“I think if 10 people show up, I’ll be happy.”
He invited closer to 30.
“Ten would be nice, but even if one person shows up, I’m going to be really happy about it.”
He’s the guy throwing the party.
“I sent out those dumb emails with the cartoons that say ‘Please Come to This’ and I put a little message about my situation and how much I’d like to see everybody.”
It’s not uncommon for people to move home, especially when that home is Rhode Island. For all the complaining people do, this seems to be a place nobody can really get away from forever. In his case, he disappeared, but it wasn’t to another state. It was behind a wall of his own making. Behind a door with five kinds of locks and no key in sight. That’s where he put himself.
“Just some bad decisions that led to more bad decisions and pushing people away and just — feeling like the best thing for me would be to, uh, be on my own. I thought — I thought my time was up. I thought it wouldn’t be much longer and I was going to help it along and I didn’t want anybody there for that, so I just — I said I was going away and I think people thought that meant to — I don’t know. But I just went home one day, locked the door, turned off all the lights, and that was it.”
He has an apartment in one of those renovated lofts at the edge of Olneyville right before the highway overpass on Hartford Avenue. On paper, he was doing well. He always has. Perception was never a problem for him; reality was.
“No addiction; nothing like that. Just a lot of — being down on myself and feeling — the weight of the world. Of all that sadness and — It got to me. I just wanted to escape. I would go to work and come home and that was it. I did that for — I’ve been doing it for two years.”
This year, with encouragement from his boss, he went looking for help. He found a good doctor, and the two of them came up with a plan to get him back into a small pocket of the world he could handle. Over time, the pocket expanded, and by taking it in small doses, he’s been able to get to here — a party. One he’s throwing for his friends. Many of them haven’t seen him since he fell off the map two years ago. Some of them haven’t even spoken to him. He doesn’t know if they’re mad or upset or where they think he’s been. A lot of them aren’t aware of what he’s been going through, but he detailed it all in that email underneath the cartoon of the rabbit with the pointy hat holding a bunch of balloons.
“I just said I was sorry and that I didn’t really have — That I didn’t have — That I don’t have answers for why I had to take a break, but that I would really love to see everybody again, and that I’m working really hard to put myself back out there. These people are all very special to me and I haven’t been there for some pretty, um, important moments in their — in their lives. That bothers me and it has been bothering me and I just hope they understand that it’s not that I didn’t want to be there. I just couldn’t be and I hope…You know, I hope they can forgive me, because it’s been tough. It’s been tough on my own. I convinced myself that I chose it. That I was making the choice to be alone, but now I see that’s not really what was going on. I would just really like a chance to explain that to them and to apologize for not being there.”
The party was scheduled to start at 7.
By 7:30, nobody was there. A few pizza boxes were sitting unopened on a long fold-out table with red paper plates and red-and-white striped napkins.
He was trying not to check his watch too much, but as he and I sat on the sofa, it seemed as though this was just going to be a party of two.
Right when I was about to ask if we should eat some of the pizza before it got cold, there was a buzz. We both looked at the panel on his wall. He walked over to it and hit the buzzer without bothering to ask who it is. I could see his entire body tense up. Somebody decided to show up.
Two minutes later there was a knock on the door. He tried to stroll over casually, but I could tell he was excited. A friend he hadn’t spoken to in over a year was standing there with a bottle of wine and what looked like a cake box. He gave him a big hug, and the two stayed that way in the doorway for a little over a minute.
As they were standing there, there was another buzz, which I took care of so he could continue speaking with his first guest. That lead to two more people showing up in the doorway, and the hugging continued. One of the two guests was a woman who had lost a parent recently, and she seemed to hug him the longest — the two of them apologizing to each other and forgiving each other simultaneously.
I was starting to wonder if he was ever going to make it out of the entrance, but he showed the three guests inside and a few minutes later there was more buzzing and more reunions and of the 30 people he invited, somehow, 37 people showed up over the course of the night.
When I asked one of the guests about his absence over the past two years, they said–
“We all knew he was going through something, and I think when we got the email, we were just so happy he was doing better and that he wanted to see us. He’s always been someone who carries a lot of guilt and gets in his own head, and so we all just wanted to be here to say that it’s okay and that he doesn’t have to feel guilty, you know? Because we all go through that. That’s just being human. I think if you care about somebody, and they have to leave you for a little bit, then when they say, ‘Hey, I’m ready to come back’ you should say ‘Come on home.’ That’s what people need to hear. That you’re there and you’ll be there when they’re ready for you. I was so glad to hear from him. You have no idea. I’m just so happy he’s okay.”
Later on in the evening, I found him in his bedroom with the door closed. The party was still going strong, but he needed a minute to himself.
“I’m not a brand new person,” he said. “This is still an ongoing thing for me. I need to respect myself enough to take little breaks when I need them, but I — hopefully I won’t need such a long break again, because I missed everybody. I’m glad they all showed up. I didn’t want to say anything to you, but…I didn’t think anybody was going to come and then you’d have nothing to write about which would have sucked.”
I tell him that even if nobody showed up, I still would have written about him.
“What about me,” he asks.
I say that I would have written about what he went through and how even if you throw a party and nobody shows up, it still says something about you that you were willing to do it in the first place. It’s not easy being the person who throws the party.
“That’s right,” he says. “I used to go to a lot of parties, but I never threw one until tonight. It’s pretty f—in’ scary, man.”
“I’m glad people showed up.”
From the other side of the bedroom door, we heard the buzzer go off again.
“I’d better get that,” he said, standing up to go let somebody else in.