Despite my apprehension, I’m really happy to be back in Chicago.
Riding my bike up to Belmont for a hair appointment fills me with happiness. My mind feels clearer than it has in weeks.
I have all of the black dye cut and bleached out of my hair. I’m blonde again. Generally not my aesthetic preference, but I’m convinced it lends me the air of rebirth.
And going to work the next day is more fun than I remembered. Everyone is really happy to see me. I’m able to lure several of my coworkers to lunch at the hospital cafeteria.
I fall back into my usual pre-Ryan, pre-drugs routine: work, hours at Earwax drawing/writing, listening to records with Nate, and eight hours of sleep every night. It’s comfortable and healthy…but I can’t lie: every night, in the moments before I fall asleep, my heart literally aches from missing Ryan. In those moments, I realize that everything isn’t okay yet.
Cheryl invites me out for drinks at Tuman’s. It’s a divey bar on Chicago Avenue with really cheap good beer. I haven’t been there in months, because Ryan hates it. “It’s a hangout for strung out bike messengers.” I don’t know about that, but they do have a good jukebox. Moderately cute boys. And as I mentioned before, a really good beer selection. I can’t really drink right now–doctor’s orders–but I like the idea of some normal socialization.
I’’m so happy to be biking in one of the last remaining summer nights, that I forget to be nervous about seeing members of my social circle. I’m humming “Big Poppa” as I lock up my bike.
As soon as I walk through the door, everyone in the bar turns to stare at me. Absolute silence. I’m expecting some dusty tumbleweed to roll by.
I take a deep breath. Wicker Park is a small place. I’ve always known this. I smile broadly, trying to make friendly eye contact with every individual as I walk to Cheryl’s table.
There are no empty chairs. All of our male friends are just awkwardly gaping at me. I remind myself that it would be more embarrassing if I just turned around and walked out.
Cheryl pipes up. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Why don’t all of you hug Amanda? And then grab her a chair. Jesus Christ, aren’t we all glad to see her here, alive and well?”
Andy jumps to his feet and gives me a tentative hug. “I was really worried.”
And then Thom. “I’m glad you’re here…but I Iiked your dark hair better.”
I laugh at this. “Ditto.”
I receive a few more nervous embraces and then Andy returns with a seat for me.
Within seconds, it becomes a standard night at the bar. Andy and Thom are arguing about which Radiohead album is the best. Cheryl is trying to pretend that she’s not into Fred by loudly talking about some guy playing pool. Adam is absently doodling on a bar napkin. No one’s asking me for gory details and apologies.
Each person at the table is drinking pretty heavily, except for me. I’m occasionally sipping a warm Guinness in an attempt at normalcy. It’s funny to soberly see my friends’ demeanors change with each round. Even their faces are transformed. Everyone’s loosening up and making progressively more ridiculous statements.
Andy turns to me, bleary-eyed. “Have you talked to Ryan?”
All I can do is shrug my shoulders.
Thom turns from his conversation with Fred–probably somehow involving Superchunk–and declares angrily, “I fucking hate him!”
Everyone is looking at me to either defend Ryan or thank Thom for his loyalty to me.
Cheryl says something like, “Oh, cool it, Thom.”
He shakes his head emphatically. “Listen, he called me on the phone and was like, ‘Well, you might as well know that Amanda is crazy. She tried to kill herself because I rejected her.’ And then he went on to tell me how he broke up with her because she is a junkie. Are you fucking kidding me? He’s been a druggie since I met him in college.”
I can feel the blood draining from my face. I want to crawl under the table.
Andy looks like he’s going to cry. “He told me that he’s pretty sure she has an eating disorder.”
What the fuck?
I’m focusing all of my attention on my beer, trying to keep calm.
Someone else says, “He said that she has a lot of problems, like childhood stuff. “
“He told my roommate that she was in a mental hospital in college.”
Oh fuck, I just want to stand up and scream.
Cheryl puts her hand on my shoulder. “Well, the important thing is that none of us believe any of that shit, right? RIGHT?”
Everyone is nodding their heads, accompanied by a chorus of “Yeah, yeah, right.”
Thom is not settling down. “Look, Amanda, if you want, I’ll drive you over to his place so you can break some of his windows or yell at him or something.”
I try to smile. “Thanks for the offer…but everyone…please believe me when I say that this had almost nothing to do with Ryan. I’ve been having a hard summer and…well, I HAVE been sort of losing my grip. Look, all of you know that he and I have been doing a ton of drugs. So, there’s a little bit of truth in what he has said.”
This is my attempt at a public relations campaign.
But really, I’m kind of amazed by the accuracy of some of Ryan’s statements. No, I don’t have an eating disorder. But there’s a lot of truth in everything else. This is impressive, when one considers that I have told Ryan almost nothing about myself. It’s my own (apparently futile) attempt at protecting myself. And he’s usually too busy talking about himself to ask me any questions. I suppose he is more intuitive than I would have imagined. Or he excels at educated guessing…or more likely, he was trying to absolve himself of guilt by putting my perceived damages on display.
I’m going to fucking kill him if I see him again.