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Title: The Introvert
John Zhang Date: 05-03-03 Major Paper Number 3 Type of Paper: Fiction
Phil stood outside, alone. There was a light drizzle on his face, more refreshing than irritating in his state of mind. He stared ahead, placidly leaning against the side of a building. He had a distant look in his eyes. The street had emptied for the night; everything bathed under the soft glow of a few tall lamps. Phil noticed the rays of light reflecting off the sidewalk in front of him, the cement appearing pale yellow. It hypnotized him somehow, soothed him into forgetfulness. He heard voices from within the building echo outward in sporadic bursts of laughter. He wasn’t sad, or particularly upset, but neither did he want to join them. He wasn’t thinking of anything specific, just watching his thoughts float about in his head the same way that he had often watched lazy white clouds during the summer. He took a breath, clearing his lungs a bit; the air felt cool, not quite as fresh as can be but still less stuffy than it was inside. “Let’s go to this party my friend’s having,” Charlie had said. “She lives in the apartment building on Fifth Street: you know, the one near our battlefield.” Phil hadn’t been to that part of town for ages; as kids they often used to play with their water guns in the old junkyard, but that was before school and work and life in general started to suck up all his time. That was before he knew responsibility. “Come on, it’ll be fun! I hear that a lot of the girls from school will be there. Maybe even Stacey.” Charlie nudged him, giving him a sly grin. “You’re not going to turn all this down, are you?” “I don’t know. I just don’t like these large group gatherings much.” “Just say it: you mean you don’t like people in general.” “That too.”
Zhang “For crying out loud, this is a PARTY. P- A- R- T- Y. Go for the fun, just forget yourself
for once. You know that you need to; you know you’ve been working nonstop for the past month. You need this break. You need it.” “I can have fun without the people, you know.” “Yeah, but if you don’t go where people are, you’ll never see Stacey. Doesn’t that mean something to you?” “All right, all right. Just tell me when it’ll be and shut up.” A cat meowed somewhere to Phil’s left, and he shifted his attention for a brief moment. He noticed a shadow sliding by, heard a few cans crunch and bang against each other. The wind had picked up, making some pieces of trash dance in circles. He let his eyes wander back to the ground, sighing. Phil hadn’t counted on being so nervous. He didn’t feel anything when Charlie mentioned the party. He didn’t really feel anything significant upon hearing Stacey’s name, even though he’d been practically infatuated with her since he first saw her. He didn’t even feel anything when he finally agreed to go. He hadn’t given it much of a thought after that, just marked it in his calendar as something to do. But now, a few minutes before the party was to start, when he was walking up to the building itself, he had to start getting these weird nervous pangs. What if she doesn’t go? What if I feel uncomfortable there? What ifHe forced himself to stop, to relax. This wasn’t supposed to cause more anxiety. It was supposed to be his break from work. With parents forcing him to study almost every night, with pressures of getting into college, and ultimately, with his own need for perfection, he’d come to depend on laboring away the evenings. It gave him a high at times. But it also gave him a headache the rest of the time.
Zhang Phil buzzed the intercom and waited for someone to answer. Somehow the ensuing
silence just troubled him further. After a few moments, he buzzed again. This time he heard a girl say, “Come on up, second floor.” The door clicked as it unlocked; he headed upstairs. Charlie was already inside, lounging by the television with a couple of other guys and two girls. He had a beer in his hand. Great, thought Phil. Just like Charlie; he’d probably arrived at the party early just to get drunk. He didn’t even bother to say hi, knowing that there’d be no cogent reply. Letting his eyes pan across the room, he saw about seven people already there, and more were probably coming. He recognized a few faces from school, but if he didn’t feel the need to talk to them then, he sure didn’t feel the need to do so now. There were obviously no parents around. It wasn’t a very large apartment, meant for a family of four at best. The air was stale and stuffy, making everything worse. Plus it was noisy and dirty, with clouds of smoke floating overhead. It went against every one of Phil’s instincts to stay. Before doing anything rash, though, he looked around for Stacey. Maybe if he can just be next to her the whole time… she wasn’t there, but some other girl caught him looking around. She walked up; by his standards she appeared rather cute, but that stopped as soon as she opened her mouth. “How’s it going, dude? Phil, right?” He just nodded. “Pretty good.” He wasn’t trying to be rude; he just didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even know her name. She stared at him, and he moved his eyes away. She was too close. She examined him for another awkward beat, and finally moved off. Phil felt embarrassed, sorry that he couldn’t find anything to say. The more he thought about it, the more he became frustrated with himself and even with the girl for some reason. Why the heck did she have to come up and talk to him? Finally he turned abruptly and started out- time to cut his losses and leave. As he did so, however, a hand caught his shoulder.
Zhang “Dude, wait up!” Charlie had seen him somehow and had staggered over. “Now, you promised me that you would come. So it’s not exactly to your taste, so what?” “Charlie, you’re dead drunk. I’m not wasting my time here anymore. I’ve got better places to be.” “Now wait just a minute.” He looked around. “You gotta wait for Stacey! In the meanwhile, why don’t you join me in some cards?” He held out a deck to Phil; it had drops of melted nacho cheese all over it. Phil sighed and glanced at his watch. 8:05. It had just been five minutes since the party officially started. “Fine. Take your reeking breath away from my face, let’s go.” His leg was starting to cramp; he stood upright to get the blood flowing again. He felt calm; his meditation was working. No noise, no smell, no people. Phil noticed that the rain had stopped, although he did not know when. Forty minutes later, after Phil started to be sick from inhaling that wretched air, from hearing couples making very nasty groaning noises, and from putting up with Charlie’s drunken ramblings, Stacey finally showed up.
