GARRETT ZINK - GOOD MORNING
Garrett Zink is a corporate social responsibility specialist and writer based in Washington, DC and is a frequent performer on stages throughout DC and Baltimore, MD.
I knew that if I just kept my eyes closed, I’d be able to beat it. That inevitable feeling that would seep into my skull and punish me for the night before, which seemed unfair because I was not entirely sure what the night consisted of.
The knocking was at the top right of my head, just above my forehead and right below my hairline. It was drilling in, trying to break through my skin. The sharp pain I could handle, but I quickly realized that this pain would be accompanied by the spaciness – a day of not being fully “there”. As I lay face up, I grabbed onto the sheets under me to keep from spinning off the bed.
Then came the impending sense of doom. Shutting my eyes even tighter, which only seemed to increase the speed of the spinning, I wracked what was left of my brain for any possible idea of where I might be.
I considered how long I could stay like this. I thought I might be able to go the long haul. Not forever, but I could play the waiting game until this feeling that engulfs me every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and, sometimes, Monday morning would pass. It might be one of the short ones that could turn into being bearable around one or two in the afternoon. I realized that was unlikely as I felt a balloon expand inside my noggin and press against my skull, desperate for release.
This was going to be a long one. One of those wake up, guzzle water, piss, guzzle water, hunch over the toilet, breathe heavy, wonder whether it is the hangover that is causing me to consider throwing up or the fact that I just pumped a day-and-a-half’s worth of water into my stomach, pace, continue breathing heavy, look out a window and picture myself living life, being functional, being a “person,” pace, get back in bed, and lie on my side until the sun goes down and I could finally feel acceptable being in bed as I would then be in line with the rest of world. One of those days.
I forced my eyes open, but had to close them and start again, much slower this time. I eased them open, with the pain of the light shooting into my eyeballs slightly more bearable. I met the beige, peeling ceiling above me. I’m not quite sure how a ceiling can get dirty, but this one managed to do it. This was my ceiling.
I saw those old glow-in-the-dark stars scattered about, like you might find in a child’s room, which was not entirely inappropriate. They were not put up by me and I was sure they would remain many tenants past me. One wouldn’t normally notice, but I spend a fair amount of my time staring at the ceiling – either stewing or recovering.
I realized I was not alone. I slowly turned my head, slow enough for it not to fall off, and saw a mess of blonde hair as far away from me as possible without falling off the bed. She was wrapped tightly in my covers. She seemed quite cold. I didn’t want to talk to her.
But clearly I got laid. I felt good. This was enough to live on for a few weeks, or a month. Or longer.
I had to get out of that bed, which was placed in the far right corner of my room. I was against the wall. Bracing myself, I slowly sat up, slid down the bed, and reached with my feet for the floor. This was not difficult, as I had no bed frame and not far to travel. There was no worry about squeaking because there were no springs to squeak. This was convenient at the moment, but generally I wished I had the squeak, so when I was fucking I could remind myself, yes, you are fucking.
I made it down the bed, onto the floor, and stood up without making a noise. I was dizzy but proud of my progress. I leaned on my desk just in front of my bed for some support and indeed found a little extra support – some unidentified powder from the night before.
There were two likely options. Smart man’s money was on Adderall, a gift from one of my “ADHD” friends. If I were lucky, it may have been cocaine. From the aggressiveness of the pounding in my head and the heaviness of my breathing, that didn’t seem entirely out of the question.
I found my khaki shorts on the ground and dug into them. Phone. Wallet. Keys. All there. I was glad, but surprised. I pulled out my wallet and removed my student ID.
The powder was scattered and sparse. Residue, really, but desperate times. I scrounged what was on the table with my ID into a single little chode of a line and sniffed it up. The powder did its dance around my brain and I felt good. I was about to give my desk, my unexpected benefactor, a nice little knock of appreciation when I quickly stopped myself, remembering my company.
She really did look cold, with my covers pulled so tightly against her I worried she might rip through them.
I looked in my closet and found an extra blanket. It looked dirty. I give it a whiff. It was musty. I rubbed my palm against it. Soft. It would do.
Carefully, I spread the blanket over her like I was setting up a secret picnic, letting the blanket softly drape over her without making a sound.
I quickly sat down at my desk chair, legs pacing, enjoying a reprieve from the spaciness and trying to use the few moments of sharp mind to think about what could have happened the night before.
