Just relax, they told me. You’ll enjoy it. You just have to let yourself go.
So here I am.
I can’t breathe. I give up trying to suck in what little oxygen is left in the stuffy room and yell at my friends that I’m getting some air. I duck and dart through the crowds until I reach the door and stumble through it. The cold night catches me as soon as I step outside. It seems blissful after the cramped hall. I edge over to a cold, damp wall and lean against it. I wish I could see the stars.
The only other people out here are the ones who smoke. I know I must look weird, standing here alone, but I don’t care anymore. I watch the flare from a lighter and hope the gang will decide to go home soon.
They won’t, of course.
It’s so loud at these places I never hear any music, just noise, pounding against my skull, and the lights bounce off my eyes and make my brain swirl and ache. Those same lights transform the vast space with the sticky floor and nondescript walls into a prison that glows with bright colours in some corners and gleams with black in others and it’s all mixed together and compressed in my head into one blinding, blaring moment of light and dark and it just makes me stand there feeling utterly confused and stupid.
But that’s not what I’m supposed to do here, is it? I’m supposed to have fun. I’m supposed to mingle with the mass of twisting bodies, and I’m supposed to do what they’re doing. I have to find people to imitate because I know that any move I attempt will just look idiotic. I have to stand in the sticky air with the tang of perfume and sweat and worse burning my nose and force a smile onto my face and look like it’s the best place in the world to be.
And I don’t even have the heart to be sarcastic or irritable about it because I just feel so miserable and out of place, like I’m that one jigsaw piece that not only won’t fit in with the rest of the puzzle, but turns out to be completely in the wrong box.
I’ve never understood the appeal of being in an environment where it’s too fast and too loud and too hot and too bright and too dark all at once. It only ever makes me feel slightly sick, and really I just want to be at home where it’s safe, or reading a book, or watching some random movie, or doing anything, really, rather than be there.
But I get put in this social situation, and the worst part of it all is worrying about what they’ll think when my awkwardness is tangible and people stop and look at me and laugh and say, “Just relax!”
I take a last deep breath, enjoying for one final moment the cold smoky air that can’t be had inside, because I know I’ll only last ten minutes max before I can’t stand it anymore, and I’ll come back out here and begin this whole routine again. I look up at the sky and realise the clouds have shifted and that up in the heavens I can see some stars.
I return to the door with my jaw set, and I go back inside and feel the music pounding through my chest once again.
Carol McGill lives in Dublin, where she spends odious amounts of time procrastinating. She does, however, occasionally have productive periods which result in stories being written. Currently enjoying Transition Year, she is dreading September when the Leaving Cert gets real. Her story “Just Relax” has been previously published in an anthology called Words To Tie To Bricks.