I decided to try my hand at writing a short story inspired by a song that seemed to get me “in my feels” – Easy by Tayla Parx. No, I wasn’t unpacking a breakup at the time I was writing the story, but the songwriter was, and her lyrics resonated with me.
Here’s the story that came out of the song…
The Uber pulled up to Darren’s apartment building a little bit before 11 p.m. I thanked the driver, stepped out and adjusted my leather jacket one last time before turning to Zac for support. “How do I look?” I asked, my nervous energy palpable through the crisp Fall air.
“Like you are single and ready to mingle, boo.” Zac put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and then turned to look in the car window one last time. He had to ensure that his hair was just high enough for him to be noticed from every corner of the room once we hit the dance floor.
This was my first night out in almost three months. Though I had never really been much of a partygoer, I’ll be the first to admit that my routine of leaving my entry-level account manager job to spend the evening watching Netflix until it was a reasonable hour to go to bed had gotten old.
Darren buzzed us in and, shortly after, we were standing in the doorway of an industrial Williamsburg loft fit for a software developer (with a pair of lawyers as parents). There was a bicycle hanging on the wall – once a form of transportation, now a hipster-wannabe’s latest art piece. Multiple plants stood on every shelf in sight, and – in true millennial fashion – cell phone-controlled LED lights lined the room, creating an artificial night sky for the dozens of tipsy party goers.
Zac and I made our way to the drinks table while Drake blasted through a set of Sonos speakers. I poured myself a rum and coke and then felt a hand reach out and grab the back of my head much like one would grab a basketball.
“Malaaaiiikkkaaaa, nakupenda Malaika.” Darren has been singing my name to me ever since he attended his first Africa Night in college.
“Darren.” I half-assedly exclaimed through gritted teeth. He was decked out in all black like any Williamsburg skateboarder would be on a Friday night, from his black Vans to his teeny tiny Off White black beanie that was hanging onto his head for dear life.
Zac and I knew Darren from college. He was that guy who was just friendly enough to persuade you to show up to his party despite knowing that you’d spend the evening liaising with strangers, yet just blindly privileged enough for you to never want to spend time with him without some form of libation to comfort you when he’d inevitably say something ignorant.
“Laika, you look great. Zac, the hair is serving looks.” Zac touched his perfectly tousled quiff with a smirk on his face. He knew he looked great. The three of us stood in a little exclusive circle for a few moments, engaging in the usual millennial banter that consisted of lackluster jobs, forgotten hometowns and bad dates. As Zac and I prepared to make our rounds looking for eligible bachelors to make goo goo eyes at all night, Darren’s face became very serious. “Umm, Laika, I should let you know that Nick is here.” The buzz that my rum and coke had been working very hard to create disappeared instantly.
“Oh. Cool.” I replied, doing everything I could to mask the shakiness of my voice and to fight back a brewing anxiety attack.
Zac grabbed me by the hand and pulled me away from Darren. “There are so many people at this party, honey. We probably won’t even see him in this crowd.” But I was already scanning the room looking for him, and in an instant, as if the universe had pulled out it’s special “ex-boyfriend” spotlight, I found him.
I recognized the back of Nick’s head because I had spent countless nights looking at it while he lay in bed next to me. The broadness of his shoulders hadn’t changed since the last time he’d hugged me before getting onto the L train at Grand Central Station. The waves in his hair shone as brightly as they did every Sunday when I’d moisturize his scalp while watching Euphoria. And his shoes, a pair of all-white Air Force 1s he’d bought with the money from his first Ernst & Young paycheck, were the very same pair he had worn on our first date (and our last).
I felt my chest tighten, my throat dry up and my stomach turn. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of Nick being here, but of course he would be. Of course he would be at the first party I had mustered up the courage to go to since our relationship’s untimely demise. Of course the universe just had to test me on a Friday night in the middle of October when the rum coursing through my veins had me feeling warm and nostalgic. And of course Nick’s likeable ass had stayed in contact with Darren after our breakup despite me being the one who introduced them – because who doesn’t love a funny, intelligent, athletic black man with a nerdy-yet-sexy energy about him?
I looked away quickly, but not before we locked eyes. “Oh shit,” I said deadpan.
“What?” Zac asked in a panic, like I was about to admit to dropping a Fenty bronzer in front of a judgemental Sephora employee.
“He’s seen me.”
Despite doing my best to maintain a fake interesting conversation with Zac, all I could do was focus on the figure that was getting closer to us in my periphery.
“Mal.” He was the only one who called me that.
“Heeeeyy.” (Too much enthusiasm.) We hugged…awkwardly. “How’s it going?”
“Oh.” *awkward pause* Was that not what you said to your ex upon your first meeting since your separation? “Good thanks. How about you?” Okay, we recovered.
“Good…thanks.” I stared at him for what felt like forever but was only about 2 milliseconds. He looked exactly the same with the familiarity of someone I had once loved and been loved by, but he also carried the air of someone I was meeting for the first time. There existed an estrangement that inevitably forms between two past lovers. “Um, please excuse me,” I said in what was almost a whisper.
I bobbed and weaved between drunk millennials dancing vigorously to Panic! At the Disco and headed for the front door. I felt Zac follow behind me.
When we got to the curb, I turned around and faced the apartment building. Zac walked over to embrace me with one arm. “What do you wanna do, boo?”
I looked up at the window with the fluorescent light streaming out of it and contemplated going back to Darren’s party. Perhaps I’d strut back in with confidence oozing out of the seams of my leather jacket and head to the middle of the dancefloor like a boss bitch who was ready to party the night away. Or, I’d walk back in and find Nick and his friends laughing about his psycho ex who dipped mid-conversation because she has no social skills, yet still had the confidence to come back to the party with the gusto of a Jack Russell trying to catch a bird. Or I’d walk back in and find him searching the room for me, concerned about my wellbeing and wanting to comfort me…
“Let’s walk to the train,” I replied as I turned towards Bedford Avenue.
The truth is, I wasn’t ready for any of the scenarios that were playing in my head. I wasn’t ready for Nick to be totally and completely over me, living his best life with his mates. I wasn’t ready for him to still be pining over me thinking about how he could fix us. I wasn’t even ready for him to be in the same boat as me: confused yet clear, happy yet sad, angry yet accepting. At this moment, it was better for me to not think about Nick at all. I needed to focus on my own healing instead.
As Zac and I walked down Bedford Avenue at 11.54pm, I felt a wave of calmness wash over me for the first time in about an hour. I turned to Zac. “I know that there’ll be a day when I’ll bump into Nick and not feel a wave of emotion so strong that it rips my feet from under me and smacks my heartbeat down into my ass, but today just isn’t that day…and I think that’s fine.”