It was Friday morning, so the previous night was Thursday night, which meant an “open party.” Anyone, any girl, was welcome. Typically we had our parties, socials, with a specific sorority, which brought its benefits. You knew the pool of who was coming and could plan, do some pre-outreach ahead of the party. You may have had a girl, or a couple, that were reliable. You’d see them on campus and give a nod or a little smile, maybe. But come a few shots of cheap liquor and off-brand soda and you could suddenly reconnect. You could say “Heyyyy!” and give her a hug with hands lingering on the small of her back, just a little too long, to let her know that something may happen. You’d ask her how long she’s been here and nod to music and then dance to that music and then make out to that music, far more aggressively than you ever could outside of the dark lights and safety of a fraternity basement.
But open parties, however, brought with them a sense of endless possibility. Anyone could show up. Your past, your present, your future, your “Introduction to Jewish Studies” group project partner you were able to make smile, slightly, once, during your freshmen year and with whom you haven’t made real eye contact since.
It was Thursday and I, along with the rest of campus, was antsy. Four long, hard days of classes behind me, I had earned the right to unwind. I started drinking steadily starting around 8pm with the brothers in our chapter house basement.
After a few beers, four or five, I felt my face get warmer and my speech become a bit more prolific. I was discussing politics – one of my favorite topics. It was an election year and I had some liberal opinions which was I delivering in an impressive manner to my right-leaning brothers.
I was on my soapbox and it made me feel good. I was defending the poor, the disenfranchised, the struggling against my friends’, my brothers’, stance that entitlements needed cutting, “fucking bums” needed to get motivated, and the system needed to “look out for the middle class.” These prep schoolers lamenting that the world would be a better place if the government would just “fuck off.” That I don’t even know the damage universal healthcare would do. So bad, Tommy. So fucking bad. Do you know that doctors can’t even get rich anymore?
Our discourse came to a halt when I was given “the look” by Chip. We pledged together a few semesters back and I learned quickly that he’d been diagnosed at a young age with an aggressive case of attention deficit disorder, and thus given enough Adderall to make Sarah Palin be able to read “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” all the way through without stumbling.
That look, a raise of the eyebrows from across the room that said we are going to put something funny up our nose and have a good time. Though conservative in politics, Chip was liberal with his stash and knew I rarely needed to be asked twice. We stole away to my room, crushed up a 20mg instant release over my dark brown Bed, Bath, and Beyond table that my poor mother so excitedly gave to me before moving me into the house. We lined them up and snorted them quickly.
With my belly full of cheap beer and brain full of prescription focus medication, I was ready to walk into a house full of my friends and girls.
I was not an awkward guy, but I did not possess the natural ability of many of my friends to score the top-tier girls I might normally jerk off to. I had my moments. I had sex, memories that I lived off for a few months at a time, assuring myself that, yes, I am a sexually active and desirable man, but I needed a little help to get me there. Most people needed help for things.
I walked up to the house speedily, excited, through the dirty kitchen, a bit anxious but still excited, into the living room, where I imagined a family of five used to have their Christmas mornings. The night had already begun. It was 11pm, people were talking and nodding and starting to dance.
The lights were dim, a neon purple, and made people feel like what they were dancing on was not, in fact, a three-year-old ottoman from Ikea. Girls gyrated for the guys, or for their girlfriends, or for themselves, or whatever they felt like believing, being free. We got to watch all the same. Hopefully participate.
I was too sober. I walked over to the long table by a window that was covered with a trash bag to hide our activities. Three pledges were filling shooters.
“Two,” I said, while grabbing a beer from the cooler next to them.
I cracked open the beer and threw it down my gullet, while the pledges mixed me up two shooters. I watched them do it. Orange generic soda, a splash of lemon-lime generic soda, and the lowest quality vodka sold in northern New York. They nervously held them up to me.
“Are these going to be good?” I asked.
They exchanged glances and mumbled something resembling, “Yeah.”
I generally wasn’t mean to the pledges. I wasn’t intimidating by looks or personality and there was always something off to me about yelling at a guy who could kick the shit out of me had I not pledged three semesters before him.
I set down the quarter of my beer that was left and grabbed the shooters. My hands were a little shaky. I turned around to see if there was a partner to join me. There was a group of three girls a couple steps away. Two in short shorts, showing off their impressive legs. The other in skinny jeans. I liked the skinny jeans look for some reason. I felt like I was supposed to be with a girl that might wear skinny jeans to a Thursday night fraternity party.
