Ryan is still chattering away as he drives his car toward Humboldt Park.
“Maybe we should go to Earwax and get some movies. Maybe some more John Waters stuff or something. I don’t know. I mean, we can get something more serious. I’m just guessing that maybe we won’t want to think too hard since we’re going to get tired eventually–”
I cut him off. “Can you please just take me to my place? I’m really tired right now and I just want to sleep for a while.”
He frowns. “You don’t want to hang out?”
Oh no. If he feels even the slightest inkling of rejection, he will start picking apart my flaws.
“No, no…it’s not that. You don’t seem very sleepy, and well, I am. I mean, I think I drank a lot of alcohol last night. So I’m hungover on top of everything else. “
More frowning. “I just don’t understand why it’s my fault that you drank too much. Because honestly, you drink too much more often than not.”
Here we go. More damage control is required. “No, no…I just want to go to sleep for a few hours. Swallow some vitamins, drink some water, take a shower. I can come over to your place later for breakfast in the afternoon or something.”
My watch tells me it is 6:15 am. I don’t think my request is unreasonable.
There’s some more back and forth, but eventually he turns on to my block.
As I’m about to jump out of the car, he grabs my hand. “I think you just need to learn how to be happy. You have to stop listening to all of that sad music and reading tragic books and hanging out with depressing people.”
What the fuck? I swallow endless sentences of protest and kiss him on the cheek instead. “I’ll call you when I wake up.”
And then I run up to my apartment.
I hurry through the list of tiny tasks required before I head to bed: removing my gritty contacts, washing my face, brushing my teeth, drinking a glass of water, taking off my smoky clothes.
As soon as I throw myself into bed, I realize that I’m still feeling a little trippy. My thoughts race through time and faces and ideas, pausing for only the briefest moment at the most important points. This velocity is making me dizzy. I close my eyes, trying to grab on to something, anything to slow myself down.
And then my brain comes to a screeching halt at the Empty Bottle. It’s a night last spring. Maybe June? Ryan and I are silently sitting on a decrepit vinyl sofa, watching some friends play pool.
He turns to me with a gooey look in his eye. “Amanda, I think I am falling in love with you.”
Before I can respond, he adds, “And that’s not the drugs speaking…I’ve been wanting to tell you this all week, but I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment. Maybe this isn’t the perfect moment–but I do know you love this place–but it’s true. I AM falling in love with you.”
My thoughts are muddled by Oxycontin and vodka, but I am still elated. I’ve been waiting for this for so long. I have convinced myself that this could never actually happen. But here it is. I mean, this is better than wonderful. Miles beyond amazing. An instant from my most savored dream.
I summon the ability to speak. “You don’t know how happy I am to hear you say that.” I am hoping that I sound moderately pleased, without betraying my true feelings of oh-my-god-dreams-really-do-come-true. I hug him.
And then he opens his mouth again. “Yeah, pretty soon I’m going to like you as much as you like me.”
I find myself grabbing my face, briefly convinced that he just slapped me. I manage my biggest, most encouraging smile as I move a few inches away from him.
I sit there for a few moments, replaying the last thirty seconds over and over. I am slipping into a black hole.
I mumble something about using the ladies’ room and excuse myself.
I walk up to the bar, hoping that maybe I can numb my wounded pride with yet another drink. I try to think positive thoughts: kittens, new socks, sunshine…anything. But nothing sticks. I feel like a teenager with a movie star crush. Obviously that’s how Ryan sees me.
I walk around, making idle conversations with acquaintances and bumming cigarettes from strangers. I play a game of pinball. I drink an unnecessary glass of water. Anything to avoid Ryan.
But every time I turn around, he’s there, making lovey faces at me. I wait for something to distract him, and then I make yet another escape.
I’m coming out of the bathroom when he grabs my hand. “Let me buy you a drink. I just want to near you, but you keep slipping away.”
I reluctantly follow him to the bar. I really don’t want another drink. I just want to be alone. I would like to go home and bury my face under a pillow until lack of oxygen deletes his words from my memory.
I turn to him. “Ryan, it’s completely erroneous for you to assume that I like you more than you like me. “ I silently add, “…but you’re probably right.”
And then I continue aloud, “I might like you as much as you like me, but by saying that I like you more…well, that just makes me feel like a stupid little girl.”
He nods his head. “Wow, I’m really sorry. I mean, I don’t even know why I said that.”
I make my best “everything is cool” face. Maybe my facial muscles will somehow trick my brain into believing that.
This is not a moment to fondly revisit. I force my eyes open. Forget, forget, forget. I’m still in my bed. It’s still Saturday morning. September. Chicago. Illinois.
The question remains, hanging above my bed in fluorescent letters: Why am I still doing this? Didn’t I vow to myself just a few weeks ago that I would stop all of this?
“This” refers to a list of poor decisions and destructive activities:
Smoking cigarettes and skipping dinner.
Dropping acid and drinking too much.
Feigning happiness and swallowing my true feelings.
I remember this passage from an Aldous Huxley book: “Five words sum up every biography. ‘Video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor.’ Like all other human beings, I know what I ought to do, but continue to do what I oughtn’t do.”
I am not going to fall asleep. I should probably just take a shower and bike over to Ryan’s place.