I am still working while on vacation…on my own personal project. Scarves, hats, and gloves need not apply.
I like to imagine that you know every aspect of my life without my telling you.
Maybe you can occasionally climb into my body, seeing through my eyes. Some days are dull, filled with work. You witness only computer monitors filled with nonsense and notes scribbled on Post-its. After I am summoned to repair the communal printer for the 14th time, you sigh and leave.
Other days, you watch my friends and I laugh over some silliness. “And then he said, ‘It’s weird how we’re just sitting here side-by-side. Why don’t we lay down together?’ What a seduction technique!”
You see me drunkenly sign credit card slips and then bicycle home very slowly.
You have read the letters I write you before I even mail them.
You know that I sing constantly when I am alone.
I put too many books on hold at the library.
I eat a lot of popcorn.
I avoid all eye contact at the coffee shop.
I constantly feel a tinge of disappointment when I catch my reflection in the mirror. Other days, I am pleasantly surprised by what I see. “You are one of those people who gets better looking with age,” I say to myself.
You know all of this.
So you must know that it is Friday. And of course, as a young-ish single person, I am required to go out tonight. Most likely Eva and I will drink too much and then talk to marginally attractive boys. I will probably wear too much makeup. I will dismiss myself from the bar at the moment I feel myself wanting to talk about you.
I am going to tell you a story about another Friday, thousands of miles and minutes away:
I stop at Jewel on my way home from work to pick up rice milk and a bottle of vodka. The liquor section is filled with scruffy boys toting cases of PBR. I see the dishwasher from Earwax, but I avoid eye contact. I realize that our entire relationship is based upon shared contact with my coffee cups. I imagine I’ve given him all sorts of colds and stomach flus in the past few years. This fills me with guilt and so I give him a brief, somewhat apologetic smile. He nods his head as he grabs a huge bottle of cheap whiskey. I vow to myself that I will never again filll my empty cup with coffee-soaked napkins and cigarette butts coated with minty lip balm.
I wander around the produce section, watching seemingly happy couples select limes and tomatoes. I envision their evenings filled with lovingly prepared dinners and tender movie dates. They plan future international vacations and house purchases.
I consider giving my boyfriend a gift that screams “summer fun!” I survey a mountain of watermelons. Too unwieldy. I can see a nice seedless specimen rolling out of my basket and out in to the middle of the intersection at North and Ashland. The first car to hit it–and hopefully it will be a particularly fancy model–is splattered with pink guts and sweet juice. The driver will briefly think that he or she has run over a dog or even worse, an errant toddler. The teenagers at the bus stop will laugh and give me high fives.
I spend a few moments in front of a firework display contemplating a huge package of sparklers. I worry about facial burns and singed hair, but then again, I am not too old to be amazed by the changing colors of the flame. This might be the ticket.
“Hey, Abbie,” I hear behind me.
I turn around and see Henry smiling at me. He is wearing these awful dad glasses. Gold aviators.
I drop the sparklers into my basket. “What’s going on?” I say this while (I think) surreptiously looking around for his alleged girlfriend.
“Oh, not much. I just got off work. I’m picking up some stuff to take to this party tonight,” he says as he gestures towards a shopping basket full of beer.
“Cool.” I realize that I have nothing interesting to say.
“What are you doing tonight? You should come. You could bring that rice milk for the earnest vegans.”
I smile. I should really have a witty comeback. Why the fuck am I so awkward? “Well, let me see what my boyfriend wants to do…you know, it’s date night and all.”
“Right, right.” I find myself wishing that he sounded disappointed. “Call me later if you change your mind. I have a feeling that it might turn into a dance party.”
“Yes, for sure,” I say.
He stands there for a moment, and I am pretty certain that he is surveying my outfit.
“Okay, well, bye. Maybe I’ll see you later.” I realize immediately that I am not sure if he said this or I did.
I ride up Paulina, debating the prospect of taking my boyfriend to this party. I feel a rush of guilt when I realize that I don’t want Henry to know how we spend our free time. I imagine my boyfriend, in an attempt to be social and nice, offering Henry a little nip of this or that. And then he realizes that wholesome Abbie and her glossy-haired boyfriend are a pair of junkies.
“Fuck him!’” I yell this at no one in particular. If he is really that naive, I don’t want him as a friend. I pedal faster. The world is filled with grey areas. I cross North Avenue. We go to work every day, we eat healthy food, and we are very productive. Our hygiene is top-notch and I always brush my teeth for the recommended two minutes. I coast through the stop sign at Wabansia. Alcohol is a drug, too, Henry. Stop being so judgmental. I am not going to call him later. Well, I’m pretty sure I won’t. Then again, I could tell my boyfriend that I am staying in to work on some freelance project, and then I could go out alone…
When I get home, Brazzer is on the sofa smoking and reading.
