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The One About Friend Grief (part 3)
An almost-foursome at the ugly sweater party.
Valentine’s Day 2014.
Actually, no, not yet. I’m not ready to go there. Rewind the tape.
An ugly sweater party. 2013, still.
The host is some guy M knows from the engineering department. Almost everyone there is older than me and knows each other. I don’t have an ugly Christmas sweater so I wear this sweater from Forever 21 with a big smiley face on it that I know other people will find ugly but I love. So far, this is the most “college party” party I’ve been to: the kind of crowd that keeps you moving through the house in a constant near-crush that smells like White Owl cigars and PINK body spray so you can never get a real sense of the layout.
N drives M, L, B, and I to the party and we all enter together. We have no booze of our own because nobody in the Core 5 except J is 21 yet and the drive-thru beer distributor that never cards is already closed. The party ecosystem of my chosen satellite Penn State campus was such that you couldn’t show up to a party empty-handed and drink for free. You had to show up with your own alcohol or pay $1/beer for whatever the hosts or other guests had on them—and they didn’t always want to share. We all goad M into negotiating with his engineering friends for some beers on our behalf. It works, and we’re smushed through the crowd with nondescript beers that taste terrible. There isn’t a lot of cash to go around, so we have to make them last.
It’s a few months, now, into my relationship with N and my friendship with the guys. I’m relatively close with all of them, but I’m the most attached to M and it’s obvious. N isn't bothered much by this yet. The three of us in particular have a special thing going. We eat every meal together, sit in the dark drinking boxed wine and watching Attack on Titan. When I have my fiction workshop, it's their room I hole up in, pacing insanely, trying to figure out how to end my short story where the protagonist is getting abused by her boyfriend and receives transmissions from the future via the messages printed on Taco Bell sauce packets. We're straddling the line between found family and friendship and polyamorous love. I am their unofficial third roommate, conventionally bound to one of them but a floater between their beds.
Somehow we all end up in the basement. I think at first we're trying to escape the crowd, find somewhere we can all actually hear each other talk. The party is boring. For B and L, who mostly go to these parties so they can try to hook up with girls, the party is boring because the pickings are slim. For N and I, the party is boring because we don't know anyone there except for our other bored friends. There's also the added wrinkle that these are M's cool friends from class who graciously let a bunch of randos tag along to their Christmas party, and we don't want to make things awkward for M by acting weird in their house. I don't know what M thinks of the party, but the fact that he's with us instead of the guys he presumably is cool with from class tells me he agrees with the rest of the group.
The basement is weird and empty. It's unfinished with a stained concrete floor, and I swear to god I remember a bare mattress pushed up against a wall but that's so on-the-nose I'm thinking it's got to be a false memory. I'm not that drunk—we don't have much alcohol to go around—but I'm drunker than the guys just because I'm smaller and less experienced in drinking. L goes outside to answer his phone, and the rest of us make our way down a dialogue tree we have descended many times before before: B is a virgin, B hasn't kissed anyone, B needs to hook up with a girl, B needs someone to take his kissing virginity and also his real virginity and he needs to get fucked so he can stop being so shy. It's a meme that everyone defaults to when drunk and needing to take the piss out of someone, and B laughs, but I can tell it hurts him a little. Then there's the other meme that I'm kind of a "slut." Not in any concrete way but just as the One Girl In The Group who is, so they've heard, so I've communicated to them, kind of "adventurous."
Somehow these two memes coalesce and the idea arises that I should kiss B, that all of us should make out, that we should all get down on this mattress that may or may not have actually existed in this gross ass basement. I say the idea "arises" because I don't remember who comes up with it. One second, we're having a somewhat normal conversation, and the next, all pretenses of being polite in this unfamiliar house and playing nice for the hosts have evaporated and we're all serious about having a drunken pseudo-orgy in this basement. I look over at N and he's cool with it. I walk over to B and do what must be done to get the ball rolling. We kiss, timidly at first, and then a little harder. But this is new to him and I'm conscious of not being weird or pressuring so I let go. Now B has lost his kiss virginity to his friend's ""slut"" girlfriend in a weird, dirty basement at an ugly Christmas party where she is not even wearing an ugly sweater.
I’m not not-attracted to B but I’m not attracted to him, either. If I’m attracted to anything, it’s the idea that doing this will bring me closer to everyone. I’ll fuck these guys and cement myself as part of the gang forever, and I will exist outside of my relationship with N, outside my novelty as the youngest person in the group and the only girl. I don’t know how else to ingratiate myself with them in a concrete way. If they touch me now, even if one day all this playful sweetness evaporates and every single one of us hates each other, we’ll always have this party. In the vast, varied quilts of their lives will be a small corner with my name on it, and maybe sometimes in the dark, when no one’s watching, they’ll rub a thumb over that cheap, synthetic fabric and remember what we did.
If I’m not mistaken, B has a wife and kids now. He’s very successful and will never read this, and with any luck he has forgotten this night entirely.
Having broken the seal, I look over at M, anticipating that he'll be next to have a piece of me. I'm more excited about it than I know is appropriate, definitely more than I was with B, but it doesn’t matter now. There have been enough jokes about me being the "group bicycle" that we might as well make it real. A voice in the back of my mind tells me that this is especially depraved given the setting and the bored, dour vibe of the night, but I squash it. I'm starting to want this now, want M, my insides lurching when I’m caught in the path of his hard, dark eyes.
Our bespoke foursome is interrupted by L running back down into the basement to tell us that our group’s newly-minted 21-year-old, J, has come to our rescue with a bottle of Grey Goose. The party is saved. We follow L back up to the main floor, never to discuss the Christmas party gangbang that never was. But I don’t stop thinking about M, or about both M and N at once, how well they’d care for me, how skillfully I could cement all we meant to each other. How memorable I could be.