and asked her to do it with him so he felt safe. Because you're large, he told her. He put his arm around her while he was taking the shot. Sarah's boobs hurt from period stuff. Everclear tastes like rubbing alcohol. Conduit wants to put his D in her P. He has a mustache and is wearing a thick jacket and is smoking an e-cigarette 8 feet away from her. He looks like a bounty hunter from the future. Jasmine is wearing Sarah's black combat boots; Sarah, Jasmine's Nike compression shorts (underneath her skirt) and flats, plus a pea coatish thing she won't let go of. Sarah has the metabolism of a pre-orbital space shuttle. She is warm and happily subdued by a combination of alcohol and muscular exhaustion that only a high-level American college athlete could know.
Though she hasn't been to any of Conduit's other parties, Sarah knows through unanswered Facebook invitations that he's been naming them with the imaginary course title prefix "PRTY" (save for one back in January simply titled "Plato's Allegory of the Rave"), this particular party holding the designation "PRTY 495- Senior Thesis"3, according to the invite. His house is brick and (like the other basically identical houses on his street) square and simple—a view from the outside suggests a low-difficulty SAT math question on volume of closed figures. There is a UVM Catamount logo above his living room couch; the rest of the place is either clothed in various configurations of gold and green or the requisite, proto-academic poster aesthetic, consisting mostly of Pink Floyd albums and various movie posters, most of which Sarah doesn't recognize.
Geoffrey Conduit III is not a bad person. But he comes across like an asshole in the way that American college students who are ostentatiously self-involved seem to be assholes. He's by the door talking loudly to a few people Sarah doesn't recognize.
"And you know it's weird because you know as like a respectable quasi-adult that is essentially a good person and therefore somehow value-driven and smart it's basically implicit that you should be a good parent. But the problem is that like the the reality is that I am less me than, like, a result of the various stuff that's happened to me—like, I feel like I'm me in only a de facto sense. I'm me by accident. I wasn't born me, I just kind of like became me. I could have been different. Hell, I could have been you. Or that guy. And so like when people tell me that I am a good person my response is ‘well thanks' plus maybe a shoulder pat, but internally I'm stuttering because I literally am personally responsible for like thirteen percent of me. The rest just sort of happened."
"Fucking YES! That is like so fucking lucid."
"I am literally floored. Like I am actually about to sit down on the floor because what you are saying is so insightful."
"Yeah and you know how penicillin was discovered by accident, you know? I feel like me as—"
"Seriously I am physically moving my body into position to sit on the floor."
"—I know me was sort of the same sort of thing. And and and then like as a parent I am tasked with recreating this accident—this unplanned series of events—that created my own, like, good-ness or erudite-ness or whatever, which is just, like, illogical and and stupid—right?
"Dude holy shit this is amazing. Like holy shit this is like so accurate."
"Yeah—like how can I recreate all of the fucking stuff that's happened to me, ya know? How can I make someone a good person? No one can do that. Parenting as penicillin. Boom. Copyright that shit."
"Dude dude you're like a fucking genius. How did you come up with that? Like that is such an apt way of putting that. You didn't—"
"But, like, do you know? Hey. Like like, listen to me—"
"—just come up with this, did ya?"
"—like this is going to be you one day, so remember this. Hey, can you pass me another Shock Top?
"No, you're out. I saw some Coors in the fridge, want that? Hah kidding."
"No, fuck Coors! Don't even—"
"No, I know I was kidding—"
"—get me going on that. Like, there's all these stupid free-floating axioms about just drinking for the effect, not the taste but like I want to taste it. This is my house. I'm going to fucking law school. I earned this shit."
"—seriously I wasn't even being serious."
"No. No. I'm 22, I drink beer. Not like some 15 year-old's chaliced piss juice. Hey, but like does any of that Penicillin stuff make sense? I don't mean to like pull in and beckon you aboard the Abstract Express or something. You need a drink, sir. Let's get schwastey."
Roomie is Jasmine, a sophomore. Jazz is a better runner than Sarah but not in any sort of insecurity-prompting way or whatever. She's an English major from Metro-Philadelphia, which means that she writes stuff, like in her free time. Not poetry or anything pretentious like that—when Jazz asks Sarah to read her stuff (which isn't really often but, like, it happens) she calls it "microfiction" and Sarah's best description of her work based on what she's read would be "furiously intelligent." Jasmine doesn't listen to Radiohead or whatever's playing, but Sarah can tell that she's digging the ambience.
