I sit on my bed, washing down my self-hatred with a too-strong gin and tonic.
If I had gone out with Ryan last night, he would have never met that girl. Right?
Oh god, I’m such a fucking idiot. I’m not even sure why I stayed in last night.
Oh yeah. Because I regretted sleeping with Ryan the previous evening.
I can’t even remember why I felt bad about it. And now I’ve gone and messed up everything.
Okay, but what if I HAD met up with him and then he still ran into that girl and even though I was there, he STILL went home with her? That makes me feel sick.
My hands are shaking. I can tell I’m working myself up to the point where I’m going to throw up or cry or kick a hole in the wall.
I pull my stash of psychotropic drugs from its hiding place under the bed. It’s definitely going to be a Xanax evening. Ativan will never cut it. I take one tablet now and save another for later. My wallet has a tiny change compartment that is perfect for stowing emergency medication.
I drink a second gin and tonic while I shower. I’ve recently discovered that the weird little washcloth bar–never actually used for its intended purpose–is a fine beverage holder. I continue drinking as I move through the standard routine: lotions and cosmetics and hair products.
When I emerge from the bathroom in cloud of Clinique Happy, Nate is drinking coffee at the kitchen table.
I sit on the spiral staircase to talk to him. He’s going to be spending the night writing papers. He admits he hasn’t seen Ashley in days, but she left a rent check. Do I know where she is?
“I’m hoping she’s shacked up with some co-worker from Pearl Paint. I don’t need her drama on top of everything else.” I notice that my face feels hot.
Nate looks at me skeptically. “Are you loaded? Jesus, Amanda…It’s like 7:30 on a Wednesday night.”
I really thought I sounded sharp and sober. “Listen, I’m under a lot of stress. Yeah, I’ve been drinking. I’m going to a show and it’s more economical to drink at home.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Since when are you worried about being ‘economical?'”
So then I have to lay the whole store out for him. And he’s not very pleased.
“Why are you wasting your time with this guy?”
I shrug my shoulders. I can’t explain my feelings for Ryan with words. And I know all of my actions regarding him have defied all logic.
“Man, I know you aren’t going to like this…but I swear, you should have never broken up with Brad. Every guy you have gone out with just makes him look better. Jesus.”
“Please, Nate…I do not want to have this conversation.”
Yeah, Brad was a pretty excellent boyfriend, if one could get past the occasional infidelity. To make matters worse, Brad IS such a great guy that he could never just drop a girl he hooked up with…he had to befriend and invite her to every major social occasion. I spent many parties on the balcony, trying to drown my jealousy with shitty vodka.
But it wasn’t the cheating that broke us up. Or even the ensuing months of bitter fighting. It wasn’t even my decision that after years of unfaltering lustiness for him, I never wanted to sleep with him again. It was my realization that this could be it; this could be as good as it gets. We were together for 4 years, which was practically a lifetime for me: a majority of my college years, plus time in Chicago. Everyone was expecting us to get married…and I definitely did not want that. One night I dreamed of the middle-aged version of us. I was driving us somewhere in a practical, economical car. We were wearing sturdy, basic clothing. And Brad was lecturing me about my driving skills. No thanks. I broke up with him the next day. And then I moved across the city.
Nate knows this, but for somewhere along the line he decided that Brad was a god among boyfriends.
“Okay, I know you had your reasons for breaking up with Brad. And they’re probably right. But I have to say…Ryan is a waste of your time. He’s not even smart enough for you.”
I really don’t know how to respond, because I just know that he is wrong.
“And also…I just have this bad feeling about him. Like, I don’t think he’s going to do anything bad to you, but he’s definitely working against you.”
I take a swig from my glass.
Nate continues. “Look, remember when we met? And I asked you what you were doing that weekend and you were all weird and evasive. I was thinking, ‘Oh, she must be into weird sex stuff or drugs or something.’ But then you admitted that you were in the middle of reading Ulysses and you just wanted to finally get it done that weekend…to prove a point to yourself.”
I have to smile at this.
“Well, that made me think you are one of the coolest people ever, because you don’t care about what is cool. You just do what seems right to you. I don’t think that he can appreciate that. And I feel like he wants to make you into someone else.”
I finally can speak again. “Nate, you’re way off here. I mean, if anyone was trying to change me, it was Brad. Always forcing me to take my meds–which I probably don’t need anyway–and trying to talk me into going back to school and stuff. And wishing I would wear more practical clothes and show some interest in sports or something. Ryan hasn’t pushed me into anything.” I’m starting to feel hot-headed. I’m ready for an argument. A battle royale with my closest friend.
“So speaking of which…” Nate hesitates here because he knows he’s venturing into sensitive territory. “Have you been taking your medication? I mean, I’m not checking up on you and really, it’s your choice…but…well, you do seem different lately.”