I throw the sparklers at him. “Go get coffee with me after I take a shower.”
He sits up. “How long are you going to take? Is this going to be one of those epic nights where you spend an hour and a half figuring out what to wear?”
“Ha, ha. No. Maybe. No, definitely no. I’m not feeling too fancy tonight.” This is a lie.
“Well, maybe. I have to work early tomorrow morning, so I’m thinking that I should just stay in and listen to records.”
“Brazzer! We never do anything together any more!” I smack the coffee table for emphasis.
“Remember when we first moved in together and we spent every single night riding our bikes around and having adventures?”
“Yes, but that was before the arrival of your beloved boyfriend. And school was out for the term.”
I scowl at this. “You know, you can hang out with us any time. You shouldn’t feel like we are going to be all gross and couple-y. He’s very WASP-y like that.”
He seems as if he is about to say something, but then changes his mind. “It’s not that. The two of you just have different ‘interests’ than me.”
I know he’s speaking in code. I don’t want him to think we’re a pair of druggies, losers, wasting our time.
“Listen, Abigail…let’s go see Don’t Look Back tomorrow night at the Music Box.”
“Yes,that’s good.” He agrees to look into movie times. He will call me from work tomorrow to iron out the details.
I take a shower, get dressed, and work my hair into an elaborate milkmaid look. No word from my boyfriend, so I hop on my bike and ride over to Earwax. I read and smoke and drink coffee for what seems like an eternity.
At last! A phone call. “I can’t talk long, because I am heading out the door. Come to Mike’s house. I’ll be there by the time you get there.” This is not what I want to hear. I was hoping we would actually go out tonight. One of my co-workers is dj-ing in a cool bar hidden inside an old house.
I finish the chapter I’m reading and I head over to Mike’s place. He lives just off of Chicago Avenue, in a surprisingly large apartment. Until recently he was working for a software company, doing something creative. One afternoon, while settling into his desk with a burrito from down the street, he heard a woman sobbing. All at once the office was filled with a hysterical murmuring. An email opened on his desktop, telling him that the company was closing. Everyone was expected to pack up all of their belongings and leave by 3 pm. Since then, he’s been collecting unemployment and popping pills. He and my boyfriend have been spending a lot of time together.
The door to his building is hanging open. I carry my bike up the stairs to the second floor and I lock it to the banister. I knock on the apartment door. No answer. More knocking. Nothing. I can hear sitar music playing. I start pounding.
A very dazed-looking Mike answers the door. “Jesus, Abbie. Some of us are trying to relax.’” He shuffles into the bathroom.
I want to like him, but he makes it difficult. Last week, just as we were falling asleep, my boyfriend sat up and declared, “Mike is going to be my best friend.” I feigned sleepy enthusiasm as I pulled him back under the blankets. I just can’t imagine that Mike is a positive influence. And even though it might seem like some sort of paranoid feminist delusion, I just get the sense that he hates women. He’s always dragging my boyfriend away from me at bars, off to corner for mysterious heated discussions. More than once, I have seen him look my way with a hint of rage in his eyes.
The living room is musty. The coffee table is littered with straws, video game controllers, and filthy magazines. A pile of crumpled cigarette packs fills a corner. My better half is slumped on the sofa. “Baby, you’re here,” he drawls. His eyes are little slits. Great. We are definitely not going to Henry’s party.
I kiss him on the cheek. “Girl, you reek of cigarettes and coffee,” he says with a grimace.
“Yeah, well…” I trail off.
Mike gives me a dirty look as he sits on the couch. “Did you bring any beer or anything?”
Before I can answer, my boyfriend sits up, “I have something for you! From Victor!”
He hands me a little plastic bag. “He was so impressed by those flyers that you did for him, that he wanted to give you a little bonus!”
Victor is his Israeli drug dealer. The first few times we went by his house in Logan Square, I was told to wait in the car. Ostensibly, this was to protect me. And I have to admit, I was flattered by it.
One night, I waited for an hour. We were supposed to meet Brazzer at the Empty Bottle and I was getting antsy. Thirty minutes later, my impatience graduated into anger. I stomped around the corner to Victor’s front door. I rang the bell defiantly. When a short (and appropriately thuggish) man in a hoodie answered the door, my courage disappeared.
“I’m Abbie. My boyfriend is in there.” The guy snorted and lead me into the living room.
A tall, skinny guy in a white undershirt was sitting on the couch. “So you are Abbie? I am Victor. That’s Bobby,” he pointed at the little guy. “Your boyfriend is , ha, indisposed right now. Why don’t you sit down and have a drink with us?”
