It was New Years Eve. Liz and I didn’t know what else to do, and Heidi had insisted pretty strongly that we come. So we followed her and some of her friends whom we had never met before to a convenience store which we had driven by several times but where we had never before actually stopped. They stocked up on soda and chips and other snacks that seemed reasonable for a New Year’s celebration before heading for the highway. Once there, Liz and I took the lead. You see, there were enough of them to populate two partially full cars. We offered to take passengers in our car, but they declined. But there was a small problem. No one in Jay’s car knew how to get to Providence. I had recently been to cheer the women’s water polo team during their away game at Brown, and, so, had the directions fresh in my mind.
I kept pace with the rest of traffic; Jay followed behind. We slowed down several times at their request. It seems my maroon 1998 Dodge Stratus was more powerful that I thought.
We arrived at Heidi’s dad’s apartment, which he had graciously loaned to his daughter to ring in the new year, around nine o’clock. The place was dark — the walls were covered with panelling which gave the appearance of wood and distinct feel of the late 70s. The built-in shelves held knick-knacks and momentos: a few pictures of Heidi and her younger brother and sister, two Christmas cards, some glasses, a stack of receipts, and an ash tray. On the wall next to the shelves towards the kitchen he had taped up the deadbeat dads from the newspaper. Someone pointed to one of them and told me that Heidi’s dad knew him and that his particular case had complicated circumstances which cleared him from charges. With and with few obvious light sources in the parlor, we had little choice but to congregate in the tiny kitchen.
In the center was a oval table and a few mismatched chairs. Because standing meant standing next to someone and that meant socializing, I sat at the table. Rita sat across from me. We didn’t say anything. Instead, I turned my head up, as if to examine the ceiling and started to stroke my neck, starting with the chin, ending at the cavity in my chest just above my rib cage. Rita may’ve already been drunk. As soon as we arrived, everyone produced the secret stash of alcohol each had brought. Someone blasted Amber by 311. Instantly there was a loud roar of noise. This wasn’t singing; at least it was in unison. Liz and I didn’t know we were supposed to bring our own alcohol. I’m not sure that things would have been different had we known. I was driving and Liz didn’t plan on staying. Even still, no one likes the kids who don’t drink at a party where the purpose of going is solely to get drunk. They’d yell at us for that later. For now, Rita was mad at me for another reason.
“Stop it! Stop it, Josh. Stop calling me swan,” she demanded. I hadn’t said a word, and she had got it wrong.
“Rita, I’m not calling you a swan. I’m calling you a giraffe because in addition to your long neck, you have a monstrously long tongue,” I explained. Rita’s face got long, her eyes and mouth opened wide.
“Stop it! You’re being mean,” she said. And I was. There was no doubt about it. And for this, I apologize, Rita. I was clearly in the wrong. Kaitlyn, for no reason, other than upset Rita further, rallied to my defense.
“I don’t think Josh is being mean,” Kaitlyn interjected. She agreed, “You do have a long tongue.”
At this, Rita sprang from her seat, turned to Kaitlyn, and like a flash of lightning struck. Rita struck Kaitlyn’s forehead with the palm of her hand. Kaitlyn, who had been leaning against the wooden trim which lined door frame of the bedroom adjacent to the kitchen as she drank, fell back with a trendous force. There’s a good chance she would be concussive for the next several days, but certainly for that night. Upon realizing what she had done, Rita burst into tears, perhaps because of her unusual empathetic powers.
Liz had been talking to Paul about what it’s like to be a professional tree climber, and therefore missed Rita’s battery against Kaitlyn. After high school, he found a job as a landscaper. His specialty: trees.
Shortly after midnight Liz and I packed up for home. We took Mark back, too; he had to work in the morning. I stopped at a gas station in Pawtucket off the highway for fuel. Getting back on, I drove the wrong way on a one-way that connects to the exit. Since then, I’ve made the same mistake once, both times without incident.
Mark took us to Hanover. We weren’t terribly sure how to get home from there but managed not to get lost.