Leaving the Party

I have three mantras. The first is to only have conversations once. The second is to never let the sound of my own wheels make me crazy. The last one, and the one most relevant right now, is that it’s better to leave a party an hour early than to leave it an hour late.

I left a party recently—my life in LA. I left my friends, my family, my mountains, my beach. I left behind my gaming group, my yoga studio, Mariscos Guillen La Playita, and a couple unconsummated crushes. I left behind the groundedness that comes from knowing where you are, who you are, and what is to be done each day.

One of my buddies once told me that his girlfriend likes to leave parties early. He doesn’t get it—how can you know when you’ve stayed too long unless you do it? I should say we had this conversation sometime in the wee hours of a summer morning as we left Opulent Temple Presents: Sacred Dance. We definitely left that party too early.

Anyway, I left LA. I wanted to stay. I bought my return tickets before I left. I fell in love so I’d have something to come back to. But I always knew, somehow and in the back of my mind, that at some point the party was going to end, and that when it did I would be happier to have left an hour early than I would be to have stayed to the bitter end. 

Yesterday, looking around my room, I found the notebook I brought to Burning Man, the notebook where I dispassionately scrawled everything I loathed about myself. One of the entries, or one series of entries, was about how little agency I let myself have. How little I choose and act and impact. I never drove much, growing up, and would never have a car. I was at the mercy of others for rides, and so a lot of time when I wanted to leave somewhere I couldn’t. A lot of the time I let not being able to leave lead me to stop wanting to choose when to leave. I would stay at parties until the bitter end, always among the last to leave. There it was, right in my notebook, the notebook where I had distilled the me that I was and the me that I wanted to not be: Henry stays at parties too long.

Anyway, back to yesterday, before I found my notebook. I needed to feel how I felt about leaving LA, living in Cambridge, abandoning a life I knew and loved for the great unknown of newness, adventure, hard work, and snow. I needed to wallow in that feeling.* I left behind a great life—a great party. It’s hard to leave a party when all your friends are there. 

Because I came home for Thanksgiving, I was able to see the party still going and decide whether I made the right choice. That’s rare. You don’t get to do that with the Sacred Dance. Once you leave, you’re gone. The music is over. But the party is still going on here. Not much has changed. Each year a little centrifugal force knocks a couple people away—this time, for the first time, me—but new people show up. They’re usually pretty cool. The party abides.

The last three months since I’ve been in LA have radically changed my life. I am living in a different world with different frames of reference. I told a friend that this past summer was another lifetime, and for me but maybe not for anyone else, that’s true. Try as I might I cannot remember what it was like to live here during this past fleeting Indian Summer of my youth, when I frolicked and flirted like a child with my childhood friends one last glorious time.

Now I feel old, like in these twelve weeks I have aged twelve years. In July, I was fourteen, and in a month I turn twenty-six. The party still rages but I don’t recognize the music. I still recognize the crowd, and I still love them, but I am in love with the them I was so unselfconsciously part of, the them that was really a we. Now I feel outside, and as I sit in the corner I fall back into the melancholy memory of those last glorious rays of sunlight as we hiked Topanga that summer evening, of stolen moments in the dead of night around a bonfire, moments that crush me from inside with a sinking weight of nostalgia, regret, and possibilities past and passed. The rhythm of life here, the rhythm that was for so long the rhythm of my soul, feels foreign. 

I don’t know how much longer I would have had to stay in LA before I would have stayed too long. I do know that I left too early.

“There are places I’ll remember all my life…”




*This is a participle, not a noun

© Henry Gruber 2013