“Yes Mom, I’ve been studying for finals all week. You don’t have to worry.” I say in response to my mother’s paranoia about my classes.
“Good, you know how upset your father will be if you disappoint us with below average exam scores.” She says, continuing her rant.
Despite my wanting to yell at her for not being there for me as a decent mother but rather a ruthless tutor that sees me just as a student that needs to prove herself all the time, I respond as I was taught.
“I know mother; I will work my hardest. Leave me to study now, goodbye.”
I hang up and throw my phone on the bed beside me. I had been staring at a blank laptop screen for almost an hour now thinking of how to start my end-of-semester freshman writing essay, that just happened to be due in two days. I bury my face in my hands for the twentieth time as a voice in the back of my mind reminds me of how great last night was in the field with all those other students. How could they have so much fun and not worry about finals?
My clothes from last night were still drying from all the paint that got splattered on them. I resisted the urge to text the guy I met in the field, who after the last round of the paint war drenched me in the last balloon of gold paint. He was beautiful, even if his face was purple when we met and his clothes were a strange array of black and gold. He seemed to really understand how much I needed to have fun, even though I didn’t say anything about it.
Okay, enough about hot paint war guy. Time to write, here I go… the prompt:
Oh God, what was the prompt?!
It’s as if hours of writer’s block made me forget of what I was even supposed to write about. I pick up my binder for freshman writing and look down at the prompt I highlighted.
“My experience with the first semester of college…”
Oh God. My first semester of college… well, I was violated at a house party the second week of school, have been going to rape counseling ever since because my rapist scarred me for life, but hey, I’ve managed to get a 3.5 GPA!
At least that’s what my father would call success. Neither of my parents knew about my rape. How could I tell them without them blaming me like they do for everything else?
At least they were paying for the counseling and college, right?
I reach for my keyboard but pause when I hear my phone vibrate. I look over with an extreme feeling of temptation, but turn back to my computer to start writing my essay. I write the first four words and my phone vibrates again. I pause, look back over to my phone, then to my laptop screen, then back at my phone.
“I need inspiration.” I say, shutting my laptop. “Fuck it.” I reach for my phone and see that I had two texts from the paint war boy, Reed. The first read:
“Come to my dorm, everyone’s here. We’re planning a fun night (:”
I sigh as I read the next:
“You can write your essay tomorrow; we’ll give you something to write about! (:”
Before I know it I am grabbing my non-paint-drenched jacket and walking out of my dorm in Linden Hall to walk over to Reed’s. As I make my make down the hallway, I’m met by Nova, another girl I met at the paint war last night, making her way to the elevator.
“Going to Reed’s?” She asks, hitting the button to signal the elevator.
“Yeah, I take it you are too?” I ask, she responds with a nod yes. “Great,” I continue. “We can go together.” The elevator opens and we both step inside. I press the button to the lobby and the door shuts.
“You know, it’s okay to have fun.” Nova says as we descend from the third floor.
“What?” I ask, confused by the random comment.
“Annalise talked to me earlier today about how you are, or at least used to be now, a person who just did the right thing. Perfect grades, perfect attendance, perfect everything.”
I’m far from perfect.
“Oh, really?” I say, somewhat surprised. “I just try to make my parents happy.”
“Do they make you happy?” I hear Nova ask. She was being rather nosy, but I needed to talk to someone about it, so I didn’t mind.
“Yes and no,” I begin. “Yes because they are helping me pay for college,”
“I assumed, considering you’re staying in Linden Hall. It’s the nicest on campus.”
“So yours are helping you pay too, then?” I ask, appreciating that Nova interrupted me.
“Yep! But there’s more to being family then helping pay for things, right?” Nova asks, her questions making me think. “My parents have always given me what I wanted. I never have had to work for any of it. But that’s all they’ve done. They haven’t taught me how to really enjoy life, you know, by earning what I get.”
“I understand,” I respond as the elevator opens.
“Everyone thinks when your rich your problems fade, when really all they do is change.”
“Exactly, so if you’re anything like me,” Nova begins as we walk out of the elevator and through the lobby. “You feel alone, bored, sad, depressed, right?”
“Yeah,” I say as we exit the lobby. “You don’t seem sad though, how come?”