The jeans were not a sign of modesty. She had on one of those tops where the neckline plunged down the chest and just when you thought it might stop, it kept going, down, down, with the two opposite sides of fabric coming together just above the belly button.
Her tits looked good. Somewhere between a big B and a small C. I didn’t know the exact measurements of tit sizes. She had blonde hair, long, straight, made ready for the night. Green eyes. She was perfect. Not tell your grandkids how perfect their grandmother was the first time you saw her “perfect.” But maybe have a realistic shot at getting laid and feel halfway decent about it “perfect.”
I had never understood the “perfect girl” notion – how seemingly countless people had seen the “perfect” girl and gone through impossible feats just to talk to her. If I saw a girl that I thought was genuinely perfect, talking to her would be the farthest thing from my mind. I’d avoid eye contact at all costs until I was certain she wasn’t looking, and then I would briefly rest my eyes on her beauty. Then I would drink heavily and try to find some stimulants to shove up my nose and then maybe consider giving it a shot.
I made brief eye contact with my perfect girl and as soon as our eyes met, I quickly looked away, back at the pledges. I threw back both of the shooters. They were awful.
“Jesus,” I said as I threw the Dixie cups on the ground. They all got in a crouch-like position as if it were going to take three able-bodied eighteen year olds to pick up two paper cups. I glared at them. I was in the mood to be built up.
“Sorry,” one said. He had a thick neck and wavy blonde hair. His tan from the summer was on its last legs. He had been an all-state lacrosse player and had a high school story about a hot senior that gave him a hand job in the back of their auditorium during a morning assembly his sophomore year. Now, he was being intimidated at by a twenty-year-old, high school tennis B-squader with small shoulders and a slight beer gut.
“I don’t want you to be sorry, I just want you to do it right,” I encouraged him as I lined up three paper cups, “This time I have to drink three of them, so I don’t want them to taste like the last round. It’s not that hard. I know you can do this.” I was speaking to the troops, rallying a losing team at halftime. If I didn’t talk to them, someone else would get them and it would be worse.
They lined up the new drinks. I took the first one and it was better. I took the second one. I held up the third one and asked, “Who’ll join me?”
“I’m in,” my thick-necked friend offered.
“Great,” I replied as I grabbed a red solo cup and poured the shot in. I reached for the bottle of vodka and filled the cup three-quarters of the way up. I put in a small splash of lemon-lime. “Cheers,” I said with a smile. He looked at me questioningly.
“No one should have to take a shot like you gave me…man.” I either didn’t remember his name or never knew it in the first place.
He stared at the drink and looked back up at me. With a villain-like coolness, I said very softly, “Drink the fucking drink.” I realized how idiotic I sounded. I got like this sometimes when I had a strong buzz on. I knew this kid’s night and next morning were about to be ruined. But it was too late – I had to follow through. They had to respect the brothers. Weakness couldn’t be shown.
He held it up and took a gulp, followed by another gulp, and another. I slowly tilted the bottom of the cup up higher and higher, watching his Adam’s apple move faster. It was spilling out of his mouth. When he was finished he looked at me with watery eyes. It was likely the volume of liquid, but I thought I might have broken just a little bit of his spirit. I was half guilty and half proud. Being half proud made me feel that much more guilty.
“Remember this,” I told him. I gave them all a smirk and a nod, before smoothly turning to see if the girl had seen me educate my future brothers. She was still there, her body facing my direction. I was sure she was impressed.
I wasn’t quite drunk enough. I walked with increasing speed through the living room crowd and found the basement door. The bass was thumping loud from the floor below. I walked down the creaky, wooden stairs.
The relatively small basement contained an absurd amount of people. If there was a fire code we sure as fuck didn’t know it. There was another bar with more pledges, making shooters. From midway down the stairs I could gaze upon the sea of people. In the middle, pairs were grinding against each other, sweaty, horny, and not knowing their partner’s name.
Where normally these people would, at best, awkwardly glance at each other when walking down a hallway, these young stallions were pressing their manhood against the girls, who were loving it, feeding it. Moving their hips in a circular motion and making the guys harder. They were not embarrassed of what they were feeling pressed against them but embracing it, knowing that they were sexy. They were causing this physical reaction. They could have it if they wanted to. They had the power.
