There are moments when everything comes together, and there are moments when everything, it seems, falls apart. And the two develop with such similarity that sometimes you can’t tell which one it is until it has passed. You have a vague feeling that this is important, that what happens next will make a difference, and an image comes to mind of a pot boiling over. There was no way to keep a slow explosion like this from happening, only, maybe, to determine whether this will be a moment when everything comes together or when everything falls apart. But it’s usually too late to make that difference. You just watch it happen. Times like these give new meaning to the word momentous.
The world is a stage, and all men are players on it. In other words, life is very shallow. That shallowness is often captured in the moments that turn worse, the moments when everything falls apart. We had ourselves a play within the play, and it was fun, maybe because we could hide our shallowness by making fun of it, the way junior high kids in the locker room act about modesty. It was a theme party that we had in our room, and the theme was “Thank God I’m not...” Everyone came dressed up as something he was glad not to be. By consensus, the best costume was the girl’s who came dressed up as pregnant. It was a pretty simple costume, just a blanket stuffed under her shirt. We had fun, we played cards, we drank Peroni and Prinz beer from Leon. We listened to music, and sang some, but nobody danced.
Hamlet was there, dressed as Claudius. We all thought that was pretty clever. Claudius was the one who killed his dad. Ha ha. He played cards some of the time, but he didn’t talk much, just sat there with a beer. But he was cool. We were like him. But later on, as we were playing quarters (my team won – I’m pretty good at quarters), I noticed that Hamlet was killing Claudius. I hadn’t even noticed when Claudius came in, dressed up as the older Hamlet. That was pretty clever, too. It looked like a re-enactment of the first murder. And Hamlet was stronger, too; he had Claudius down, pinned with a green chair we had borrowed from another room. He was strangling his step-father. I was shocked, but I couldn’t look away.
And then, he reached up to the shelf above his head and grabbed Jake’s butterfly knife from Athens. I tried to breathe in, but I couldn’t. My stomach felt like I was on a roller coaster, but I couldn’t speak. No one else noticed; they were playing quarters, Then Hamlet stabbed Claudius in the side of the head, right through the ear. Claudius screamed. I have never heard a noise like that, low and long and cracking. And Hamlet cut his throat – I was surprised that the knife didn’t go very deep. But there was so much blood. It leaked out of his old, wrinkled neck, and got all over the floor. At least we had a towel that we used for spilled beer from the drinking games. Hamlet was playing the part he was dressed for, killing Claudius like Claudius had killed his father.
By this time of night (the murder had somehow taken about two hours), the quarters were done (did I mention that I’m good at quarters?). Look at the costumes around me. Fill your eyes. Thank God I’m not pregnant. Thank God I’m not suicidal. Thank God I’m not retarded. Each person is a horrible image, a reminder of sin. Our sin. The whole point is that we’re glad not to be any of these things. It would be a bad thing if we looked like this. So let’s look like this.
She still has a blanket under her shirt. But is the slight imperfection in her makeup intentional? She has just a little too much lipstick on the top left part of her mouth. And her ponytail is not well held together; there are wisps of hair falling around her face. And it strikes me, hard, that she looks tired. There are huge bags under her eyes, and her back slumps, but she is always trying to smile, or at least showing her teeth, trying to please and to look very pleased. She looks like an unwed mother. And she’s wearing a tube top. A smallish tube top. This girl, who has made herself pregnant, either by her lust or by her dressing up, still thinks it’s important to look sexy. Sexy?
“I have a major crush on that guy,” this girl tells me, in honest confidence. You have too much makeup on, you’re wearing a slutty little shirt, and you’re pregnant. I guess that fits. Are these costumes. The suicidal guy is trying to play chess drunk. And it really is an exercise in self-destruction. He loses twice, then quits.
Hamlet killed Claudius. I guess I’ll have to clean that up tomorrow. And I am dressed up as “Thank God I’m not retarded.” But I am. I have too much to drink. Again.
The pregnant girl tries to kiss “that guy” while they’re “wrestling.” It doesn’t happen. She picks a fight with her roommate. I didn’t see it happen, but her roommate, dressed up as “Thank God I don’t give a shit,” is screaming and crying pretty soon. “Thank God I’m not turns into “No, I actually am” one more time.
I meet the pregnant girl on her way out of my room. She is on the verge of tears, and I comfort her. She gives me a hug, which is rather awkward because of her distended belly, and says, “Thank you, Joe.” And I am not revolted by everything about this situation for the same reason I don’t really mind that “Don’t give a shit” is breaking open house hours in my room. Because I’m retarded.
The girl in my room will be led away soon, and offered a place to sleep in another guy’s room. He thanks God he’s not still in high school. I don’t know. Find the poetry in that.
The night is over, and more than over. Over the course of the party, the only people who danced were two girls on their way in from Rome. They were dressed up as themselves, but they weren’t themselves. They were horribly drunk.
I don’t even know where the girl dressed up as the “baby’s father” went. She took off when all the drama started, and no one’s seen her since.
When I wake up the next morning, Claudius’s body is gone. There is no blood, just a lot of empty bottles, and quarters glued to the table with dried up excess. The two girls remember that they had a fight the night before, but they honestly cannot remember what it was about. I am not retarded any more. Or maybe I am... I don’t know.
Hamlet had one of those turning point moments when he decided to kill Claudius. And his, like ours, was one where everything falls apart. He had a play within the play, like us, and became his enemy... when to create the moments when everything comes together, all you have to do is tell the truth. Because being pregnant, being retarded, are occasions for grace, calls to special sainthood. But not like that.
So the world is a stage, and all men players on it. In other words, drama is very deep. And in the same way that the shallowness of life can be captured in the moments when everything falls apart, the depth of drama can be captured in a moment when everything comes together. Like this moment.
Just like the party, the play, was a moment when everything fell apart, remembering the party was when everything came together, like an examination of conscience. Before the party, it seemed like everything was set up right, like things made sense, but it was the opposite. And before remembering the party, it seemed like all there was to realize was failure. But in one long, slow explosion, all the failure boiled over, to reveal what really was. And that must be encouraging.