Everyone is snorting lines of coke off of the coffee table, while I watch some shitty 80s science fiction movie on television. I want to stand up and start screaming. I’m not even good friends with any of these people: Larry, his new girlfriend Caroline, Thom, and then a few other strangers.
Cheryl is out of town this weekend, at a wedding in Detroit. I am supposed to be meeting Ryan later at the Lava Lounge.
Somehow I ended up here, at some stranger’s apartment. It all began with a casual dinner invitation from Thom. It didn’t seem like the worst idea. I didn’t feel like hanging out in my apartment waiting for Ryan to be ready to go out. For the first time ever, there isn’t a single show worth seeing. No parties, either. And also, I feel like I need to be seen out and about acting sane and not at all drug-addled/suicidal. Soon more people joined us for dinner and then, around the time the check arrived, it was decided that we would stop at this apartment before moving on to the bar.
Obviously I’m not drinking or using drugs. I haven’t had a single cigarette since that terrible night in August. So hanging out with a bunch of people getting coked up isn’t really that much fun. It’s not an issue of temptation; I hate cocaine. It makes me feel as if I’m waiting for a bus that will never come. Impatience and anxiety are not my idea of fun. No, the problem here is more about aggravation. Even the most humble individual morphs into a grandiose egomaniac after a couple of lines. Everyone is milling around, talking about starting businesses and sharing overly inflated stories. A drink would really make this more bearable.
And then of course, I’m worrying about Ryan. I said I would meet him at ten. It’s 10:30 right now, and it will take at least 20 minutes to walk to the bar. I’ve tried calling his apartment, to warn him about my inevitable lateness, but he’s already gone.
I’m dropping subtle hints. “Oh, wow…we’ve been here for a while.” No luck.
Slightly direct. “Well, I said I would meet Ryan at 10, so we should probably get going.” I receive only a chorus of head-nodding in response.
Biting my nails. Tapping my foot. Silently running through the state capitals in alphabetical order. Folding discarded dollar bills into paper cranes. Envisioning various violent deaths for each individual in the room.
Finally, “Listen, we really have to go. Jesus Christ, you’re all driving me crazy!”
Everyone is laughing. “Oh, Amanda…you’re so cute when you’re impatient.” This really means, “Oh, Amanda…we’re so unaccustomed to hearing you express an opinion, that we can only appreciate the novelty of this situation. So cute!” Nonetheless, jackets, wallets, and purses are gathered. We file out on to the sidewalk.
Finally we arrive at the bar. Ryan is sitting with some other mutual friends. He looks weird. I can’t put my finger on it, so I automatically assume that he is just pissy about my tardiness.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Ryan…you know how it is when you are with a group of people…”
He responds only with a lopsided smile.
For the next hour, he is completely silent. He slowly sips his drink while staring at me. I’m convinced that I am really in for it when everyone leaves. I try to make sunny conversation with everyone else, hoping that this will somehow postpone any unpleasantness.
I’m not sure why I care so much. Ryan is not my boyfriend. I haven’t slept with him since the overdose. I tell him and myself that I am not ready, that I have to think about things, that I am scared. This is far more difficult than staying away from drugs. We’ve slept in the same bed multiple times. I have spent most of the evening in a strange limbo state, neither asleep nor awake, just waiting for him to touch me so I have an excuse to give in.
Finally I muster some courage. I lean over toward him. “What’s going on, Ryan?”
When he turns to look at me, I realize he’s not upset. He’s fucking wasted. His eyes are glassy and every muscle in his face is slack.
“I took seven Percocet before I got here.”
I gasp. “What the fuck? How many drinks have you had?”
He shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. Two. Three. Not sure.”
“Where did you get them?”
“I stole them from a client’s medicine cabinet. They belonged to her mother, who is dying of cancer.” And then his voice cracks. “I’m such a fucking fuckup. Who steals medication form cancer patients?”
Oh god. I grab his hand. “Let’s go. I’ll call everyone later and explain.” I’m sure they will just assume that we left to have dramatic makeup sex.
I lead him outside. He can barely walk. “Did you drive here?”
He nods his head. “I have to move the car. It’s parked in two hour parking.”
