Four Years after The Party: A Prelude

Lynnie shared notes and aghast looks with me during French and geometry. We had overlapping circles of friends, subsets of the nerdiest, quirkiest, and smartest kids in our high school. She lived not only outside of the school district’s boundaries but also the city limits. Because our school had a gifted program, she didn’t have to go to the less challenging institution closer to home.

She lived in the boonies, BFE, on the rural edge of a small town. Not that I’d been there. This had come up in conversation a few times.

She invited me to a party at her house. I was most certainly non-committal when I accepted her handwritten driving instructions. I had plenty of reasons why I didn’t think my attendance was a good idea. The most consciously unsettling one–a boy I liked, far more than I wished to admit, might be there. 

But I decided to go. Bravely, come what may. I was old enough to drive and borrowed the family car, a burnt-orange station wagon, for the journey. It was dark when I left my house. I drove out of the neighborhood and onto the highway. The wrong one.

I realized the mistake too late, half a mile from the city limits. Panicked, I sped through the night, trying to remember where I could get off to turn around and go back west. I’d been on that highway dozens of times—during the day, my dad driving—headed to my grandparents’ house. At night, alone, the road stretched far beyond the geographic 11 miles to the next exit.

When I returned to civilization, I took the exit I knew connected to the state highway that led to Lynnie’s house. I found myself confused again, befuddled by streets I’d been on throughout my life in my hometown. When I damn near crashed into another car as I tried to turn left—the other driver actually laughed with visible Mephistophelian glee—I pulled off on the shoulder and reckoned with myself. This was not meant to be.

I went home. It wasn’t even nine o’clock. “I got lost,” I told my parents and, later, my friends.

The Party

At 12, I was an adequate, although not especially enthusiastic, clarinet player. However, I was enough of a competitive perfectionist that it mattered to me what chair I held and what scores I received at competitions. That I had been moved to 8th grade band as a 7th grader said more about my persistence than talent. Practice mattered. (And I got to wear a fetching red blazer.)

band pic crop

A middle school across town hosted a band camp the summer before I started eighth grade. In the freezing band room that first day, I sat with my instrument on my lap and realized I didn’t know anyone. I was uneasy but didn’t freak out. I was shy, but I wasn’t incapacitated by it. My strategy was to keep quiet, don’t attract attention, speak if spoken to. No extrovert, I was at least socially competent when I needed to be. Had someone done a Myers-Briggs test on me, my “I” score would have been unsurprising.

Someone else broke the ice. Within a couple of days, I became friendly with fellow woodwinds, Blanca and Kathy. Blanca played oboe. Kathy played bassoon. My school band had neither. This made them immediately interesting.

We became summer pals. We hung out. We went swimming at the pool in their neighborhood. We giggled at silly jokes, drank Coke and Dr. Pepper, ate Doritos, Hot Fries, Lay’s Potato Chips. At twelve on the cusp of thirteen, we had no idea what adolescent horrors awaited us.

Blanca made the teenage transition first.

She invited me to her birthday party. I was excited about this. I had hosted and attended birthday parties before, of course. The old-school kind enjoyed with your closest little pals, a cake decorated with carcinogenic food dye, and non-electronic games. What thrilled me about Blanca’s invitation was that I’d been included in the first place. I was an outsider, a girl from another school. This meant we were really friends. I almost felt cool.

The evening of her party, my parents dropped me off. Blanca opened the door. Her mom and dad greeted me when I arrived, their gorgeous Venezuelan smiles and cadences making me feel welcome. The living room was superlatively 70s, a solid wood stereo cabinet along one wall, heavy Colonial revival furniture, and thick brown carpet. A few other guests were already there, all of whom I recognized from band camp.

Then the first wave of queasy hit me. I didn’t know anyone else there, really. I might have said hello to those kids, but I’d never actually had conversations with them. This wasn’t band class. I mean, chatter before and after practice was limited. At the party, there were no instruments, no sheet music to follow, and no director telling us what to do next. I might have to interact. And this party had girls and boys.

