Over break I went to a party at a friend’s house. Actually, it was her 25-year-old brother’s house. His new house. Mail slot, chimney, picture frames, everything. An actual house that he actually lived in for real, that he had really, actually bought. With his own money. Money that he earned in the actual, real world. Not his allowance.
I furtively sipped my beer, looking at faces to which I could not place names. Faces swollen with time. Glasses on people who did not wear glasses back when I could remember their names. Facial hair where none could grow when I knew who the hell anyone was.
Here was a spread of 10 years within the ages of party attendees. There were the 25-year-olds, who, upon entry, congratulated the host on his “cozy home,” those who left housewarming gifts in the foyer on their way back to the booze line. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were those even younger than I was: 17, 18. Kids, still.
My friend’s lives passed before my eyes. I watched their hairlines receding as quickly as their names faded from my memory. I watched as high schoolers graduated into college and then on into the working world. I watched them marry their girlfriends. I watched them buy houses and cars and throw parties for all their old high school buddies.
I turned a corner and spilled my drink all over a girl who’d been a senior in high school when I was a freshman. Except she wasn’t a girl anymore. She was a mom. Seven children, all of whom she introduced me to. Most of them were named Cornelius, I think. They were all standing single file behind her, sipping beers of their own.
I went to pour myself another beer, and in line at the keg, I bumped into the guy who had once edited my high school newspaper articles. He had turned 65 the previous month and assured me he had never felt more alive in all his days. He then died.
I took a breather and let the paramedics do their thing. Outside, smoking a cigarette, was an ex-girlfriend. It had been a long while since we had split up, and we were once again able to talk like two friendly folks. In specific, we talked all about her third husband, a real estate broker from Delaware named Cornelius, I think. Her oldest child was 25 now.
I had stepped into a wormhole. An infinitely powerful vacuum of time and space, localized in Branford. Until this point I had thought Branford remarkable only for a particularly good Indian restaurant on its Main Street. I was Billy Pilgrim with a half-full plastic cup of Schlitz.
Or maybe it just felt that way.
I breathed harder.
Here, pulling up at the curb, was a kid named Ryan, I think. Or Cornelius. When I had graduated high school, he hadn’t even been on my radar. When I was a senior, he’d been a freshman and had looked something like a cross between the kid from “A Christmas Story” and a fetus.
He was now driving a car more expensive than my college education, and he had a beard fuller than Castro’s. I’d been gone a year and change, and this kid had grown up. Every role I had once filled in my school, and in my town, was now his territory. He’d taken over my racket. Everything I had been, he now was. Only he was taller and had a nicer jacket.
In one hand, Cornelius held a cigarette. In the other, my younger sister — who, in this southern Connecticut wormhole, was now my older sister.
She knew everyone I did not. All those blurry names that had backed me into the corner, sipping in silence, rolled off her tongue with the artistry of a politician’s wife. She was the life of the party. And I had been relegated back into being a high school freshman all over again, in awe of all these people who seemed a little too cool for me, who seemed, at least for their high school years, to have it all figured out. I was in awe of my sister.
It had taken me YEARS of study, years of positioning and preening, to become a senior, to reach the opposite end of those envious, awed glares. I’d gone away and come back, and in the intervening period, had lost it all. I’d been supplanted by a younger, hairier, cooler generation of kids. Back at the bottom of the food chain. I’d returned, and I was at once older and younger.
I wasn’t even cool anymore. Who was I kidding? The album in my car — the underrated second Hootie album — had been released in 1997. That was a whole millennium ago. I drive a ’92 Mercury Sable. The thing runs on coal and good intentions. I use a scent of deodorant that was discontinued last fall. I’m a dirty old man.
My sister told me how strange it was to see me at one of “her” parties. I told her that they used to be mine. We were both wrong.
This was the party of the human raisin hooked up to the respirator behind the table of senior citizens playing Beirut. The home owner. He watched as everyone who he had once been filed through his living room and spilled liquor on his stereo.
I paid my respects to the geezer and left the way I’d come in. I vulcanized my tires, put on my goggles, and in a cloud of fume I was heading home, out of the black hole, back to the future.
Greg Yolen is a sophomore in Pierson College. Wait. Really? Yes. Really.