The outer wall of people stood like preschoolers hesitantly waiting to jump into a game of double-dutch. Hesitant, curious, drinking heavier and faster until they felt ready, were ready to jump in and take part.
The cement walls were covered in black-light paint and gave the basement an air of a rave. Not a real rave, where the suppressed lose themselves and find temporary companionship. This was a rave of privilege. Our drug was the knowledge that we could do something like this on a Thursday night. That there were others in a dorm room lounge or at the campus bowling night. Our drug was not freedom from suppression but a celebration of ourselves for having found each other. Our drug was also drugs.
I found a cooler towards the corner of a basement and lingered around it, throwing back a few more beers. I traded small talk with my friends, my brothers.
“Good turn out tonight.”
“Some are looking good.”
“Is she still with her boyfriend?”
“Are they talking or are they fucking?”
“Are they fucking or are they together?”
“Are they really together or just, like, together?”
I had a few more in me and waded around the party. I was bopping around, trying to make eye contact with someone. Nodding my head, swaying my body a bit. Enough to not be standing still, but not enough to be full on dancing by myself.
My vision was getting a little blurry, but it was mainly the dark lights. I was okay. I was wobbling a bit, just like everyone else. I asked someone if they had any blow. No blow? Some Adderall? No? No Adderall? Vyvanse? Ritalin? Something? Caffeine tablets? I heard you can crush them up and you wouldn’t know the difference.
I found something. I was in a room upstairs with three or four of my brothers. We were standing around a bed rubbing our hands together and breathing heavy as someone emptied out a pile onto a mirror on the bed and we all did a line.
I hurried out of the room to find the girl, my girl. I was almost certain we had made eye contact. We made a connection without words. I began to doubt myself. Did we make eye contact? Yes, for sure.
I was in the basement. It had emptied out a bit, but was still crowded enough to not let anyone feel exposed while dancing. I didn’t see her immediately but my heart was racing. I saw her two friends, the ones in the short shorts, but she wasn’t with them.
I ran back upstairs. My friends were still there. They were talking fast, of dreams and plans and girls that were waiting downstairs for them. I felt at home and at ease, we were all feeling this together. Truly together.
I’d been in this room, or rooms like this, doing this, many times before. Me and a few of the boys doing blow, blowski, lines, snow, booger sugar, nose beers, or any other of the multitude of names to distract from the fact that we were doing something that would have been absolutely inconceivable just two years ago.
I convinced whoever was lining them up the first time that I needed another one, just one more. I didn’t get enough the first time. Begrudgingly he took the bag out of his pocket.
“Let me,” I offered and snatched the bag away. I turned my back to the rest of the room and looked for a surface. Nothing. “I’m just gonna do a little bump,” I said. I reached in my pocket, pulled out my keys, and jammed them into the bag. I pulled it out and balanced a little tower on the key of the home to which I’d be returning in a few short months for summer. This was a good-sized one, but I felt everyone looking at me, trying to guess how much I had taken out for myself. I raised my shoulders trying to create as much of a wall as possible.
With the precision that only experience could give, I guided the key to my nostril, and sniffed in quickly. Both my hands clenched hard, my right around my keys, the left around the bag. I felt great and needed to capitalize while the feeling was still fresh.
I ran into the basement, looking for the girl. I knew I was fucked up, but so was everyone. That was the point.
I stumbled around the basement, while only 700 square feet it seemed immense with the crowds.
Then I saw her. She had Chip back up in a corner. She was facing him. His hand was on her ass and it looked like her hand was either on his thigh or his cock.
Then I was talking to Chip. He looked back at me confused. I said something and he told me to, “Fuck off and relax. Take the rest of the night off.”
I turned away from them and looked at the crowd. They had formed either into pairs or into groups of girls that clearly weren’t going to be broken up into pairs. I looked at the staircase, wooden and dirty. I walked toward it and stopped at the cooler of beer at its base.
I plunged my hand in. It was mostly melted water at this point, but I found a beer. I cracked it, downed it, and was already onto my next.
I was thinking maybe Chip really was right as I continued to pour down the second half of the beer. But with each gulp there was the potential for something to happen. Something I would never forget. The potential that this could be the night that something amazing, ridiculous, wild happened. The whole reason I was at this college, with these guys, in this basement in the first place. A story I’d bring up forever. A go-to anecdote. It was the unknown and I wanted to know it. Each drop got me closer and I wanted to get there.
