Last year, I was invited to an Ugly Sweater Christmas party by my friend John who I hadn't seen or talked to for a few years. John and his girlfriend showed up to see one of my sister's high school soccer games a few weeks prior and John and I got caught up with each other a bit while taking in the game under a cool Fall night under the lights out where we both grew up. His girlfriend was nice and I always wondered over the years who he would end up with since he has always had girls all over him in a way that would make men like Don Draper or Barney Stinson jealous. Beautiful girl, too. Big, pretty smile. It was a bit surreal for me to see John and her together. It's one thing to have thoughts in your head for years, thinking about how things might be someday; it's another thing for it to become reality and for you to be able to stare it in the face and to grip its hands when it says "hello" to you. I walked away from the two of them that night thinking about how much older I have gotten since I had seen John last and how he has made great strides in becoming a man, leaving behind seemingly any and all traces of the youthful, smart-aleck friend I knew from childhood many years ago.
A few weeks later, I showed up at John's place in a section of the city where a lot of young professionals live who are getting their start in their careers and who are looking to date and take in the city scene with others like them. John lives with four other guys in a nice place not too far from the busy city center where they all work. It was my first time out there and it was my first time seeing some of my old childhood friends in years. I honestly didn't know what to expect since John looked more like a man when I saw him that night at my sister's game than he did a college kid like I last remembered him. I stepped inside to the party and saw a place filled with guys and girls who I didn't know. John introduced me to some of them and I started connecting the dots and understanding how they all met up and how some of them were connected to the town where John and our friends grew up together. After talking to some of them, a few of my old friends started to show up and it was like a reunion of sorts for me and they greeted me with a big hug and wide eyes since we hadn't seen each other in so long. It was something else, really. They looked older - bigger, stronger I thought - and a few of them had their girlfriends with them as well. There were no signs of the "Up for whatever" and "Let's get plastered" crew that I used to know and that practically bounced off the walls and tried to chat up and hump anything that moved at parties. In their place were these straight-jawed, well-mannered guys who talked to me about what was going on in my life and with my family as if they were my priest at my local parish who I had decided to pay a visit to after so many years away from the church. It was surreal since I hadn't ever known such...maturity among these guys and among people my age. I hadn't been around much over the years and hadn't seen too many people so I was taken aback by how "settled" and relaxed everyone seemed as people moving further from 20 and closer towards 30 years old with each passing day.
Before I could process it all, John handed me a drink. By the time that I was done with that, I realized that the party was really going strong and that the house was absolutely packed with people. I spotted some guys I used to play basketball and baseball with when we were kids and said hello to them. One said he was working in the financial district downtown and another was there with his girlfriend. He said they were engaged and the wedding was in May. It seemed like yesterday when I used to turn double plays with the former friend and won a regional championship in hoops with the latter over ten years ago. Now they're in finance and fiances. A girl who I went to school with from kindergarten through high school spotted me and came over to me to give me a hug and say hello. She was there with her boyfriend who went to school one township over from me. She had a crush on me in the fifth grade and asked me out. I was nervous and turned her down. She started flirting and talking with me when high school started but I didn't get the hints. She looked great at the party. What might have been...
After a few beers and after an hour or two of trying to reminisce and catch up with people over the blare of the music blasting through the sound system, I was feeling great. I couldn't help but look around the house to see kids I had grown up with fully grown and having a great night out, like we used to have in high school and before, only now in the knowledge that these might be some of the last nights out that we ever have before we all pair off with our significant others and take the fork in the road towards the married life in the not-too-distant future. This realization filled me with a bittersweet feeling that I had never felt before. It was a feeling that sent sharp pangs throughout my body but hurt so good in that all of the good times that I had had with some of the people in that house came rushing back to me in that moment and, for maybe one last time, I was able to recall the better times that we had had together from years ago in our childhood.
John tapped me on the shoulder, snapping me out of my nostalgic haze, and introduced me to his friend DJ who he roomed with in college. We all talked for a little bit and were eventually joined by a girl who sidled up to us in a Game of Thrones sweater with a White Walker on it. She was fully committed to her outfit since she had the most piercing blue eyes that I had ever seen to go with her White Walker sweater and beautiful, white porcelain skin. The four of us started talking about her sweater and about Game of Thrones before DJ and John went to the keg for themselves and left me and this blue-eyed beauty alone. We were both buzzed and kept chatting about the show and what we thought was going to happen next season, all while staring intently at each other as if we were having the world's greatest conversation. She really was beautiful. I had my eye on her the entire night to be honest with you. For most of that night, she was the most beautiful girl in the room and now our eyes were locked and I was lost in those blue eyes and had no desire to find my way out. We kept having to lean closer towards each other to hear what we were saying because the music had gotten so loud. I didn't mind because a song came on that I hadn't heard in nearly forever and it was the only thing that could have broken my concentration on her and diverted my gaze ever so slightly from her eyes. Just as that song and its beat swelled around me and brought me back to my days in middle school where I had heard it last, she put her phone to her ear, said a few words, looked me in the eyes with those blue eyes of hers and with a smile said "My ride is here. See you around" and then turned away from me for what might be forever. As her wavy brown hair bobbed its way through a crowded sea of sweaters towards the exit, this song boomed and bounced perfectly in sync with her right up until the moment when she turned around slightly, looked back at me with those blue eyes of hers, and smiled before being swallowed up by the crowd, out of my sight but never out of mind.
That night wasn't so much about her as it was about a night where I realized just how far my friends and I had come in life and how a night out together was going to be from here on out before they start to become a relic of our past as kids and then college guys who were always looking for the time of our lives, every night out together. We had all gotten older and grown up together and coming to that absolute realization on that night was truly bittersweet. Whenever I hear that song, I think of that night and of that blue-eyed girl who I haven't seen since but will never forget. That girl who I was so into.
TL;DR: I'm getting older and realize now that my parents were right when they said "Enjoy life while you're young."