I had good reasons for not going to the Halloween party, which I nervously turned over in my head as I got ready to leave. I remembered the warnings from upperclassmen about going to parties like these: “Make sure you go with friends who won’t abandon you,” they stressed. “Don’t drink anything that anyone gives you, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do!” These warnings dissuaded me from going in the first place, and so I decided not to. But the evening of the party, my friend Jessica, who had invited me, texted me to please come, to not be boring and antisocial for once. On a whim—but still wary—I told her I’d meet her at her dorm.
The party was being held by Nick, a guy Jessica had met on Bumble. They had been texting for a few days, and he asked her to come hang out with him at the party. He was a senior to our two months in college, 22 to our 18. This would be the first time they would meet in person.
I thought that we were going to a university dorm, but Jessica told us that the party would be in a house Nick rented with some other guys.
She warned us that it was in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, their closest neighbor was a farmer who lived miles away. The drive there confirmed this. As our ride snaked through tall, dense cornfields, our cell service fizzled away. Darkness saturated the night so that we couldn’t see anything in front of us; silence, so that we could hear the slow crunch of gravel beneath the tires. After some time, the car finally made it into the driveway of the house, and the only lights that we could see for miles were the strobe lights flashing from inside the house.
A guy dressed as Prince Charming came out of the house to greet us. The gold tinsel on his shoulders glinted in the night.
“Hi,” he said. He pointed to the house. “You can go in through the back,” he said. “Drinks and stuff are in there.” We smiled and made our way in, not quite knowing what to expect.
The night started out normal enough. We got our drinks and stood in the kitchen, trying to talk over the music while privately considering if and when we should go to the living room to dance. Jessica checked her phone occasionally and wondered if her text had gone through, if Nick’s hadn’t, or if he just hadn’t bothered to text her. Whenever she looked up from her phone, she seemed distracted, nodding along and smiling weakly at whatever we were saying, visibly anxious and trying not to look disappointed.
But then again, she probably would have a hard time looking for anyone at the party. A steady flood of people had squeezed all the space out of the house; soon dancing, or even moving at all, was out of question. At first, people would occasionally elbow us in the chest or ribs, or back into us accidentally, but then everyone had to stand crushed against some random person’s back; you couldn’t face someone unless you wanted to kiss them. This was not partying—this was a claustrophobic nightmare. As more and more guests pushed themselves in through the door, people started to spill over onto the countertops, like fish flinging themselves out of a net for a last chance at life.
After standing like this for what seemed like an eternity, a hand as pale and moist as a slab of warm mozzarella cheese wormed itself through the crowd and clutched my arm. I cringed as a stranger deposited his sweat on my arm and looked over. A crazed, goateed face thrust itself between the crush of people and grinned.
Immediately, I thought of Jack Nicholson peering out just as he was about to axe his wife in The Shining. “What are you supposed to be?” he said, leering at me. His teeth were stained, probably from the years of cigarettes—I could smell it on his breath. He was wearing a wrinkled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirt. He looked about 45. What was he doing there? Was he someone’s dad? “Uh, nothing,” I mumbled, struggling to pull away.
The bad vibes from the creepy guy sealed the deal—I wanted to leave. I turned to Jessica. “Have you heard from Nick?” I shouted. “I’m not really feeling this anymore.” I gave a side eye towards Jack Nicholson. Jessica couldn’t find Nick anywhere.
None of us wanted to stay in the house anymore, especially me, as I found myself half-listening to Jack Nicholson. When he clutched my arm and attempted to rub my shoulder, it was the last straw. I shouted to everyone that we needed to leave, and we locked arms and pushed our way through the crowd until we finally made it out into the cool, spacious night. We decided to get an Uber and head home, but none of us had service. We walked out to the driveway and stood off to the side, holding our phones up and talking loudly to each other amidst the sound of cars honking and the distant boom of music, trying to get a signal on our cell phones.
“Can you get a connection?”
“Yeah! Oh wait, no.”
“It’s going in and out.”
Then Jessica excitedly exclaimed, “Nick texted me! He’s out here somewhere.”
“Hey, can you girls move off to the side more if you’re not waiting for a car?” It was the Prince Charming who greeted us earlier.
We walked out closer to the road to wait. Meanwhile Jessica trailed behind us and looked around. When the car finally came, I looked back for her, only to see her beaming and chatting animatedly to Prince Charming.
“Hey, Jessica, come on! The car’s here,” we called to her. After a few minutes, she turned away from him and slid into the car with us, sporting the biggest grin.
“Wait, was that him?” I asked, as we drove off.
“Yeah, that was Nick!” she said, smiling.
They hadn’t recognized each other in the dark, and in their costumes. We sat quietly in the car, talking a little with the Uber driver. I slouched back in my seat. The party didn’t go at all how I thought it would. Being packed in like sardines in the middle of a location that seemed straight out of a Stephen King novel was not a good time. Still, that strange night reflected and reinforced how I would get through other apprehensive times my first year: by trusting my gut and pushing through to the end, with friends.