I threw down the empty can. I grabbed another, cracked it, and before it was even fully open it was up to my mouth. I was close to the end of it when my heart stopped. The coke. I have it. Still in my, thankfully, dry left hand. I ran out of the room so fast I never gave it back.
I lunged past the pairs and the huddles and found the basement bathroom. There was a line of two girls.
“Please,” I said. I am not sure whether my face conveyed extreme urgency, was clearly fucked up, or I naturally looked like someone who would have explosive diarrhea at two o’clock in the morning, but they moved aside.
I was bouncing in line. As soon as the creaky door opened I rushed in and looked at the sink. Disgusting. It would do.
I took my shirtsleeve and rubbed it aggressively against the porcelain sink to sterilize it and took out the bag. I remembered that the goddamn basement bathroom door hadn’t been able to lock for the past four months and no one ever got around to fixing it or, more likely, getting it fixed.
The bathroom was fairly small. Balancing on my right leg, I outstretched my left leg backwards to hold the door like a crazed flamingo. I looked at the bag. It had a few lines’ worth, but I didn’t have much time. I dumped it all out on the sink and made a fat one. This would last me. I pulled out my wallet. No bills. Fine.
I held my left nostril and skimmed the surface with my right, pulling up as much as possible with no apparatus to help me. I felt it. I looked down and there was more.
Still holding off any intruder with my left leg, I plunged my whole face against the surface of the sink and violently sniffed, moving my nostril back and forth against the sink to try and get everything. It was gone. I did it.
Quick mirror check. Jesus. The whole right side of my nose and the better part of my right check bone were sufficiently flowered. I turned on the sink to wash myself off but thought better of it. I licked my hands and then wiped down my face, rubbing my fingers against my gums after every wipe.
I flew out of the bathroom back onto the scene. It was beautiful. The purple lights were intense and illuminated the dwindling number of people remaining just perfectly. You could see their sweat shining and their desires along with it. I wanted a better view.
I ran up the staircase and looked down upon my scene. This was mine. I’d been chosen to be a part of this. They all started to gravitate toward the center of the basement. There were still pairs and huddles, but they were all much closer, knowing they were all in this night together. They danced and they smiled and moved and grabbed and held onto each other in this dirty basement away from the rest of the world. We were dancing on the outskirts of society, knowing as soon as we were ready, society would be there with open arms to greet us.
A girl moved to the cooler. She was blonde, average build, looked like she had a decent chest. I didn’t recognize her. I ran down the stairs.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hi,” she said.
We were dancing, each holding the other’s waist with one hand, a beer in the other. I went in. Her mouth tasted fruity and her tongue carried the sugar of a bad shooter.
I grabbed her ass. She started to pull away, playfully, but I pulled her in closer. She turned around and pressed her ass against me. I kept my hand on her waist and moved as she moved. I pulled her blonde hair off her right shoulder and kissed her neck.
I took her by the hand and led her up the stairs for another shooter. I threw up “two” to a pledge. We sucked them down.
“Let’s go home,” I said.
“Home?” she toyed.
“Yeah, I’m at the house,” I told her.
“Whose house?” she asked.
“The chapter house, babe,” I assured her. My stomach sank at “babe,” but she didn’t flinch and I was grateful.
“Ummmm,” she went, “Okay, we can go for a little.”
I swung open the door to my room, still holding her hand. I felt a force pull back from me. She was hanging on the doorframe, being coy. She wanted me to take charge.
I pulled her hand off the doorframe, pulled her whole body against me, and kissed her. I reached toward the door and swung it closed, pushing her against it as soon as it was shut. I was hard and pressed myself against her, feeling the door rattle behind her. It was old and shook easily. I was sure my brothers could hear me, which I liked.
I stepped back and threw her on the bed. As soon as her back hit my bed I was on top of her, kissing her, and grinding against her. She was wearing a dress, so it was easy to feel her thighs and move up to her ass.
She was trying to move out from under me but I liked being on top so I grabbed her arms with both of my hands and held them down, only taking them off when I sat up to rip off her dress. The room was dark but I could tell from the feel of her that I could be proud of this.
I felt her tits under her bra while I straddled her waist. As she tried to scoot up off her back I reached around, unhooked her bra, and quickly pushed her down.
“Hey, I…” she said, wanting me to shut her up.
I moved in and kissed her more, shoving my hand down her panties and into her. Her body jerked and moved the way I wanted it to. I grabbed her panties and pulled them down her legs.
