“Sin, guilt, neurosis,they are one and the same, the fruit of the tree of knowledge.”
Years before Division Street became a series of upscale restaurants and hipster-themed bars (the sort where the person serving your drinks is not a bartender, but a “mixologist), Clinton Street was the hub of nightlife in that part of SE Portland. My best friend Reyna and I spent most of our evenings at the Clinton Street Pub, with only occasional forays across the street to Dot’s for greasy vegan food. CSP was cheap and hosted some of the best pinball games in town. It was not the sort of place one visits in search of The Beautiful People. The space itself was tiny and strangely laid out. The pool table was so close to the door, that once, during a particularly bad shot, I found myself chasing the 8-ball down the street until it’s quickening pace was abruptly halted by a speed bump.
One summer, CSP offered an ill-advised $10 Pitcher of Kamikaze Shots special. Always value-conscious, Reyna and I could’t resist this bargain. Usually we would draft one or two other comrades to share THIS INCREDIBLE DEAL with us. A ritual soon developed: We each took turns pouring a shot for each person at the table. While pouring, we were obliged to tell a “mostly-true” story. Of course, we never stopped at just one pitcher. By July, I had became incredibly adept at making the wobbly uphill bike ride back to my house. No matter how many kamikaze shots had found their way into my stomach, I always found myself soundly asleep in my own bed by 3 am. I had no reason to suspect that the evening forever hereafter known as THE DRUNKEST I HAVE EVER BEEN would end any differently.
By pitcher number two, our party consisted of myself, Reyna, her boyfriend S. (he mostly disliked me), a Boy Who I Think I Loved (fortunately/unfortunately he tended to simply hate me), and his Alleged Best Friend (who both loved and hated me). Tension at the table was high, because I had recently kissed (and then immaturely blown off) the Alleged Best Friend. The Boy Who I Think I Loved was smarting over it. This compelled me to chase each of my shots with a hefty gulp of whiskey. It’s easy to become blurry and reckless when surrounded by enemies.
All of the booze hit me when I stood up to shuffle over to the ladies’ room. “Go home,” I commanded my wobbly reflection in the filthy mirror. “Make a French Exit* right now.”
With the blink of an eye, I was across the street attempting to unlock my bike. But that damn u-lock was befuddling me. I just couldn’t seem to get the little key and the seemingly tinier keyhole to aline.
Reyna called from across the street. “Hey! What are you doing? I just ordered another pitcher.”
Well, fuck, if I couldn’t unlock my bike, I might as well have another drink and give it another try later.
And that is when the night became only a hazy series of vignettes, with no connecting exposition:
The Alleged Best Friend decided to yell at me (possibly because I was touching his friend’s thigh under the table). My brain recorded his interminable tirade as a mere “Knick knack paddy whack! You’re a fucking bitch.” And my only response after he stormed out of the bar was “Whatever happened to being cool?”
Minutes later, I passed out with my face on the table.
Next, I was being carried out to the car by S.
Then I was puking in Reyna’s front yard while she held my hair. “I can’t believe this is happening,” I cried.
The blazing summer sun woke me up. I was in a strange bed that smelled like a hipster dude and I had no idea that I how I had gotten there. There was definitely someone sleeping next to me. Waves of self-loathing began to wash over me. How could I have done something this stupid? This was clearly someone new, possibly procured at CSP. Or worse, maybe I encountered this individual on my walk home and NOW I WAS IN BED WITH THEM AND I COULDN’T REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED. My heart was racing. I just had to roll over and confront the true extent of my transgressions.
I took a deep breath and counted backwards from three.
I rolled over to find… Reyna!
She opened her eyes as I began laughing. Odds are high that we were both still drunk from the night before, because her response was hysterical laughter.
“Oh my god, Reyna! I thought I was in bed with some gross guy that I didn’t remember meeting last night. I was feeling so guilty!”
Cue more giggling, until we passed out again.
This story is not important because of my record-breaking (so far) intoxication. Instead it is the precise moment that I realized the connection between Self-Loathing and Guilt. I don’t want to go as far as announcing that they are synonyms. However, Self-Loathing and Guilt are definitely the kissing cousins that got carried away at the family reunion and found themselves sliding into third base under a picnic table. And of course they hated themselves and one another afterwards.
I rarely feel guilty about the actual act of casual sex. Instead it is more of a disappointment in myself. How could I debase myself? Why would I, my mother’s Smart Girl, allow myself to be carried away by a wave of lust? And even worse, with a near-stranger! I can’t help but hate myself for being a complicit partner in my own undoing.
For years, my worst fear was waking up in bed with an unsavory specimen. My fear of this developed when I was 22. I woke up, naked in bed with an overjoyed male friend of mine. And I felt so sad that I had allowed him entry to my body. I had to stay in his bed engaging in excruciating small talk for another hour. That was followed by the obligatory awkward brunch. The entire time I was lamenting that I wasn’t with the true target of my affections. I hated myself for settling for second best. It turns out that Regret (another close friend of Guilt) tastes like too many french cigarettes and well gin. Even my vigorous dental hygiene routine couldn’t banish the bitterness from my mouth.
I would go to extreme lengths to prevent this from happening again. I reasoned that while I was occasionally certain to fall under someone’s spell after I passed the four-drink threshold (I was/am but a mere animal, right?), it was the morning after that really killed me. Therefore, I would become the master of the Sexual French Exit. I didn’t want these transgressions to land in my own bed, so I always allowed them to lure me back to their apartments. I would wait until they were asleep before collecting my clothes and tiptoeing out the front door. On several occasions I found myself attempting to re-don my bra on a street-side porch. And I even climbed out a window when I couldn’t figure out how to operate the vintage lock on one guy’s door. When someone actually managed to make it into my apartment, I would wear two pairs of pants to bed to protect my long-gone virtue.
It’s important to clarify that sex was not a part of every rendezvous. Sometimes there was simply some sloppy drunken kissing. Maybe something of a steamy high school nature. More often, we had simply passed out after debating Which Member of The Wu-Tang Is The True Leader. But I knew that inevitably the arrival of the dawn sun would induce my own disappointment and guilt. That was the routine, after all.
Obviously the ridiculous psychological melodrama of my sex life has been on my mind this year more than ever. I’ve become aware of these patterns that, despite bringing painful self-flagellation, are surprisingly comfortable in their familiarity. Still, like anyone that has attempted to quit smoking or nail-biting, I knew that breaking a habit requires a series of small changes in routine. An emotional pack of gum or nail file, if you will.
Recently I fell asleep in bed with someone I really, really liked. As I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness, I reminded myself “I’m not going to regret this at all tomorrow. This is a good thing.” And you know what? I turned to him in the morning and announced, “I’m so glad you are here.” And I meant it.
*The Urban Dictionary (a reliable source of information, of course) defines the French Exit simply as “To make an early exit without saying good-bye.” Some people also call this the “irish goodbye,” but that seems less glamorous to me.
PART FOUR: Wherein during a conversation with my good friends Bonestorm, I realize that I haven’t had a non-fucked up sexual experience in at least six years and PANIC ENSUES…coming this week…