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So I’m at the Metro for the EXO show and it… is… awesome! There are like five million people all suctioned together, banging our heads in unison like we’re part of some collective unconscious and me and Shelley are right up near the front so we can feel the speakers vibrate through our shoes. I’m wearing my EXO T-shirt ’cause EXO is totally the greatest band ever and if you say No, they’re not! I’ll be all You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! ’cause I’m twenty-two-years old and totally smarter than everyone.
It’s one of those nights, you know, when everything is just… so… great! The music is great, this vodka tonic is great, this other vodka tonic is great, and so’s this other one, and for the first time since Josh and I broke up last month, I know I’ll be okay. Strangers press into me on all four sides, I’m slamming both fists in the air, there’s guitar and bass and dududududududududu and I yell Hell yeah! and Shelley’s like This is awesome! and I’m like I gotta pee! and she’s like Fuck yeah you do!
And then we hug.
’Cause it’s all so goddamn great!
I do the drunky wobble-walk, pushing though the crowd and then upstairs towards the bathroom, hand-over-hand on the banister ’cause I’ve got heels on, and falling down the stairs is so not cool, so I focus like how I learned in yoga class: one foot, then the other, then the other, you’re doing great, and when I finally get to the top I throw my arms in the air and look around for applause, like I just totally made it up the stairs without falling over I’m awesome! and then I look up and there’s Josh.
He looks good.
He’s super tall and skinny—but not like skinny-skinny, like muscle-skinny—with the whole bad-boy thing going on. That’s what hooked me: night after night, sittin’ in some bar with his arm around me, and he’s all yeah, she’s with me, and I’m all I’m with him I’m with him I’m with him! so yes, seeing him really sucks, but what sucks more is that now he’s got his arm around some other girl.
Some other beautiful girl.
Some other beautiful girl who’s twenty pounds thinner than me and obviously much cooler ’cause she’s wearing sunglasses in a darkened rock club and also she’s got perfect, silky, shiny hair like Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. My hair used to have a mind of its own, but then I started using Pantene—that hair. On this girl. Josh’s girl, she’s here with Josh, they’re leaning against the upstairs bar and haven’t seen me yet, which would be so totally too much for me to handle so I split-I leave-I turn-I run to the Ladies Room, the only place we’re ever really safe.
The one at the Metro is this long narrow room with stalls against one wall and a sink at the very end. There’s a thin layer of What in the hell even is that? over everything, and bright florescent lights which are total buzzkill. Plus there’s never any toilet paper, and the stalls all have those graffiti conversations that go Lisa plus Johnny Forever, and underneath that somebody else wrote There is no forever, only heartbreak, and underneath that somebody else wrote Shut up, and underneath that somebody wrote the letter U, the letter R, the letter A—bitch, and this is what I stare at while I cry; that sloppy gaspy gulpy crying, the kind where you can’t control the corners of your mouth which is so totally stupid because I don’t even want to be with Josh.
The last time I saw him was a month ago, this horrible, fuzzy night at Inner Town Pub. One second it was just like always: we were drinking, laughing, feeding quarters to the jute box—then the next second some guy asked if he could buy me a beer and before I had time to say No thanks, I’m with him,—it was the next second and bam—Josh slammed the guy into the bar, yelling You asshole! and I was like Josh, he didn’t know— but the guy shoved back, so then Josh was on the floor, and then he was up again, and then he had his stool over his head and before anyone could stop him he threw it over the bar and into the mirrored wall behind it.
I remember watching the multiple reflections of shocked faces as slowly, slowly, the glass cracked into a spider’s web, like how water seeps through the walls of a sunken ship. It took approximately ten seconds for the bouncer to tackle him, but during those ten seconds, Josh went after me.
Ten seconds is a really long time.
I remember him reaching for me, I remember the veins in his arms, purple rivers on a map, his biceps like baseballs and people were on their feet now, backing away from us, and I backed away from him coming at me, and he was yelling and I was confused ’cause apparently this was my fault? I’d said/worn/done/thought/ felt the wrong thing but I didn’t have time to piece it altogether because there were his hands, reaching for my face but just before they connected, the bouncer caught him from behind, his meatball arms locking around Josh’s neck and—
I was lucky.