As she opened the door, Phil unconsciously lifted his head from his cards and watched as she came in. She looked as radiant as ever; same coquettish smile, same relaxed pose. Hers was a face that was more angular than round, more on the thin side than not. It was above all smooth, not a blemish in sight. She was a brunette, fairly tall. Pretty much all of the guys at school were attracted to her. But she was selective with her choice of dates, which made her all the more attractive in Phil’s eyes. Every time he saw her, Phil’s heart would start jumping around, and this time was no exception, even under present company.
Zhang Her eyes looked around the room, like Phil’s had, but hers didn’t have the tension or disapproval. She was just looking for her friends. When she saw Phil, she smiled at him; he could see the sky blue behind her glasses. In the past, the two of them had gotten along great as friends. Phil first asked her out during the winter dance last year, having had to use almost all the courage and support that he could muster. He wouldn’t have gone through with it at all except for Charlie’s pressuring him.
But once he did, both of them had such a nice time that they dated for a couple months. And then it just sort of ended, very gracefully, discretely; it was over before either of them really knew it. Stacey found other guys, Phil found himself committing to more work than he had ever done before. He never really got over the attraction; more like it got over him. “Hey, surprised to find you here,” she said, walking over. Her voice was gentle; it had broken through Phil’s usually stoic exterior the very first time he heard it. “I am too.” He gave a weak chuckle. “This doesn’t look like your usual hang-out.” “I know, Charlie told me-” “I don’t know what he’s talking about,” interrupted Charlie. He got up and, with a wink, walked away. Stacey watched him leave for a second, then slowly turned to Phil. “Listen, I’ve got to tell you something.” “Yeah?” “You remember that guy that kept sending me flowers a while back?” “Oh boy.” “Well, I couldn’t resist him forever, you know. Not when he was like that.”
Zhang “I mean, I just thought that…” “That we were still together?” She said this with a smile, letting him know that she wasn’t chastising him. He felt so foolish, so simple-minded. He blushed. “Right. I’m sorry, I just…” He trailed off, looked at her. She nodded once; it was very slight but he got the message. His thoughts were interrupted by the door opening. A blond boy poked his head in. “Stacey, babe, you ready?” Stacey and Phil looked at each other for a second. Phil spoke first. “You never were planning on staying here were you?”
“Charlie was the one who told me about this party. He mentioned that you were coming. I figured that it was time to let you know.” She gave him a hug and walked off, mouthing “I’m sorry” along the way. Phil stood there for a couple seconds, feeling redder than ever. He wasn’t mad at her, nor frustrated. Just disappointed and regretful. He didn’t know what he was hoping for to begin with, why he even came to this party; he’d known that this was going to happen sooner or later. When he looked around him, he saw that more people had trickled in; there were now about fifteen guys and girls all crammed into the tiny apartment. He looked about for Charlie, but in vain. The poor matchmaker had wandered over to a corner, where he fell into a heap on the ground, fully asleep. Before Phil could come to his senses, he found himself overhearing some guy talking about his weekend. He had gone to another party, smoked a little pot. He looked bizarre, acting so excited about something so dull. He was making strange little gestures in the air with his hands and even his arms. Phil was reminded of a little dwarf sans beard.
Zhang He looked around some more. A couple was frenching each other in the opposite corner of the room. A few guys were watching the tv, others were playing cards, talking, whatever. He saw how everybody moved in a tangled web of lines, like some sort of writhing, breathing glob. He also saw how he was surrounded by all this motion, but none of the lines were connected to him.
Some more random words sneaked onto his attention. Something about this girl needing a makeover soon. Something else about dumping her boyfriend because she caught him with another girl. Something random about school, something more random about drugs, some stupid, nervous laughter shrieking over everything. Phil was still trying to overcome all the emotions flooding his system. Embarrassment, frustration, isolation. Something felt really awkward, really wrong, but he couldn’t even remember exactly what anymore; everything just came at once. He was panicking, but at the same time he felt exhausted and completely depressed. He looked one last time at Charlie, lying in his corner without a care in the world. Phil somehow managed to turn around, head to the door. Nobody stopped him this time. It was too early to go home. His parents would just harass him. They didn’t understand, and if he didn’t know any better he would say that they didn’t care. It was probably better just to enjoy the quiet night air a little while longer. He heard a door open somewhere, and his sidewalk brightened with light. He had to blink a few times, disturbed from his reverie. A few people left the party. They chattered among themselves, and all Phil could think about was how large the group looked. And how happy they all looked. He recalled how much
Zhang tension these people showed each day at school. He knew that they too had difficulties, stresses to deal with during the course of the week.
He watched them head away from the building. They didn’t pay him any heed; they were too busy enjoying each other’s company. Phil stared at the pale yellow light on the ground, having a hazy feeling like he was in a dream. He took a deep breath, held his tension briefly, then let the night air carry away his troubles.
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