Then Kathy appeared. Thank God. I was able to hold my own through a bit of small talk as long as Kathy or Blanca was nearby. I was nervous but optimistic. I could do this. My first real party.

The second wave of queasy came when Blanca turned on the stereo. A mysterious force overtook half of the kids. They paired up to dance. Yeah, the Frankenstein’s monster slow dance, knees locked, weight shifted foot to foot, girl’s hands on the boy’s shoulders, boy’s hands on the girl’s waist. The Holy Spirit between them. Kathy and Blanca had awkward partners.

Queasy mutated into mild panic. What if a boy asks me to dance? Not that I expected it. At all. But what if? And I don’t know how to dance. Good musical rhythm did not lend itself to movement in my case. What am I going to do? What any self-preserving pre-teen would under such circumstances. I went to the bathroom. I slipped into the solitary calm of sink, tub, and toilet. Breathed. Then I used the toilet. Flushed.

The paper dallied at the top of the water. Again, I pushed the lever. No suction. Panic ensued. I had already been in there a long time and no one had knocked, yet. I couldn’t leave with paper in the bowl. Someone would know what I’d done in there. I waited for the pitch to rise in the reservoir and flushed again. The paper shredded. I was in a red-faced sweat, willing the bowl to evacuate itself. I wasted a village’s worth of water to reduce the refuse to a mere strip. I washed my hands, collected myself, and went back to the party. Nobody waited outside the door.

The number of dancing couples had dwindled. Kids mingled with soft drinks and chips. I joined a small group standing near the sofa. I attempted to contribute to the conversation—and here’s where I go blank in part of the memory.

I don’t recall the topic, but I remember Buddy. That’s what everyone called him. I’d seen him before laughing and horsing around with his friends at camp. He was a husky boy, the polite term for overweight then. He had porcine eyes, brown hair, and a round head. Whatever I said in response to someone else provoked him to turn and half-yell a reply at me. It was so unexpected and vehement that I physically backed away from him. He scowled. Kids laughed. I got the message. I stood mute for a second then stepped away. I got something to drink and intensely concentrated on the cup’s symmetry, in silence.

I rode the third queasy wave. That punched-in-the-stomach, kicked-in-the-throat feeling stayed with me. For years.

Afterword

When I got lost on my way to Lynnie’s party, I wasn’t so much lost as avoidant. The way one is toward plagues and pain. Somewhere in my adolescent brain, the memory of Buddy’s sneer—and all that happened that night—reminded me, unconsciously, of a threat beyond my control. Parties are bad. You will not have fun. You will feel ashamed and excluded. Danger! Danger! Stay away! This I see clearly, in the light of an honest adult moment.

The fear of rejection motivated me far more than the want of company.

This is the truth, and a life-long one. I shunned group activities whenever possible. I worked around my social anxiety with deftness. There was almost an algorithmic genius involved.

If an event was an obligation, I assessed its risks. Weddings and funerals were safe. Familiar faces, predetermined activities in predictable order, bathrooms with multiple stalls. Family gatherings ranked high in acceptability, too, for obvious reasons.

School and work functions merited a subset of considerations, including whether my absence would be frowned upon, who needed to see proof of my attendance, and how long was long enough to stay.

If an event was purely social, I determined what connection I had to the host and the likelihood I’d know other guests. I would rarely go to an acquaintance’s party unless I was confident I’d see several friends. I could sometimes will myself through a close friend’s event if I was certain I’d know a few others. I mastered the skills of bookshelf browsing, perpetual random motion, and bathroom escapes. Small talk I managed but disliked. Still do.

My maturing adulthood required situational extroversion. Did I have to lead a meeting? Speak in front of a crowd of 10 or 50 or more? Teach a workshop or a class? Chat with bookstore staff and readers? No problem at all. I even enjoyed it.

My 12-year-old self doesn’t like that I’m more inclined to attend purely social occasions than I used to be. She glares with quiet warning. Disaster awaits. The ilk of Buddy is still out there. No matter that her Buddy likely grew up to be a sitcom cliché—bald, fat, disgruntled, inept—and her adult self turned out okay. This gives her no comfort. She’s hearing none of it.