“Like I said, it isn’t bad to have fun.” Nova begins. “Finding friends that make you feel good, friends who don’t care who you are, who you were, or who you’ll be; are the ones that can save people like us from our sadness. I still love my family of course, but the people you saw last night, they’re my chosen family. They’re the ones who don’t pressure me or make me feel like I have something to live up to, like my family does. No, they just let me live. They just let me have fun.”
“Well, you still should be careful about how much fun you have, I mean,” I pause to think of how to articulate my thoughts. “You could do something you shouldn’t, and you don’t want that.”
“Well of course not. That’s why you need real friends who care about you, just not in the way your family does necessarily. You need friends who want what’s best for you, while also not expecting too much of you. Those are the rarest friends, but they’re the ones who you want to keep close.”
“And you found that in the paint war gang?” I ask, somewhat in disbelief.
“Oh yeah, in Brent, one of the gay boys– the original gay boy.” Nova states, as if Brent was the actual first gay boy. “He doesn’t care that I have all the money in the world. He just cares that I’m truly happy, and I am because he wants what’s best for me but he doesn’t ask me for anything. He’s a rare kind of friend, and I’m glad I found him.”
“Well that’s great,” I reply, smiling slightly. “I hope I can find a friend like that,” I say, looking at Nova.
“Join our friend group, you’ll find everything you need in friendship.”
And with that I decide to join the group. Nova and I talk all the way to Reed’s dorm, where we find the rest of the gang hanging out. I sit next to Annalise and Cassidy on Reed’s bed as he stands on a chair to address the group.
“Alright, glad to see everyone has recovered well from last night’s paint war.” He says, pulling out some type of joint out of his pocket. He lights it and puts it in his mouth before continuing. “I for one had a great time washing my face in the bathroom down the hall while a bunch of guys watched in awe of the purple paint falling from my face.” The group laughs and Reed begins to turn while standing on the chair to address the entire group. As he does this, he continues. “Today will be greater than any other night so far. Tonight it’s going to just be us, in this dorm, hanging out. We can order pizza, drink, smoke, watch movies, and I’m pretty sure the room across the hall is free if any lovebirds want to have some private fun.” As he says this, he throws a key down at Wes and Brent, who in response laugh and grin toward each other. “The guy who usually sleeps in that room is at another party tonight. He left me his key just in case anyone wanted to get it on,” Reed causally pulses his hips back and forth for the gay boys and everyone laughs and cheers. “I know you guys both have homophobic roommates, so I’ll hooked you up.” I watch as Annalise and Cassidy throw condoms toward Wes and Brent, who just laugh at the entire situation. “And for the rest of us, we can do whatever the hell we want. Let’s have a fun night, okay?! Cuz tomorrow, we gotta study and adult, which is no fun. And, I got gifts for everyone!” Reed shouts, taking dozens of joints out of his pockets.
He throws the joints while shouting ‘Make it rain!!!’, and I pick one up. Nova walks over to me and lights it as I put in my mouth.
“Inhale,” She says, with a smile.
“I know how to do it,” I reply, with a smile.
We turn on a speaker Joslyn brought and listen to a crazy playlist. I start to loosen up as I watch everyone else dance to the music. I smile at the beautiful people I’m with and decide after a few hesitations to join the dance party. We all watch as Reed shuts off the fluorescent light of the dorm, just to turn on a disco ball that he brought from home. My worries seem to fade away, finally, after claiming permanent residence in my mind. The music, lights, and people around me seem to evict that former resident out of my mind and I smile as Nova notices my demeanor has changed. We all laugh as Wes tries to twerk, just to fail miserably. He ends up on the ground, and slowly, one by one, we all join him on the ground.
Hot and sweaty but happier than ever, we all stare up at the ceiling of Reed’s dorm, which had been illuminated by the lights from the disco ball for over an hour now. We all lay there, quietly, as the music seems to calm down along with everyone. The only person to get up was Joslyn, who volunteered to get the pizza Nova ordered before we turned on the music. We got five extra-large pepperoni pizzas, all thanks to Nova’s wallet, and we ate while Brent started telling jokes about anything from Madonna and Elton John to trashy foreign gay films and fashion icons.
