They came from a while ago, that was for sure. Itâ€™s a strange feeling, to be surrounded by the past rather than well ahead of it. Itâ€™s unsettling and, for the individual with even the slightest amount of balance, unpleasant. The past is something to be remembered, reminded of, never relived. And yet here it was, loud, liquored up and lifeless as ever, and he felt about as comfortable as a hemophiliac in a knife factory.
He stood in the middle of the room, looking around in utter shock. These were not the people he remembered, though the names and faces and basic DNA were the same. There was the nerd, always friendless and hopelessly picked on, now with a girl on each arm, and more behind him competing for those coveted two spots. There was the football player who had married the cheerleader, so adorable at the time. Now he was overweight and alcoholic, she pregnant and covered in bruises, the two of them perfectly, painfully stereotypical. Behind him was the valedictorian, fresh out of jail, doing his fifth line off the bar.
And as he stood there, essentially unchanged in the ten years since heâ€™d last seen these people, he couldnâ€™t help but wonder: what the fuck happened?
Heâ€™d always been a good student. Even through grad school, his grades had been high. They were the only thing that had been high though, as drugs had never appealed to him. Heâ€™d always had friends, though not as many as his friends did. All his life, heâ€™d been liked, if not well liked. He hadnâ€™t been Biff, but heâ€™d been happy.
He was nursing his third drink, some sort of piss domestic; if he could choke down one or two more, he might feel like talking to these strangers-who-had-been-friends. Everything felt wildly implausibleâ€”here were fifty or sixty people whoâ€™d not shared a room in a decade, and here was everyone trying to pretend no time had passed, nothing had changed except an increase in waistlines, alcohol tolerance and facial hair. He was miserable, he wanted no part in it, but he couldnâ€™t bring himself to leave.
â€œApathyâ€ is defined as a lack of concern and interest, a profound indifference to the state of affairs, boredom to the point of lethargy. He suspected thatâ€™s what was keeping him there. What else could it be? Was it the memories? No, it wasnâ€™t the memories. It wasnâ€™t the free beer either. It wasnâ€™t even like watching a car accident, because generally you see fewer peoplesâ€™ lives ruined in car accidents than what he could see all around him. Honestly, he just didnâ€™t care about any of these people, even enough to walk out. He would probably stay for just another few free drinks, then drive home. Hopefully he wouldnâ€™t kill anyone.
Oh no. Heâ€™d spotted her earlier, but now sheâ€™d seen him. Was she going to come over? Was she going to say something? Was she going to open her mouth and let out some sort of faux-intellectual mockery of language, spewing boring stories with trite parables, talking faster than the coked-up valedictorian in the corner, while at the same time avoiding any conversation of real substance and, at the end of it all, expressing nothing more than a strain of vaguely contradictory, utterly uninteresting sentimental drivel, accomplishing nothing but wasting precious time and precious oxygen?
Yes. Yes she was.
Why had he ever been attracted to her? Well sure, she was pretty. Hell, she was gorgeous. But thatâ€™s all sheâ€™d ever had going for her. She wasnâ€™t smart. She wasnâ€™t funny, except in the same way all shallow, pretty girls are funny (that is to say, not actually funny, but looking good enough that people laugh anyway). She was stumbling, although that might have been simple clumsiness rather than the drink. The stumbling had always been a mystery; heâ€™d always liked to attribute it to her surroundings trying to dive as far out of the way of her repulsive personality as possibleâ€¦but on reflection, that hypothesis seemed somewhat flawed.
Fuck, here come the words.
â€œâ€¦?â€ she asked, in the way of the utterly insincere trying to seem genuinely happy to see someone.
â€œâ€¦,â€ he responded, because thatâ€™s how conversations always went with her. Then her mouth opened again and bathed him in a torrent of sheer insignificance, he dejectedly resigned himself to the second circle of hell, and the deepest realms of self-loathing: he wanted her.
Well, not really. Not so much her as anyone, and she was the one standing in front of him. He finished his drink, waited for her to stop for air.
â€œâ€¦?â€ he asked.
She slapped him. Then, as if upon further consideration, she kissed him. He never quite figured out why sheâ€™d done either; he had expected her to just walk away. But then, that wasnâ€™t her style.
But she had kissed him. And, even as his insides squirmed with the certain knowledge of a mistake in progress, he kissed her back.
When their mouths parted and opened again, the words that came out were so much worse than nothing. Now they were the barely-coherent bullshitting of two desperate people, each trying to say what they think the other wants to hear. Repressed feelings, deep-seated attraction, a longing to be togetherâ€”there was nothing he wouldnâ€™t tell her to convince himself that the mistake he were making was, in fact, a really great idea.
She tugged him by his belt toward the corner. He glanced around, shrugged, and followed. After five minutes, the corner turned into a more dimly-lit corner elsewhere in the room. Shortly after, that corner turned into the bathroom, but it was in use. The bathroom became a spare room, but it was locked. Finally, they settled on the coat closet. They went in and came, out in ten minutes. She was breathless, but still managed to keep up the steady flow of meaningless sounds that were probably, in actuality, words. He, in a seemingly-spontaneous fit of chivalry, offered to brave the crowd and get them drinks.
In the line for the bar, he contemplated things. What, exactly, heâ€™d been contemplating, he could never quite remember after that night, but he knew he came away from his ruminations hating himself more than ever before in his life. He had changed since heâ€™d seen these people. Heâ€™d changed just as much as any of them, he just hadnâ€™t noticed. He wondered if everyone around him felt the same contempt for him that he felt for each of them. He thought so. They did.
He finally made it back to the closet in time to see her stagger out of it for the second time, this time with the cheerleaderâ€™s husband. They stepped outside as he stood there, holding a beer and a ludicrous fruity drink of the sort only the truly vapid actually enjoy, of the sort she had been enjoying rather a lot all night.
He stood there, drinking his beer, careful not to spill her tutti-frutti fuckme-tini or whatever it was called, thinking about what heâ€™d like to say to her. He couldnâ€™t think of anything.
Then he had it. It was perfect. He put the word in his mouth like a cigarette, rolled it around to get a sense of the taste. He inhaled deeply, exhaled through his nose, and watched the cloud of potential self-satisfaction obscure his vision. He raised his head, tossed his cup, and walked out the door.
She was standing there on the step, looking bored while the football player tried to cop a feel. He handed her the drink, and looked deep into her eyes.
â€œCunt,â€ he said.
Then he walked away.