Bobby brought each of us a beer.
“Um, where is he?” At this point, I was fearing the worst. Did he owe Victor money? Was he somewhere in the basement, bloody and unconscious?
Victor laughed. “He’s fine. He just had a little bit too much fun. He is cozy in the spare bedroom.”
And with that, I spent the night at a drug dealer’s house. Victor shared stories about his mandatory service in the Israeli army. Bobby made us a pizza. Eventually Victor admitted that what he really wanted to with his life was deejay. He played me some mixtapes that he made. And somewhere along the way, I was drunk enough to offer to make flyers for him.
It was more of a pain that I would have ever imagined. He wanted something that conveyed his love of animals (particularly jungle creatures), while convincing the world-at-large that he was (in his own words) “a very psychedelic guy.” He requested neon colors and expensive paper. Various sketches were rejected. “More edgy,” he demanded. “More trippy!” Actual paying freelance work was pushed aside in my seemingly futile effort to make him happy. At one point, he referred to me as “a crazy, Irish bitch.” I was so fed up with him in the end, I gave my boyfriend the final product to pass on to him. When he returned with $500 in cash, I was pretty shocked. I assumed that I performed the service for free, in an effort to strengthen his business relationship with my boyfriend. With that, I refuted my previous unspoken vow to anonymously report him to the DEA.
And now I was getting a bonus. My boyfriend was eyeing it greedily. “Of course, you should probably share that with me, since you know, I hooked you up with him in the first place.”
I roll my eyes and sit down on the ottoman. I guess we’re not going anywhere tonight.
“When in Rome, “ I mutter. I grab a straw from the coffee table and snort a little right out of the bag. I sit back as I feel the familiar wave of “ahhh” beginning to wash over me. But just as I can feel it rolling over my face and down to my toes, I am hit by something else. Or maybe I hit something. A huge jolt of lightning zaps my brain and I feel my teeth crack against one another. My fingernails dig into the palms of my hands.
I try to stand up. “Something is wrong with this.” I say. Or maybe I think it, because nobody seems to react. I will my feet to move me towards the kitchen, where I vomit foamy liquid into the sink. I wipe my face on a crusty oven mitt.
Someone is calling from the living room. “Baby, you just drank too much coffee. You know you shouldn’t do that.”
I swear fucking Mike is laughing.
I stumble to the door. “I have to go home,” I whisper.
No one says goodbye.
I manage to unlock my bike, but I drop it down the stairs.
“I’ll assess this later,” I say to no one. My voice is coming from somewhere else.
I walk. At the traffic light in front of Rainbo, I realize that I am shaking. I find a Xanax in my pocket. I toss it to the back of my throat. “Please don’t throw up,” I beg myself. An elderly couple walks by, staring at me with alarm.
“I am not a criminal,” I whisper.
Walk, walk, walk. Putting one foot in front of the other requires all concentration.
Right. I chant this to myself. I realize that I can’t see anything else around me. I am enveloped in a citrine fog.
Eventually I am home. Somehow the bike makes it into the hallway and I am in the kitchen. The dishwasher is running. I sit down with my back against it. “This is just what I needed,” I murmur.
And that is that. Everything goes blue and then purple, and then black. I wrap my arms around my knees, conscious of how beautiful the dishwasher sounds.
Mrs. Billet, my second grade teacher, arrives. She is staring at me with obvious disapproval.
“I told my parents that I didn’t have homework so I could play Barbies with Danielle.”
She does not respond.
“I know that you don’t like me, that’s why you sat me in the back of the room with Paul Cook. He smells like pee!”
She hands me a piece of paper before leaving.
I try to read it but my eyes won’t focus. Concentrate!
“No one will win unless one of you leaves.” It is written in perfect teacher cursive.
Huh? I crumple it up and throw it across the room. I am trying to rest!
When I open my eyes again, I am wrapped in one of Brazzer’s old man plaid blankets. A pillow rests under my head. Vivian is surveying me from the kitchen table.
I stand up, squinting. The kitchen is blindingly white. I pour myself a glass of water. My mouth tastes like metal.
I really cannot figure out what happened last night. I can remember everything, but nothing makes sense. I rummage through my purse, looking for my phone. I see the little plastic bag on the bottom.
“That stuff is poison, “ I say to Vivian. She responds by licking her paw in disgust.
I look at my phone. It’s 11:53. No missed calls. He didn’t even worry about me? Didn’t he wonder where I went? Fuck.
I take a nearly scalding shower. “No one will win unless one of you leaves.” I think about this as I wash my face.
“It was just a dream, “ I say to my reflection. “You had a bad night. A bad combination of chemicals!”
Everyone makes mistakes.