Jasmine is drunk and Sarah is not as drunk. It's the off-season, so when Michael Ignado comes over to apologize for the Everclear and asks if they want some of his weed, Sarah's response is a hesitant "yes" under the assumption that they're smoking from a joint—which goes in your mouth like a cigarette and is typically how it happens on TV, though she's aware that there are other ways to consume it.4 But instead they're doing it from something called a "gravity bong"5—this thing that's basically a two-liter soda bottle packed with weed in the cap, the whole iceberg of it sitting inside of a small cooler filled with water. It looks like a middle school science project that didn't get finished. But she takes a hit and holds it in like Michael and Jazz and the other throwaway people sitting in the room6 urge her to and she makes a big show of it by doing the Nixon two-fingers thing and adding in a "carpe diem," except she coughs really hard because she's a novice and whatever and ends up saying something along the lines of "carpet demon," which makes the three of them laugh pretty hard (thus making Sarah cough more), which messes with Jazz's hit and she ends up doing something along the lines swallowing the smoke down the wrong pipe, which makes Sarah laugh/cough even more—all the while Ignado is pointing at the ground in pretend-horror and making a little cross with his index fingers and shouting pseudo-Latinate phrases to cast away the would-be demon. Michael Ignado has that really classic European look to him where you can totally tell that he's got roots in one of, like, ten Mediterranean countries but you can't exactly pinpoint which one. He's 5'10" 160ish and wears a lot of these long-sleeved hooded t-shirts that aren't thick enough to be sweatshirts. He's a gay, Sophomore Econ major and Sarah met him in her freshman seminar7—a class he had to take a year late because he transferred and didn't have the requirement from his old school. His boyfriend is named David and he plays goalie for the lacrosse team. When she and roommie first met them Jazzy called them "The Bible Boys" and the name stuck so long that it was shortened to the sobriquet "Bibes" or sometimes "Bib-men."
Time passes colorlessly. The party is happening. The people are collectively making the sounds that human beings make when they get together and interact and play music. Jasmine is sitting on the couch next to Sarah and holding really deep breaths like a balloon longer than she should and exhaling hard in a regular pattern. The sound she makes on exhale is a lengthened "ch," like chhhhhhhhhhhhh. Sarah is staring forward, looking vaguely lonesome for something she probably couldn't describe. Ignado is sitting on the opposite side of Sarah, playing with his phone. David Fraiser comes in and extends his hand to Michael Ignado ineffectually, like a handshake. Michael takes it and stands. They leave the room.
A group of five or so people in graphic t-shirts and (mostly, but not all of them) black rimmed glasses get up and leave. Only Sarah and Jasmine and a few other kids remain in the room. Jasmine turns to Sarah.
"You know a party is over when all of the Physics majors are dropping acid in the laundry room."
Sarah continues to stare forward.
"Eric's like Comm Studies or something."
". . ."
"Think about this. You know like colors, like how we see colors. What if the color I see as red is different than the red you see?"
". ? ."
"I think my shirt is more burgundy."
"No, I wasn't talking about your shit, shirtface."
". . ."
"How do you feel?"
"I. . . am. . . a. . . vessel. I feel like an empty vessel. I am a boat."
"I feel dissipated. Like, I feel like postcoital, like the universe just had sex with me."
"Fucking A that is perfect."
"We don't ever talk about your antidepressants."
"Okay can you like tell me what is it like? Like, can you tell?"
"Ha-ha okay seriously I know that whatever they're blasting downstairs isn't Radiohead but Geoff's Okay Computer poster is like making them sound like Radiohead. Like, I am taking in the sound as not-Radiohead but then it gets filtered through my like highness and becomes Radiohead."
"That is seriously so fucking funny."
"You're such an enjoyable ligament."
". . ."
". . ."
"Actually its like really interesting and I try to like actively think about it like a lot. Basically it like raises the floor of your feeling range so that the sad stuff just doesn't happen. So your emotions are like a spectrum and that part just gets like cut off at the bottom."
"That like actually makes a lot of sense."
"Yeah, its like more complicated than people typically think. I feel like the general impression is that they just sort of dull you and make you like a zombie and then you're like happy only because the sad stuff is gone. That's not true. The sad stuff's not gone, it's just like under the carpet."
"Your metaphor game is sick, bruh."
"Like me when I'm in a situation where I know I should feel sad I still feel like the skeletal substance of sadness, but not the meat of it."
