Before The Party
Here I stand
Replacing my shadow
by my light, my smile
so that when I enter
The party begins.
That I come from a bloodstained carpet
called life doesn't matter here.
This is a party
and what went on before it
should in no way spoil the fun.
Any mask will do.
Forever has turned its back forever.
Forever was what you left behind.
What you forgot to carry in your purse.
Forever was the first cigarette you smoked to ashes
here, in the glitter of this charcoal night.
His words are still plaited at your nape
Their strands flying into your ears
with every tiny breeze.
They sparkle like wine in your eyes
just short of spilling over.
But this is a nice party. So much to do.
So little to feel. Perfect way to live.
Forget the car keys with the valet
reminding you of long roads
serpenting your home.
The mountains so tired. Departing skies.
Such a haze before the party.
And now this other haze
that tucks you into tinkling empty words
and sparkling champagne.
Somewhere in between
you feel your oak splinter. A lightness.
You feel your shoulders dissolve.
No more burdens. Just a pool of laughter.
and you, drowning without trying.
Anne: Hi, how are you? What are you going to wear to the party tonight?
Sarah: Party - what party?
Anne: Well, Jessica's party - didn't you get your invitation a couple of weeks ago?
Sarah: No, I didn't get anything.
Anne: Well, I'm sure she meant to send one - you should come anyway.
Sarah: Are you kidding? No way - this is just like Jessica- the bitch! She's been trying to work me out of our little group for as long as I've known her!
Anne: Really - I've never noticed anything like that - she doesn't seem like the type. . .
Sarah: You haven't noticed? What about the time everyone was invited to her place for a Halloween party and you all dressed up in that pirate theme only she never bothered to tell me and I came as a flippin princess. . .
Anne: Yes, but you said you had missed the email and besides, we made you into our "Wendy" amongst all our Captain Hooks.
Sarah: Well, yeah, I guess that was what happened. . .but oh, then there was the time everyone was going on that picnic and she sent a list of what to bring, only I didn't get informed and instead of bringing vegetarian I brought along a big old ham and cheese submarine sandwich to feed fifteen people!
Anne: (chuckling) Oh yeah, I remember that - but then you found the crumpled up note she had given you in your pocket - so it wasn't her fault after all.
Sarah: Well, maybe not - but this time I definitely did not get an invitation in the mail. And even if you don't think she's trying to push me out, I get very definite vibes that she is. I have half a mind to phone her right now and give her a piece of my mind. . . Wait, hang on, there's a beep - I'll get right back to you.
A few moments pass - Sarah comes back on the line with Anne.
Sarah: Uh, hi, you still there?
Anne: Yep, was that something important? Do you have to go?
Sarah: Uh, it was Jessica - she said she found my invitation under a pile of papers - never got it sent - she was phoning to invite me to the party -soooo, what dress are you going to wear?
But it's important to keep up appearances, so every now and then I invite all of my friends round. We mostly met at school or university, and they come with new or old boyfriends whose jobs we could all approve of (if not sometimes with a slight sideways glance of one-upmanship or jealousy). Most of these men are handsome and have good manners, and seem content to talk amongst themselves amiably whenever the girls get together.
With the girls, however, it tends to be a different story. Maybe it was our upbringing, maybe the culture that demands we tick all of the boxes of career, of looks, of relationships; or perhaps we do it to each other. But there is, in every sentence we speak, in every thank-you card we write, in every party invitation, a subtle, insidious competition, an urge to be the best, to appear the most generous, the most capable, but yet the most humble.
Our friendships are haunted by this constant battle -- this constant need to appear the most together, the most controlled, the most successful. And often we go back to those boyfriends and fall to pieces in the bedroom or the shower and they come to us and prop us up again and then we take ourselves out for another day of it. But they are like that too with their friends, and often it is just exhausting and we lie in bed and cling onto each other for dear life. Then we get up early for work, go through another day of it, go out for drinks, get home exhausted, argue, make up, have sex, and then fall asleep again clinging on to each other like two emotionally redundant limpets.
So anyway -- the party. It is my birthday. Twenty Seven, if you must know, and three of my friends already engaged. Banker, PR Man, Accountant. They all step out in nice suits, they all smell of mid-to-high range aftershave. The accountant isn't even boring. My boyfriend gets on with him. But then again, my boyfriend sometimes cries at episodes of Made In Chelsea, so he really isn't to be trusted.
The party. Everything is ready. Place mats are laid out. Chorizo stew bubbling away in the casserole on the hob, starters in the oven, prosecco in the fridge, glasses and name cards next to their places on the table, boyfriend upstairs somewhere brushing his teeth, birthday girl sitting in the kitchen with her head in her hands wondering how she's managed to get to twenty-seven without once, in her whole life maybe, ever really feeling like she'd opened her mouth to speak, and said something that she really meant to say.
Other people do it, all the time. I've heard them. Always speaking their minds, clearly and succinctly. Once when I wore a particularly low cut top in summer in Central London I heard a lot of people speak their minds extremely bluntly. So I know it is possible. But why can't I do it? Why can't I, just once, stop with all the pleasantries and trying, and grace and poise, and just say something I really mean?
Even in bed I find it difficult, sometimes, to tell my boyfriend that I love him. Sometimes I can, but then almost straight away I wonder if I really, really mean it, deep down, or if it's just something I'm so used to saying now that I just say it automatically. I don't think I really have to think about it every time I say it, and yet, I hope I mean it, but I don't know if I really do. I try to remember the first time that I said it, just after we'd gotten back from a weekend away, where we had spent two days being as close to happy as I think it's possible to be, and when we got back and parted ways to our separate flats (it was that long ago), he leaned in and kissed me and told me that he loved me. And I told him: "I love you". But somewhere in me there was still a little knot of doubt: is this love, then? Is this what it is? Could it be different to this and still be love?
I don't know. It certainly feels sometimes like I love him. Sometimes it feels more like we are just together now by default. I feel the same as when I was a girl and I used to come home from school; I knew my mother would be there. Now I know, when I get home from work, that he will be there. Or his things, or a letter for him, or his jacket hanging on the back of a chair. But I wonder if that is the same as love, or a type of love, maybe.
And I wonder if I can't say that I love someone, with any certainty, but I say it anyway, if then I have somehow compromised my voice, and I can never speak the truth again, because somewhere I am lying to myself about the definition of words, somewhere inside me my internal dictionary has been ignored, and now there is no truth left to speak.
I wonder if my friends are in love. I wonder if they have doubts like these. I know that later, when they get here, conversation will glide elegantly, like a skater over a frozen lake, and if a topic threatens to break that thin layer of ice, and plunge into the icy, black water below, that the skater will change course, having heard, ahead of time, the warning pings and groans of the ice shifting, and her line will be unbroken, graceful, and pleasing to the eye.
So it goes with my friends.