If I could, I’d take her back in time. Revise some parts of our life together. We could start with Blanca’s party. She’d remember that she’s smart, kind, and a good listener. She’d recall when she watched her dad fix the toilet tank’s float, an easy, damp adjustment. Buddy’s bark would startle her, her arm would hit someone else’s, and she’d knock a drink on the front of his husky-sized pants.

Later, she wouldn’t get lost on the way to Lynnie’s party. She could tell the Buddy story, if she remembered it. Everyone would laugh, even the boy she liked, who’d keep a cautious but curious distance.

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RONLYN DOMINGUE (pronounced ron-lin doh-mang, equal emphasis on all syllables) is the author of The Mapmaker's War and The Chronicle of Secret Riven, Books 1 and 2 of the Keeper of Tales Trilogy. The third book is forthcoming in 2017. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books), New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, The Independent UK, Border Crossing, and Shambhala Sun, as well as on mindful.org, The Nervous Breakdown, and Salon.com. She holds a MFA degree in creative writing from Louisiana State University. Born and raised in the Deep South, she lives there still.

Connect online at ronlyndomingue.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

53 responses to “The Party to End All Parties”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    Adolescence can be the cruelest season – and you wrote this so heartbreaking well.
    The nervy, skittishness of having to play it cool and the ease in which our fragile, fledgling selves can be knocked about by boys as stupid as Buddy.
    Pre-teen parties can be such mine fields. I remember my mother banning me from having any more parties when I was about 13, because they always ended in tears. At one of them, I remember escorting my then best-friend to my gate and demanding she leave my house and never come back. I can’t even remember why. I think it was because she had ganged up on me with some of my other friends. Oh! Those days. Such fun. Such horror!
    Oh and remind me to tell you the best toilet story I have when we come to visit – I think you will laugh…

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Hmmm, maybe I didn’t miss out on much? I couldn’t stand to see anyone reduced to tears. Still can’t.

      Ooooh, a toilet story. Please, if the tales involves such intimate plumbing, it’s sure to be funny!

  2. kristen says:

    Sigh, beautifully told.

    Such a tumultuous right of passage, adolescence is. A trial to top (or at least match) them all. And as Zara notes above, even one’s friend circle is suspect at times. I remember being called out for my underdeveloped (read: flat-chested) status by my own bestie. Of course, it was behind my back and only leaked some time later (totally made it better! riiight)…

    Love your journey back in time. “She could tell the Buddy story, if she remembered it. Everyone would laugh, even the boy she liked, who’d keep a cautious but curious distance.”

    Cautious but curious–yes.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Ouch, that’s hitting a girl where it hurts. I’ve always wondered WHY things like that happen. I never told anyone about the Buddy incident until a couple of years ago. Well, and NOW.

  3. Matt says:

    I hated adolescence. I was go glad when it was over. The only thing more full of meaningless, self-centered bullshit than a teenager is a politician running for office.

    Everybody likes to play that “if I could do it all again” or “if I could go back in time” game, but all I would really want to do is look my younger self in the eye and tell him, “Look: I know it seems like an eternity, but this period will pass, and when it does, everything that seemed so important about it won’t matter at all.”

    Nicely written, by the way. And you do look snazzy in your blazer.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I hated it, too. The thing is, the older I get, the more I realize how molded (or warped) I was by the experiences.

      Sadly, your younger self might not believe your adult self. Angst seems so permanent when you’re in its throes.

      Ha–I’m a snazzy dork in that blazer. We looked official and professional somehow with those crazy threads. And they weren’t even our school colors…which were in fact white and green.

      • Matt says:

        He may not have believed it, but it’s still something he needed to hear. Too bad no one ever bothered to tell him.

        • Ronlyn Domingue says:

          True, so true.

        • kristen says:

          Whoops–pardon for responding before reading the rest of the thread!

        • Matt says:

          Ah, you’re too adorable to stay mad at, Kristen.

