Where I come from, the noise the Chico State girls made just getting ready for the party would have made someone call the cops. I was sitting on the lap of a toffee-colored teddy bear that was larger than me. My host, who shall remain Nameless, brought me here for one of her BFF’s birthday parties. Since most of the invitees had just returned from their summer vacation trips, the excitement was high.
Nameless wobbled into the room on a pair of nude stilettos. The heels were so narrow, I couldn’t understand how they supported her weight without sinking into the wooden floor, nailing her in place. She had to yell over the noise of two showers, three hairdryers, and four loud girls playing Mario Karts.
“Who’s taking shots with me?” Nameless wanted to know. They weren’t leaving for the party for at least hour, and the hot air was so thick with hairspray I was beginning to see mirages.
All the girls screamed back that shots were a great idea. I spied one of Nameless’ neighbors try to coax her cat into taking a swig from his beer bottle.
When it was decided that everyone was properly drunk, we set out. The summer night was warm and humid, and we spent most of the walk flicking mosquitoes and flies away. We barely rounded the corner when someone noticed two police cars parked in front of the house we were heading to. The girls unceremoniously abandoned beer cans onto whichever lawn was closest.
Unlike my Alma Mater, Chico State’s campus has sorority and frat houses. They are quaint, two-story dwellings that might house respectable middle-aged couples in a 50s sitcom. Each had wooden cutout Greek letters posted alongside the highest window. On the porch of this particular sorority house, a very angry girl screamed into her iPhone while she waved her free hand in the air like she wanted some teacher to call on her. When we neared the police officers, Nameless suddenly began talking very loudly, pointing at the row of houses like she was giving a tour.
“This is the house I lived in freshman year,” she told everyone without looking back at us. The girl on the porch continued to cry-yell into her phone.
One of Nameless’ roommates, Laura, apparently decided some kind of shoe-throwing contest might be fun but hadn’t fully understood the consequences until she couldn’t find her shoes in the underbrush.
Though I am well over the legal drinking age, I slunk past the officers on the sidewalk, wondering if I would look more guilty ignoring them or giving them an overenthusiastic greeting. We later found out that a group of guys who weren’t invited to the party tried to gain entry. When they were rebuffed, they called the police and made up a story about a fight on the front lawn. When the police arrived, they dished out several MIPs, including one to iPhone girl.
Despite the night’s ominous beginning, Nameless was unfazed. She simply led us past the house and down the street to another party she knew about. I had already shared a bottle of coconut rum with a few people at this point, so my memories past this point are hazy.
Chico students poured out onto the stoop of the drooping house. They began taking off their shoes and throwing them in every direction. One of Nameless’ roommates, Laura, apparently decided some kind of shoe-throwing contest might be fun but hadn’t fully understood the consequences until she couldn’t find her shoes in the underbrush. Laura and I pulled out our cellphones and used their light to search the shrubbery, but she grew restless. She told me she loved me, and spent the rest of the night barefoot. Nick found a lone Converse on the dirt path in front of the house. He’d always wanted to throw a pair of shoes onto a power line, so he slipped into the house, found an unguarded Nike and struck another item off his bucket list.
Though I’d met these people only a few hours ago, about nine of them paused to tell me they really cared about me and that I should take care of Nick because they really cared about him too. A particularly drunk girl was trying to start a fight with a guy because he had four piercings in his ears. She had only two piercings. Since he had twice as many, she was fairly certain he was twice as girly and probably had breasts twice as big as hers. An hour later, she managed to find a squeezy-bear full of honey and smeared it on some guy’s face, just because she could.
An old, threadbare couch lay abandoned in the no-man’s-land between this house and its neighbor. Someone decided it would be witty to drag it out to the middle of the street. Another person decided it would be even droller to light it on fire. The whole sofa burst into flames and people danced around it like they were making sacrifices to the Patrón Silver gods. The bonfire lit up the street; I could feel the warmth from the sidewalk.
Within minutes, a choir of sirens started up, and the more sober among us made a run for it. When we made it to safety, Nameless assured me that this level of shenanigans didn’t typically happen. They usually waited until the cooler months of autumn before they lit furniture on fire. The party then got moved to Nameless’ house, but most people ended up passing out on her couch or in the lawn chairs out front. I showed a cell phone photo of the flaming couch to a fellow party guest. He was unimpressed because I didn’t get a shot when he was leaping over it.
The next morning, a group of us set out for Nameless’ favorite hangover place, a homey restaurant called Mom’s, where the walls are plastered with pictures of the Chico students’ mothers. More mom-shots were layered under the glass tabletops.
Nameless moved her glass of orange juice to one side and ran a finger over the glass. “I really want to put a picture of me and Mom here,” she said. “It would be so sweet.” At first, all the photos struck me as gimmicky. But then I thought about how glad these Moms would probably be that their children had lived to visit this morning hangover haunt.
The itinerary for today was to go tubing on the Sacramento River. By noon, tubers were already lounging in blown-up rafts and taking shots of Vodka on Nameless’ front lawn. Tubing, I learn, requires two cars. One will deliver us to the launching point and the other will be parked where we will climb out of the water. While waiting for those who had to park downriver, everyone passed the time by reminding each other how they were really, really drunk last night. They swapped war stories and reminisced about the flaming sofa. A few had been arrested. Other had been awarded MIPs.
When everyone finally arrived, those without footwear sprinted across hot pavement to the water. Someone passed out cans of Rolling Rock, a few fifths of Stoli, and a single two-liter bottle of orange soda to be used as a chaser. We sat back and let the current take us.
At one point on our voyage, a log jutted out in the middle of the river. Nameless suggested we paddle around it. When no one moved, she told us that a few weeks ago someone got caught on the log and drowned. I laughed and thought about how drunk someone would have to be to die like that. Then I remembered who I was sailing with. I flopped onto my stomach and paddled vigorously.
Farther down we passed a cop boat that was patrolling the river’s edge. Everyone was pretty sure they never checked IDs, which was fortunate, since all our wallets were locked in the car. In the interest of science, one of us took an informal poll to see how many of us were actually over 21. Three of us made the cut.
At that moment it dawned on me that Nick and I were the oldest people present.
Molly lay back on her raft, basking in the sun, the company, and the vodka buzz. She propped herself up no her elbows to address the group. “Everyone!” she called out to us. “Mind-capture this fucking moment!”
It was an epiphany.
Yesterday I was a hard-working college grad, forging her way in the grownup world; I paid rent and filed taxes and changed my smoke alarm batteries. Today I was floating down a river in a borrowed bikini; I was drinking beer with a bunch of underage kids on a weekday afternoon. I was only a couple years out of college myself, but I felt as out of place as Margaret Thatcher on MTV.
Nick was our designated driver on our return to civilization. As he drove, he played 90s hits from his iPhone. Sister Hazel came up on the playlist. Tapping my fingers on the dashboard, I thought about how I’d seen them in concert when I was a kid. It was the first concert I’d ever been to, and my family sat on blankets up on the steep Irvine Meadows lawn, the cheapest seats available.
Before the song was done, Breanne leaned forward and grabbed the iPhone. “I like this kind of old stuff,” she explained. “But not all the time.”
She searched on Pandora until she found a dubstep station and filled the car with that damn racket these youngsters call music.
 Their shoes may still have still been lost in the shrubbery or dangling from a power line. I can’t say for sure.
HEATHER BUCHANAN recommends asprin and lots of water.