Dora Guo

It’s crowded. The room is full of people — sweaty, smelly human bodies brushing against each other and knocking into one another, mumbling rushed apologies followed by excessively loud laughter. It must be long past midnight. I consider looking for my friends, but I quickly decide against it. They have probably found themselves someone to talk to and, by now, they are most likely exchanging body odor and phone numbers and maybe even favorite hobbies. 

So I stay sitting on the cheap plastic kitchen table, legs hanging off the edge, staring into the crowded room full of people. The music is loud, probably louder than it should be, certainly much too loud for anyone to have a real conversation. I guess real conversations are old fashioned anyway. I could stand up and try to talk to somebody. But that would require effort. And, there’s no guarantee that anyone interesting would want to talk to me. So I stay sitting on the cheap plastic kitchen table, watching the crowd of strangers. 

That blonde boy seems to be quite the character. He snakes through the crowd, smiling — dimples and blue eyes and a black bucket hat. He asks girls for their names and their interests. She says history and he says he loves history. She raises her eyebrows, pleased. The next one says she wants to major in art and he says he loves art too. A real Renaissance man. I wonder if he’ll remember any of this tomorrow. Probably not. He probably doesn’t even want to. 

I look to my left. That brunette girl seems to be having a heck of a night. She throws her head back and laughs — one of those deep, full laughs that spreads to every corner of the room. A few strands of hair slip out of her loose ponytail, falling against her shoulders as she wraps her arms around her boyfriend’s neck. He smiles, nodding across the room to a friend. Maybe she’s in love with him. Or maybe they just met last weekend and decided that they were hormonally destined for each other. Probably that. 

One of my friends stands across the room near the window, leaning her back against the wall, talking to some guy she probably just met a few minutes ago. She tucks her hair behind her ear and says something. His eyes widen. She must’ve said something surprising. Maybe she told him about her nerdy fascination and borderline obsession with astrophysics and white dwarf stars. Or, maybe she told him about her high school math team and the way she flies through numbers as if it is second nature. Probably not. That would bore him, or so she thinks. Instead, she probably told him about that wild party she went to last weekend. Or, maybe she told him about her midnight runs to Papa John’s to pick up vegan pizza. That would be interesting. That would be fun. That would make his eyes widen. I hope he’s a good guy. But I’m doubtful. At this point, I’m convinced that good guys may as well be endangered species. 

Regardless, there’s some sort of strange electric feeling about being in a crowded room full of people. It’s almost like a humanity overload, something that seems so disgustingly unnecessary, yet so natural. So right. There is something so predictable and so human about the way we brush past each other under the green lights, skin touching skin, sharing the same dirty oxygen, complaining about our hardest classes and our broken relationships, knowing (and perhaps even hoping) that none of us will remember this conversation by the time morning comes. 

To be fair, there is a chance that it’ll last beyond just one night — a slim chance that you will meet again, that you will follow each other on social media and meet up for lunch and work on the math homework together. But that is highly unlikely. It is, in fact, much more likely that he will remain the hot mystery boy with the black bucket hat who you never got the chance to properly talk to. She will remain the pretty girl with the loud laugh and you will wish you asked for her name. And I will remain that girl who sat on your cheap plastic kitchen table, ripped jeans and purple shirt, staring into the crowd. 

Whatever the case, whether you see each other again or not, you should probably put a label on it. Because that’s just what we do. Best friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, friends with benefits, classmate, acquaintance, strangers. All these people in this crowded room are just strangers. I don’t know them and I don’t necessarily want to know them. But somehow, I am still sitting on their cheap plastic kitchen table, listening to the same music that they are listening to, breathing the same dirty oxygen that they are breathing, feeling a slight bump against my knee as someone walks past me and their jeans touch mine. 

I think about getting up to leave, wondering when everything suddenly became so superficial. Sometime between Monday morning and Thursday midnight, things must’ve changed. Something must’ve happened because now, it’s Friday and no one seems to care about the fact that I’m sitting on their cheap plastic kitchen table. I thought people were supposed to get to know people, to remember people. But on Friday nights, perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps we’re not supposed to remember his name or her terrible break up or any of their interesting stories from last weekend. It’s Friday night. All we’re supposed to do is stay, stay in this crowded room full of people. And, by the time morning comes, we’ll remember that we spent Friday night together. Sure, we won’t really know each other. He won’t know about her nerdy obsession with white dwarf stars and she won’t know that he was lying to her about loving art, but none of that really matters. All that matters is that we spent Friday night together — speaking words into the same air, glancing at each other from across the room, listening to the same loud music, exchanging laughs and stories and smiles and body odor with absolute strangers. 

Note: This article is based on pre-pandemic events.

Rafaela Kottou |