She began to say something again and I put my hand against her throat as her whole body stiffened. “What do you want?” I nearly growled down at her. She looked up at me. In the slight bit of light from the street lamps outside I could almost make out her eyes. Her brows were furrowed and she was breathing heavy.
“I know what you want,” I said as I shoved myself inside her. Again her body stiffened. I grabbed her tits. She put her hand on my chest and applied pressure. I tore it off me and pressed her hand against my mattress.
“This is what you want, isn’t it?” I panted as I was thrusting myself in her.
I felt her scratch the side of my neck, hard. I liked her nails against me, but I again forced her hand down.
“Hold fucking still,” I told her as I kept ramming in back and forth.
I was in a steady motion moving in and out of her. I began moving faster and breathing heavier. My body was fully against hers as I was hammering away. I kept my pace, steadily, and nearly buried my face into my mattress.
My heart was pounding at the same pace as my thrusts. She could have been moaning, I’m sure she was, but I was gone. She may have gotten pleasure, but this was for me. This was a singular activity and her body merely the conduit. I was fucking. I was good. I was a man, a desirable man that girls wanted to fuck.
And then I woke up. In my bed. In pain. And there she was. On the side of my bed closest to the door, curled up, still looking stiff. I’m sure she felt awkward. It’s always fascinating who people can become when drinking. Wild, completely uninhibited. Dancing by yourself in front of a mirror but that mirror is a man you just met that night and are letting fuck you.
I thought of how I must have kept fucking her, pulling her up, and bending her over. I’m sure I pounded on her, getting even harder and her getting even wetter. The clap, clap, clap of me slamming against her.
I was hard. I was leaning against my desk with a fully hard erection, while this poor girl was wrapped up in my covers, my musty blanket, stiff as a board, asleep. Asleep? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t really want to find out.
Quietly, I threw on a pair of gym shorts from the ground. I tucked my erection up into my short’s elastic waistband. I slowly opened the door. It creaked but I couldn’t break stride. I couldn’t dare turn around to see if it woke her. What if it did? Hello! How are you? Remember me? I was inside you last night!
In one motion I moved to the hallway and closed the door. If damage was done I couldn’t see it.
What now? I was self-exiled from my own room.
I went into Chip’s room, which was dark aside from SportsCenter on the flat screen, which never seemed to be turned off. He was still sleeping so I sat on the couch and rested my eyes, drifting back off.
I jumped when I heard a door shut suddenly and rattle – my door. She was gone. I was relieved. I felt badly about how much I was relieved. Though I did feel proud that I had gotten laid. I wondered if anyone knew. I hoped they did. I tried to think of how I could bring it up, but it hurt my head to think.
I went back to my room, my empty, beautiful room and fell face first into my bed, making facedown snow angels. I smelled her perfume and it made me a bit sad. I didn’t miss her. I didn’t even know her, but she left her scent for me.
I checked my phone and realized that it was nearly 10:50am. I had a class at 11am. This fucking class. I thought the whole point of majoring in business was to have no classes on Fridays in order to nurse your hangover and roll into happy hour by 4pm.
I threw on deodorant, changed from gym shorts into another pair of khaki shorts, and a white Polo t-shirt. I looked in the mirror at my hair, which was just short enough to be presentable in public, unwashed, while still holding last night’s grease. I thought better of it and put on my navy blue cap backwards. I tried it forward. Forward was better.
I slung on by backpack, my boat shoes, and ran downstairs. It occurred to me that I didn’t know if I even had my laptop in my backpack. Fuck it, I didn’t need it.
This Friday class took attendance and that’s the only reason I was going. I just needed to slump my hungover body into a chair for a 45-minute seminar, stare at the whiteboard, and pray to God to not be called on to answer a question that I almost certainly did not hear.
I passed through the chapter room to the front door and saw a few pledges asleep on the couches. I looked down on one who slowly opened his eyes, showing a horrifying mix of being at once hungover and also filled with the dread that he might receive a task that required substantially more energy that he had to give at the moment. I put my palms together and rested my head on them, signaling for him to go back to sleep. I saw the relief in his eyes. He attempted to say “thank you” but his dry throat was unable to produce the noise. I gave him a smile and headed out the door.
