I wrote Party Going in late 96. I was midway through a legal traineeship, some years on from school. I didn’t really do parties. I attended a couple when in secondary school. And by attended I mean turned up and either didn’t go in, reaching the door and giving up once – throwing up from the stress of having reached the door in the first place in a park on the way home, or turned up and left very quickly. I found the interaction of the large group uncomfortable, struggled with the alcohol being present, the way in which people became tactile quickly. I didn’t like the hand on the shoulder or back, the way people would ease their way into your personal space unaware of the tension you felt. I avoided parties for most of University too. I had friends, would visit and be visited. But the larger the group the more awkward I’d feel. Social anxiety. Stress. The discomfort of small talk with people you barely know, struggling to find topics of mutual interest. I remain uncomfortable in those situations today. I’ve attended two or three things, my stomach knots in advance and I feel the stammer I thought i’d left behind years ago revive. When I’m in these situations I often want to leave, look for escape routes – clock the doors as I go in. I did then. I still do. So this was written in my mid twenties about what I thought then was teenage discomfort I’d not yet got over (and turns out is just who I am).
Two summers before leaving school a group of us were invited to a house in a village near home. Our host, short, pigeon-toed and blonde haired told us her parents would be away. We were to take our own bottles. I arrived early, endured small talk with people with whom I shared only our mutual attendance at the local secondary school. After discussing television and weather and passing snide comment on the interior decoration, we’d got on to just who was seeing whom when others arrived including Dave, who I was assured was ubiquitous at these events. Three years older, tall, aquiline profile, his arrival prompted a flurry of excitement among our host and her friends, rewarded by Dave with an instant smile baring too many teeth. The smile didn’t reach his eyes. Within minutes he’d vanished.
A short while later, conversation exhausted, I hunted for our host, hoping she’d tell me where the toilet was. Most present were unfamiliar with the house, directed me from the bottle laden kitchen to a small utility room, empty and cooler than the other rooms – the hose from a tumble dryer clamped by a part opened window.
I went upstairs, by-passing the couples embracing, oblivious to each other. I tried a couple of doors, stumbled into a darkened room where our host and Dave lay fucking. She looked at me, the light from the hall reflected in her eyes.
I closed the door, saying nothing, stumbled downstairs my urge to urinate forgotten.
Carole grabbed me at the foot of the stairs. First aid, she said. D’you know First Aid? I don’t remember saying anything, but in response to a query from my eyes she pulled at my sleeve. Graham. It’s Graham. His head. He’s hurt his head.
She dragged me to the back door. Graham sat there, head gashed, blood matting his hair.
We need a doctor. Call a doctor, Carole said. Call a doctor.
She watched as I wandered out of the garden to the phone box at the corner. It was still early. I’d no trouble getting a taxi.