Next, Annalise and Cassidy sing a duet that popped up on the playlist and we all laugh as they both fail at hitting the high notes. Once their duet ends a new song comes up on the playlist and the first lyric is:
‘Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk,’
“YES!” Wes shouts in response. We all laugh and listen as the song continues.
“Wait,” Brent says, sitting up. We all look over to the original gay boy as he continues. “What’s this song called?”
“Uh,” Joslyn, who made the playlist replies,
“Like the tennis court we all met at after that first party? God that was a crazy night!” Brent says, “That’s where I met all of you guys, God… everything’s changed since then.” The group continues to stare at Brent, who continues, “For the better, of course.” He says, as I hear the rest of the group agree.
We let the song play out and the next one begins with sirens.
“Whoa,” Reed says through a mouth full of pizza. “These sirens are like the cops that night of the party!”
“The one you got arrested at,” Nova adds on, as the group shares another laugh.
“Arrested?” I ask, surprised.
“Almost arrested,” Reed says, correcting Nova. “The cop that found me was high as a kite on those brownies Joslyn made, so he just ended up dropping me off here,”
“You’re welcome!” I hear Joslyn say from where she was laying.
The group laughs once again as the next song begins to play. No one at first says anything, but Nova breaks the silence.
“This reminds me of when I tried bailing you out, Reed. You always are craving a different kinda buzz.” She says, quoting one of the song’s lyrics. She laughs as she continues. “This playlist is like describing our lives right now, guys. It’s kinda crazy…”
I listen as the song describes how money doesn’t buy happiness. I couldn’t agree more.
The next song starts and everyone begins predicting how it may apply to their lives. I watch as Annalise sits up as the song progresses.
“You’re the only friend I need?!” She says, confusing everyone but Cassidy, who props herself up in response.
“What the-” She replies, “That’s what I told you when I woke up after my rape,” The group suddenly erupts, jokingly claiming that Cassidy supposedly only needs Annalise as a friend. “I love you all, shut up.”
As the song plays out, we wait in anticipation for the next to start.
“Buzz cut, huh?” Joslyn brings up, rubbing Wes’s head, which had a buzz cut haircut. “I remember when your head caught flame, buddy.” I watch as Brent kisses Wes after he doesn’t respond to Joslyn. Joslyn goes on to explain how Wes had reacted to his father’s death, but only after getting permission from Wes to do so.
“I guess this next one had to be about the funeral,” Brent says as the next song plays. “It seems to be all like,” Brent alters his voice somewhat before continuing. “Yo, I’m here for you, don’t worry about it.” He then looks over to Wes. “Just like your brother was basically saying at the funeral. Ha! I was right.”
The group goes quiet as the song plays out and the next begins. No one was questioning what the next song could relate to anymore. They just knew that it would.
“Glory and gore, kinda like our situation, Cassidy,” I say, reciting the lyrics. This time, I was the one who understood the relation to our lives. “Our rapes were gory, but we’re stronger now, aka glory.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Cassidy says while taking another piece of pizza. I join her and grab my own. “Here’s to that glory,” She says as we hit our pieces together as if we were making a toast about our lives.
The next song plays and Wes pops up to explain.
“It just said Still Sane! That’s your exact words from before the paint war, Joslyn.”
The group then collectively sighs in amazement.
“This song is about not changing from who we used to be,” Annalise adds, “Cassidy, we played the paint war game last night! That’s what we used to do all the time back home,”
“Guys, I think I’m too high for this,” Cassidy replies, grabbing yet another piece of pizza.
The next song starts, and everyone questions what it could mean.
“White teeth teens!” Joslyn shouts out, slightly scaring the rest of the group. I look over to see her staring directly at me. “That’s you, Monica!” I look at her, as confused as ever, along with everyone else. “Smile, Monica. Everyone look at her teeth.”
“You do have really nice teeth,” Cassidy says from beside me with a mouth full of pizza. “God, this pizza is so good.”
“And this song is about someone letting lose, that’s totally you right now Monica.” Nova adds on, smiling. “Guess this means you really are part of the group now,”
I smile with my white teeth throughout the rest of my song, getting up from the floor. I start dancing by myself and everyone laughs, not at me but rather with me. I’m alone dancing until then the next song starts, then everyone gets up and the dance party continues. We didn’t know who that last song described, but that was okay. We were too high to care.