“It’s okay, I can drive you over to my house, your house, whatever.”
“Do you even have a driver’s license? “ He is slurring.
“Of course.. Look, this will be fine. Where is your car?”
He stops and leans against a building. “I don’t know.”
“I just dont’ know.” He grabs the top of his head. “I just can’t remember. What the fuck is my problem?”
“Okay…give me your keys. You wait here. I’ll bike around until I find your car, and then I’ll come back for you. Sit right here. Don’t move.”
He slumps down on the sidewalk.
“Promise to stay here, okay?” He nods his head.
I ride around for 15 minutes until I find his car on Iowa. I muster superhuman strength to shove my bike into the trunk on the first try.
When I pull up to him, he’s actually lying in the fetal position on the pavement. I’m scared.
Maybe I should take him to the hospital.
I pull him to his feet. “Hey, are you okay? Do you feel like you’re fading? How do you feel about going to the hospital?”
He gives me a squinty look. “No hospital. I’m not like you.”
I disregard this, trying not to push him into the car. “Be nice, “ I tell myself. Be nice be nice be nice. I silently repeat this mantra as I start to drive the car toward my place.
He’s silent, but still awake. I need to distract him from sleep.
I launch into a steady stream of conversation. “Did I ever tell you that I am the master repairman at my office? It started with the printer…everyone always asked me to fix the paper jams because I am so patient or something. And then I was working out copy machine disasters and reprogramming the fax machine. But today I fixed the coffee maker and–”
He cuts me off. “Do you ever think about what everything would be like if you were successful?”
“What do you mean? Like in my career? As an artist or something?”
“No, no…I mean, do you ever wonder what it would be like right now if you had been successful in trying to kill yourself?”
“Um, I mean, not really…because you know, I’m really glad that I didn’t die.”
He turns to look at me. “Well, I think about it all the time. I mean, I would be free. And so would you. Do you ever feel like we’re stuck together like this forever, like it’s a punishment for bad karma or something?”
I swallow. “I’m not sure how to respond to this, Ryan.”
He cracks the window. “It’s like, I’m sick without you, but I’m sick with you. “
He leans his head against the seat. “All I’m saying is, we both would probably be better off if you had died. Like maybe if you had just taken one more pill or locked your bedroom door or bought $100 worth of drugs instead of $75.”
Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him. Just drive.
Of course I should say something like, “Well, if I were gone….if I were DEAD…you would still be unconscious somewhere on Damen. And your car would get towed and maybe you would even just die in the street. So fuck you.”
Or then again, “Wow, you’re right…You would definitely be better off. Just imagine the decades of sympathy fucks you could get out of ‘my girlfriend killed herself.’ No need to improve your personality or put forth any effort. Women will just threw themselves at you. Ryan _______, the tragic figure. Oh, that would be the greatest gift I could give you.”
Or I could threw him out of the car, and then drive to Detroit to pick up Cheryl. I can only imagine the look of her face when I say, “Hey, wanna ride home in this car I stole from that asshole Ryan?”
At the very least, I could just get out of the car. Salvage my pride. Make a point.
Instead, I find a parking spot on my block. I guide him up the stairs and tuck him into my bed. I even take off his shoes. He’s mumbling, “I’m sorry. I love you.”
I go upstairs to steal cigarettes from Nate’s desk.
I lock the bathroom door and sit in the bathtub, smoking one cigarette after another. Three in total. I lean back, closing my eyes, trying to remember something happy.
Picking raspberries near the woods when I was five. The sun is shining and I the plastic jack o’ lantern I am using as a basket is almost full. My mom is proud of me. But then I see the looming specter of my stepfather in the background. No doubt he will hit me with his belt after my mom leaves for second shift. My crimes will be a surprise to me.
I rewind through proms, graduations, random sexual encounters. Everything is tinged with disappointment or fear or loneliness.
This is all I have. This life–no matter how bleak it has seemed recently–is pretty much as good as it’s going to get. The good memories will never be as good as they are supposed to be.
I stand up and turn on the shower. My shoes fill with water instantly, while my dress grows long and heavy. Hairspray and mascara wash down my face, filling my mouth with bitterness.
This is it. I have chosen all of this.