And so it is that we reach the final chapter in my high school recollections of the opposite sex and life in general. As high school itself lasts four years, it’s both a sign of either fate or my ability to plan a blog series that I’ve managed to sort all of my key recollections for this topic as four posts. For those who want a quick recap, you can read “Rolling as the Third Wheel”, “Double Jeopardy”, and “Yes, saying Hello was Harder” for the previous three installments. As I’ve hinted previously, this 4th and last high school adventure is probably the meatiest. I certainly didn’t plan for it that way at the time, but it at least gives this arc of the Dateless Man blog a sense of seasonal closure. For a bit of foreshadowing, it does contain one of the moments in my life that I’ve later always wanted to do over if given the chance.
Like the title said, I was invited to a house party for New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 1999. It may not seem like a major deal to anyone who’s younger than, oh, about 17-18 now, but for those of us who grew up in the 1980’s – 1990’s, the “new millennium” was a big deal. Just think of how many movies, comic books, or cartoons treated just the year 2000 as something major, much less years beyond that. Some older pieces of science fiction thought we’d all have jet packs and be living on the moon or underwater by the year 2000 or not much later. Try watching “BACK TO THE FUTURE, PART 2” and forgetting that it was made in the 1980’s. The supposed threat of “Y2K”, when older machines would cease to work or go bugger due to some binary date code glitch, was real enough that many proper magazines devoted many an issue or article about it in some way. And if you were a teenager around to watch the big date turn into one with three zeroes attached, it only seemed like a bigger excuse to party and get wasted when it was finally time to watch it happen.
I actually attended a few house parties during my high school years and into my college years. It helped that many of the friends I made in high school wanted to drink, and as I mentioned before, one had former “flower children” parents who didn’t mind their home hosting a dozen or two teenagers so long as things didn’t reach “ANIMAL HOUSE” levels of crazy. It’s illegal to drink alcohol in New York if you’re under 21, but virtually every person I know at least tried alcohol before that age, and many were already on their way to becoming social alcoholics as teenagers. Although I wasn’t big on alcohol or getting drunk, I was no exception. I forget what time the party started, but some of us were showing up during daylight hours to hang out before more people got there as the New Year’s Eve wore on. My pal’s parents whose house this was were busy with another celebration, so we had the place mostly to ourselves until the earlier a.m. hours. Nowadays this would be considered risky or dangerous for parents to do, but it seemed more common in the late 90’s and like I said, we didn’t get TOO crazy. Or at least not when I was around.
The guest list was rather large; to date the largest house party we had until my friend grew up and moved into his own place. Me, my troupe of friends, their current girlfriends (if applicable), two kids who were neighbors, and at least a dozen assorted associates from school or elsewhere. At full occupancy, we’re talking about two dozen people 18 or under. There was quite a lot of alcohol; in addition to quite a few 6 and 12 packs of various beers, there were bottles of harder stuff such as vodka or rum brought over. I recall one of our associates was infamous for making screwdrivers which had at least two to three times the amount of vodka one’s supposed to have. As the only one in the group who didn’t like drinking or getting drunk, that meant I was always under peer pressure to do so; I occasionally only had one or two drinks to appease them. I always envisioned myself as the stoic, experienced, and wise one one of the group. This was due in part to being the eldest, even if only by a few months in some cases. I also usually tried to maintain order as best I could, while also trying to fit in as best I could. It was a delicate balance which rarely worked and usually resulted in me seeming to be the wet blanket of the group – a role that even as adults I seem to fill in our gatherings. If life were WRESTLAMANIA, I’d be the referee. Nobody ever remembers the referee.
Long before midnight, virtually everyone within the house party was either drunk, way drunk, or at least buzzed except for me. This included almost all of the girls present – due to their lower than average weight compared to the guys, they tended to be effected by alcohol quicker. One of them was a girl who was part of our clique at school and was the sister of one of my friend’s friends. Yes, it’s alias time – I’ll dub her Marsha because that’s the only “M” name I can think of right now. By this point in the night she’d had a bit to drink (which wasn’t uncommon for her) and was some form of drunk (as was everyone else but me). As had been for much of the night, music was playing from the living room computer, airing whatever random list of rock or metal songs had been downloaded or burned from CD’s on the hard drive. At one point Marsha was embracing some of my friends and trying to dance with them. Despite being a teenager myself and this being the end of the late 90’s, I was well aware of the concept of “date rape” and that it wasn’t always committed by people in alleys or men met online; but that copious amounts of alcohol in party settings could lead to evenings people regretted for more than one reason. Among my roles as unofficial referee and designated walker (since I didn’t drive) was making sure nobody was taking advantage of anybody else. In today’s online circles I might be accused of being a “white knight”. We’ll come back to that in a moment as at one point, Marsha began to embrace me and seemed to want to dance.