"What do you take?"
"He has me on a 15 mg dose of Lexapro. It's sorta like Zoloft if you know that."
"Doesn't that come with like little bubble people on a commercial."
"Holy shit I forgot about that. Yeah, that's Zoloft."
"What is Prozac? Wasn't there something with Obama taking that?"
"Maybe? I think that was Paxil. Prozac is like the dangerous one that makes you kill yourself and stuff. Mine is like the gin and tonic of antidepressants."
"Is it like Prozac?"
"No it's not as strong."
". . ."
"Are they singing happy birthday to someone?"
"Ha-ha yeah, I mean that's the happy birthday song—isn't it?"
"Hah yeah, I'm going to go around and brag about how it's my fucking birthday at someone else's party."
"My life is not real right now. I am watching a movie of my life."
"Dude my thoughts feel like memories right now—"
"YES! That is literally exactly how I feel."
"—like what I say feels like a memory of something I told you before."
"Fucking shit that is like a transcript of how I feel."
"Holy shit have you ever noticed how oranges have like a tiny Siamese orange growing inside of them? Like am I the only one who notices this?"
"Oh my god."
"But no like seriously, why the fuck isn't everyone talking about this? There is a fucking tiny Siamese orange growing inside of this orange. There is literally an orange growing inside of this orange."
"Dude you're right."
"No, but like look at this. There is an orange growing inside of another orange. This orange has like a mitosis baby orange that never got all the way out. There is literally a freaking meta-orange inside of this orange. I am eating one and one-fourths oranges right now. Why the heck isn't this on CNN? This is insane. This is literally fucking incredible. And this isn't like a novel observation I'm making just right now. I see this pretty much every time I see an orange but I've never thought to say anything about it. Maybe because I thought it was just like understood that people didn't talk about the meta-orange. This is something we see like literally every day and literally no one ever talks about this. There is a freaking meta-, mitosis-, internal-, Siamese proto-clementine inside of this whole orange."
"Do you thinks it's changed you? Like the Lexapro."
"It sort of affects like the way I think. I like blindly think stuff—my thoughts just like happen. Like, you think something without being totally aware of the required like thought—vectors that brought you to a conclusion. Like thoughts become disembodied thoughts."
"Is this how you make sense of it?"
"Yeah. Like remember when I said the thing about how our thoughts felt like memories?" ". . . ."
". . ."
". . ."
"What are your antidepressants like? Like how do they affect the way you feel?"
"What are your antidepressants like?"
"Yeah. Like what's that like?"
"Basically it disembodies my thinking. Like my thoughts just kind of happen."
". . ."
"I feel sorta sick. I don't want to throw up. One time I ate an entire like whole Blooming Onion when I was going to this summer running camp in Montana with my brother and I had to sit like this for like two hours.8
". . ."
"Dude you're green."
". . ."
". ? ."
"I. . . am. . . a. . . vessel."
"Boat. We are boats."
". . ."
"So your thoughts just sort of hit you?"
"Yeah, like literally they just happen."
"Can you give me an example?"
"Of a thought?"
"Yeah, like a disembodied thought. What does that look like?"
". . ."
"I am literally Mariah Carey right now like I shit you not I am Mariah Carey."
". ? ."
". ! ."
". ? ."
". . ."
". ? ."
". . ."
". . ."
". . ."
". . ."
. . . and then Michael gives Da-veed a few kisses on the cheek and eventually prompts a full one, which makes Sarah happy for him. For Michael. Sarah likes David but she's really only a de facto friend. Ignado has told her that David is apparently really self-conscious about how the various social groups that he is a part of (i.e. lacrosse, major classes12, drinking circles, ect.13) are mutually exclusive and don't mix, like, at all. So in situations where the groups intermix he's forced to take on the role of a mediator—which is stressful because he has to, like, engineer conversation topics and essentially prescript the interactions in such a way where the people have some sort of commonality and apparently it's super stressful and as a result he just sort of ends up hanging out with his lax buddies because he spends, like, a ridiculous amount of time practicing/training with them—and apparently this is kind of harmful for David and Michael's relationship because Michael does not play lacrosse (not at Vermont, at least, but he played in high school—though this is becoming less and less relevant as he gets into the nitty-gritty of research and the one graduate class he has been approved to take next semester) and faces the same insecurity-on-intermixing problem (though to a lesser extent because he's involved with less stuff—Michael's hard to categorize) except he mostly hangs out with the occasional-partier-but-good-head-on-my-shoulders crowd from Econ class. They talk a lot about internships and have myriad George Costanza quotes committed to memory. Michael Ignado and David Fraiser feel like they're being pulled hard in different directions and have to, like, actually work to hang out (as in together with other people; one-on-one they're fine) and not feel uncomfortable. Plus David is still fresh from the closet. Apparently.