The next morning, he called. I didn’t pick up. “I’ve got a bitch of a hangover,” he told my voicemail. “Must’ve been a crazy night!”
“What’s up?” he said the next day. “How come you’re not calling back?”
“Dude, what the hell” he said on the third day, and, “What’s the matter with you?” on the fourth, and by the end of the week it was, “Baby, are you okay?” and “Did something happen?”
Yeah. Something did. I was different: no more light and naive and free. Now I had baggage, a big heavy suitcase to carry from relationship to relationship, and the worst of it was—the part that really makes me hate myself?—I wanted to pick up that phone. I wanted to believe in him, to say He was tired drunk, he was drunk, he was stressed out because sometimes? When you’re twenty-two? Being with somebody bad for you is better than being alone—and believe me, you’re never more alone then sitting in a bathroom stall, crying your eyes out ’cause your boyfriend found someone else.
I stay in that stall for a really long time, listening to EXO through the walls but it’s not near loud enough to make everything okay. I’m sweaty and wasted and sloppy, there’s snot everywhere, mascara all over my face, this isn’t fun drunk anymore, it’s stupid drunk, and once I’m cried out I head to the sink to try and clean up but when I round the corner of the stalls, the thing I see next makes me so totally sober I could’ve walked straight down a tightrope.
It’s her, standing in front of the mirror with her back to me: twenty pounds thinner. Long Pantene hair—we’re so close that if I had a pair of scissors in my pocket I could reach out and cut it off and, yes, I know, what you’re supposed to do in these moments is turn around and walk away—but I don’t, ’cause you never do, you always, always, always stare. Her sunglasses are on the sink in front of her, she’s looking down into an open makeup bag and in the mirror over her shoulder I see that both her eyes are black.
The bruises are caked with cover-up, but those horrible florescent lights forgive nothing: her eyes are two goose eggs, purple-black and nearly swollen shut. The slits of her eyes are bloodshot, but if it’s from crying or drinking I can’t say. The bruises run up to her brows and down past her cheekbones, they are painful and brutal and fascinating, a car crash, a science experiment, I can’t look away—not even when she looks up and sees me in the mirror, my reflection just behind hers.
For years afterwards, well into my Thirties, I will imagine our faces switched: me with the black eyes and her staring from behind. I will imagine what might’ve happened if that bouncer hadn’t caught Josh in a headlock, if his outstretched hands had reached my face, and how much heavier my baggage would be. I will imagine, when I shut my eyes, a bullet flying straight for the center of my forehead—and how, at the last possible second, I stepped to the side and dodged its impact and I will imagine, again and again, what I should have said to that girl in the bathroom ’cause in the moment? Standing next to her at the sink? I had absolutely no idea.
I am twenty-two years old. I am terrified. So I say nothing.
I look away, like I didn’t see anything, and she looks away, like there was nothing there to see.
And then I leave.
Out in the hall, it’s a different world: dark, and safe, the music’s full volume and it pounds into my chest. I’m part of the crowd again, no more me all by myself, now there are bodies, five hundred faces to hide behind. I follow some random girl towards the stairs, staring at the back of her head, the back of her head, the back of her head, ’cause if I look up, even for a second, there’s a chance I might see Josh—and I’ve had enough of him for one night.
Once I’m on the main floor, I push through the bodies towards where I left Shelley, up by the speakers when not ten minutes before everything had seemed so easy: music and dancing and people and vodka, it’s all so goddamn great! Shelly’s jumping up and down, punching the air with both fists, and when she sees me she yells There you are!
Yeah, I say, but she’s not listening. I’m going to get another drink do you want another drink? she yells, and even though my head’s starting to hurt, even though strangers are slamming into me, even though my life just entirely changed—I still say, Yeah, sure I’ll have another, because I don’t know what else to do with this stupid, stupid night or my stupid, stupid heart—so I shut my eyes. I feel the music vibrate through my shoes. And I dance.
At Your Mother's Knee: Stories of Learning and Acceptance
May 11 - 12, 2014
Webster's Wine Bar
1480 W. Webster