Carefully making my way in the dark, I climb a steep set of cement steps to a glowing house and my fifth of seven holiday parties. Entering a home unannounced goes against all my parents taught me—ring the doorbell, knock, don’t walk in as if you own the place, be a good guest—but at this house I know I am simply expected to enter. My hand on the doorknob, I hesitate. Without someone there to greet me and pull me inside I am offered a moment to reconsider, to imagine myself on my couch at home, under a fleece blanket, reading a novel, sipping a steaming mug of ginger lemongrass tea. Mmmm. The thought that I am expected here is the only thing that pushes this isolationist urge from my mind. I turn the brass doorknob, open the door, and walk myself into the party.
A pile of shoes lay strewn by the door. I add mine even though my stocking feet feel cold and insecure on the hard wood floor. I scan the room of partygoers, clumped like grapes in threes and fours around the living and dining rooms. A woman approaches me. I know her. I like her. I feel myself both welcome and recoil from her company. I need a party partner. It’s too awkward to stand alone. But I just don’t feel like carrying on a conversation about anything to anyone. My introvert switch keeps getting flipped at these parties, leaving me to shut down socially like a robot that is unceremoniously unplugged. I do my best to chat with the woman for a while. I feign interest until an appropriate moment arises to excuse myself, saying I need a drink. The kitchen is crowded. Lots of people need a drink, apparently, or need to be near the drinks. After a brief search, I find a clean glass and a half empty bottle of white and take my time pouring.
Now that I have a glass in my hand, I feel myself relaxing a bit. Maybe it’s the alcohol. Or maybe it’s just having something for my hands to hold—like a magic party feather. The wine buoys me enough to mill about, move in and out of a few clusters and search for my husband who I know is here somewhere.
When I find him I am not surprised that he has removed himself from the crowd. I sit down next to him on a soft, two-seater couch in a far corner of the living room and am rewarded with a rare gesture of affection as he stretches his arm across the back of my shoulders. We are not alone for long. Others eventually move to sit with us, in our cozy removed corner. But the warmth of my husband’s body next to mine softens my jangled, need-to-escape nerves. The golden liquid in my glass reflects the light in the room. Laughter and conversation bubbles up and breaks around me in a spirit of merriment.
Our host calls for our attention so he can make a toast. I admire the beauty of his dark, Pakistani skin—extremely rare in our small, central Illinois part of the world. Joy radiates from his face in the form of tears that silently, yet without shame, escape to streak his cheeks. He lifts his glass to friendship, to the tiny midwestern community that welcomed him, to love offered and accepted, and to the hope born within all of us whenever we are received as a cherished guest.
[Feature Image: Tony Blay]