When I wake up hungover, I often find it useful to perform a quick self-assessment. Where am I? Am I wearing clothes? Are all my limbs intact? Did I take my contacts out? Safety comes first in the world of the Morning After, and fingers and toes better all be there. Those tiny cuts and bruises that appear without explanation after a night of partying can be ignored. Par for the course, I say. The important part is over: you’re alive, more or less. You made it.
What can be said, then, for the house? In the case of 127 Shirley, my dear homestead for this final year of my college career, much. Like her incumbents, she awoke this morning with a foggy head, rattled bones, and a number of war wounds. Is she pissed? Is she weak? Did she have a good night? These are the questions I hope to explore in this post, the story of my house’s first party.
First, your cast of characters. Three people live at the Shirley house: Alex, Elizabeth, and me. We’re all students at William and Mary, studying various artsy-fartsy F-words like film, Foucault, food, feminism, etc. It made sense for us to live together: we’ve all been friends for a while and wanted to save some money by living off campus. The deal? Respect and protect Shirley, the silent member of our gang of four.
And before you ask, yes, we do refer to our house as Shirley. That’s the street she sits on, and the preciousness of the word is what drew us to the location in the first place. And yes, we do act as if Shirley is in fact her own person, a person with a name and a gender and agency and a personality. We’re not above talking to Shirley directly, as in “Good morning, Shirley” or “Whoa Shirley, don’t you think you should take out your garbage and recycling?”
So the four of us, house included, decided to throw a party. We’ve had quasi-dinner parties before, gatherings consisting of a handful of friends smushed around our tiny dining table sipping inexpensive red wine from Trader Joe’s. We’ve had game nights, playing Scattergories or reading tarot — again with more cheap booze. But a full-on, all-out party was something previously unknown to these walls. Could we manage it? Would anyone come? What should be the theme?
That last question was the easiest to answer. Painfully aware of our uber-square tendencies, we knew we needed to throw a party that was the photonegative of prepackaged salads and yoga and SmartWater. And what’s the binary opposite of the College Campus Yuppy, as conceived in the mind of three humanities majors? The Witch!
Cut to Alex, Elizabeth, and me scouring every thrift store in the area for cheap fabric to fashion into pagan pleasure suits. Using Stevie Nicks specifically and the 1970s in general, our goal was to transform ourselves and our house into an earthy, incense-heavy, goddess-worshipping, spell-casting, cauldron-bubbling witch house. Only Florence + the Machine on the record player, thank you very much. By the way, our party happily fell a few days after the Autumnal Equinox. Clearly, the planets were aligned.
Shirley’s guest list started small. We were not about to invite an entire freshman dorm to stampede through our single story, two bedroom cottage. A kegger this would not be. Nope, B.Y.O.4 was the name of the game (bring your own Four Loko), and for the most part the rules were followed.
The first batch of people to arrive were the good friends of ours, quick with compliments about our costumes and eager to get their drank on. Up next were friends of friends, then friends of friends of friends. As tends to happen with off-campus parties, the crowd grew and grew until I recognized only about half of the attendees. Perhaps a few visions of doom flashed before my eyes at this point: strangers fucking in my bed, kids puking in our kitchen sink, our wallets getting nicked, etc — but these passed quickly. I looked around and realized that I didn’t feel out of control or worried. The place was packed, rambunctious, and loud — but not scary.
Around 2 a.m. we reached our maximum capacity, but by 3 the throngs were definitely depleting. Thank the gods, I say, for at this point my sails were sagging shamefully. When our last guest finally left, the three of us went straight to bed.
As for Shirley, she too was a little worse for the wear. Drinks got spilled, a picture frame got broken, and much cleanup happened this morning. All in all, however, we’re pleased. No major calamities. No cops, no noise violations, no theft. A veritable success, and a night I’ll be happy to look back on.
There is a shadow cast by this party, however. Not a point of sadness or depression or anxiety, but a definite something that will affect how I’ll remember last night. Definitely bound up in the experience of throwing my first party are thoughts about aging and maturing. I remember going to parties at the Units and pole dancing in my underwear. I remember yelling with my friends at straight boys, taking part in a strange sort of pre-emptive hate speech inspired by Burnett’s vodka and the excitement of wearing eyeliner for the first time.
But now what? I feel like I’m on the flip of a coin, seeing how the other (older) half lives. I see freshmen wandering around campus and know that I’ve been there, done that — and part of me hates that! I miss being wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, miss not knowing what the hell is going on. Have I joined the ranks of the Old and Boring, now that I live off campus and pay rent and shop for groceries? Can I get blackout and belligerent and reckless when I’m the only one who’ll clean up the vomit in the morning?
So now we’re back to the hangover. Congratulations, body, you’re safe and sound. And you too, house, more or less. But still the shadow lingers, the knowledge that this isn’t how it used to be. I’ve aged, and with that aging comes the tiniest fear that I may be past my prime. I know this sounds trite, sounds melodramatic and over the top. Maybe it sounds obvious, too, like duh of course we age and mature as time passes. Of course senior year won’t be, can’t be the same as freshman year. But that doesn’t make this any less complicated for me, doesn’t mean I’ll wake up and understand how to feel about waking up hungover after a party I’ve thrown in my own house. There’s something icky going on, like I’ve said, something bound up in big boy words like “responsibility” and “maturity.” And so I sit, chugging Gatorade and popping Advil, feeling both too old and too young for all this.