(Dinner) Party of One


White and green. That’s the color scheme of Gillian’s wedding. Really deep emerald, she adds. Very country club, I offer. She tells me about the three days of dress shopping and the ball gown-esque thing she eventually settled on. Structured and formal. “Just like us,” she quips. Gillian and Nathan are getting married in November, which seems soon. But that’s probably because I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a set wedding date– a number barreling at you from the distance like a freight train, until it arrives, and you’re surrounded by your country club colors and the gold walls of an East Coast church, standing next to a dude who stuck around for more than three weeks—a dude who, in theory, wants to stick around for eternity. The concept is unfathomable to me, like asking a kid who lives in some shantytown in Johannesburg to imagine what it would be like to get on a plane and travel to America, to live in a house with central heat and air conditioning, with a pool in the backyard and a freezer filled with ice cream. So laughably far off, so hilariously implausible. That’s what this feels like.

At least for me.

Three minutes after this conversation, just thirty minutes after talking to Catharine about her sister’s newborn, I’m looking around the dining room table in the house my best friend shares with her fiancé. It is, most unfortunately, a round table, and I get a clear view of each and every person sitting there—the exception of course being myself. I do not know what I look like here, a quantity that is known to me and no one else. And I’m not sure when it hits me or why, but I do a scan from left to right, everyone talking and drinking and laughing in front of sauce-smeared plates and meatless bones: Engaged, engaged, married, engaged, married, married, engaged, married, engaged, engaged, engaged, until I land squarely on myself, the only single person left in the room.

I am trying to think of a word to describe what I feel precisely in this moment. Panic works. Reality does, too. Drowning. Maybe it is drowning. Whatever the word is, the subsequent reaction begins to burn underneath my chest, squeezing my lungs and shortening my breath. And I feel an uncontrollable wash of tears begin to rush towards my face as I get up and walk towards the kitchen, away from the round table with burning cream candles and clear views of everyone.

John (engaged) and Brian (married) are standing at the counter talking. I keep my head down and veer straight into the walk-in pantry to pour myself a glass of water and try to make it appear as though it is totally normal to drink water alone in a pantry while two friends stand just four feet from you. I keep my back to them, feeling tears crawl down my face, those hot little enemies. “Jenny, are you crying?” Brian jokes, and I turn to them, my face wet and sad. “Holy crap! You are crying!” The boys laugh it off because they don’t do well with displays of emotion.  And I laugh it off because, frankly, neither do I.

Vaguely fortified and feeling ridiculous, I sit back at the table, game to give it another go, behave like a grownup and not a teenage girl. But the drowning feeling won’t go away. It’s as though I’ve pulled myself out of the ocean but the water still fills every pore, pulls heavier than gravity on saturated clothes, tugging me down, forcing me under. I get up again and walk through the kitchen and out a pair of doors into the Manhattan equivalent of a backyard, a chorus of honking and banging and city sounds joining what has become my strangled effort to breathe, gasps mingling with relentless noise.

There is a certain type of loneliness you cannot control. No matter how many friends I meet for drinks, no matter how many dinner parties I get invited to, no matter how many people I know walking down the street—I come home alone. There is no one next to me when I fall asleep. When I wake up in the morning, I am also alone. This particular type of loneliness—because it is so viscously contingent on the cooperation of another person—feels so crushingly vast that you have to force yourself to ignore it. It’s like a marathon you keep telling yourself there’s an end to in order to keep going, meanwhile someone is constantly moving the finish line. And so you keep telling yourself “just one more step,” your eyes downcast on the road, muscles and bones broken under the strain of stupid efforts. Looking up and seeing what’s ahead of you—or around a dinner table at what’s clearly not ahead of you—is about the worst thing you can do.

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