Henry’s home is always clotted with the scent of smoke; it is a sweet warmth that cloaks us as soon as we enter. I am always cold in my room, my dorm, my classes; Henry’s house is the only place I am warm.
He tends to keep something buzzing on the TV, like maybe some funny videos on YouTube, or a Spotify playlist, or a Netflix sitcom running in the background. We sometimes pay attention and sometimes don’t. Henry always sits in his same spot on the couch in front of the water pipe, Effie curled against him. If his roommates are around they might be in their rooms or assembled on the couch or drinking in the basement, but typically when we go to Henry’s house it is only him and Effie.
Henry sits on his laptop and works on his app, the hookah pipe tucked by his thigh. When we enter – we most likely being Isabella and myself – we usually run down to the basement to get a drink before joining Effie and Henry on the couch in the living room.
Sometimes Isabella’s boyfriend Anthony joins us, or one of Henry’s other friends, once or twice we’ve gotten a particularly big group around. And Henry throws big parties every couple months. But usually, day to day, there is just four or five of us.
Henry works and smokes, always in that seat. If he moves it is to receive the pizza they sometimes order. The knock on the door always makes him jump just a little, because everyone who knows Henry and his roommates know to just go in and the only time they really deal with knocks or doorbells are if the cops show up.
Effie leans on him, tells stories, laughs her joyful laugh and sometimes indulges whatever the TV is doing. Once I have had a couple drinks and the surface of my skin feels warm, I let myself talk.
They always listen politely, their jokes friendly and just a little harsh – a type of humor I appreciate. When Isabella and I have had a few drinks we lean against each other, feeling that comforting pressure of another person against you, and I get to pretend that I am sort of okay. That really I am content with my friends and the funny sitcoms and the old music and the cheap alcohol and the sweet intoxicating scent of hookah.
And I should be content with all of that.
I was in September.
It is a very weird sensation, to be totally fine before someone comes into your life. But then they enter your everyday and six months down the road when that relationship is taut and strained and not what you want it to be, you realize that what used to be contentment is no longer enough. That person became so important that you didn’t realize it but you were relying on them, you needed them. Now your life without them wouldn’t be nearly as happy, even if everything else stayed the same. Now that you know they’re out there, you wonder if there will ever be anyone like them again – or if this is it and you’re doing things wrong.
That level of vulnerability is terrifying.
And when it’s not handled well, it’s also crippling.
“Hey,” Henry stirs, lowers the screen of his laptop and fixes his eyes on the window to the backyard. “Let’s go outside,” He declares.
The door from the kitchen to the balcony is narrow and we huddle and look out at the black space of the backyard, the spires of the tree line. I hadn’t realized there were others out here but I greet two of Henry’s roommates and their girlfriends and another friend of ours. They line up a dozen bottles on the railing of the deck and Henry winds his arm back to throw.
I have never understood this very well. They get tipsy and then they throw their empty bottles and cans off the deck, past the backyard and toward the train tracks. The goal is to hit the tracks but the only person I have seen do it is Bridget, usually their throws are blocked by the branches.
“Grace!” Henry calls and I glance at him. I have been leaning back toward the door inside, where it is warm. The air out here at one in the morning is frigid against my cheeks. “Give it a shot,” He tells me and passes me an empty bottle of Mike’s. If it was my bottle at one point I don’t know.
“This is ridiculous,” I grumble.
“It’s fun,” Henry tells me. I glance at Isabella and Effie and they both nod toward the railing, encouraging my throw.
“What’s the point?” I laugh.
“Try to hit the train tracks – you hear it if you do,” Henry says.
That won’t happen, I have the upper body strength of a squirrel. I think.
But under the scrutiny of a dozen eyes, I go ahead and throw.
We lose sight of the bottle pretty quickly and someone murmurs: “nice throw,” and we are all silent as we hear it rustle in the tree branches.
“That was close,” Henry remarks. He flips a bottle in his hand and then throws, we listen to the whistle in the air and the ricocheting thud of glass on wood.
The boys whoop and cheer and we all laugh.
“Alright!” Someone calls, “Alright, Grace, try again.”
I roll my eyes and I think of the walk home. Isabella and I will lurch our way back to campus and try to stay quiet as we enter the dorm. Yesterday Isabella went to Anthony’s, so I went in alone. It was 2:30 in the morning and I was surprised to see Mia and Jackson awake. Mia lives in my hall, she is dating Jackson.
I passed them feeling cold from the walk home and fuzzy from the alcohol and I asked, “Guys, is everything okay?” Because it was 2:30 in the morning and they were standing in the hall and when I looked at Jackson he was crying.
“We’re fine,” Mia said for them.
“Do you ever care about someone?” I ask still standing on the balcony holding the bottle by its neck, “so much that you would move the world for them?” Everyone is quiet, panting, staring at me. I don’t know where I am going with this, and maybe I should shut up. “But then, they wouldn’t do the same for you?”
Henry laughs softly, “Friends with benefits with feelings,” he chuckles and it isn’t the first time he has said that. His eyes level with mine, “Grace, we can’t be what he was. We can’t make him care about you as much as you cared about him.” Henry looks out at the yard again, reaches toward the railing to grab a bottle. “What we can do – is give you a drink and some good music to listen to. Remind you there’s a whole lot of life to live after undergrad. Your heart hurts, and it’ll probably hurt for a while – but we’ve been there too and sooner or later it won’t hurt so much.” He glances at Effie when he says this and I think I would be so happy if, despite their youth, those two make it. Henry breathes out through his nose and his breath billows in the air. “And if he won’t, you’d better believe we’ll move the world for you.”
Henry and I wind up to throw at the same time.
-Grace T, March 2018
-Per this post’s title: New Romantics is a song from Taylor Swift’s fifth album 1989. It is a song that has come to mind a lot my first year of college. Whether about myself, my peers, or other relationships I’ve seen. It’s especially poignant to me this year because New Romantics describes a sort of reckless approach to romance, sex, and relationships that I believe we pursue, but are not entirely content with – even if we pretend to be.