Friday night I meet up with Zach. I haven’t seen him lately, mostly because I’ve been busy going crazy/doing drugs, while he has been occupied by some girl with a boyfriend. We have a drink at Goodfoot. It’s his favorite bar, but I feel uncomfortable there. Maybe the tight pants/plaid shirt presence is too low. Or maybe I just cannot adjust to a deviation from my standard routine. In my mind, no bar can top the Rainbo; not only does it offer a photo booth and pinball, but the drinks are stiff/cheap and the bartenders play records behind the bar (and the Wu-tang is a standard part of the rotation).
Regardless, I’m feeling antsy. I manage to convince Zach to accompany me to this weird club/bar off of Ashland and Division. Before Ryan and I became to sleepy and drug-addled, we spent a lot of late nights here, dancing and scoring free drinks from the bartender. I only have pleasant memories of this place, so I’m hoping I will have some fun there.
As soon as we walk in, I’m asking myself, “Why did I bring Zach here?” He’s not really a dance-y kind of guy (even if he IS wearing black parachute pants). He’s a good sport, so I buy him a drink out of gratitude.
I excuse myself to the ladies’ room. The bathroom attendant is an elderly woman named Lucretia. I have a small bladder so I spend a lot of the time in the bathroom; it’s only logical that we would befriend one another. She greets me with, “Oh, I haven’t seen you for so long! Your cute little boyfriend was around earlier…I asked him where you were and he said he didn’t know. Are you two fighting?”
I don’t have the hear to tell her that we broke up. I say something noncommittal and cheery, like, “Oh, well I guess we’ll find one another later” as I slip a ten into her tip jar.
I’m feeling sleepy, so I make a beeline to the bar for a Red Bull. Jenna is working. She has given me a ridiculous amount of free drinks in the last few months, solely because she really likes my haircut. She ignores all of the other impatient customers and heads directly over to me. “Wow! Your hair is blonde now! I like it…It gives you a certain glow!” She hands me a Red Bull. And then she leans over to whisper in my ear, “Look, I can tell something weird is going on with you and Ryan because you arrived separately…so I have to warn you that he is standing right behind you, looking a little weird. “
She pulls away and then says loudly, “If you think I’m going to let you give me money for that drink…” I thank her and spin around, trying to look at the ground. If I just walk directly to Zach, without glancing away from my feet, I can certainly avoid Ryan. We can gulp down our drinks and ride our bikes back to the Rainbo or something.
The first thing I see is a pair of too familiar New Balances. Do not look up. DO NOT LOOK UP! But of course I do…straight into Ryan’s eyes.
“Amanda!” He says this in a dreamy voice. His eyes are sleepy and dazed. He’s obviously completely high.
I’m not sure what to say or do, so I just stand there.
He’s staring at my hair. “You look so beautiful, like an angel.”
I mumble “thanks” and then I walk away. Before I can get to Zach, someone calls my name. I look over to see Ryan’s number drug buddy, Larry. I give him a sideways smile. There’s just something so creepy/unsettling about him, I have no desire to get into a conversation with him.
He has other ideas. “Wow, Amanda…you’re so blonde and glamorous now.”
I thank him. I’m about to resume my mission to find Zach, when he continues.
“Listen, I know that you and Ryan are over, but that doesn’t mean that you and I can’t hang out. I mean, you are a beautiful, charming woman. I definitely want you around as much as possible.”
Maybe he’s just swaying forward because he’s really wasted, but I swear he’s leering down the front of my dress.
I mask my disgusted cringe with a big smile. “Well, I guess I’ll see you around, then.”
And then I practically sprint to Zach’s table.
“Listen, you have to drink that drink RIGHT NOW. We have to get out of here. Ryan!”
He tosses back his whiskey, while I stuff my can of Red Bull into my bag.
I grab his hand. “We are going to walk directly out the door. We can’t stop or talk to any one…NO MATTER WHAT.”
And we are out of there that fast.
We have an anticlimactic drink at Rainbo, and then I bike home. I can’t stop thinking about the encounter with Ryan. Aren’t we mad at each other? Why was he being nice?
The moment I walk in the apartment door, the phone starts ringing.
Jesus Christ, does he have some kind of homing device attached to my shoe? How does he always know the exact moment I get home?
I answer it, because if I don’t, he’ll just call again.
“Hi, Amanda…it’s Ryan…Oh wow, I’m just so glad I saw you tonight…You look so beautiful, like something magical happened to you.”
Um, it’s called “kicking the habit.”
I say nothing.
“Anyway…I just wanted to see what you are doing tomorrow….”
I swallow. Calm voice. Level voice. Just be stoic. “Oh, well, you know, the usual Saturday stuff….like, Chicago Comics and stuff.”
“Well, hey…do you want me to come along? I want to get some new sneakers, so maybe you can help me find a pair.”
No, no, no. “I’m sorry, but I actually have afternoon plans with London. And then, you know, I’m probably going to a show at the Empty Bottle with Cheryl.”
Saying “no” to him is vaguely pleasurable.
“Okay, well….I’ll give you a call tomorrow, you know…in case your plans change.”
