Homecoming: A Year Ago, Today


Kayla Hartman

It’s that time of the year again.
It’s cold already, but you know your jacket will end up lost by the end of the night. It stays behind. Young voices bounce from the bus lot to the windows of the school. They stand in lines, girls in one, boys in another. A few kids appealing from other schools turn away, dejected.
Handfuls of sparkly dresses, velvet heels, tucked in, button downs, and shiny dress shoes finally start marching past the threshold. It’s dim and warm inside, but not warm enough. People stall to take pictures by decorations as you approach the cafeteria doors. 
It’s still far too early to be warm enough– the DJ just got set up and only small gaggles of shimmering clothes have gathered. Colorful lights are propped up, forming ropes in the dark. Smoke machines purr and take you into a rainforest. Gradually, bodies fill the padded gym floor. 
The smoke gets thicker, and so does the crowd. The space is a collage of smiling faces, swishing ponytails, hoop earrings, collared shirts, and a hopeful yet heavy energy.
You float from one person to the next. The camera flash goes off and on. 
The music and voices get louder, and you know your ears will be ringing when you leave. Keeping to the side tables, you watch people congregate in the middle. With every synchronous jump they gain more and more height– until they dissipate into a wave of stumbling feet and fearful yet laughing faces.
You make your approach. The center of the room is organically toxic, and you can feel the humidity on your face; don’t breathe too deep. When you eagerly join the wave of jumps to the beat, your ankle gets scuffed; it’s time for a break. 
It’s hard to talk, so you initiate a short-lived game of tag with a friend or two. That won’t last, of course. Tiny panicked lines mark the walls you have to stare at. You’re stranded to the side tables again, the smoke machines working overtime. Was this a mistake? 
Then the DJ asks for some flashlights. Wave them for me, he pleads. People lean and sway into each other, singing, obeying. You float closer to the center as the noise crescendos, let the camera flash pop, and sadly the credits start rolling. 
Your ride is here. Wisps of the rainforest steam curl away as you push through the doors again. The air is clean and dry and your head feels empty. Your steps have never seemed so shaky, yet so full of drive.
It’s quiet outside except for the ringing in your ears. Your eyes feel starved of the colors and faces that are left inside. The chill hits suddenly, and it’s neither unwelcome nor embraced. The school gets smaller by the second. 
You’re almost home.