          And you’re not wrong. Adolescent Matt probably would have just shrugged his shoulders with a “Whatever, man” and gone off to listen to some grunge music. This WAS the mid-90s, after all.

    • kristen says:

      And your younger self would’ve told you promptly to fuck off. You know? Sigh. Younger selves should be (much) easier to reason with, eh?

      Stupid adolescence.

  4. Irene Zion says:

    Ronlyn,

    This brought me back to adolescent parties and to how I felt being there.
    I didn’t like it.
    I remember a girl asked me if I sucked in my butt the whole time I sat on a boy’s lap.
    I thought a long time about that.
    First, I had never sat on a boy’s lap.
    Second, how does one “suck in (one’s) butt?”
    Third, I did not belong in this place, if I couldn’t answer those questions.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I’m trying to wrap my head around that comment. Did she mean “tighten?” Then, um, why would that be necessary? And today, are you able to answer the question? Could be a riddle or something…

      • Irene Zion says:

        Now that I think back on it, the girl who asked me was a bit plump. I was a skinny kid, so I didn’t understand. I think she was just asking if she had to tighten her muscles the whole time she was sitting on a boy’s lap.
        I figured if it was that complicated, I didn’t see any reason to be bothered sitting on a boy’s lap.

      • Don Mitchell says:

        I’ve been thinking about this in the same way I thought about the vaginal discharge thing in Jessica Anya Blau’s stewardess piece, namely, what’s really being (not) talked about here?

        My guess here is that “suck in [your] butt” refers to how to avoid this: if you just plop down on somebody’s lap, your, ahem, private parts will be adjacent to his because your buttocks are, ah, spread.

        So if you tense both gluteus maximus before sitting, all he feels (or imagines he feels) will be muscle, that is to say, butt in the largest sense, regardless of whether it’s large or no.

        As a teenager, I never heard of this. And not since, either, until today. But it makes sense to me, as one of those silly things teens were told to do, or not do, where the key thing is that you’re usually never told what it’s really all about.

        Or, equally likely, that the kids who do know never tell you because you’re uncool and unworthy.

        Or something. You know?

        • Don Mitchell says:

          News flash. Ruth came downstairs to talk about some poems she’s reading tonight (I’m reading too, with Baby Clothes, Ulua Poles among my pieces) and I hijacked her questions by asking about butt sucking-in. How better to prep for a reading?

          She reports that she was told that, as a teenager (in the fifties), and explicitly for the reason I suggested — to get some distance between one’s genitals and the boy’s lap.

        • Ronlyn Domingue says:

          HA!!! Mystery solved. Thanks, Ruth.

    • kristen says:

      Sucking in one’s butt: yikes. I love garbled expressions like these–such a kid thing. (Not that I love that she said it to you–what a jerk!) She prob got confused, was thinking of the whole “sucking in one’s stomach” deal. Good grief.

  5. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    As the awkward teen lugging to and from school a cello instead of a clarinet, I have to say I really appreciated this piece. And the line “I mastered the skills of bookshelf browsing, perpetual random motion, and bathroom escapes” reminded me of every social gathering I ever attempted at the time.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Yes, there was no way for you to be discreet with that instrument. (Cellos rock.)

      I think there should have been pamphlets handed out in the 6th grade with social strategy tips–for introverted kids. Those techniques we used WORK!

  6. Judy Prince says:

    Ronlyn, like Nathaniel and I’m sure every reader of your post, I loved the “mastering skills” line!

    And I smiled with recognition of the old anguish and excitement at this: “And this party had girls *and boys*.”

    Lovely, perfect label: “situational extroversion”! And I think most folks do as you did.

    I saw a New York Social Diary vid of a crowded Washington DC soiree. It was agony to see pained expressions of women trying to cover their unease at how to maneuver with their long restricting gowns up a few stairs and through the crowds, and the men with expressions like “Let me out of this!” meaning their tuxes as well as the place itself. Few folks looked or acted naturally, and it’s easy to know why. Everyone’s on display. They’re supposed to move around and mix. They want to *try* to meet folks and make a good impression. It’s the old teenage parties repeated in impressive places with accomplished adults! Sigh.