Deep breath in. “Okay, sure, that sounds fine.” Deep breath out.
“All right, well…good night. Have sweet dreams. Bye, Amanda.”
I hang up.
When I crawl into bed, I start thinking about all of the things I have to do to create the illusion that I am feeling fine.
1. Brush my teeth for two minutes, three times each day.
2. Shower at least once a day.
3. Wash my hair at least twice a week.
4. Change clothes every day. Insure that said clothes are clean and mostly free of wrinkles.
5. Apply makeup. Not too much.
6. At work, stand in the kitchen for at least five minutes every morning, drinking coffee while discussing politics and/or celebrities. Laugh at jokes that are not actually funny, but don’t laugh TOO much.
7. Make the bed every morning. Only Nate will notice this, but still…
8. Grocery shop at least one time each week. Be certain to choose an appealing, balanced assortment of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Avoid the liquor aisle.
9. Carry a bag containing a wallet, keys, beauty products, and a book. Carrying too much can seem neurotic, so it’s important to minimize the contents of the bag.
The completion of these tasks is not obvious, but when any of these are omitted, even the most casual observer can sense that something about me is off-balance. But the power of this list to make me seem sane and capable will be completely negated if I start hanging out with Ryan again.
My phone is ringing again at ten am. I ignore it, but I do get out of bed.
It’s ringing again when I get out of the shower. I decide to unplug the phone in my room.
I ride my bike up to Belmont for comics and lunch with London. We say nothing about recent events; instead we stick with neutral topics like records and movies. We make plans to see Don’t Look Back at the Music Box (cool old Chicago movie theatre).
I wander down Clark Street to buy new socks and underwear. I am avoiding my apartment, where the phone will ring…and ring…and ring some more. I’m just not sure how strong I can be in the face of Ryan.
When I get home, I discover that the mailbox is overflowing with construction paper hearts. At the bottom is a mixtape. I’m hoping that Nate has recently acquired a secret girlfriend..until I see my name written in huge silver letters. I stuff the hearts and the tape into my bag, hoping that no one saw this.
But as soon as I walk in the door, Nate greets me with, “So, who’s your new creepy boyfriend? I guess he must not be a tree hugger, since he clearly likes to waste colored paper.”
I stick my tongue out in disgust.
“Were you wearing those tight jeans at the comic book store again?”
I shake my head. “Not quite.”
He looks at me. And then I can see the vein in his forehead start throbbing. “Are you telling me that that little fuckface was downstairs? He had the balls to come to our building? To put something in our mailbox?”
I nod my head silently.
“Listen, Amanda…if I find out you are hanging out with him again, I am going to be so pissed. And you know what? So will all of your other friends.”
I sit down on the spiral staircase. “I know, Nate. Why don’t you tell me something I don’t know?”
“Well, what made him do this? Did you call him or something?”
“I swear…I ran into him for like, five seconds, last night. And apparently he doesn’t hate me as much as he has told everyone.”
He’s going on and on about how much everyone hates Ryan. I stop listening and I walk into my room. “I have to get ready to meet Cheryl. We’re going to the Empty Bottle.”
Hours later, playing pinball between bands, I turn to Cheryl and ask, “How mad would you be if I hung out with Ryan again?”
She laughs. “Does this mean you slept with him last night or something?”
Then I laugh. “No, no…I mean, I do have some dignity, after all. No…he’s just been really insistent about hanging out….all of a sudden. “
I tell her about the previous night. The phone calls. The mailbox.
“Oh man, that boy is so pathetic. I mean, I know I should tell you to stay away from him. But you know, if I were you, I would probably be at his house right now, unzipping my pants. Obviously he’s trying, and that’s kinda impressive.”
I take a sip of water. “I know that everyone thinks he is bad for me. And I can’t argue that. But he’s not a bad person. It’s just that…when we are together our Wonder Twin powers activate, and we can’t stop doing stupid stuff.”
Cheryl nods her head. “No, I can definitely see that.”
I continue. “Right…it’s like, maybe we don’t have a ton of superficial things in common. And we certainly come from different backgrounds. But somehow we share all of the same personality/character flaws. And separately, they are just footnotes. Most people will never notice them. But when we get together, we feed off of one another, and suddenly, these minor flaws turn into HUGE problems. “
“So maybe that’s an argument for why you should stay away from him? Or are you saying it’s not?”
I lean against the wall and sigh. “I don’t know. But I just feel like no one is seeing this objectively, including me.”
Cheryl puts her arm around me. “Listen, no matter what you do, we’re your friends and have to get over it. I know we hang out with some prissy bitches, but trust me, no one’s going to get truly mad or stop being your friend.”
I walk Cheryl home after the show. By the time I walk in my own door, it’s 3 am. And of course, the fucking phone starts ringing. Nate is going to kill me.
I plug in my phone and pick up the receiver. “Hello, Ryan.”
“Oh, hey, girl…how was the show?”
“Listen, I’m too tired for small talk. If you want to hang out tomorrow, we can. Call me around noon or one. We can meet somewhere in the neighborhood.”
“Awesome! Wow! Okay…well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
I hang up before he can say “good night.”