The trip to the loft seems endless. We hit every red light. Ryan tries to take an unknown shortcut and ends up lost in an industrial area south of Grand. Nonetheless, no one questions his ability to drive in this state. I want to ask him how much he’s taken, the number he drinks he gulped down, and the brand name of any pharmaceuticals he has added to the mix. But it is my ignorance that prevents me from fearing for our safety. So I remain silent. The passengers in the backseat are shrieking and laughing. My attempts to drown them out with music are futile.
By the time I’m climbing the filthy stairwell at the loft, my head is beginning to buzz. The boot prints on the wall take on a neon glow. It occurs to me–very briefly–that everyone else has at least a two hour head start on me. I’m going to be peaking around the time they find themselves settling into mildewy furniture for the remainder of their ride.
It takes me eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness. A circle of black-clad scenesters are doling out lines of coke on a coffee table improvised from a dirty window and cinder blocks. Empty cans and bottles litter the floor. Agitated individuals line the walls, gulping down cheap liquor. The thick smoky air hurts my lungs. Somehow this place is worse than I remember.
I instinctively reach out for Ryan’s hand. He turns to me and smiles. “Hey, I brought a surprise for you.” And he pulls a bottle of champagne out of his bag. “I don’t know why I bought this, I guess I thought you might like it.”
I cover my ears as he pops the cork. And then we start passing it back and forth. I’m so thirsty. And it tastes like liquid gold.
Meghan walks over. “Hey, can I have some of that?”
I wonder if she is inviting me to smash her in the face with the bottle. I’m giggling at this image when Ryan replies, “No, sorry, it’s just for our special club.” She flips her hair and walks away. Ha!
We discover that there is someone spinning records upstairs, so we decided to check it out. It’s shitty house music or something, but I don’t care. I’m dancing and dancing. Everything is more fun than anything could ever be. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.
Soon the champagne is gone and my mouth is desert dry. I decide to wander off in search of water. The first stop is the kitchen. But the faucet only offers strange brownish liquid. No.
I open the refrigerator. It’s completely empty, except for shelves of condiments and a half-eaten burrito.
I decide to just drink from the bathroom faucet. The door is splintery hanging off one hinge. I close it gingerly, thinking I might as well pee while I am in there. The light is blinding, thanks to an overabundance of cheap fluorescent lights covering the ceiling. Mildew and stains cover the walls. The counter is covered with expensive styling products and cigarette butts.
I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. Strange. My face holds all of this extra geometry.
I move in for a closer look, willing my eyes to focus. The mirror is some sort of magical visual time machine: it moves forward until I’m 90, with sagging cheeks and paper-thin skin. I can see every blood vessel, every bad memory, and every harsh winter. And then just as suddenly I see the 4-year old Amanda staring at me. I have a swollen lip and a purple-mustard bruise meanders across my forehead.
I rub my face, trying to make it return to it’s 22 year-old glory. But I get only some middle-aged compromise, with dark under eye circles and jowls for miles. Blotches. Blemishes. That scar above my lip is twice the size I remembered.
And then it occurs to me: This is what I really look like. This is my real face.
Oh fuck. No wonder I feel so wrong all the time…I’m hideous. Makeup and dermatology consultations will never fix this. Expensive haircuts and cultivated wardrobe are merely exercises in futility. There is no hope.
What am I going to do? Ryan can’t see me like this. Actually, no one can see me like this. I have to figure out a way to sneak out of here. Tomorrow I can figure out a way to cope with this.
Of course, then again, Ryan probably already knows this awful truth about me. No wonder we can’t stay together. I guess I can’t blame him for wishing I was dead. I mean, what kind of quality of life can I really have if I look like this? How did I never notice this before?
I deserve everything bad thing that has happened to me.
My heart is racing. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! I’m a second away from slamming my head into the mirror when I remember the klonopin in my bag.
I dig it out and wash it down with metallic water.
I sit on the floor, leaning against the wall. Just be cool. Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be okay.
I close my eyes.
And then, I don’t know, maybe it’s a minute later or maybe an hour has passed. Someone is saying my name. I look up. It’s Andy and Thom. “C’mon, Amanda…we’ve been looking all over for you. You’ve been missing!”
Someone extends a hand to help me to my feet. “Wow…hey, guys. Sorry, I just feel really weird right now.”
The guide me into the living room area. Ryan is leaning back on the couch with his eyes closed, while Meghan is nestled under his arm, rubbing his thigh. For a moment I think I’m just confused, so I walk closer.
Oh, yes. It’s real. Meghan looks up at me with a feline smile. “Oh, Amanda….were you off having fun?”
I say nothing.
Ryan lifts his head up and looks me square in the eyes. “Sometimes monogamy is just so hard, you know?”
I turn around and walk through each room until I find the exit. And then I’m out on the silent empty street.
What should I do? The El tracks run directly above my head, but my head feels so heavy. I can’t risk nodding off on the train again.
I’m going to take a cab. I walk and walk, but I see no cars. More walking. I am pretty certain I am walking toward LaSalle. I imagine that street is busy all night. I’m too tired to feel frightened. And I can’t remember how I ended up here. Why am I alone? I guess it was this way all along.
Still more walking and soon I realize I am on Michigan Avenue. This is very far away from my imaginary starting point.
I see a bus that runs near my house and I jump on. I am scrambling through my bag, looking for my CTA card. The bus drive waves me aside. “Don’t worry about it…you shouldn’t be out by yourself right now, anyway.”
Fifteen minutes later I’m pulling the cord and exiting the vacant bus. “Thank you, “ I call to the driver.
My apartment is silent. I pour a glass of water and crawl into bed without taking off my coat. The last thing I see is Stella settling on to the pillow next to my head.
No one calls.
The next time I open my eyes, it is late Saturday afternoon.