  7. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    I do hope your memories hold more excitement than anguish, Judy.

    Situational extroversion has made it possible for me to move through the rest of the world with some degree of ease. There’s some Myers-Briggs “E” in me somewhere.

    So interesting what you noticed from the video. That’s close observation! It would be interesting to juxtapose that with video from a teenager’s formal party.

    • Judy Prince says:

      OMG, Ronlyn—-a great idea about juxtaposing the DC-ites with the teens doing the formal thing! What a visual coup!

      Yeah, of course I had more excitement than anguish. Here’s an actual example of both:

      An 11th grade evening dance in the gym, lights really low, the blue spinning light, all the teen-angst songs—–and all the girls at one end of the gym, the boys at the other.

      A Totally Cool guy walked up to my little knot of friends and asked me to dance. Did I float? YES! Somehow I even managed to talk while I was so swooning being in the arms of this guy. Here I was in nirvana, an entire high school dream coming true in front of the whole schoolful of kids!!!

      When we’d finished dancing, on the walk back to my knot of friends the Cool Guy said: “Reason I asked you to dance was that the guys and me had a bet.”

      And that, my dear Ronlyn, was that! Can’t even remember if he nodded to me (like they used to do bcuz they were Cool) in the halls after that. I was devastated. Can’t even remember if I told my friends what he’d said.

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        The duality! Argh! The marvelous feeling and the crash that followed. Love the detail about him nodding, or maybe not.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Thanks, Ronlyn. Did guys do that nod thing at your school, as well? Kinda like a king conferring some measure of noblesse oblige upon his adoring subject. 😉

          My wonderful d-in-law actually remembers my son’s not at her (they met in law school; she fell in love with the back of his head—–no actually I jest, but she fell in love with him bcuz of his comment in class; she in the back upper rows of the room, looking down at him in the front row)——back to the sentence itself……she remembers his subsequent nod to her in the hallway (UCLA Law School), and she and I giggle about it! Males can be such silly goofs! All that “cool” exterior! HA!

  8. Alison Aucoin says:

    “I worked around my social anxiety with deftness. There was almost an algorithmic genius involved.” I can definitely attest to that! We were friends for YEARS before I figured out that you didn’t like parties.

    And can I make a plug for all the folks with toilet stories to check out:

    http://www.facebook.com/aeaucoin?v=wall&story_fbid=118433591519955#!/poopandmemory?ref=ts

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      As if it would have been socially acceptable to say I didn’t like parties.
      Toilet story site…so funny.

      • Alison Aucoin says:

        At LSU? No, not hardly. It’s funny though because you throw great parties!

        • Matt says:

          I’m pretty sure LSU expells people for saying things like that. That’s like calling yourself a “Yale person” when you’re enrolled at Harvard. Social faux paux of the highest order.

        • Ronlyn Domingue says:

          Shhhh! What if they rescind my degrees?

  9. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, Ronlyn. It can get to you And stick with you. What a son of a bitch it can be.

    However.

    I’ve decided that I’ve learned to be so awesome now that it actually travels backwards through time and makes my high school experience better.

    Which isn’t to say it was bad. I got drunk a bunch, learned to smoke cigarettes, and kissed girls every opportunity I got. But that was in the later years. The earlier years… not so much fun.

    I’ve recommended this twice now, but look for a cog psych book called Reinventing Your Life. They do a whole bunch of inner child work.

  10. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    You were probably awesome then, too, and didn’t know it. The reframing technique works up to a point. Although Mythbusters proved it is indeed possible to polish a turd , as the saying goes, you can’t polish a turd.

    Thanks for the book suggestion. I’ve read some cognitive behavior psychology, which made logical sense to me. I’m drawn to Jungian/depth psychology, which works toward the same ends through different means. You know, all that self-actualization business.

