The Awkward-Faced, Deadweight Friend

At some point in your life, many of your friends will be lost to convention. Specifically, a “real” job, marriage and having children. Those with the gumption and sorcery to remain untied to such “inevitabilities” (which death is also considered, so one supposes working, being married and having a child is a lot like that) are not always with their merit, however. Least of all to those fellow “freaks” who don’t have much of a choice in terms of an intensive roster of people to choose from when it comes to hanging out thanks to losing old friends to the cult of the commonplace. Those who decide that they have to choose between the camps of being a beast or a god–for as Aristotle said, “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” After enough time spent with what’s left to sift through in the “unattached” and “unburdened” friend pile, one will likely not care which category they’re classified in so long as they can be left alone like Garbo. 

36-year-old Eliana, who had long ago attended every possible wedding ceremony and was now waiting for the second wave of post-divorce marriages to pillage her bank account, felt assured of this much after cowardly deciding she didn’t want to attend a concert alone, inviting an on-again, off-again acquaintance named Sadie to join her. She had bought two tickets from the outset without yet knowing who to take, despising that lag period right before a show that puts a spotlight on one’s aloneness if they don’t have anyone to chat mindlessly with prior to that first song. With all those surrounding you seemingly much younger and also seemingly staring at you in wonderment as to why you’re here. Though it has been said that once you pass the age of 33, you stop discovering new music, Eliana had never fallen into that category, constantly poring over new releases that came out every week to hear what she liked and what she didn’t. That’s how she had stumbled upon The Free Agents, a quartet comprised of barely out of the womb musicians that, in turn, attracted a similarly youthful clientele. Which is precisely why Eliana couldn’t bear to endure the concert without a cohort, violating the cardinal rule that it is always better to be alone than in dubious company. Yet she didn’t realize just how dubious Sadie was until she knocked on her door for a little pre-show aperitif, as it was now more elegantly known instead of pre-gaming. 

The last time they had seen one another was three months ago at a baby shower for a mutual friend named Raina, who clearly only invited them to get the most out of her gift registry, as she barely communicated with either one–treating them like lepers among the other mothers who had joined her side of life already. Thus, Eliana and Sadie were forced into a single-serving friendship by default. And maybe Eliana was getting just drunk enough to believe they had more in common than never having been married or squeezing out a spawn. Sadie worked as a manager at one of those accursed “artisanal” coffee shops in the Prospect Heights area, where the overrunning of “the family unit” was at a zenith of late. Sadie complained of as much rather loudly in front of the other mothers, which Eliana respected. Eliana, who worked from home when she wasn’t at one of said artisanal coffee shops slaving away at various freelance graphic design projects–some of which included endless time spent creating fonts for people. As a result, she rather hated staring at words (if not paid to do so) for longer than a millisecond, a difficult feat when bombarded with them at every turn thanks to the advertising-drenched state of New York. A shame, too, for she did so used to enjoy reading. Sadie, in contrast, read all the time as she stood behind the counter pretending to “oversee” everything. Eliana liked this detail about her, falsely assumed, like many before her, that a person who reads is intelligent. 

By the end of the baby shower, they had vowed to get together regularly, Sadie believing it was because misery loves company and Eliana because she felt they had common ground. Increasingly hard to come by at her age. Of course, like most in the city, saying one thing and actually doing it were two entirely different animals. So Eliana finally decided to take the initiative, despite the awkwardness of having to rely on a since gone stale rapport in her blind invitation to the concert. “Sure, sounds all right,” Sadie texted back, leaving the conversation hanging in the balance until it fizzled out entirely–not a sign that boded well for their impending rendezvous. Would Eliana be left entirely with the task of carrying on a conversation? Or worse, would Sadie remain mute to all her attempts at any such social grace? 

She found, soon enough, that the answer was far worse, with Sadie talking a mile a minute as soon as she flounced into the apartment in her garish makeup and strange attempt at “edgy” garb: ripped up tights and an oversized The Darkness t-shirt. Considering The Darkness was either 1) not remembered at all or 2) remembered as being one of the worst bands to form in the early twenty-first century, this was not a good look, and was already an instant source of embarrassment to Eliana, who had invited Sadie precisely not to be embarrassed about her state of aloneness. Yet here was still more proof that she had been flying solo for most of her life for a reason. That it wasn’t worth the risk of taking up with such awkward-faced, deadweight friends as Sadie. Who was fast getting drunk on the campari and soda accoutrements Eliana had placed out with care on the glass coffee table. She was acting too much like someone who had never had the responsibility of a real job, marriage or a child. This made Eliana relate to the plight of Goldilocks, for the extremism of Sadie’s ersatz attempts at youthfulness was just as bad as all the stodginess of everyone in her life she had presently lost to the traditions of adulthood. Did everything always have to boil down to choosing between a lesser of two evils, or was it possible to unearth neutral, non-iniquitous ground? Most especially when it came to cultivating friendships past the age of twenty-five. 

She had little time to consider the response as she suddenly found herself rushing them to get to the venue, recessed along the far reaches of Hudson Yards. Time had slipped away as Sadie lured her into the trap of drinking too much too soon when she should have resisted. How was she going to even process the music in her present state of inebriation? As the show commenced, she could feel herself being shoved along through the crowd, somehow ending up closer and closer to the stage, and farther and farther away from Sadie. She might as well have come alone anyway. When Zach, the lead singer, honed in on her, she all at once felt he was regarding her as though she shouldn’t be there. Or maybe he assumed she was a veteran music critic he ought to play his best for if he wanted a frameable review. Not that anyone in his generation knew what framing was, she laughed to herself. Part of a series of surreal seconds leading up to Zach pulling her up onto the stage to sing along. As Rachel Green would say, “Oh god, I’m gonna be on the news,” Eliana rued to herself. Except the news was the internet, with every photo snapped of her putting a glaring highlight on the fact that she was of a certain age and alone. Sadie was certainly nowhere in sight, having ostensibly disappeared into the ether. Maybe she had never really existed at all–was but a Tyler Durden-esque figment of Eliana’s imagination in order to propel her to go to the show without worrying about being judged for her “plus zero” state. For every mathematical permutation in the social realm amounted to one plus zero equaling damaged goods. 

Just when she didn’t think her revelations could get much darker, Zach stated at the end of the song, “And thanks to whoever’s mom this is for being enough of a fan to show up with your parent.” Eliana felt gutted, an evisceration intensified by the sight of Sadie’s face in the crowd simpering at her shame. A shame augmented when Zach noticed her staring at Sadie and then calling out, “Hey! You in The Darkness shirt. Is this your mom?” The mortification couldn’t have possibly been more agonizing between Zach actually knowing The Darkness and positioning Sadie as young-looking enough to be Eliana’s daughter. Maybe she hadn’t been wrong in thinking ripped tights were still “cutting edge.” 

As Sadie crowd surfed toward the stage, she was lifted up by Zach before making out with him as Eliana stood there dumbly. Now in the role of the awkward-faced, deadweight friend. 

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