On the cusp of 2006, things were getting complicated between me and Pete, my friend-with-benefits. But we were two-thirds of a tight three-person group, and there was a serious party to attend. Bottles of cheap champagne in hand, we trundled down to the party house. Once we got there, we hit the sauce hard, and before long we were holding back the hair of our third party and settling her on a couch to sleep through the arrival of the new year.
It was only 10:30 or so, and the usual binge drinking and carousing continued. As Pete and I huddled on the concrete front steps shouting and giggling with the other smokers, his arm moved from around my back to fully wrapped around me, and soon he was somehow fondling my breast under my sweater and coat, totally concealed from the friends standing directly in front of us.
Soon I had to pee, and headed for the semi-secret upstairs bathroom that belonged to my best friend’s boyfriend. Pete followed me upstairs, and when I emerged from the bathroom, he came at me with an unmistakeable sex face. He shut and locked the door behind him, and soon we were making out voraciously (and loudly) against the shower door. Once our faces were semi-numb, we rejoined the party, celebrated the new year double-fisting Cava, and scooped our friend off the couch to leave. We got her into bed and then went back to my place to have weird sex and pass out.
In the morning, our raging awkwardness was interrupted by a text from the woman who, unbeknownst to me, thought she was his girlfriend. He had pocket-dialed her during the shower-door phase of the evening and she thought she was hearing him having sex (with our unconscious friend, no less).
He spent the next hour or two moaning about how she’d never speak to him again, while I and my roommates tried to sound sympathetic. Of course, they made up in a matter of days. He and I stopped having sex years ago, but are still friends. They moved in together last year, but because of that fateful pocket dial, I’m not allowed to visit. Oops.
I met B sometime around 2006. She was a beautiful girl — a bit on the plump side, but she had the most amazing green eyes, and a smile that made me shiver. I was a shy boy, so I started romancing her with anonymous messages on Facebook. (At the time, there was an app for that.) It lasted for a few months, and I tried to communicate how I felt — I’m not sure I ever managed it. At some point, after I’d all but blown my cover, I gathered the courage to ask her out. She said no.
I ran into her a few times after that, but then she moved. By that point, the anonymous-messaging app had stopped working. So I lost track of her.
Christmas of 2010, both of my best buddies hooked up with girls, one of whom was B’s best friend. I had this huge party planned for New Year’s. People from overseas were coming, and staying for the better part of a week. So I was both excited and a little sad to be left single for the holidays.
Of course, my buddies wanted to invite their girlfriends for New Year’s. It happened that B was on her own for New Year’s, so my buddy’s girlfriend asked me if she could come. I was kind of sore that she hadn’t called or written in two years, but I said she could, and a few hours before the party I went to pick her up.
She looked even better than I remembered. We spent most of the evening talking together, and we were the last ones to go to bed. I was amazed at the mere fact that I was going to get what I had tried so hard (and failed so extraordinarily) to get.
Of course, the last bed that was available at the time was an inflatable mattress for one, laid right on the linoleum. My cousin was sleeping by himself across a queen-sized bed, so I went to ask him to move, but B thought he looked so cute sleeping that we ended up falling on the mattress.
I will never in my life forget that friggin’ squeaky sound of rubber on rubber, undermining each stroke and drowning out each sigh. It was terrible, terrible sex. The next morning she left, and although I saw her again a few days later and managed to make it up to her, the relationship was doomed from the start. Friggin’ squeaky sound.
On New Year’s Eve, 2009, I found myself on the top floor of a massive skyscraper in Tokyo, at a slightly underwhelming party. I was visiting my friend Sarah, who’d been living in Japan for three years. Though we’d both matured slightly and were now both in relationships, on this trip, we slipped back into our familiar routine of complete drunkeness and debauchery every night. This night was supposed to be the craziest but after chatting to a few people, waiting in the bathroom line for an eternity, and a mediocre New Year’s celebration on a dance floor, we were both ready to go. We stumbled out at 1:30 am to get food and find somewhere to crash.
As we walked, I recognized this Scottish guy, David, who Sarah and I had talked to at the party. David was twenty-one and into pop-punk bands I liked when I was fourteen. But he was hilarious and seemed to know how to have a good time. We made eye contact and he yelled, “It’s you!” When we ran over, he insisted that we had to rent a karaoke room and continue drinking. We agreed and he signaled to someone just up the block, a tall well-dressed guy with a shaved head who also looked to have a nice body. This turned out to be David’s older, hotter, kickboxer brother, Neil, and he was coming with us.
We ended up renting a karaoke room and having unlimited drinks. I was sitting next to David and Sarah was next to Neil. While they were singing, I leaned over the table to talk to her. “I’m into the older one — what are you thinking?” Miraculously, for once in our lives, we weren’t into the same dude. Sarah liked David (who happened to be five years younger than her), and so we shamelessly switched seats. Neil said, “Oh, I see how it is,” acting offended, but we were soon flirting. He was confident and gorgeous, so even though I mentioned my boyfriend, it was a matter of minutes before we were sloppily making out between songs.