  11. Don Mitchell says:

    Great piece, Ronyln. It resonated with me, and not just because of shared adolescent experiences. As Judy wrote, “It’s the old teenage parties repeated in impressive places with accomplished adults! Sigh.”

    I know that adult situation only too well, having come to the writing arena late in life. I used to be dragged to parties where most of the people were connected to the same English department, had known each other for decades, and were very, very pleased with themselves. (There were exceptions, of course.) I was the odd guy who’d had a completely different career . . . . It’s true that I could have done better, but it’s also true that no one was interested in what I knew, or knew how to do (in some cases, better than most anybody in the world).

    As I write in a piece I’ll post here soon, “. . . coming to terms with being the person whose activities are noted, but are not worthy of inquiry . . . .”

    So I often found myself standing there, saying to myself, It’s OK, you’re not hopeless, don’t worry about these people. But precisely as in high school, I did worry about them. What they had — literary lives — was what I wanted, even as I found their clannishness ridiculous, provincial, unbecoming. Talk about cognitive dissonance!

    Talk about how, as someone said years ago, “Life is like high school, except you never graduate.”

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I am most curious to read your next post. Too freakin bad for those who don’t inquire, Don. From what I’ve read of yours on TNB, you’d be someone to talk to at a party.

      Who knows what’s really going on in those clique situations? Could be snobbishness, self-importance, could be fear of the unexpected… Years ago when my novel came out, I was at a big book festival and stood back to watch the weirdness of who was “in” and who was “out.” I was too busy observing to get anxious.

  12. Joe Daly says:

    You just unearthed some vivid memories that I’ve kept in storage for a long time- those early teen years of the CYC dances, when the slow one would come on, and I’d go find one of my buddies who wasn’t dancing with a chick, and engage him in any kind of conversation that might create the impression that it was my choice to not ask a girl to dance. In reality, I was petrified of looking like a jackass. I think I was more scared of not dancing well and being mocked than I was of being rejected (which was simply a lesser but very real concern).

    And what a horrifying situation when you find yourself in proximity to someone who is colorful and well-liked, who then shatters your expectations by being shitty to you. I’d wager Buddy has no idea that he created such a lasting impression, but what matters is that you do and have processed it accordingly.

    Awesome read.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Phew–glad the memories weren’t accompanied by a PTSD episode. Honestly, although I never went to dances, etc., I heard about the goings-on and sorta felt bad for the boys. The pressure they were under to make the first move, pick someone and not get teased by their friends for the choice, the bravado involved. Seems exhausting and maybe a bit inauthentic.

      I doubt Buddy had any idea either. If there’s any gift in the situation, I think I learned to be more aware of the feelings of others and tried to be inclusive of new people.

      Thanks for reading, Joe.

    • Matt says:

      Every school dance I ever went to always involved the guys on one side of the room, the girls on the other, and only a few couples dancing in between. Everyone utterly terrified of making the first move.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Loved your vivid hilarious descriptions, Joe! I’d always intellectually understood the hell that guys had to endure on those weird dance nights, but not until your making it real and tragi-comic had I, at last, I suppose, gotten past my own discomfort to see the profounder discomforts of “the boys”.

      As I recall, when we had “Turnaround” (“Sadie Hawkins Day”) dances (the girls chose guys to dance with), the only difference was that a couple Very Brave females asked guys to dance.

      Yet, I also remember that when the actual dance music began, every song, a lot of couples were out on the floor dancing, at every event. Which made it all the more uncomfortable to be in the little group of not-asked or not-asking kids.

  13. Susan Henderson says:

    Oh how I love that band photo.

  14. Great piece Ronlyn. Going to parties is definitely a skill most of get better at with age. Oh, the band camp photo is superb. I want to download it and use it as an x-mas card or something like that!

    Adolescence is so looney. I went to theater camp every summer. There was a girl there whom the boys claimed liked to stick pencils in her vagina. That still stumps me. Why a pencil? Why in her vagina? I always thought it would feel better to stick a pencil in your ear–scratch a little bit like a giant Q-tip. Then again, the boys were small. Maybe they were comparing themselves to pencils at the time and that’s why they made up that rumor.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      The photo does lend itself to a wry caption or other quirky usage.

