The One Who Cries in the Bathroom at a Party
By Clara Lick
A while back, I was invited to a party. You know, the big kind of party that is typically pivotal in a teenager’s life, where there is dancing and drugs and making out behind closed doors. I can’t say that I’ve never wanted that experience, because to say that would mean that I’m not a typical teenager. Back then, that was something I couldn’t come to terms with. I was invited by a girl named Jess, who had dark green dyed hair and a punk rock attitude: the kind of confidence that shows in her stance, her walk, the way she talks. It’s the kind of confidence that says, “I’ll be myself, and I don’t care if you like it or not.” Some people would sell their soul to truly be like that, (I can’t deny that I would myself). Anyway, she awkwardly handed me an invite by my locker one day. This seemed weird because I know we’ve never talked outside of a schoolwork-related subject. She must’ve only invited me to be nice or something. When I got the invite, I kind of just stared at her, awe-struck. I never thought I’d even have the chance to go to a party like this in my whole life. I mean, I never really had friends after my best friend from sixth grade moved away, so this was a big chance for me to make some. Finally, in my junior year of high school, I could make some. I’ve never really been one for talking to people, but maybe Jess could introduce me to someone, and we could actually make conversation without me being awkward for once. Maybe we could exchange numbers when the party was over. Maybe we could text each other for hours on end, and maybe we could go get ice cream in the summer, and maybe we could comfort each other when we were feeling down, and if they went to a different school or something, I might finally be okay with sitting alone at lunch because I’d know that there was someone out there who liked me. A friendship like that was worth more to me than anything else, and it meant more to me than any chance of teenage rebellion or experience that I would have at that party. But it was all just some illusion, some hope of something that would never have any chance of happening, because that Friday night, I found myself standing alone beside the snack table. The bass from the music was thumping throughout the whole house, and the waves of chatter made me feel self-conscious for my silence. My back was up against the wall, and I was holding a red plastic cup of lukewarm rum and coke. This party was more unique than I ever could’ve thought, because it was a party where drag queens strutted down the hall like it was a runway, where girls held each other’s hands and where boys were unafraid to slow dance with each other. It made me wonder if Jess had found out about me, but I remembered back to when she handed me the invite; all she had said was, “Here. You seem woke enough.” I couldn’t find Jess after a while of searching, so there was no hope for her to introduce me to anyone after all. I guess I realized that it would be kind of weird anyway; it would go like, “Hey, glad you could come, there’s someone that I think you’d love to meet, especially considering the fact that I know nothing about you.” I watched as there were these circles slowly forming, these mini-groups of stereotypes: the guys who wore mascara and nail polish, the chicks who had pixie-cuts and wore at least one thing made of black leather, the group of gamers who could’ve been trans or bi or gender-fluid. I should’ve seen it as a beautiful thing that I had stumbled upon – a haven, a place where all these people could come together and be themselves – but it actually made my insides churn to think that I could even be lonely in my own community. The threat of tears jabbed at the backs of my eyes like little pin-needles. I was about to leave then, when someone tapped my shoulder. She had shoulder-length hair that was smooth and amber like maple syrup, and she had a smile that was warm like a night in July. She looked so friendly, so kind when she smiled. I felt myself tense, and I hoped it wasn’t too noticeable. “H-hi,” I said, thankful for my casual tone. “Hi,” she said, still wearing that sunshine-smile. “Are you here all by yourself?” I nodded, face hotter than a stovetop. I felt those tears coming up again, the familiar burning behind my vision. She must think I’m pathetic. “Oh,” she said, “well, that’s okay. My name’s Harlow.” She held out her hand, wristbands hanging off her arm like a tangle of rubber vines. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect opportunity to talk to somebody…but I was afraid. For some reason, fear hit me like a bolt of lightning, and I knew I was afraid because I had a sudden memory: my best friend from sixth grade driving away in his dad’s navy 2004 Ford Expedition. I remembered the way that I felt, waving to him by my mailbox with tears coating my cheeks. I was afraid that if I became friends with this person, it would just end up the same way. And I couldn’t face that again. So, in front of this sweet stranger, I began to cry like I was a child. Harlow looked alarmed, and she reached out to put her warm hand on my shoulder. “Oh my god, are you okay?” she asked. I just covered my face with my hands and shook my head no. “I-I’m sorry,” I managed to sputter out. “I-I’m just panicking and I’m really sad and I’m s-sorry.” What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just stop talking? “You don’t have to apologize,” Harlow said gently. “If you want to talk about it, I’m here.” I did want to tell her everything. I wanted to spill my guts and cry on her shoulder and let her blanket me in her comforting voice and kind words. I felt so stupid, so exposed, and I just couldn’t. So I kind of just walked away, saying, “Sorry to bother you.” Instead of going home, I went to the nearest bathroom and cried because I didn’t want people to see me. I kneeled on the tiled floor and let a few sobs escape my throat, immersed in nothing but my shame, embarrassment, loneliness, and the stale aftertaste of sugary alcohol lingering on my tongue. I didn’t see why it mattered that I didn’t head home, going out the front door with tears spilling messily all over my face. In the end, it didn’t matter because I had nothing to hide anyway. I was alone. I had no friends, and no matter how hard I tried, I would never make any. I couldn’t achieve something as simple as a handshake and a “nice to meet you.” I barely managed hello. There were a million things wrong with me, and in the end, everyone could see it. I prepared myself to sit alone at lunch again with that sinking feeling in the pit of my gut, preventing me from eating anything.