The karaoke place was also an internet cafe. Some of the enclosed cubicles had padded floors to sleep on. But there was only one such cubicle available, and we claimed it, which left Sarah and David a cubicle with just a chair. I ended up naked, rolling around with Neil all night and stifling my moans so the snoring Japanese man inches away from us in the next cubicle wouldn’t hear. Meanwhile, Sarah was giving David a blowjob in an office chair. The alcohol started to wear off and my conscience returned, so I stopped short of actually having sex… which I regret to this day. The Scottish brothers left first thing in the morning to catch the bullet train back to Sendai, and left us with a lifetime of dirty New Year’s Eve memories.
When my roommate asked me to make the two-hour drive from my hometown to her New Year’s party, I didn’t realize I’d be taking a trip into what’s affectionately known in North Carolina as the “Cackalacky” part of the state. That short drive from my suburban, private-college housing hometown to her little Main Street was like crossing a second Mason-Dixon line drawn right between me and all of her friends. I was in for an awkward night.
Things could have gone well. The party was in a hunting lodge. There were taxidermied animals everywhere, a pool table, darts — basically all of the amenities I’d grown accustomed to from Williamsburg bars, as a college student living in New York City. But despite my comfort with these southern accoutrements, my reception was less than warm.
The first indicator I got that my roommate’s friends weren’t very welcoming to people “not from around here” was probably the fact that nobody talked to me. I picked up a pool cue and tried to get a game going, but somehow the group of guests kept mysteriously rearranging themselves so that wherever I was, they weren’t. I wasn’t welcome in their football, NASCAR, etc. conversations. I was born and raised in the South, but I don’t have a strong Southern accent. When my roommate finally inserted me in their midst and forced some introductions, none of them believed I was from a town only two hours away. The group drifted away from me again and I was left at an empty pool table.
So I did what anyone would do after being socially rejected at a party: I got really, really drunk. By eleven it didn’t matter what accent I had, because I could barely form a complete sentence. Somewhere along the way I got the idea into my head that I needed to find a guy to kiss me at midnight.
The only thing I knew about the guy who kissed me at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Cackalacky was that he loved sharks, for some reason. Everyone called him Shark Boy, and he was the second least welcome party guest right after me. At the time I didn’t have any serious thoughts about kissing him, except maybe that I wanted to forget all about it before the next day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to be an option.
I gave Shark Boy my number. Don’t ask me why. And the next morning, he called me to see how I was doing. At first I thought it was kind of sweet and very Southern-gentlemanly for him to call, but then I asked him what he was doing that day, and he said, “Nothing. Just going to work in n*****ville — Winston-Salem.”
I thought I must have heard him wrong. It was eleven a.m., I was hungover, and there was just no way he had said what he had clearly just said. So I asked him to repeat what he’d said, because I hadn’t heard him. “I said n*****ville. I’ve got to go work in Winston-Salem today.”
I probably should have stayed on the phone to tell Shark Boy that that word, even with the clever addition of “ville,” was not okay, to say the least. Instead I hung up the phone, looked over at my roommate, and said “I think I hooked up with a racist.” I haven’t gone back to Cackalacky since.
2002 had been a tough year for me — I was a sophomore in college, holed up in a bare room, too overworked to do anything about my loneliness. People invited me out, but I always had a looming paper or test that kept me from going. (I still look at most pop-culture depictions of college life with total bafflement, but maybe I’m the only one.) I never relaxed; I only procrastinated. And I missed my high-school friends, a tight group that’d been unceremoniously scattered across the country/globe.
Back home on winter break, the New Year’s decision was high-pressure as usual. Finally, a few high-school friends and I decided to drive a few hours north to a cabin in Vermont where another old classmate was having a party. This was before we all got cell phones — and we wouldn’t have had reception anyway — so getting there was a challenge; it was pitch black and freezing out, and we were in the middle of nowhere. At one point we stopped at a remote gas station to ask where the hell we were.
We eventually found the house, and the travails of getting there made the arrival all the happier — I remember the warm glow of the fireplace inside the house and all our friends shouting with glee that we’d actually made it. It’d taken us a while to get there, so everyone was way ahead of us on the drinking. (I remember my friend Jeff obliviously trying to open a bottle of beer with a garlic press, before stumbling outside to puke. To be young again!)
The funny thing was, it was mostly my high-school friends, but there were actually some kids there who went to the same college I did. They turned out to be friends (and friends of friends) of our beloved host. Having spent all my time either writing papers or worrying about writing papers, I’d never met them. But one of them, Kathryn, turned out to be very cute.
As the night wound down, a small group of us stayed up chatting and playing a little guitar as others slowly headed off to sleep and the fire died down, the house growing worryingly chilly. When the rest had all gone to bed, Kathryn and I ended up lying on the stone floor in front of the not-very-helpful fire, freezing cold with only floppy couch pillows under our heads.
It was dark, and I didn’t know what she thought of me or even if she was awake — until she turned over and looked at me, and with a tone of playfulness and amazement, murmured, “2003,” before gently curling herself into my arms.
This article originally ran in 2011.