As I’ve stated in some previous installments, I usually wound up having a crush on almost every girlfriend my friends had, even as I sometimes mocked the age gaps between them. I never deliberately made a move towards any of them because I have always believed (and still do) that it isn’t right to hit on someone if you know they’re in a relationship – especially with a friend. I say “deliberately” as I am sure I did some less-than-deliberate moves on my own – such as listening to them about their problem (especially if they’d had a fight with one of my friends or felt mistreated by them that day), or walking some of them home at night. Marsha wasn’t dating any of my friends at the time, but I also had a crush on her. She had dark hair, tan skin, a short pointed nose, brown eyes and glasses, and a nice smile. Because this is me and I lived the life I had, naturally that meant I’d never revealed my crush to her or anyone else. Part of it was hypocrisy as I feared the sort of mocking that I sometimes dished out to others over their crushes (which wasn’t malicious; teenage boys do that sort of thing). The other parts were just fear and shyness – same as it is now.
I should also mention at this point how rare it was to be hugged by any woman who wasn’t, well, a relative of mine. It was just something which was rarely done, even as a greeting. Young ladies used to hug some of my guy friends all the time as a greeting or partying gesture, whether each end was single or not. A peck on the cheek was also common for greetings or departures. Except for me. For me, for some reason I gave off an aura not to get anywhere near; the most I got was a nod and a wave. This has actually mostly continued as I have grown up, which only bemuses me now. So as much as I would like to do these things, I still feel a bit uncomfortable when it happens. And trust me, it doesn’t happen much.
Anyway, here was Marsha hugging me at a party on New Year’s Eve, 1999. I objected, which irritated her enough into asking why. I said bluntly, “You’re drunk, it isn’t right.” She didn’t deny being drunk but was irritated that I didn’t want to hug or get closer. “For once can’t I just give you a hug?” I recall her replying. It wasn’t long before she began to hug, and then make out, with one of my other friends. I hung around to make sure nothing beyond “first base” happened and none of it did. I was very conflicted. I didn’t want anything to happen to Marsha, yet at the same time I also felt pangs of jealousy. Was I a “white knight”? I don’t know. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, a few of my friends had gathered around two other girls who were either bi or bi-curious who had begun to make out with their whoops and hollers as cheers. One of them was one of my friend’s lovers, but he didn’t mind either. Everyone was drunk and I kept asking if everyone was alright and quickly becoming either a hindrance to my friends or just feeling like I didn’t fit in. Things were spiraling out of control, so I left the party for about an hour or so to think in my usual neighborhood thinking spot – my old elementary schoolyard. Yes, the one from “Puppy Love”. That period of my life was always my happiest and whenever I felt sad, or lonely, or vexed and didn’t want it to show as a teenager, I’d hang out there to be alone with thoughts. I guess it does seem pathological now.
So, was that the moment I wanted to take back? Not just going along with whatever Marsha wanted when she was drunk in a hallway? No. That isn’t it. That moment came a couple of weeks later. Towards the end of the party, Marsha kept asking me why I hung around and wanted to make sure she was alright. The pal who was the host of the party insisted, “Because he’s a good guy”. At one point Marsha kissed the back of my hand. But a week or two later into the new year (which was safe from Y2K, no falling planes or exploding ATM’s), I was hanging out at the house after school or on a weekend and Marsha came to visit. I was playing “The Bouncer” on my friend’s PS2 and she wanted to talk about the previous party. She kept asking why I cared so much about making sure nothing happened at the party. Now, I am not one who easily understands body language or social ques and when I try I usually am dead wrong. But I kept feeling that the answer she wanted was, “Because I like you”. Which was true, but it also complicated the idea of doing the right thing by her. Is it wrong to protect someone from being taken advantage of (in your eyes) if you yourself like them romantically? Or does that make it hypocrisy? I don’t know but what I did so was refuse to give her that answer. She never asked for it in those terms but I insisted it was because it was the right thing to do, and that’s what I am about. Admittedly, another part of it was the fear and shyness I mentioned earlier; I feared it “getting out” that I liked her and how my friends would have reacted. I also feared how she would have reacted, as I doubted the feeling was mutual. I always do; in my life, it never is.
Had I the chance to do it over again, I would have admitted it and taken the shot. I likely was wrong and it wouldn’t have ended well, but at least then I’d have no regrets about it. I feel it was my one and only chance in high school, even if it was towards the end. Marsha would later go on to briefly date the pal that she’d made out with at that party, for about 1-3 months if memory serves. Even years later, as she’s married (and rumored to have cheated on her husband, or tried to, at least once, but I don’t believe everything I hear) with a kid, every time we meet at a friendly gathering there always seems to be this awkwardness there. She’s once asked about it and I gave no answer. I’ll never know if she liked me back in any way, and now it’s far too late to ever know. It was probably as close as I got in high school, and one of the closest times in my entire life. And I didn’t even swing at the ball.
Well, that’s the end of the high school adventures, finally. Keep an eye out for more rants and the start of the college years. Damn, do I sound like a pitch man for the various “SAVED BY THE BELL” shows now.