The first house party I ever went to was a closely guarded secret, organised by Emily on the weekend that her parents and brother were away in the countryside. It was a socially conforming display of teenage rebellion that was a very Emily thing to do: she’d got a belly piercing purely to spite her mother. She had been planning the party minutely for weeks, right down to what she’d make us for breakfast the next morning.
I drove to her house and picked up Lydia and Steph en route. Lydia cut me a slice of her cling-filmed birthday cake while she packed her bag. Steph brought a bottle of vodka and a carton of cranberry juice. They helped me carry in my sleeping bag and pillows from the car while I changed out of my driving shoes into my party shoes, my stiletto fuck-me boots. Emily opened the door to us, and less than a minute later Tom arrived. She had invited him despite knowing we didn’t get on, because she was not-so-secretly hoping we’d provide the entertainment with a drunk arguing match. I decided to start on the alcohol. It was 7:45.
Annie was in the kitchen, in a white lacy dress. She looked so pure and virginal and she wasn’t wearing shoes, her feet tucked up under her. Had she just fallen out of an Andrew Marvell poem? That was the sort of joke she’d appreciate. Sat next to her were Claudia and Marshall, who’d been going out for two weeks and were in that sticky-sweet stage of lust where they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Claudia enquired as to the state of The Boy I was dating, and she stole my phone off me all through the evening to send him texts. Most of them were shamelessly explicit.
Claudia and Emily had been working on a playlist for the past five days, but it quickly went to shit as people plugged their own iPods into the speaker decks. The music went from Skrillex to Imagine Dragons to Disney songs. Nobody played “Gangnam Style.” I’m not sure if I was heartened or disappointed.
I remember the rest of the evening in snatches, odd moments unconnected to any of the others, with no particular sense of chronology.
Tim was making drinks that tasted like pina coladas, but weren’t. “I don’t know who Tim is,” I said. “He looks like an Alex, but he’s actually a Tim,” came the response, from one of the many tall dark-haired guys who all looked the same. Tim was tall and dark-haired too, but he was distinguishable by his glasses. It turns out he was dating the girl I sat next to in Philosophy. He seemed nice. I made better cocktails than he did, but I couldn’t prove it because we’d run out of lemonade and cranberry juice.
Someone stole Tom’s hipflask of vodka and gave it to me. I downed it before I knew it was his. The last I’d heard — two days before, when he had appeared, stoned, at a pub in town — he was seeing a 28-year-old masseuse. That didn’t stop him from making out with three girls at the party. I wondered if they’d broken up, or if they had an agreement. More likely, he was just a douchebag, something which I’d called him out on before. I decided to avoid him: when he walked into a room, I walked out.
Annie ended up kissing Vijay in the kitchen, sat facing each other on wooden chairs. By the next morning they were referring to themselves as a couple, and it made my stomach turn (though that could have been the 2am sambuca shots).
The Boy didn’t text me back, and my feminist principles seemed to flow away from me the more I drank. I felt disassociated from my own body, like Marian in the second part of The Edible Woman. It was like I was watching myself from a distance, shaking my head at the awful way I was behaving but powerless to stop it. Somehow, Steph and I ended up asking all the boys to rate our breasts. I received a consistent 8/10 and was offended. “Nine and ten are reserved for porn stars and girlfriends,” said one guy, and I stared at him trying to work out if he was being serious. Someone tried to touch, and I hit him.
Then I was slumped on the floor, discussing sex with some of the dark-haired boys who I couldn’t name, and a dark-haired girl from my school who was friends with my friends but not with me. I lied about the number of people I’d slept with, because it was easy, and they had no way of knowing the truth. For all I know they lied too.
Then — or maybe it was before — I was discussing politics with two boys called Nick and Matt, neither of whom I had met before, who seemed utterly impossible to differentiate except by their voices, one baritone and one nasal. I was sat on one, and I’m still not sure which. I left when Matt started being transphobic, because I might have been wasted but I’m never wasted enough to deal with people being shitty.
More people spoke to me but I didn’t clock their faces, barely registered any of them, just let the harsh blur of arms and laughter and Axe body spray wash over me as people trailed past, the rooms fading into each other in soft focus.
I helped Lydia wash the beer out of her hair. She didn’t say goodbye to me when she left at midnight, and I didn’t notice she was disappeared until I turned to tell her something and she wasn’t there. I tried to ask Emily where she’d gone, but the music was too loud and nobody heard me. I half-expected to find a Size 5 glass slipper in the hall, still warm from Lydia’s painted toes.
Annie put her arm round me and told me I looked sad. I didn’t know what to say to her. I was full of vehement jealousy — that Claudia and Annie had somehow just acquired boyfriends, people who claimed to love them, had both had these people fall into their laps in the space of a week. I’d had to work at my relationship; it was nearly two months in and I felt no closer to calling The Boy my boyfriend than I was at the start. And I was jealous that she’d get to curl up with Vijay tonight when they’d only been “going out” for all of four hours. I loved her, more than Vijay did, had loved her for eighteen months, and I was jealous that he got to curl up with her tonight when I really wanted to. But romantic love trumps platonic love every time, doesn’t it?
I just wanted someone to hold me while I drunkenly sniffled into my sleeping bag, and it wasn’t going to be her. It was stupid, and petty, but in that moment I hated her beautiful face and effortless charm and perfect body and overwhelming, unending kindness. I invented some lie about being hormonal and stood up, and squashed the spark of glee I felt at seeing her look so hurt.
The night wound down around 3.30, but nobody thought to turn off the iPod for another hour. I lay on one of two sofas in the conservatory, George on the other. I knew him vaguely. We talked about music, and he said he could hear my teeth chattering from the other side of the room. He ended up spooning me on the sofa, our bodies pressed closely together under a pile of six blankets. He was warm. We kissed, and got to second base, and I regretted it so intensely. Because I think I started it, but it felt like I’d betrayed my significant other’s trust. But I didn’t have a significant other, just The Boy. George and I pinkie-promised not to tell anyone else, and he moved back to the other sofa. I fell asleep listening to Modest Mouse.
When I woke up two hours later, the pillow under my head was damp, and he was gone, stolen away like a shadow. All that was left was a pile of neatly folded blankets. Nobody had seen him leave.
Those of us who remained from the night before sat in the kitchen and ate pancakes. We helped Emily clear up the house, a pyramid of empty bottles and cans stacked hapharzardly against the leg of the table. There wasn’t a drop of alcohol left in the whole place. The smell of food made me feel sick. Vijay made me an anaemic coffee. When I left, he and Emily and Annie were singing RENT songs. I wanted to say goodbye, but they looked happy and it would have been selfish to disturb them.
I reversed over Emily’s flowerbed and drove home as slowly as I could, hyper-aware of every turn, terrified I would be stopped by police and breathalysed, but I barely saw another car on the way. When I got in, my mother tutted at the state of me, and at 11am I went to bed, tired and hungover and on the verge of tears which I couldn’t explain.
When I woke up for the second time that day, I vowed — for the second time that week — to never drink again.