He turned off the engine but let the radio continue its song. It was one of those pop songs that he willingly carried the harmony to while driving alone but would shyly mumble whenever someone else were in the car. The car was parked half way down the block from the house. The street was lined with a mix of second hand cars that allowed his to fit in seamlessly. As he walked down the sidewalk toward his destination the mix became diluted with the occasional luxury sedan and impractical SUV. Outside the house the largest number of these outliers had congealed around the driveway. The front gate was strewn open and the yard was occupied by a number of men dressed in expensive suits, each with a Kokanee in hand. He quickly made a round through them, getting reacquainted after so many years of only hearing from them through the cheerful filter of social media. There were a few surprises in the group but for the most part they were consistent with those he had known were going into banking and business. Breaking from their huddle when it seemed appropriate he continued along the path into the rest of the house. He played the same game a few more times at each cluster of people, this time with less suit and tie. The process was less sour than he had anticipated, even those he could recall having once had tension with would pass back and forth a few kind words. Eventually he found a drink and those who were the most familiar.
They were spread evenly across a circle of couches and chairs in the living room. Some of them had significant others glued to their hips and hands, holding on for dear life as a flurry of jokes flew over their heads. A few of these others found comfort in each other, having lost the person who they had once known so well to someone who had lived in them years before. These ones found humour in the torrent of jokes, though it was based more on their collectively bewilderment than any really understanding of what was being said. So many of these jokes required someone to stand up and act out the motions and they were done with as exact precision as could he could remember. It only took his first beer before he found himself as immersed as the rest in the caricature of a teacher that had once caused them all immeasurable grief. Every aspect of her that he could remember was blown into grotesque proportion, it lumbered through the living room handing out insults that would only make sense if you had known the recipient many years ago. He found a place to sit between a friend he hadn’t spoken to since those insult applied and the muse of a girl he once kissed on stage. It wasn’t long before the ire of the mountainous abomination had swung around and made contact with who he had once been. Each oddity that he had once lost sleep over was ripped open with an uproar of laughter, the only ones laughing harder than him was the anxious groups of others. It wasn’t long before the monstrosity pivoted to its next victim and all the heat lamp like eyes turned with it.
As the carousel of angst continued to rotate, and the drinks began to blend into each other, he slowly melted into a comfortable state of nostalgia. Old memories were brought back with fuzzy linings that obscured their reality. Somewhere in this Lazy Susan he found himself staring into a face that had popped in and out of his mind for years. He hadn’t noticed her drop into the warm water. The baby fat in her cheeks had melted away like she had always said it would, though the nightmare creature had flushed them with embarrassment. She was handling the experience far better than he had, hurling insults back at the beast that drew ever greater laughter. Eventually it was forced to concede, turning slowly to find another victim. This only drew more laughter and the caricature eventually withered back into an old classmate, who quickly picked up a new line of jokes to carry the tempo. The blue eyes of its vanquisher locked onto his. He hadn’t realized he had been staring at her quite so intently and their icy grip sent an intoxicating cocktail of emotions shivering down his spine. She smiled and he smiled back.
Sometime later he found himself on the back porch sitting in a lawn chair with another group of old comrades. By this time each of them had finished the first four years of school and were either working, looking for work or beginning the next stage of their education. One or two had gotten half way through their first four before switching to a new path. One of them, who had particularly dark circles around his eyes, was handing around a photo of his first born son in the arms of his wife. They spoke of their careers, cities and sports teams. After the dizzying whirlwind he had just endured the relaxed pace of conversation was welcome. He found some interest in their masters programs and grunt level research jobs and they were pleased to answer each other’s questions. One described the year he had just spent traveling through South America after graduation. The strange cultures he had found deep in the Amazon Jungle who danced with painted faces around roaring fires. That time he was bit by a bullet ant and passed out from the pain and the fear he felt waking up to a snake in his tent. Only stopping his story to take a few hits of the joint that was circulating and cough.
Eventually the stimulant and the depressant began to weave back and forth over one another, like a murmuration of Starlings breaking up into pieces before clashing back together. He was forced onto the rim of the toilet each time the noise picked up, his body tried desperately to evacuate the substances from his body. When he flushed the toilet one last time and the water circled the corruption out of this world he stood up, washed his face and faced the past again.
The music had changed from the pop hits of their time to Tame Impala and he knew exactly who had taken over the sound system. Walking past the cluster of people dancing in a way that could only be described as care free he made his way into the kitchen and onto the back porch. It would have been empty if it weren’t for a short figure leaning against the railings, cigarette smoke drifting up from behind her blonde hair. As he walked over her head turned and her blue eyes hit him again. He leaned over the edge with her, she offered him the cigarette and he declined. I don’t smoke, didn’t know you did. She shrugged and took another drag before putting it out. He considered the latent guilt that had lingered on her memory from the moment she broke his heart. Now that he was there beside her it seemed as though the yearning he had felt for a time that passed belonged to a version of himself that he hadn’t realize drifted away. He couldn’t place the moment that they separated but he could see that what he had thought was a voice beside him was just an acoustic trick. He found himself sitting on a sandy beach while someone other waded blindly through the warm tide. He mentioned how crazy it was to see everyone again, how it felt like just yesterday when they sat in the halls of their high school together. She agreed wholeheartedly.