I looked upon our beautiful porch, complete with a brick walkway that led down our small hill onto the street, which led to campus. I loved this porch. I loved sitting out here and drinking coffee on the rare days when I wasn’t clamoring for every last minute of sleep. I loved starting my nights pregaming on it. I loved ending my nights postgaming on it, drinking the last beer and the occasional cigarette, or a nice joint. I loved studying on it. I didn’t know if it was the minimal altitude that allowed us to be just above those walking on the street below, but it made me feel elevated.
I took a deep breath and thought about the class ahead of me, a lower-level finance seminar that was a basic business school requirement for my eventual degree. I loved the name of what would be on my college diploma: Strategic Business Management. Each word brought with it the assumption that if one were to attain this degree, they must be smart. Specifically, they must be smarter than others. Strategic. Business. Management. Busssssiness.
I felt in my bones that I would end up in a Wall Street firm. If things don’t go exactly to plan, perhaps a high-end New York or DC consultancy. I hated numbers, though. I couldn’t wrap my mind around them. That’s just not the way my brain worked, unless I was a few milligrams deep in amphetamines.
I made my way down the walkway onto the street, lined with my fellow poor souls that were subjected to Friday morning class. The one silver lining was that it was nice out, which meant sundresses. The legs, the very top of tits. It wasn’t much, but it was more than one normally got during class hours.
As much as I enjoyed this season, it also brought me a degree of anxiety. You couldn’t look too directly. You never could, and I never felt like I could completely master this game.
Girls wanted guys to be aggressive, but not too aggressive. They wanted our attention, but only at the right time and the right moment. They wanted the guy to take initiative, but not too much. Only if they wanted it. Otherwise, we were being creepy. How was I supposed to know when that was? What indicator was there for me to know that I could look a girl in the eye when passing her on the street? Where was the line between the moment when I lock eyes with my future wife and when I look at a girl just a little too long and get branded to all of her friends as an awkward freak? God forbid I smile.
The mornings after nights of drinking brought the awful game to a different level. Now the same girl I may have embraced the previous night, kissed on the cheek, and even had a small conversation with might now, headphones in and eyes down, walk right past me. It wasn’t even that I took personal offense, but those few seconds before, when I would spot her in the horizon, I didn’t know what to do. Eye contact and a small smile? Head nod? Head movement of any kind? Something as bold as a full-on wave? What was the appropriate way to say, “We know each other a little bit,” and not, “With this eye contact, I want to pull you off the street and ravage you?”
More often than not, I did nothing. I kept my eyes down and continued moving ahead. I just kept walking.
But I loved the place regardless. Each day brought about a potential newness that I couldn’t have imagined the day before. There were 30,000 people around me, most of whom I’ll never know, but they all had a lifetime’s worth of experiences that brought them to this place at this moment. There was something truly beautiful about it. So why can’t we all look at each other? We always just keep walking.
I remembered talking to a potential pledge about it during rush, where droves of kids fresh out of high school make the journey from their dorms to fraternity row to tour each potential house, hoping they might find the right fit.
He was from Nebraska. Doughy and cheerful, he was clearly a kind-hearted guy, but I knew he was not going to get a bid. But still, he showed up to our open house, so I wanted to give him a conversation.
“You know, it’s the strangest thing,” he said, “I keep smiling at people as I walk to class, and it really throws them off. Like sometimes they look scared, sometimes they look confused, and sometimes they look angry.”
It made me smile that this guy clearly knew his opinion was in the minority, but still thought this observation would be the best use of his three minutes with the only brother who would give him the time of day. I liked him. I don’t remember his name, but I’m sure if I ever walk past him, he’ll let me know.
I reached the business school, entered my classroom, and upon seeing the small 20-person seminar, I knew the next 45 minutes of my life were not going to be fun. I took a seat in the back row, slouched down, and hoped no one would notice me. In this moment of solitude I realized that I reeked of alcohol and pulled my hat down.
As soon as the teaching assistant, whose name I forgot or never knew, began to speak, the door swung open. My friend Jimmy came in, looking about as rough as I was feeling. We were on the same dorm floor freshman year and rushed together. We ended up pledging at the same time, but for different fraternities. We hadn’t hung out for about a year before we both found ourselves in this cursed Friday morning seminar.
He came to the back and slouched down beside me. His odor matched mine. I gave him a smile that asked what he was up to the night before.
“Fuck,” he said.
I laughed. “How was your night?”
“I got fucked up,” said Jimmy.
My stomach sank and the anxiety came roaring back. I hated when people commented on others getting too drunk. Yeah, I got drunk. Isn’t that why the fuck we were here in the first place?