Sarah gets up from the couch. Her and Jasmine are the only people in the room. Jasmine's throw up is greenish from the jungle juice. Mom used to call throwing up "getting sick." Jasmine makes an exaggerated, languid swipe at Sarah as she leaves.
Sarah walks downstairs and out the front door. The party is basically over. The cold air hits her like a tangible thing. There is a group of girls getting into a car. She probably knows them. It is cloudy and dark and she's suddenly hit with the lucid insight that clouds can exist at night, hidden by the darkness—and this thought hits her hard, like recognizing someone's bathroom as a terse window into their day-to-day, that people are mostly vectors for enthusiasm, hair is vestigial fur, your teeth are just bones out of hiding.
1. Sarah drank way less of it than Jasmine. She has a Lexapro-induced lowered alcohol tolerance.
2. (they’re aware that this is not an actual golf club)
3. Proposed Title: “Drunken Myths: Barthes, Booze, and Applied Semiotics” Objective: My research is largely based on Roland Barthes’s ideologies on mimesis. Barthes is well-known for his work with semiotics and dissociation through cultural economics, but I am interested in what he posits as “the reality effect” (the titular hypothesis from a 1968 essay) as well as getting fucked up because I am about to graduate. Description of Project: Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots. Proposed Reader: Everybody. Bibliography: Mythologies
Beer (Norton Critical edition with intro by C.R. Jorhyen, Prof. Emeritus at Michigan) Various Mixed Drinks (Hemmingway) [sic]
Final Project: A thesis paper and hangover to complete Honors requirements. Location: 267 Hargret St. (9ish pm)
4. Marijuana being this preternatural thing that exists to her mostly as a concept, like a synecdochical stand-in for stuff that bad people do, rather than a thing ingested by regular people with college degrees and jobs and kids and stuff. It’s weird thought, because she has a bunch of friends that are nice and respectable and generally have their shit together and happen to smoke weed and she doesn’t think less of them because of their affiliation with it, yet the thing still holds the negative connotation. Sarah assumes this probably has something to do with the way she was raised. Sarah finds herself, especially as an out-of-state college student (meaning that she is forced to basically legitimize her life to her buddies by talking about how it differs from theirs), constantly acknowledging the various ways in which her parents were good parents while they were alive. Jasmine agrees with Sarah on the weed thesis.
5. "Grav" is acceptable, too.
6. There's a really specific subset of person that hangs around the "weed room" at an American college party. They just sort of, like, exist as permanent fixtures in the room between their own highness and this weird, meta-magnetic force that draws them toward each other.
7. The course was on artificial intelligence and drew literally every type of furry/anime/orc dork/sci-fi/high-school-locker-shoved-into person imaginable and apparently had a huge waiting list. The professor looked like he should have been teaching Demonology with shitty little wisps of cirrus clouds protruding from the outer rim of a considerable bald spot, and a long King Tutish goatee. The description Sarah and Michael came up with was that he looked like a would-be Ben Franklin impersonator that gave up and joined a thrash metal band. The whole thing was seriously like something out of a movie. As the only two people that didn’t appear to be secretly wielding a Tomagachi, it makes sense that they sat next to each other and became buddies. They both took the class because the time fit their schedule.
8. She's lying back with her hands behind her head and fingers interlocked in a classic, pool-recliner pose except she looks like she is in pain and still taking deep "chhhhhhhhh" breaths except probably now as a measure to hold back the puke.
9. Conduit, saying words to them. Probably just to Sarah.
10. Jasmine Garret leans away and pukes.
11. Bible Boys. Though the open door to the hallway. Holding hands, returned from wherever. Talking to Geoff Conduit, probably about Sarah.
12. Accounting—both he and David recently being accepted into the business school at the start of the semester.
13. Neither of them really like the queer activist crowd.
Trevor Lisa is an undergraduate at the University of Georgia studying English and Communication Studies. His poetry/spoken word/fiction deal primarily with the human interaction, and his work has appeared in Stillpoint, where he is currently the submissions editor.