I should have trusted my instincts. I was in nesting mode, snug in my San Francisco apartment, prepping for the upcoming holidays. I was also nursing a broken heart. But, I had promised my friend that I would come to his holiday party, and there was that little, nagging voice in my head that said, “Get out. Go meet new people. Take some risks.”
Against my better judgment, I headed out into the cold night. Solo, with nobody to meet except the host, I arrived fashionably late. The party was already in full swing as I approached the front door and I could hear loud music blaring and stranger’s voices yelling over the noise. Nobody heard me knocking, so I let myself in and wandered through the apartment in search of my friend. I walked through the first crowded room and passed a small closed-off circle of strangers. I nervously grabbed a drink off the counter and drifted further into the crowded party looking for a recognizable face.
A few awkward minutes passed, and I noticed people staring at me. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but it all began to make sense as I walked through the entire apartment and realized my friend was nowhere in sight. I was an uninvited guest that had crashed the wrong party.
“All right everyone. Ignore the crazy lady who wandered in off the street. I’m just going to back out of here real slow with my stolen beverage tucked securely underneath my coat. No sudden moves and nobody gets hurt.” As soon as my feet crossed the threshold, I thought about hightailing it home. It was the second time that evening I should have trusted my instincts.
Not wanting to break a promise, I climbed to the next floor and found my friend’s party in high gear. Beautiful people, in beautiful Pacific Heights. This was not a casual attire affair. My “holiday festive apparel” seemed out of place, and the very thick, fuzzy, bright, white sweater I was wearing was starting to itch.
My friend was a gracious host, but other than a few brief introductions, I was left on my own in a sea full of beautiful strangers. I don’t know if it was the crowd or where my head was at, but I could not strike up a conversation with a single soul. And I tried. And tried. And tried.
Fortunately, my friend had a vintage video game console in his kitchen, which kept me busy for the next 15 minutes. As I entertained myself with Ms. Pac-man, I began to get more and more uncomfortable. The apartment was about 120 degrees–packed with people and I was wearing that very thick, fuzzy, bright, white, and itchy sweater. I began to sweat. And not just sweat, but SWEAT. Once it started, it wouldn’t stop. I like to think it had something to do with the new moisturizer I was wearing, but I wasn’t glowing, I was flowing, and no amount of tissue was going to help. The first stranger who spoke to me that evening, told me I looked really warm, and then said to wait until midnight before I took my sweater off.
I decided to go outside and get some fresh air instead. I figured this would also kill another 10 minutes. I sat outside by myself, lonely and listening to the jovial sounds coming from inside. When I started getting cold, I rang the buzzer for someone to let me back in. I rang and rang, but nobody answered. All of a sudden the sweater I was wearing wasn’t thick enough. I was freezing and would have headed home if my coat and purse had not been upstairs.
Eventually, somebody on the way out let me back in and I re-entered the party and headed straight for the bar. I made myself a very strong drink by spiking the bright, red, holiday punch with my own punch of vodka. Then I sat back down to play Ms. Pac-man. When boredom set in, I decided to give mingling one final try.
It may have been the vodka I added to the punch. It may have been my chronic clumsiness. I’d like to think it was the very loosely placed rug on the slick, tile floor. One step, and my drink and I went flying. I was spared from hitting the floor, thanks in part to my wildly swinging arms, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t save the drink. I became the star of my very own Three Stooges episode. My very red punch ended up all over the floor, the walls, the furniture, and the vintage Ms. Pac-man–which probably cost more than my car.
I heard a collective gasp from the crowd. The second stranger who spoke to me that evening asked if I was OK. Then that stranger and the rest of the crowd turned around and went back to their conversations. I crept into the kitchen, grabbed a roll of paper towels, and began mopping away. The more I mopped, the more sweat began to drip down my face. This time I didn’t bother wiping it away. I was done. I figured 55 minutes (half that time spent outside or in the bathroom) was respectable enough to call it a night. Nobody can call me a quitter!
The tears started the second I got into the car and didn’t stop until I was safely home looking at my sweaty, mascara and punch-stained self in the bathroom mirror. I told myself, “One day, you’ll look back and laugh about this. Really, you will.” That evening, it didn’t feel possible. It felt like the most humiliating experience of my life, from which I would never recover. I threw out the sweater and decided my broken heart could just stay broken for the rest of my life.
Weeks later, an uninvited guest and stranger happened to crash my birthday party. We’ve been married for almost nine years.