Grant Me Chastity and Continence, But Not Yet

There is a man in the rafters.
By Rachel Gibian

There is a man in the rafters.

He is inching his way across a wooden joist, ten feet beneath a roof of corrugated metal and fifteen feet above a potential disaster. From below, he looks foreshortened and strange—large feet dangling, spindly arms clutching the beam, and, far above, a tiny head grimacing in concentration. He is focused on his task. We do not know what his task is.

“I can’t watch this.”

The crowd disperses beneath him. No one wants to watch the fall, but it doesn’t feel appropriate to look away either. He is sitting up now. A smile spreads across his face as he notices his audience. He waves.

I realize I am yelling at him to get down. There is a chorus of us now, disturbed by his stunt, frustrated but powerless, selfishly wishing we could keep dancing. We are angry hundreds and we are loud. For the first time tonight, the music has vocals; in spite of myself, I am grateful for the voices that break up the DJ’s monotony.

Yet before we know it, the man is inching back—suspiciously more lithely than he did in his advance—and, grabbing onto a cement column, he swings to the floor. He is swept back into the anonymity of the mob that is more than happy to reclaim him on firm ground. We are glad to forget the man on the rafters, and how he made us afraid.

We don’t crave a good story as much as we used to.

That’s why, two hours later, we are huddled in The Diner, knees awkwardly pressed together under a tiny banquette table. A few years ago, we would have been ashamed to leave a warehouse party in favor of fries; tonight, it strikes us as audaciously hilarious.

Our younger selves are scowling. Swapping a DJ for a diner doesn’t make for an impressive story. Everyone else is probably having a way cooler New Year. You’re embarrassing me.

We snicker into our scarves, happy to have escaped the cold and high school anxieties. We are content to watch the night happen. Outside, the wind transforms snow banks into whirling, seductive figures that crowd and beg at the windows. We don’t let them in.

“I wish I could have...a memory.”

The words escape him before he knows what he means. It’s a ridiculous thing for him to say, but because it is so late—almost early, really—we let it slide. As I try to decipher his words, for no particular reason, I decide that I would like to hold on to this memory.

I want to believe that I can make this night meaningful by choice.

I’ve read more than my share of articles written on twentysomethings—the latest of which seem to be motivated by Lena Dunham. Reading so many writers who look back on the sacred and formative mistakes of early adulthood feels a bit like cheating. I don’t want to be influenced by their mistakes. That said, I still can’t help but see glimmers of their missteps in my day-to-day life.

All this makes me feel awfully grounded. Like the only remedy is in the rafters.

When I think about the perspective that I lack, I want to be the man sitting on his beam and waving; I wonder what he saw. I want to know what the twentysomethings look like, and if we would seem convincingly confused and inspired for HBO.

I don’t know if our own mistakes are very cinematic. Maybe we shouldn’t have chosen the diner over the party.

But mostly I wonder if perspective from above would show me what will be worth telling. It’s not so much the story that I am looking for, but the memory that it will become. I wish I could have this memory now—where the fact that I hated the music, and that when he fumbled across the beams I turned away, both become trivial; the sole fact that we were twentysomethings will be enough. I think a little distance will make this story much more exciting than it really was.

When I eventually tell this story, I wonder what I will say.

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