I’m standing in the back of a house, run down by years of parties, beer, sloppy sex, laughter, tears, and cheap late night food. I don’t dare go inside, but I know the walls are smeared with the stickiness from ghosts of friendships past. It’s already after midnight, and these kids are just getting going at a time when I would typically be winding down.
We’re all standing on a backyard slab of concrete, clumping in smaller groups to better hear conversation and to keep warm. Los Angeles is a temperate city, but its nights are always surprisingly cool. I know I probably look out of place by my clothes alone. I’m by no means dressed up, but my shirt and pants have some semblance of an outfit, which is enough to blow my cover. It’s very apparent that my clothes were the byproduct of a comfortable salary. I’m wearing lipstick.
There is an adult at this college party; it’s me.
I wonder, hope, and pray that these young people mistake me for one of their own. At the very least, perhaps a very recent graduate, rather than someone who attended this school while the rest of the party struggled with burgeoning acne, training bras, and general middle school malaise. Even though I’m most likely infinitely more secure with myself than these students, I am desperately seeking their approval.
It seems as though no one really notices I am there. I take a sip from the Coors Light that has been handed to me. It strikes me as phenomenal that college kids all the dress the same, somehow breaking the space, time continuum of fashion. They are all under dressed in either the literal or figurative sense.
I want to bite their heads and suck out their youthful optimistic minds. I want the time and opportunity that haven’t cashed in yet. I want it so bad.
I’m sitting on the arm of a patio chair and a tall boy approaches me. As I turn to look up, his eyes widen.
"Hello," I say.
"Hello," he replies, as he grabs my outstretched hand.
"I’m Heather," I tell him.
"I’m XXX (Full disclosure: I do not recall his name)," he says as he cups my smallish hand into both of his larger overgrown child mitts. It feels like he is fighting the urge not to kiss the back of my hand like a medieval knight.
"Nice to meet you XXX."
"You too," his eyes still staring like he’d never seen a girl like me. At a party like? I doubt he has. I’m (and I hate to say this shit) a woman. "What team are you on?"
I’m at the closing party for a college improv festival, where teams from multiple schools were present.
"Oh, I’m not on a team. I’m just…visiting."
"Oh cool. What school do you go to?"
"Well, I actually went here, but I graduated."
"Did you graduate last year?"
"No..I graduated a while ago. I’m kind of old."
He laughs. I smile awkwardly. We exchange more easy, digestible chit chat, and he moves on. I’m suddenly awkward, embarrassed, and insecure at a house party. So, college.
Shortly after my conversation with XXX, I meet another boy, whose name also escapes me. The brave boys want to talk to me. The shy boys are intimidated by me. The girls want nothing to do with me, and I don’t blame them.
This new conversation companion is a classic “nice guy.” Very early into the conversation, I reveal that I graduated college six years ago. I’ve dropped the damn charade. He takes this as an opportunity to ask me a million questions about post grad life. I reassure him that life is better, less stressful, and infinitely more interesting. I realize what a Dr. Suess world it really is out there as I explain the places he’ll go, and the people he’ll meet. He seems relieved when I tell him that he’s in a holding pattern; he hasn’t lived yet.
Once it’s clear we have nothing left to discuss, he politely excuses himself and walks away. I think that I should have erected a Lucy-esque booth with a sign reading, “Life Advice $5. The Adult is In.”
I end up talking to Cody, who is so worried about graduating and trying to pursue his dreams after college. He asks my boyfriend and I if we like living in LA. He doesn’t think he would. He doesn’t want to raise a family here. Cody is plotting his every move for the next fifteen years.
"Cody," I say, "I hate to burst your bubble, but whatever you think you want right now, whatever you think you need, wherever you think you will be in a year or two…is bunk. Your life will change every year, and you have to be ok with it. That’s how you become who you’re supposed to be. So…why don’t you just figure out what you’re doing this summer, and stop trying to plan your life, because it will drive you crazy to tackle an impossible task. Don’t be afraid to walk away from what you love to pursue something else. Everyone has different stepping stones."
He sincerely thanks me for telling me to chill the fuck out, and we hug. I feel thankful for allowing him the opportunity to have some perspective on my own getting closer to real adulthood life.
I stand in the middle of loud drunken people who haven’t grown into themselves. I’m invisible as I watch them have “the time of their lives.” I realize that many of them are still virgins, have never had their heartbroken, never feared paying rent on time, have not yet been forced to work a menial job.
What they are telling me is that they’re all scared about graduating, finding a job, paying off student loans, being happy, financial independence without a safety net.
They have awkward self-conscious sex, cry over people who they will only know through Facebook in five years, worry about mid-terms, don’t take internships seriously, believe vomiting is the sign of a solid night, and think that they are genuinely already adults because they went to Cabo San Lucas for Spring Break and didn’t die. They think that have everything and nothing figured out at the same time. They live in terror of being uncool.
But they’re also optimistic, innocent, authentic, wide-eyed, and eager to please. As much I want to steal their time and opportunity, they want to suck my experiences dry. They want to know their future. They want to know that everything will be OK. They want to know that they will end up as stable and happy as me.
So we are at a standstill. I can’t go back, and they can’t move forward. We’re both trapped in our own separate limbos. I finish my beer without vomiting, and I still consider it a solid night.