Friday, May 6, 2016

The Party

You’re at a party.

Almost everyone there is a stranger. You recognize one person, though. A work colleague.

A coordinator and his attendant enter the living room. The coordinator says he will play a video.

You are told to watch it carefully and memorize as many details as possible. There will be a test afterward.

You catch glimpses of order but mostly find yourself confused by the jumble of images. You slump back into the couch; you can’t keep up.

An attendant hands out thick booklets. You are supposed to answer questions.

This isn’t really a party; it’s an aptitude test. This isn’t someone’s home; it’s a department of some college campus.

You’re in a large central area, surrounded by offices, closets, and laboratories.

You struggle to find the logic.

You must answer three questions, but you can’t find the prompts. You must mark the answers, but you can’t find where they go. Details of the video swim in and out of view, but the coherence is gone.

You ask for help but can’t understand other folks’ halfhearted efforts to assist.

Your colleague submits her correct answers and wins a prize.

She shares the correct responses with you. There are plenty of prizes to win, and she’s not greedy.

You gather her words closely, ready to work this puzzle. Now you only need to find the pages where the answer should go.

The din is getting louder and louder. It really does sound more like a party now, not a test, especially for those who finished early. People who have closed their booklets are now relaxing, chatting, eating.

You get up and find the coordinator in his office; you ask him to explain the rules.

You know that you’ve talked yourself out of whatever prizes await the folks who can navigate the game. You just want to finish the test with some sort of dignity.

With increasing frustration, the coordinator tries to help. But you can’t understand his instructions.

Your colleague is gone now; she left the party with her prize. You’re alone with strangers.

You seek out the attendant. She’s cleaning up messes as the party grows wilder and wilder. She’s busy and impatient. She ignores you.

You find a chair at another table. It doesn’t matter where you sit now. You say to someone sitting nearby, “You know, I think I’ve just discovered that I have a disability. I can’t hear people in loud places.”

He looks at you with the slightest gaze of contempt.

You gather your things, leaving the booklet on the table. You won’t finish the test. You’re only somewhat embarrassed that the attendant will find your stuff later on, abandoned.

On your way out, you double-back to the coordinator’s office. You will muster up some of that confidence you once had by offering a professional handshake.

He’s not there. The room is the same - you think it is - but the furnishings are all different.

There’s an old guy with wild white hair occupying the office now. He sits in the dark while the party proceeds outside. You stare at him.

He says, “You think I’m crazy, huh?”

He does look crazy, but you reply differently.

“You look like a professional.”

It’s an effort, you suppose, to be kind - but also to assert some authority.

You walk out of the room.

It’s morning; you’re now in your bed.

You remember yesterday’s meeting. A typical, rushed affair, colleagues racing through an agenda.

You were in your groove at first, multitasking, engaged, knowing, curious. Then, while making some point or other, you couldn’t articulate a phrase. Just couldn’t remember the words.

Mouth agape, you struggled. Your colleagues occupied cardinal positions around the small table, waiting with growing unease.

You blurted out in panic and frustration, “Help me out here!”

They did, gamely. They got the idea. And besides, the specific words weren’t that important.

But it was. It was the exact phrase needed. And that’s a skill you’ve always tried to cultivate, finding that right phrase.

The moment ended when your colleague offered the correct phrase, kindly, with the smooth clarity you so frequently called to your command.

Later you think about the word “dumbstruck,” about the kinds of guilt that swirl around that epithet. That’s it; that’s exactly how you felt. The perfect word.

Now you wrangle these memories, connecting dreams to doubts.

Dreams, of course, fade. But you strive for correctness, to keep the details right.

From time to time you etch some fakery into the recollection, only to buff it out. Something tells you, remember this. Keep it close.

Hold on.

You know who the old man with the wild hair was. You know who he will be.