“What?” I asked, a little too aggressively.
“Oh, dude, nothing. I just heard you were pretty messed up last night. And Nicole has been asking for it for a while now. She’s gonna talk shit and act like a priss for her friends.”
I sat up straight.
“What the fuck did you say?” I grilled him. I was too loud.
The TA’s eyes were locked on me, “Do you need something?”
“No,” I said, startled.
“No?” she asked.
“Who the fuck is Nicole?” I asked Jimmy.
The TA’s eyes were still on us and Jimmy was clearly uncomfortable. Softly he said, “The girl, man.”
My stomach sank farther.
“Is there an issue here?” questioned the TA.
“No,” I muttered.
“No?” she asked again.
I didn’t answer her and focused on Jimmy. “And she said what?”
It was a scene. The class was looking.
Jimmy glanced around at the audience. It was his line. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He shook his head.
I started to sweat and my mouth was drying up. I was staring through Jimmy’s face.
“What the fuck, dude?” he finally managed to softly muster.
“I’ll – l’ll be back, “ I said weakly as I got up from my seat, moved past the class, and out the door. The TA said something, maybe to me or maybe not.
I emerged into the hallway and couldn’t remember which way the bathroom was. My stomach was in knots like a boy scout had his hands on it. I raced down the hallway.
My mind was racing. What the fuck did he mean she would talk shit to her friends? Act like a priss? Like what? Like she didn’t…like she didn’t want it?
No, no, no, no…
I found a bathroom and barreled in, instantly lunging for the toilet. I vomited violently. It was loud.
No, no, no, no…
I was on my knees heaving. Nothing more would come out.
No, no, no
She said, “no.”
Did she? Did she say, “No?” No…right? She wanted it. She fucking wanted it, right?
I thought about me on top of her, her furrowed brow. That was supposed to be sexy right? Like, tempting me. She was playing a good girl. It was part of the act. I was just aggressive, the way women want. For a man to be a man and take charge.
More vomit came up unexpectedly and I barely made it into the toilet. I fell to the side of it, lying on the tile floor. She had to have wanted it.
I closed my eyes and thought. I couldn’t move.
She didn’t want it. Jesus fucking Christ she didn’t want it.
I was going to be expelled. Would she talk? She already talked to her friends.
I reassured myself. It was fine. It would be fine. We were drunk, we had sex. That’s what happens in college. We drink and we have stupid sex with each other and sometimes we’re proud and sometimes we regret it and I AM FUCKED.
I moved out of the building and back to the path toward the house. My backpack was still in the classroom. Fuck it.
I was spinning again but this time I couldn’t hold on to my bed to keep me from flying off.
I kept walking. I’ll apologize, I thought. No, no that would mean I was admitting it. Do not admit fault. That was what people said when you got arrested, right? Don’t admit it, talk to a lawyer, they need to prove it. Right. Make them fucking prove it.
I had to talk to her. Her? Nicole. Her name is Nicole. I had to talk to fucking Nicole and get her to admit she wanted it. No, just talk to her like a normal person. Let her know that I am a fine guy! A good guy! I am the good guy. I am good.
I kept walking. Fast, but not running. I wasn’t a criminal, I affirmed, I was not a criminal.
I needed to see her. Right? Confront conflict. But not necessarily admit there is conflict. Innocent until proven guilty. America.
I kept walking. This could really have been just what I thought it was. She loved how I fucked her. And Jimmy was right. She’d been asking for it. She wanted it. She wanted me.
Jimmy is a fucking idiot.
I kept walking. I reached the crosswalk. It was a red light. I needed to get the fuck home. There was a group of girls waiting on the other side. They could have been her friends.
I began to cross. I didn’t recognize any of those girls. More and more people behind them, going to their next class.
I kept walking.
And there she was. It was her. Her? Nicole. Her name is Nicole.
FUCK. Was it actually her? I squinted. I had about 30 yards. I kept walking.
It was her. It was my shot. Act like everything was normal. Talk to her. “Last night was fun, huh?”
20 yards. I kept walking.
“Yeah I was really fucked up. You seemed okay though. Sorry I wasn’t in my room when you woke up I was….”
10 yards. I kept walking.
“I had an early class and I didn’t want to wake you…”
Five yards. I kept walking.
“But maybe we could…”
I kept walking.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RAVEN - ISSUE TEN
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