      Love the camp anecdote. What gets into kids?! And surely, those same boys used the correct anatomical term… (I can only imagine the conversations.)

      • Yeah, they did say VAGINA. This was around sixth grade. Surely they had other words but when they told us, the girls, they said VAGINA. One of the stranger words in English–so choppy and nerdy sounding.

  15. Marni Grossman says:

    Oh, Ronlyn, I’m with you! I’ve always hated parties. While I’ve been told that I appear at ease, inwardly, I’m freaking the fuck out. And it always always goes back to middle school.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      The energy it takes to pretend NOT to be freaking out! Ack! I remember all too well, and it still happens sometimes.

      Imagine what a party full of people who don’t like parties would be like. Might make a good short film.

  16. Oh Ronlyn — you captured this beautifully.

    I love this line: Parties are bad. You will not have fun. You will feel ashamed and excluded. Danger! Danger! Stay away!

    Recently, I found myself at a party I didn’t want to go to admitting that I was a “lazy diaphragm user.” Word vomit– too late to take it back — and the hysterical laughter of the people who surrounded me…. parties tend to make me ramp up a personality that would be left at home with a good book or some really bad TV.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Thanks, Robin. The sense of dread finally evolved into words.

      Oops—but what a great phrase! I laughed, too. Consider it’s not so bad to parade out that droll side of yourself. It probably doesn’t like being cooped up with the TV.

  17. angela says:

    you captured the anxiety of teenaged parties so well. i still hate parties to this day, especially walking in alone and not knowing anyone, or getting there too early, or that awkward silence as you reach lull in a conversation with strangers. ack!

    that picture rocks.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      You listed two great party horrors. The conversation lull may be the worse for me because most hosts are good about introducing people around if someone comes alone.

      When I have parties, which is rare, I make a point to invite people with lots of social overlap. Again, algorithmic. Everyone is guaranteed to know someone else.

      That pic…tee hee.

  18. Greg Olear says:

    My wife, in one of her psychology classes, found a study that suggests that we’re supposed to have a shitty time in high school, that it’s part of our development.

    Fortunately, the world is run by dorky 12-year-olds all grown up. Who’s laughing now, Buddy?

    Great post, Ronlyn.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Please let the next stage of human evolution include an adolescence not fraught with such angst, cruelty, confusion…and acne.

      There is some degree of justice for the dorks, isn’t there?

  19. Alexis says:

    Wow! You Illustrated so clearly, the plight of the anxiety-ridden! This is what I go through everytime there is mention of a social gathering. I can’t wait to get them over with and get home to safety. I assess every outing as you said and even forgoe some large family outings.

    ” You will feel ashamed and excluded. Danger! Danger! Stay away!” This line really resonated with me, as well as many others. I seemed to always be the odd girl out even in Girl scouts, where I’d expected to find a sanctuary… Kids always ridiculed me, the reader with glasses, in my elementary, middle school and Girl Scouts. By the time high school had begun, I had stopped reading for pleasure and played dumb =-(

    Thankfully my boyfriend though not an avid reader, loves learning. Slowly, through his acceptance, I was able to renew my love of reading leading me to your book, a reborn love of writing, and your awesome articles =-)
    Maybe one day it will be easier for me to attend large outings; your article has certainly given me something to contemplate. Thank you for sharing your experience !

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I’m sorry that happened to you. As an adult, I’ve tried to figure out what makes some kids targets…and there’s no easy answer. It sounds like your boyfriend accepted you for who you are and encouraged your unique qualities to come out, or rather come back!

      There’s a lot of pressure to be “like everyone else,” whatever perception that entails. I was actually surprised that a few people who commented on this post don’t like parties either. We all have our personal reasons. It’s sort of freeing to be able to admit that, though. It has become much easier to be in social situations, but I’d still rather be alone or with close friends. That’s my nature. That’s just the truth.

      As always, many good thoughts for your writing!

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