would you love me if i was stoic?

The party is in a completely gutted house in the Ukrainian Village. All part of the gentrification process, I guess. The walls and floors are covered with plastic sheeting. Burning cigarettes and cups of cheap beer are tossed around with abandon. Conversations reverberate through the empty rooms, while a few random clip-on lights provide a tiny bit of illumination. I feel like I’m in a weird dream. The theme is “social anxiety.”

Oh, yeah, that’s right…I get really nervous at parties unless I’m under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

As if Cheryl’s reading my mind, she pulls a bottle of Jim Beam out of her bag.

“Ha! I’m glad you remembered…and you didn’t even get chintzy with the Osco brand.” I offer her a cigarette in exchange.

So there we are, at a party with about fifty other people, sitting in the corner drinking bourbon and smoking. We could do this at our apartment.

I’m silently willing a familiar face to walk through the door, so we have someone to greet. Someone to make us feel like we are part of this scene.

The thing is, in Wicker Park, everyone DOES know everyone, at least by sight. We see one another at least once a day, while buying soy milk and tortilla chips at Jewel-Osco, or listening to records at Reckless. Waiting for a drink at Rainbo. Smoking cigarettes and pretending to read at Earwax. Maybe on the Damen El platform.

But we never, ever speak to one another, unless someone introduces us formally. Right now, at this mostly un-fun party, a guy in a plaid cowboy shirt is standing about five feet away from me. Earlier today, I passed him on my bike as I coasted down Ashland. And yesterday, he was browsing next to me in the N-R section at Myopic. And I’ve probably made accidental eye contact with him no less than 20 times in the past month. As far as I can tell, he wears that same plaid shirt every other day.

But if I went over to him right now and said, “Hi, my name is Amanda. Wow, I see you around a lot! Did you buy any books yesterday,” he would smile uncomfortably before making a beeline for the closest exit.

And then he would say to his friends, “You know that girl that we see around? The one with the crazy hair? Well, she’s totally weird. She just started talking to me at this lame party.”

Cheryl wants to set me up with some guy from her work. That’s what we’re pretending to talk about right now. I am definitely interested, but I’m fairly convinced he is too attractive for me. She laughs at this notion, but seriously, this guy–he’s Brazilian or something–is really, really cute. Good clothes, the right glasses, and an excellent record collection. Probably too much for me to handle. I think the lesson to be garnered from this whole Ryan debacle is that if someone seems too good for me, they probably are.

I’m lighting my third cigarette in less than an hour, when Thom and Andy walk through the door. Thank god. We’re both waving, pretending for a brief moment that we are popular.

They pass around 40s. My mouth is desert dry, probably from too many Camel Lights. My bottle of malt liquor disappears in record time. I try to get a grasp on the conversation, but I can’t find a moment to jump in. Time moves faster than usual.

Suddenly Cheryl clinks her bottle against my own empty one. “Way to go, champ!” She laughs.

I realize I am definitely intoxicated.

Adam and his new girlfriend appear out of nowhere. Both of them embrace me, as if we’re close friends. I pretend to be overjoyed to see them, because maybe I can convince myself that I AM truly thrilled to hug them.

And then I have to pee so bad. I fumble through the darkness, opening every door I encounter. This one is a closet. The next is a future bedroom or study or even a nursery. I laugh at myself. “Silly, Amanda…nurseries and bedrooms belong on the second floor. That’s clearly the dining room.” The next doorway reveals the kitchen. Empty, except for an island in the center. I’m sure the wine refrigerator is being delivered next week.

Eventually I find a black marbled half bathroom. Probably the only truly finished room in this shell of a house. I take care of business. As I’m straightening my tights, I catch my reflection in the dusty mirror above the sink. Before we left the house, I was convinced that I had used enough makeup and positive thinking to convince the world of my pretend happiness. But even the largest quantities of blush, eyeliner, and rehearsed smiles can’t cover up my sadness. I look grey and lonely. Half dead and possibly unstable. I pinch my cheeks and tousle my hair. At least I look slightly fun. Or drunk.

Back out into the hallway. As I’m trying to find my friends, I run into Adam.

“Hey, Amanda…I’m glad I have a moment to talk to you alone.”

Great. Now he’s going to hit on me. I brace myself for something creepy. My hands involuntarily ball themselves into fists.

He continues. “I was talking to Ryan earlier. He is really, um, unstable right now. I don’t know what he’s taking, using, whatever. But he has no concept of where/when he is.”

I roll my eyes. “You know, I really don’t care. What am I supposed to do about this? Honestly, I think you are all blowing this out of proportion. After all, he has to go to work and stuff. He would never skip out on responsibility just so he could get fucked up.”

Adam’s mouth is a straight line. “Well, the thing is, he told his boss that he had a death in the family. So he hasn’t gone to work for the last few days. “

I rub my forehead, searching my brain for the appropriate cool, calm response.

He puts his arm around my shoulders. Don’t cringe. You’ll hurt his feelings.

“I know that you are two are on a break or whatever, but you’re the only person who is really close to him. I think you should check on him, talk some sense into him. He doesn’t care what we think, but if you tell him he needs to stop what he’s doing, he’ll listen…even if he pretends that he’s mad.”

“I don’t know…I have to think about it.” I really don’t feel right showing up at Ryan’s place unannounced. And I really doubt that I can change his behavior. Honestly, we broke up so he could use lots of drugs and fuck a wide variety of hipster chicks. I’m not naive. “Space” implies these activities.

Then again, maybe this all some predictable cry for help. I would never forgive myself if something bad happened to him. The thought of him slipping off into oblivion…well, it makes me shudder. No, something beyond that. It takes my breath away. It’s too big and awful for me to even imagine. I can feel myself sinking into a black hole.

No, no. I take a deep breath, reminding myself that nothing bad has happened yet.

I squeeze Adam’s hand. “Thanks for telling me. Listen, tell Cheryl that I slipped out for a little bit. I’ll be back.”

I stumble to the front door, practically rolling out on the sidewalk. I find my bike and fumble with the lock. Get your head together, Amanda. You have to bike out to Humboldt Park. It’s time to sober up.

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