“That’s none of your business. But obviously I wouldn’t be able to drink the way I have been for the past year if I were all high on Depakote.” To be honest, I stopped taking my medication a year ago, the same day I broke up with Brad. And I feel pretty great. My head is clearer than it has been in years. I can read twice as fast and I’m infinitely more creative. Yeah, I have a hard time sleeping, but that’s a minor tradeoff. Still, I’m not about to go into this with Nate. I swear, as soon as a friend gets lifted out of some seasonal depression by a few months of a low dose antidepressant, they start preaching the gospel of pharmacopeia to me. None of them understands the chemically induced intellectual paralysis of bipolar medications.
I realize that it’s time for me to go. I can’t stand this conversation any more. I polish off my drink, give Nate a conciliatory peck on the cheek, and run out the door. By the time I lock up my bike outside the Empty Bottle, I feel floaty. No, more like sleepy. At least I’m not weepy and agitated, I guess.
Ryan is nowhere to be found. I order a whiskey sour. While I’m rummaging through my wallet for a five, someone tugs on my hair. I turn around to see Andy.
He gives me a hug. He says he’s with a bunch of his friends and I should hang out with them.
I realize that I am way to buzzed to hold a conversation, but this works out well, because Andy just talks and talks. I nod my head occasionally to indicate that I am paying attention. Otherwise, he goes on and on. Most of his friends are silent, too.
Eons later, Ryan strolls in…alone. “Oh, you came here with Andy?” He seems jealous.
I try to sound fun and well, awake, by laughing and shaking my head. “No, no, no…he was just here.” And then I add–somewhat nervously–“Where’s Brigitte?”
“Oh, yeah…well, she had plans but she’s going to call me later.” He seems embarrassed.
I’m already plotting away to somehow prevent him from hanging out with her. Like, maybe I can trick him into coming to my house? Um. I realize that I don’t have enough wits about me tonight to concoct any kind of scheme.
Ryan’s mostly silent and impatient seeming. He doesn’t really talk to anyone. Instead, he walks outside every 15 minutes to call his answering machine. Every time he leaves, I feel a little bit more rejected. Oh god, I should just go home.
Finally the band starts playing and I begin to feel a lot more lucid. I shift into super-fun socialite mode. I buy Ryan a drink. I try to entertain him with new “hot” dance moves and witty comments about members of the crowd. He’s starting to loosen up…he actually laughs a few times. He pulls me close to him and says “You are the best person in my life. And you look really, really cute tonight.” Score! I’m totally taking him home tonight.
I excuse myself to use the bathroom. I swear, I’m gone for just a few minutes. I’m very efficient in the restroom. When I return, Ryan is gone. Andy tells me that he went out to check his messages again. An hour later, I realize he’s not coming back. Fucking Brigitte! If only I had continued to entertain him…he would still be here. Once again, a major miscalculation on my part.
I don’t want to start crying in the middle of the Empty Bottle, so the Xanax emerges from its little corner in my wallet. I return to my seat with Andy and his friends. I really don’t even hear the band playing any more. I’m just there, questioning all of my decisions. It starts with everything related to Ryan and then shifts to moving to Chicago in general…and then where I went to college and losing my virginity and every haircut…and on and on. And then suddenly, I’m just really sleepy.
Andy is rubbing my arm. “Hey, Amanda…are you okay? Why don’t I walk you home?” I nod my head and allow him to lead me out of the bar.
He helps me unlock my bike. And then he agrees to push my bike while I sit on it. This makes me laugh for blocks. A weird drowsy giggle. When we get to the corner of Damen and Division I surprise myself by saying, “Let’s go to your house. I’m too tired to go all the way back to Bucktown.” Oh god.
Of course, he’s thrilled about this. He practically carries both me and my bike up to his apartment. I take off my shoes and dress, and then crawl into his bed. Everything after that is a boring blur, my mind is somewhere else, mostly in a garden apartment in Humboldt Park, trying to spy on Ryan and Brigitte. Andy is kissing me and saying things I don’t want/need to hear. Just an endless loop of murmured happiness. Ohi’msogladyouareherei’vebeenwaitingforthisforsolonganddon’tbemadeatmebuti’mgladthatthingsididn’tworkoutwithyouandryanbecausenowyouareherewithme.
I feel nothing.
And next the sun is beginning to shine through the bedroom windows. At first, I don’t know where I am, and then I remember the night before. Oh fuck. I’ve probably just made everything infinitely worse by staying with Andy. Now it’s Thursday and I have to go to work and try not to feel bad about myself. I silently count backwards from 10 and then jump out of bed. I dress as fast as humanly possible. I realize that half of my clothing is inside out. Andy is saying something like, “No, don’t go…” I respond with the biggest smile I can manage, just before I sprint out of the apartment with my bike on my shoulder.