Back home, we call it “force.” four-say. That indomitable urge to keep the ball rolling, to stretch the limits of the night, to exhaust every social possibility at our disposal. This attitude does not translate well in a college setting. People here, they get sleepy. They get bored, mopey, irritable, stressed, sad, even. Schoolwork is paramount, conviviality is preferred. Understood. At Yale, I’ve grown irrevocably tamer, for most students I’ve met have never burned holes through their socks from dancing five hours straight. They haven’t driven from a party to a bistro to cap their night with 9 a.m. breakfast. It’s ludicrous, I know, grotesque; above all, it’s destructive. I have lost friendships to the cesspool of “force.” But when I go home for breaks, I regress. I do and then regret. I tell myself:, do not condone this lifestyle, just partake in it. As if there is any difference.
All I see now is the trajectory of a spinning top. My life, our lives, took place on Caribbean sidewalks, on the lawn of a beach house, near the steps of our grade school. They unfolded inside buildings, outside restaurants, at nightclubs, in the emergency room, in the gutters of the Internet, with cousins and acquaintances, after phone calls, in the text messages we sent each other during final exams. Our lives now, for the time being, are slow like honey and heavy with books. They no longer happen in church, at the mall, at concerts, during supermarket encounters with our mothers. They happen elsewhere.
Now let me tell you about my childhood friend—let’s call him Brian.
Every twenty-something I know in Boston owns the same brand of pre-shave oils, hair pastes and nasal saline moisturizers. While Brian orders his thin crust pizza online with “no roasted peppers, please,” I snoop through his toiletries. Boxes of disposable contact lenses neatly stacked into two piles labeled “right” and “left.” Cologne samples from Hermès. A terrifying tongue scraper. A tube of liquid concealer tucked away under the electric razor.
When does the next Greyhound depart?
Two Persian girls from Brookline are screaming in the other room. The Dominican men, rowdy as always, have been holding too many conversations on the side about Leila and Iris.
“Dame tu tarjeta, rápido!” Brian stands by the bathroom door with an eager hand stretching out. I almost bump his fine-tooth comb into the toilet bowl.
Mierda, you caught me.
Brian wants my credit card to pay for the food; he has already reached the monthly limit in his father’s plastic. I just give him my wallet and then go sit on the couch next to the girls. These two bombshells, their gemstone rings gleaming as they brandish champagne flutes, are debating the future of mankind.
“It’s gonna happen this year,” Iris tells me. She is sure. Right now she is the surest person I know. “The world is headed toward a dimensional shift.”
“When?” I really, really want to know. I get nothing. My fate, nay, the world’s fate, is being explained in this conversation. Brian comes back and joins in, without my wallet. He pours me some champagne and I don’t say anything. I am parched.
“Probably this year,” Iris finally replies. “I don’t know. But soon.”
“You are so lucky.” Leila is now the one talking to me, and she’s not a talker, so I reckon her words have consequence. She stands up with her empty glass to reach for the bottle.
“I can feel it,” Leila continues. “Some people will not ascend, but you will ascend, when the shift happens. You are so lucky.”
“Ew, I don’t wanna see your ass muscles through your tights!” Iris yells, and she slaps Leila’s derrière.
What is to ascend? When will I ascend? The answer is so close, it sleeps between the strands of Leila’s onyx hair. But Brian puts something golden on my lips and I suck, out of sheer instinct, and I let the smoke permeate every branch of my bronchi.
“Treasurers. Gold-leaf tip. Smoothest drags you’ll ever have.”
I finish my champagne in one disgusting gulp. Brian has a knack for spewing out short facts and details that are simultaneously the most vacuous and the most fascinating. He can will an entire conversation relying only on his special brand of magnetism, brash enough that I could imagine chunks of metal orbiting his force field. We make contact when college life lets us. My weeks are burdened but manageable, hectic but entertaining. Not a lot of time for keeping in touch, you know, that’s the excuse. His weeks, on the other hand, are chaos, chaos in the flesh, chaos in the spirit.
The cashier is not sitting in the booth by the exit, so we drive in circles around the parking garage. He is nowhere to be found. Fredo gets out of the car and lifts up the boom gate. The jeep bolts out into the streets of midtown Boston, and Brian does not stop, he will not stop, until we’re in the clear. I dissolve into laughter. Malcolm, a Dominican hothead in the passenger’s seat, talks and puffs and rants about the type of guy he despises, that guy who forks out ridiculous amounts of money in public just for the sake of conspicuous consumption: magnum-size bottles and private rooms. Malcolm rolls down his window, and wishes he could punch someone in the face tonight.
Brian is quiet now. He seems to be listening, only chiming in to appease Malcolm’s rage at strategic intervals.
“You’ll get your chance, man,” or “I totally know what you mean.”
The car is now driving by the Charles and Brian rolls down all the windows. The wind begins to carve furrows through his perfect mane of wavy hair—thick, shiny, and lush as lush can be. In this particular styling, everything is combed back, revealing a hairline like a well-armed country border. Bold and rugged. He leaves three of his shirt buttons unfastened; he has a nice body, and a nice smile too, with just the right amount of scruff on his face. He is funny, the perennial class clown, except this Bozo likes to deejay DJ heavy electronica and read some Camus after a nice steak dinner. He lights up a cigarette, and not even the night gusts can sabotage the smooth flick of his lighter.
Fredo is asleep and Malcolm, silent. Brian and I begin to volley stories back and forth, stories about a younger time back home—the heat of the island nights, where our humdrum lives could take an expensive break. Where strife gets put on the back burner. Where tumblers smash more easily than plates at a Greek wedding. Where everything is gratis, or rather, on credit. Where boys scream with high-pitched impropriety.
“I do not miss it,” he tells me.
“Me neither,” I blurt out, with automatic zeal.
He rolls the windows back up, and a sticky miasma begins to wrap its invisible noose around us. I am scared but I smile to myself. Brian and I share a fondness for unusual experiences, for anything and everything that is invigorating and stupid and helps us forget about the dull summer evenings in his backyard. I give Brian the benefit of the doubt, always, because I have no other choice.
Chained to his wraparound sofa, I wake up feeling crusty. It’s as if my blood had congealed, becoming dead weight, corrosive and toxic dead weight. I have returned to this very place, this very feeling, reincarnated. I look up to admire the glow-in-the-dark cartoon rocket outlined on the wall; I stare with what feel like empty eye sockets. Brian walks toward me seeming fresh, his hair still looking perfect.
“No,” I say. He offers me another plate.
I am wearing last night’s sweater. A pay-per-view blockbuster film plays on the TV and a bowl of mixed berries on the coffee table lures me in. I realize Brian’s apartment is the quintessential bachelor pad, complete with a balcony view of the Boston skyline and a cavernous bedroom.
“When do you need to leave?”
“I don’t know.” I truly don’t know.
I shrug off the question, I just keep eating blueberries. Something about the antioxidants makes me feel like I’m undergoing an exorcism. I place the empty bowl back on the table, over glossy magazines. I collapse again, following Brian’s movements from my tilted perspective.
“Did we have fun?”
“Yeah,” he says. “But let me shower first.”
Brian stops for a second and ponders over whether he should wait a little longer before starting his morning routine. I can stay at his place, he reminds me, for as long as I want, for as long as I need. I know this is true because I have known Brian ever since we started wearing matching linen costumes at Sunday mass. What I need is to go home. What I need is to sleep a few more hours in his living room.