You Can Always Find Me Here
by Maria Devlin
When I arrived as a freshman at UNC, I suffered from a curious, insistent, certainly irrational but still unshakeable idea that there were requirements for Friday nights. Friday nights were to be spent doing something “cool” and getting dressed up to do it. I thought, subconsciously, that whatever I did, wherever I was and whoever I was with, the entire community of my peers would know about it immediately. They would evaluate the relative coolness of it, and if I failed to pass the coolness test, something — I had absolutely no idea what this could possibly be, except that it would be dreadful — would be done to correct me.
When you’ve got this idea, you figure out where the bar of coolness is set, do a chin-up to it and hang there, indefinitely. The bar is set at restaurants, at pizza, at movies at the Union, and at any gathering of more than 12 people, especially if you don’t know most of them and aren’t friends with any of them. The important thing is that they are all on that jury, and on Monday mornings when the jury of your 16,000 peers convenes, these people will attest that yes, you were there on Friday night, and the jury will pass you into the next week with conditional approval.
And if you don’t really like chick flicks or parties where it’s too loud to talk and there’s no one to talk to, well, it’s a small price to pay for conditional approval.
Then in January, on my way to see Broadway Melodies, I ran into Martin in the dining hall. I knew him slightly from chemistry. He asked why I was all dressed up and I told him about the play. When Martin turned up at the play, too, I was surprised but glad to have this unspoken approval. Then the play ended at the still-early hour of 10, and my friends I were left standing in the Union, asking what we should do. I felt that, as the one who had pulled this little group together, I should also be the one to lead it forward, except that I had no idea where to lead it to. I knew of no parties.
Then Martin said, “I know where we can go. If you guys want.” We followed him, up the stairs, through the deserted lounge, across the breezeway, down empty halls and empty corridors where I had never been, until I was almost lost in the back labyrinth of the Union. Then Martin opened a door, and I was stunned to realize that this long and lonely maze was inhabited after all.
In a small living room, a whole group had congregated, a noisy, living crowd of people. They were spread out in different corners, little groups at their own tasks — playing a sprawling game of Risk or bending over Magic cards or watching anime on laptops. They wore mostly black; they had puns or Lord of the Rings or the names of metal bands on their T-shirts; they were cheerful and loud and more animated than their anime.
“Hey guys,” Martin said, “is it OK if I bring my friends?”
There was a general cry of yes, and welcome. A girl who appeared to be some sort of figurehead came over to us. She had a long black skirt and hair to her waist, and she told us her name was George.
“What would you like to play?” she asked. We stammered unfamiliarity with their games. George picked out a card game for us called Bang! “This one shouldn’t be too hard,” she said. “Andrew and Elsie will teach you.”
Andrew was a tall blond man like a cross between Aragorn and Legolas, perhaps a little lankier. Bang! was an odd card game based on the Wild West, written in Italian. Andrew and Elsie explained the Italian directions, reminded us how many hits you took if you were El Gringo or Calamity Jane, pronounced the first round a practice round, and the second, too. Someone shouted that they were going to pick up pizza and did anyone want some. “They always do that,” Andrew said. “Usually around 1 or 2 o’clock, to keep them going.”
“How long do they keep going?”
“Oh, 5:30 or so. If you play that beer card, you can get another bullet.”
While the pizza people were gone, a girl went ’round the room with a bag of something, offering it to everyone. When she came to me and the other newcomers, she offered it to us as well. It was a bag of Ghirardelli peppermint bark squares — the expensive ones my mom buys as treats at Christmas. I always thought of them as something rare and valuable — and here was this girl, offering her bag to strangers as if trying to empty it into our hands. I took a square. It tasted wonderful.
The pizza people returned, we successfully finished a game of Bang! and found it was around 3 o’clock. I was astounded. I’d expected time to drag painfully until midnight when the coolness level was reached and I could go home. I hadn’t expected to enjoy the card game. We said we had to go, and everyone in the room turned to wave and shout enthusiastic goodbyes.
“This was lovely,” I told Martin. “I can’t believe that group was just up there, having that little party.”
“They’re there every Friday night,” he said. And I was astounded again, that this little group — this little world — could exist and had been existing all this time, so noisy and so unknown to me. Hidden down deserted halls in that back corner of the Union, there were people I might never have known about — people no one on Franklin Street knew about, but people probably enjoying themselves, and each other, more than the well-dressed wanderers outside.
I’m a junior now. My workload is heavier. I just had a paper due on Milton. Last Friday night, I filled my backpack with books and headed to the Union, to the annex with the private study lounges. I didn’t call my friends to ask where they were. I listened for music — a string quartet by Mendelssohn. I followed the sound to a lounge filled with books and my friends leaning over them.
They had papers due, too, but mostly they just enjoy reading. They also like classical music and making puns. We read together — we went downstairs for bagels when we got hungry — we stayed past 1 o’clock, when the Union closed, and for hours we didn’t see anyone except the security guard, who probably wanted to see where the music was coming from. I think he was the only person who saw us. But I don’t care who saw us because I never enjoyed writing a paper so much as I did last Friday night.
Maria Devlin is a rising senior from Bronxville, N.Y. A Thomas Wolfe Scholar in creative writing, she is majoring in English and mathematics.