Have You Ever Been Alone in a Crowded Room?

The closest friend I have in college, a coursemate named Dessa, invited me as early as January this year to her 18th birthday celebration. It was the third invitation I got since college from someone who is having her debut. Thefirst two, I declined to attend for two reasons: first, I wasn’t close friends yet with the debutant when she invited me, and second, I am not a social person and social gatherings frighten me more than I realized.

But this invitation from Dessa is a different story. For one, Dessa and I have formed a great bond since we first met (and for the record, I forgot how we eactly met and what our first conversation was like). We became classmates numerous times, we joined the same organization and we shared a lot of amazing stories with each other. Moreover, I wasn’t just a guest in her party; I would be part of the program as one of the 18 roses (or 18 dances). So despite my wanting to say no, I reluctantly said yes to her invitation.

And God, I bet she had no clue how the idea of attending her party bothered me for months. When I accepted to be part of the 18 roses, I initially thought that we will be dancing cotillon—the traditional dance in 18th birthday celebrations. But she told me right after I said yes that instead of slow dance, we’ll be dancing some modern song with choreography (our choice). So yes, between the time she told me about her debut and the day of the party itself, I was haunted by the memories of my awkward performances in the gatherings I’ve attended in the past.

I only remember a few gatherings in my life, and few of these mattered. In the province, I often do not join my family when relatives, neighbors or ka-barangays invite us for a mini-party that is usually very barrio-ish (I don’t know how to describe it, but it involves an out-of-door venue, gambling cards, lechong baboy and beer—barangay fiesta type). I’m a home person, I don’t mingle with my neigbors, and the last time I remembered flying a kite with these people was when I was six years old. So when my grandmother forces me to attend these fiesta-type gatherings, I distance myself from the crowd. And when I finish eating, I become a party bummer and tell my grandmother to go home already.

The only parties that mattered, however, were relatively classier (just because it involves wearing a tux). Not that it mattered to me because I care about attending, but because I care about how I will try to prevent myself from looking like an idiot to a party that I didn’t want to attend in the first place. I’m talking about my JS Prom, and spoilers alert, it sucks.

Up to this day, I’m still critical to this long-time tradition of basic education, especially in my Catholic school. I hate how the teachers wanted us to dance, even if I didn’t want to, just to completely make fun of my non-existent dancing skills once they have forced me to. I hate more how they observed the students throughout the night—who’s enjoying the party and who’s feeling out of place, just to confront the latter about it and force him to mingle in the dancing field—because it made me pity myself more. Most of all, I hate how the night is for a a guy-girl pairing, because in a world where we push for rights on equality, here is a Catholic high school, same as almost everyone else, choosing to deny the existence of same-sex relationships.

I hated my two prom performances because events like this where we dance and socialize are not my thing. And because while my other classmates found this party an event for them to dance with their crushes, I didn’t find something meaningful to it. Yes, I can enjoy the night with my friends, but in a high school party that was so restricted and limited, it was something I found difficult to do. At the time of my prom parties, I neither had a girlfriend or a girl crush, and the one I wanted to dance with was hiding inside the closet, just like I used to be. I always visualize those nights with me as the lonely guy in the corner, confused and just wanting to go home. I don’t know, but maybe that memory scarred me as that awkward guy who will always feel alone in a crowded room.

Dessa’s 18th birthday celebration, I thought, was a replication of the social inadequacy I had before. But fortunately—and thankfully—that wasn’t the case. I attended her party just like any other normal and decent human being. I was in the right table, with the right set of people, and the event turned out just fine. The dance, which I overthought for months, was not really embarrassing. It turned out that the others weren’t good dancers as well, and some weren’t also prepared. In other words, it wasn’t much of a big deal. It was the first legitimate party I’ve attended in college, and I’ll always remember it as the first party in my life where I didn’t suck and I enjoyed genuinely.

I was confident that night—unafraid of awkward moments—maybe because the liquor functioned the way it supposed to, or just because my friends were great company.

I’m the kind of person who is afraid to be alone in a crowded room. I hope that does not happen again, ever.

* title borrowed from Jack Mannequin’s Dark Blue

Dessa (in the middle) with her college friends (yey, I was included!).

Dessa (in the middle) with her college friends (yey, I was included!). Thanks to Ate Fonqui for the photo.

We made a video with Dessa for her debut. Here’s the finished product. Thanks to Jag for editing the whole stuff.

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