An Afterparty? No, Thank You.
AKA En efterfest? Nej tack.
I could go anywhere in the next sentence. Put down the pen, open the door, and enjoy the lower temperatures that the clouds brought in. But no, I must, as Eleanor Roosevelt has been quoted as saying, Do the thing you think you cannot do.
I’ve been terrified to sit down and write. What has me in this halter of denial, hampering my own survival skill? Why have I gated myself from the best view of what my spirit sees? Has the righteous demon won out, as she assures me that it’s all been said before and that my words are Nobody Special and that my age and failures add up to two syllables: who cares. Has my sidekick, courage, taken a holiday, my mighty proclamations mere PSAs?
A twilight moon shone somewhere but went unpraised as the blaring rhythms of “Tootsee Roll” had my seat mates leaning right then left, hands in the air and voices bellowing. “To the front, to the front, to the back, to the back…” The throbbing beat rattled the windows as the van barreled down the two-lane a full hour from a clean bed and a chance at the promise of morning. “Slide, baby, slide, just slide, baby slide!” Apparently unfazed, I braced myself, palms under hips, until the front-seat three, driver included, became children on a roller coaster who had lost all sense of gravity. Only then did the landscape of lakes and pines and church steeples blur as thoughts of overturned vehicles, mangled bodies, and tragic news reports filled my interior screen. A volleyball team, a tour band, a church youth group, bird-watchers, beginning skiers — how many tragic ends had made headlines after one miscalculation, slippery patch, one tumble beyond the median?
“Eyes on the road, please!” I muttered as the van load gyrated to the ’90s hip hop beat and party anthem. My inner dance goddess harrumphed into a corner and tugged off her tiara.
This wasn’t what I had signed up for. Or had I? How does a sixty-something, born on the tail of the baby boomer dragon, even begin to imagine what might be possible in a group dynamic that had its beginnings somewhere between The Hot Zone and Oh, The Places You’ll Go. The mouthy party crowd, median age 37, not only didn’t see me for who I was, but barely saw me at all. Strapped into the seat nearest the sliding door, I imagined popping the latch, flinging it open, lunging onto the conveyor-belting thin white line like a renegade in a thriller, shouting full bellow for the entire lot of them to . . .well, use your imagination.
It’s an off-kilter moment when it happens, that realization that who-you-are is no longer compelling, relevant even. Did I represent the march of time, a step nearer the grave? We had all come to find our ancestors, to learn our histories, to see the land that had sustained at least a few generations of the lines that had resulted in our full-blown animation of selves. Yet was it the dead we were after? What more could they tell us than what the sum of them in us was diametrically proposing? When it came down to it, the stories of the generations were just an excuse to crank up the volume on “Another One Bites the Dust.”
I lasted longer than most of them believed I would.* Truth be told, I was prepared to leave sooner. The stacks against me kept growing higher. I felt dizzy on occasion and forced myself to grab hold and stand steady. I ate take-out meals in my hotel room on days off and woke early for long walks and morning swims and ferry rides. Wrote postcards to family and letters to myself. Abstained from alcohol. Arrived early for filming day departures. Peeled my ears for anything that would help me stay toe-to-toe with my younger peers, adventurers with me in a kitschy caravan of chance and illusion.
*The circumstance to which I refer is my time as a cast member for the 10th season of Allt for Sverige, an amazing genealogy- and travel-based television show in Sweden. The show required eliminations and out of the ten cast members, I was fourth to go home in a double elimination round that took me and the oldest male out of the competition.