The best time for parties is when you’re young, before you know that all the adults hate each other. Parties just don’t have the same feel to them after you’ve heard your mom’s best friend scream at your dad in the driveway of a costume party. I was ten, she was dressed like Snow White, and at one point during the festivities, I accidentally poured a pitcher of hard lemonade all over the counter. The nice lady that threw the annual block parties helped me clean it up, gently informing me that I’d picked up an adult drink, and that the kids’ lemonade was in the blue pitcher. I faintly wondered why no one had noticed a fifth grader about to go to town on the alcohol.
The block party lady threw the best parties. The neighbors brought endless sweets to pack the blue tents she had rented out. There was a bonfire, tire swings, and a playset that I raced the other kids through. The boy I had a crush on was playing football with my little brother. He wore fedoras, if you can believe it, crooked teeth grinning at me in the way cool middle-school boys do. Times were easy, until they weren’t. Our beloved host came out of remission. Her cancer was back, and with it, the annual block party grinded to a halt—alongside my sense of community.
Another neighbor of mine threw an annual New Year’s Eve party. I went every year, until my parents separated. At thirteen years old, I sat on the floor of my grandfather’s living room after weeks of begging to go to the neighborhood party had fallen on deaf ears. As the ball began to drop, I hid my tears in a glass of sparkling wine, wondering what else I’d miss because of the looming divorce. When the following New Year’s Eve finally rolled around, I felt too old, too out of the loop. Only a year had passed, but I seemed to have missed out on the inside jokes that proved structural to my neighborhood friendships. As the years passed, children changed into teenagers who felt that they had aged out of our New Year’s festivities. The parties I’d been so enamored with shrunk in size, until they weren’t really parties at all. I no longer looked forward to the Nerf wars or playing hide-and-seek in the dark; I was too busy harping on who I was leaving alone that year and what I was missing out on. The years I’d entered with both parents were far gone, and all that remained was an eternity of picking between parties.
High school parties were easier. I played dumb and stole boys’ Four Lokos and hits off their Juuls. Truthfully, I liked neither, but these boys seemed to like watching me, so I indulged. I sucked at beer pong, but offered up the excuse of being pretty, mostly to convince myself that I was. The boys didn’t go to my school, so they didn’t know that I was mean and awkward, and I had no intentions of telling them such. For a few short hours, I could cosplay as a popular girl. Something about finding my own parties—of high school graduates, no less—made me feel cool, like I knew something kids my age didn’t. I held those secrets close to my chest, taking them with me all the way to college in Brooklyn Heights, where I continually denied the finsta follow requests coming from people left behind in my hometown. I liked to keep them on the out. I felt some sense of power guarding them from my private life. It was oddly placating that, for the first time ever, I didn’t want them to look at me.
When I moved to Brooklyn, I felt like a cool girl. I lived in a cool city, had cool friends, and went to cool parties. After COVID hit and we were all sent home, I began to frantically cling to that coolness, needing to prove to everyone that I had really outgrown the suburbs. I was too much, too big to be here. As determined as I was to be special, cooler, unreachable, I still gelled right back in with my family and my hometown. I missed my room, my dog, and, even though I promised not to, my parents. It was easy to pretend to be cool when there were no witnesses to it. Back home, my stories could be whatever I wanted them to be. But truthfully, New York is the cool girl’s party and I’m just begging for an invite back. I’m that girl who went to one college party in high school and bragged about it for months after the fact. It’s been about a year since I left the city and I’m exhausting regurgitations of tales I’ve already told to my parents (because I barely have friends back home, so who else would I tell?).
I am too comfortable in this town. I find that I’m mostly okay picking up my drunk father from his friend’s house. I watch him stumble and cling to his best friend, wishing I could still feel the remnants of my drunk mistakes. I miss the gentle grip of my roommate’s fingers as she pulled my hair back. I long for the touch of the grimy subway railing against my cheek amidst whispered assurances that we wouldn’t miss our stop. I faintly remember the grit of the sidewalk digging into my ass outside the seedy building I turned eighteen in, half-awake after taking a 4 A.M. nap on a sticky bench. A girl I didn’t like brought me chicken and rice from a food truck parked on the corner; nothing will ever taste as good as that first bite. I hold onto the memories, tucking them deep in my back pocket, hoping that if I grip them tight enough they won’t slip through my fingers. As I watch my dad embrace his friend, I let my eyes unfocus on the streetlight, trying to imagine the distorted brightness shining through New York windows.
By Lauren Andrikanich
Illustration by Alex Smyth