That Awkward Halloween Party
"You want to go out with us tonight?" asked my hostess, Caroline. It was October 31st of 2011, and I had just finished carving a spaghetti squash into a jack-o-lantern on her kitchen table (the nearest grocery store had already sold out of pumpkins). I was busy cleaning up my mess, because the kitchen was shared with half a dozen other young people, all of whom lived in dormitory-style rooms on the second floor of a large church in downtown New Orleans. I never really understood how that all worked, but every one of these people was amazing. From racism to poverty to growing food in urban areas, these activists were doing the most important work in the world, in my humble opinion. And it was Halloween. So of course I was going to go out with them that night.
The trouble was, I didn't like going out. At twenty-two years old, I found myself more comfortable at a kindergartner's "princess birthday" or a Sunday brunch full of middle-aged ladies than I was at a party with people my own age. Miniature plastic tea cups? Love 'em. Frosted glasses of lemonade? Bring it. Red plastic Solo cups full of jungle juice? Watch me run for the door.
At that point in my life, I hated everything about alcohol, from the way it tasted to the way it made me feel to the way it increased the likelihood of people acting like jerks. For me, parties with booze meant spending a long evening hugging the walls and trying to avoid conversations with drunk people. I was terrified that when men and women lost their inhibitions and partied hard, someone might get hurt.
But the bicycle tour was all about getting me outside my comfort zone. There I was in New Orleans, being invited to a Halloween party by people I admired. So I put on a costume and made myself a strong cup of English Breakfast tea while the others got ready. I dressed up as "A Cyclist", which was the lamest costume ever but I figured if I was going to leave my comfort zone, at least I could wear my familiar spandex clothes that made me feel like myself.
When we arrived at the party, I was the lamest one in attendance. I declined drink after drink, until the pestering became unbearable. Grabbing a dreaded Solo cup from the stack on the counter, I filled it nonchalantly with my kind of "mixed drink": Coca Cola, Tonic Water, and Sprite. Sitting down to sip my concoction and eat a cupcake, I inadvertently caught the eye of a man on the dance floor. He staggered all the way over, pushing through a throng of people, to stand beside me and yell "Loosen up!"
I laughed self-consciously, astounded at how drunk people can be so clueless about some things, but they always know when someone else isn't drunk.
Flashing him a wide grin, I shouted "Okay!", like I was perfectly capable of loosening up. He nodded and lunged back onto the dance floor, perhaps thinking I'd follow. I just stared into the depths of my cup, feeling more alone than I ever had on this trip. Sure, let me just relax in a roomful of inebriated strangers. I have this crazy fear of being sexually assaulted, and it makes me super nervous when people get drunk in skimpy costumes and start slobbering all over each other, but let me just put that aside for tonight. No problem.
I didn't belong here. This was a party for normal people. No matter what "costume" I wore, inside I felt like a total freak.
Hours later, I heard the liberating phrase I'd been waiting for. "Ready to go?" asked one of Caroline's friends. We all walked home together, with the cleats of my bike shoes grinding noisily against the pavement. We laughed and sang under the streetlamps, got lost in philosophical conversations, and not one person bothered me about being sober. It was the best I'd felt all night.